Stanford & HBS Dings Show Little Love For Schools

Rejection is a bitch.

Just ask Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the most selective prestige MBA program in the world. In a normal year, Stanford will turn away roughly 95% of the candidates who apply for admission. A new survey of MBA applicants by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) allows at least some of those jilted applicants to get back at the school.

According to the online survey, applicants said that Stanford was next to dead last among top schools in getting to know their candidates well. On a scale of one to five, with one representing “not at all well” and five “extremely well,” Stanford’s laggard score came in at 2.39 (see below chart). It won’t surprise anyone which school was at the bottom of the list: Harvard Business School, the second most selective MBA program in the U.S. HBS, which typically dings 89% of its applicants each year, came in at a paltry 2.27–well below the median score of 3.03.

Source: AIGAC 2019 survey


But here’s the even bigger surprise. When AIGAC asked the same question of candidates who had been admitted to Stanford, the school’s average score soared to 4.22, fourth best among the schools measured. And Harvard? 4.10, tied for fifth best with University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Regardless of acceptance or rejection, the top five schools in getting to know their candidates best were Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management (4.25), Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management (4.06), and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (4.04). Also scoring high on the survey were Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business (3.48), the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School ((3.47), and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business (3.34).

The lineup was only slightly different from the previous year results when Cornell was in a virtual dead tie with the University of Virginia. Tuck, which had often owned the prize outright in the past, was third last year followed by Carnegie Mellon, Emory Goizueta, Duke Fuqua, and Michigan Ross (see Johnson, Darden and Tuck Win Applicant Praise).

Source: AIGAC 2019 survey of MBA applicants

The survey also revealed a consistent trend of female applicants feeling that schools got to know them a little less than male applicants. When rated on a scale of 1-5, women rated schools at 3.07 whereas men rated schools 3.20 with 5 being the school got to know them the best (see below).

Source: AIGAC 2019 survey of MBA applicants


AIGAC collected random comments from respondents as well but then disguised any remarks that were critical of specific schools. “Some schools seem to know who their applicants are,” wrote one respondent.”Others seem to have no clue. For example, XX (did not apply) has a marketing engine that insisted on sending me EMBA promos at least weekly, perhaps based on my age. It continued even after I unsubscribed and reestablished my profile. My interest in XX went from top 5 to zero almost entirely on that factor.“

Another person completed the survey with this highly negative quote. “XX Campus visit program is not very well organized and it feels like they don’t even want students to apply. The class visit was boring and students there were rude to visitors. Decided not to apply because of this experience.” Wrote another: “Overall, the on-campus information sessions were pretty unhelpful. The class visits, however, were very impactful to my decision-making process.”

The survey–completed online by 917 candidates–found that applicants are also applying to more schools this year: 4.5 schools on average, up from 3.8 last year. Fewer applicants said they were asked to write their own letters of recommendation this year than ever before, driven largely by standardized letters of recommendation (see chart below). A still substantial 26% of the respondents said they were asked to write their own recommendation letters to business schools, down from 39% last year and 62% in 2013.

Several respondents suggested they would have applied to a greater number of schools if not for the additional hurdle of the recommendation letters and forms required by some programs. “I would have applied to at least three more programs than I actually did…if it had not meant I would have asked my recommenders to complete more forms,” wrote one respondent. “In fact, XX was one of my top choice schools, and I didn’t even apply because they require a unique essay from recommenders.”

Source: AIGAC 2019 survey of MBA applicants


Once again, the AIGAC survey reconfirmed the importance or rankings in influencing applicant decisions on where to apply. Reputation and ranking both were cited by 63% of the respondents as the most important consideration in their choice of target schools (see below chart). At the bottom of the list for the least influential factors? Faculty quality and cost, respectively cited by 21% and 23% of the applicants.

Source: AIGAC 2019 survey of MBA applicants

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