Rejected By HBS. Find Out Why

Even though Harvard Business School rejects candidates online, it’s hard not to take it personally

It’s awfully hard not to take rejection personally. After all, if you were among the round one MBA candidates dinged without an interview last week by Harvard Business School, you already put in hours studying for the GMAT or the GRE. You sweated over every line of that HBS application and especially the essay. You made yourself personally and professionally vulnerable, even getting a boss or mentor to write a recommendation on your behalf.

Even worse, if you are like most Harvard Business School applicants, you have seldom, if ever, experienced failure in your young life. You got into a stellar undergraduate university, racked up a transcript full of A grades, landed the job you wanted at a prestige organization. So how in the world could Harvard reject you, without even offering an invitation to interview?

A typical response. “I’m heartbroken,” wrote one 26-year-old candidate who got the “dreaded early release” last week. Yet, this Asian American applicant brought to his application a 750 GMAT score, a 3.3 GPA from a top-five undergraduate business program, and received three promotions over the six years he has worked for a mid-market private equity group supporting more than ten deals that required over $500 million in investment. He also had stellar recommendations from his firm’s managing director and a former partner of the firm. No matter.

CAN YOU BELIEVE HARVARD REJECTED THESE MBA APPLICANTS WITHOUT EVEN AN INTERVIEW?

Get Sandy Kriesberg's advice to make handicapping your odds of getting in possible

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

Truth is, extraordinary candidates are routinely turned down for admission every year. In 2018-2019, in fact, Harvard dinged more than 8,100 of its 9,228 applicants to put together an incoming class of 938 MBA students this year. That means 88% of an already self-selecting pool of applicants to HBS gets turned away (here are some of last year’s round one dings without interviews).

This year’s round one decisions saw candidates with GMAT scores as high as 770 were given the thumbs down. They had undergraduate grade point averages as high as 3.97 and boasted degrees from Harvard, Princeton, UPenn Wharton, and other Ivy League universities and top public colleges. Among the rejected were applicants who work for Fortune 200 companies, Big Four accounting firms, prestige consulting outfits including McKinsey, Bain and BCG, PE shops, and investment management firms. They are entrepreneurs who founded successful startups in fintech and other hot fields.

On the Oct. 1st day that HBS notified round one candidates whether they would get an invite to an interview, put on a waitlist or be subject to early release, to use the school’s euphemism for outright rejection, we asked candidates to  share their profiles in exchange for some perspective on their disappointing outcomes from HBSGuru.com Founder Sandy Kreisberg. Sandy is known for his tell-it-like-it-is feedback and reads the admissions tea leaves at Harvard like no other MBA admissions consultant in the world.

In all, 27 dinged candidates shared their raw scores and profile details. Ten of the 27 had achieved GMAT scores of 750 or above; 18 scored at the Harvard Business School median of 730 or above; 24 of the candidates had at least a 700 GMAT score. All rejected (see below).

See the following pages for detailed profiles of rejected candidates & Sandy’s analysis

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.