If you were a Harvard Business School applicant who was tossed out of the MBA pool this week, don’t despair. There is no shame in being dinged by HBS. The school’s MBA program is among the most selective in the world, with roughly 88% of the candidates routinely flicked away–many without even an admissions interview.
Being let down by an HBS rejection is sadly a common experience. As a 24-year-old female candidate who works on the analytics team of a top global consulting firm (MBB), put it: “I’m extremely disappointed as this was my dream school. I do have an admit from an almost equally good school, but I’m tempted to wait a year and reapply because HBS was (and is) the dream.”
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of the rejected applicants are every bit as qualified to attend HBS and do well in its MBA program as everyone who will get interviewed and ultimately admitted.
Need proof? Just take a look at the exceptional candidates who didn’t make this week’s round two cut. There’s the Army Infantry Officer who graduated from West Point and an overall GRE score of 334, eight full points above the class median. The 26-year-old vet was promoted a year ahead of his peer as a company commander, leading some 150 soldiers. HBS dinged him.
MBA APPLICANTS WITH EXCELLENT CREDENTIALS ARE OFTEN TURNED AWAY BY HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
Or consider the 25-year-old candidate with a 750 GMAT, 20 points above Harvard’s median, who has successfully run his family’s business for the past two and one-half years. He has a perfect 4.0 grade point average in electrical engineering.
Or how about the 26-year-old woman with a 3.85 GPA from an Ivy League university (think Harvard, Yale or Princeton) in applied math and a 740 GMAT. She boasts five years of solid experience at a niche consulting firm that has sent several employees to HBS. In that time, this candidate has had two promotions and built a reputation for championing STEM women at her organization.
And then there is the young professional who has spent four years in corporate strategy at a Fortune 200 company where he is the only junior person on a team of former McKinsey, Bain and BCG consultants. He applied with a 760 GMAT and a double major in math and economics with a 3.6 GPA from a top ten U.S. university where he as an NCAA athlete.
EVEN WITH A 10.8% SLIDE IN APPS IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, COMPETITION REMAINS TOUGH
All turned down. How come? You may have thought the competition was a little easier because, over the past two years, Harvard has lost 1,123 applicants, representing a 10.8% slide in applications, from 10,351 in 2017-2018 when applicants topped 6% the 10,000-mark for the first time since 2002. But that only caused a one percentage point increase in the school’s acceptance rate to 12%. No big deal.
Once again, we asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of the MBA admissions consulting firm HBSGuru.com, to do a ding analysis on each of the above and other candidates who submitted their scores and profiles to us. One of the most insightful readers of admission tea leaves at Harvard Business School, Kreisberg has helped thousands of applicants get good news from HBS over a long career in admissions consulting. He also has seen his share of candidates who didn’t quite get to the interview stage.
Assessing an applicant’s rejection is not very easy, in part because there is a randomness to elite MBA admission decisions. The competition is tough, and subtle nuances can determine the ultimate fate of a candidate. More often than not, it simply comes down to who you compete against in the applicant pool. Every consultant is matched up against other consultants; every i-banker is reviewed against others in investment banking. No matter how good your stats and story might be, an interview invite and an admit could be based on whether an admissions officier liked another person better than you.
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