Rejected By Harvard Business School. Can You Believe It?

Many would simply assume that this super-smart consultant was a no-brainer admit to Harvard Business School. After all, he scored a 770 on the GMAT and racked up a solid 3.7-grade point average at a top 15 undergraduate institution. By the time this 25-year-0ld would matriculate, he would have had three full years of consulting experience at one of the three most prestigious firms in the world: MBB. Even better, his expertise in the super-hot area of data analytics has put him in a position to lead a team of consultants with big data questions.

But he brings to the game not merely consulting experience because he also sent a year in investment banking. The carefully crafted admissions essay he submitted with the HBS application explored his personal passion for city transit as well as his professional experience in the public sector, both of which seeded a goal to pursue a career in urban mobility and transportation. Among his two recommenders is a senior partner of the firm, an HBS alum, who worked closely with the candidate on a nine-month-long assignment for a public sector client.

Surely, HBS would grant him a half-hour admissions interview, right? Wrong. Last week, unfortunately, he was among the roughly 3,000 MBA applicants who were dinged by Harvard Business School, not even able to get an interview.


Headshot of Sandy Kriesberg, aka HBS guru.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of

How come? Sometimes, the answer to that question is obvious. Other times, it’s a complete mystery. But one thing is certain: every year, truly extraordinary candidates apply to Harvard’s MBA program, yet the school routinely rejects nearly nine out of every ten of them. In this 2020-2021 admissions cycle, HBS will very likely turn away close to 9,000 of the more than 10,000 applicants expected to apply. The vast majority of those dinged candidates are every bit as strong as most of the applicants who will get an admit.

What makes the difference? Once again, Poets&Quants invited Sandy Kreisberg, founder of and one of the savviest readers to Harvard MBA tea leaves to evaluate the stats and profiles of candidates turned down in round one by HBS. His insights have proven highly valuable to thousands of HBS applicants over the years.

Sandy’s take on this 770 MBB consultant? “Guys like you get in and dinged based on execution, luck and not blowing the interview,” assesses Kreisberg. “Guess it was the first two in your case. There are lots to like but your application, as you describe it, could have been a bit over-determined, an important concept that means you were trying too hard to execute on a limited thesis (public transport blah, blah). Apps like that often seem like a policy paper versus a more personal and authentic statement about influences, accomplishments that led to lessons, and mentors. A sometimes subtle point but you know it when you read it. There’s just too much Kennedy School jive in your application. Your post has a lot of hints of that. Given the fact that you’re a white guy from MBB, well, that could do it.”


If there’s any consolation in a rejection, it should come from the fact that our consulting friend has lots of company. In fact, the median GMAT score for candidates who sought ding assessments from Sandy was an extraordinarily high 750 (see table below). Several graduated from feeder colleges and work for feeder companies. Some had their parchment punched at Ivy League schools. Some worked for McKinsey, Bain, and BCG or for Bulge Bracket investment banks or FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) companies.

There’s the Ivy Leaguer with a 740 GMAT score who is currently in medical school on a full-ride scholarship. He spent two years in research at top name-brand organizations. Or the Asian woman who also earned her economics degree from an Ivy League university with a 3.94 GPA and a 760 GMAT. She racked up four and one-half years at a bulge bracket investment banking firm before moving onto a corporate strategy role at a private equity megafund. Or the Big Four auditor who now works in PE and brought a 750 GMAT, a 3.82 GPA and both an undergraduate and master’s degree in accounting from a Top 50 private university with a Top Three accounting program.

All rejected, without an interview.