"What went wrong?”

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Inevitably this time of year, MBA applicants all over the world are asking this question. On Poets and Quants, you can read about a candidate with a 750+ GMAT, top-tier consulting or banking/private equity experience, volunteer work, great grades. And…he or she only got into their safety school.

In articles that outline shocking results (or in conversations with individuals who are seeking detailed feedback through a ding report), there is often a lot of analysis or commentary about wholesale changes a candidate should consider, tweaks they could make to their existing profile, and/or some commiseration about the competitiveness of the pool, etc.

While some disappointment is natural (even Olympic athletes feel the need to defend the value of a silver medal), the focus on the disappointment has the potential to derail a candidate’s opportunity at a great school. Many successful business school applicants still spend a good deal of time wondering why exactly they didn’t get into their top choice. It’s even tougher when you have elite qualifications, from amazing work experience to an exceptional 750+ GMAT score.

There’s a lot of logic that can go into the analysis: for example, while a 750-760 GMAT score puts you in elite company, there are still over 2000 people per year who score at or above that level, more than the annual intake at HBS and Stanford combined (and many of their slots go to candidates with scores below 750). Top-tier consulting or banking still carry weight with MBA programs, but candidates who were accepted to HBS and Stanford this year often added important "ands" to that experience. Banking AND Private Equity. Consulting AND success at a startup. Leadership outside of one's normal work responsibilities was a particularly critical "and" for top programs this year.

Given that there’s rarely a single answer for a disappointing result, detailed digging into the reasons for the outcome can distract from the most important question: