Reactions to HBS Admissions Decisions

Time for a quick blog post in the wake of HBS sending out its three waves of decisions (October 6th, 8th, and 14th).  You can read the whole thing or you can just read this line, probably: don't take this stuff personally, understand there are a ton of great schools out there, and keep moving forward.  

Need more? Okay, let's break it down, with three Golden Rules for receiving a decision of this magnitude. 

Rule #1 - Don't take it personally. 

Easier said than done, I know.  But take it from someone who got a "pass" hundreds of times in Hollywood before finally selling a TV pilot - if you take this stuff personally, it will be the end of you.  It's ultimately a question of too much talent for not enough spots (both in Hollywood and at HBS) and so people are going to get squeezed.  It does NOT necessarily mean you weren't good enough or someone didn't like you or any of that.  You simply can't let this impact you on a broader level.  Yes, allow yourself to be disappointed - it IS disappointing news.  But anytime you set your sights on a school with an acceptance rate below 10%, you have to be ready for the possibility that it might not work out.  So instead of letting it get in your head, try to find new ways of processing the info.  Maybe you weren't supposed to go to HBS and another b-school is the place for you.  Maybe the person you need to meet is not going to be in Boston the next two years.  Who knows.  

If you are in the large, unfortunate group that I would describe as "HBS material but did not receive an interview invite," what I would would 100% recommend is picking up a copy of the book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday and reading at least the first 2/3 of it ASAP.  It will change your perspective on failure, rejection, and setbacks. 

Rule #2 - There may not be a reason. 

Grammatically, that didn't sound like a rule, really - maybe it's more of a mantra.  But this is an idea you need to hold in your head in the wake of something like this: there may not have been a "reason" you got dinged.  When I work with an elite MBA applicant, my thought process on HBS goes like this: 

  1. Understand that probably half the applicant pool is elite, so that is where they start
  2. Know that by helping my clients avoid mistakes, I can get them into the top third 
  3. Know that by helping my clients dig deep and be introspective and share who they are, I can get them into the top quarter 
  4. Understand that even if they are in the top quarter, the odds are still only about 70% that they will get an interview, meaning that random chance and the sheer crush of the numbers game will keep some out

The reason I remind myself of this is so that I can avoid beating myself up when some of them don't get the interview.  I am a human being so of course my mind goes to "what did they do wrong?" and "what should I have advised them to do differently?"  There may not be answers to those questions. 

The reason this is so important has nothing to do with handling the HBS decision and everything to do with all the applications to follow.  You simply can't allow a negative data point (HBS ding) to cause you to junk your whole process or consider it flawed.  Because it quite simply may have been perfect and you still got dinged.  The danger in HBS being the first deadline this year is that it introduced a negative result into the analysis for 85% of the applicant pool, which is going to cause people to question their processes and stories for their remaining schools - and that is where a bit of bad luck can cause you to implode.  Hold steady.  Don't panic.  Don't succumb to the very human reaction of "needing a reason" that this happened. 

Rule #3 - Trust in the idea of fit

In one of my all-time favorite Seinfeld moments, Frank Costanza (George's dad) exclaimed "if they don't want me, I don't want them!" I have always loved that reaction and think it very much applies to b-schools.  Look, if a school decides you don't fit there, lean into that and say "screw you, I don't want to go there now anyway."  I was once accepted to virtually every law school I applied to, but not Stanford.  So guess what?  I decided Stanford Law sucked anyway and I happily attended U Chicago.  Does Stanford Law suck?  Of course not, but it was a healthy way for me to turn the page and embrace the opportunity before me.  And what I know for sure is this: U Chicago Law did NOT suck and I loved it there.  But part of the process was taking a stance of "if they don't want me, I don't want them."  

More to the point, if we can allow ourselves to think even just a little bit that these schools are good at measuring fit - and we know we put our hearts on the page in the essay - then maybe they have done us a favor by not forcing a square peg into a round hole.  Maybe you would have truly hated going to HBS.  Maybe you are someone who wants a laid back environment and would have despised the more hard-charging nature.  Maybe the winter would have gotten to you.  Who knows.  But it's helpful to at least allow for the idea that the schools can be a good partner in our journey to find the right fit.  Yes, HBS is a titanic brand and a great school ... but its not the best school for every single person.  Maybe, just maybe, they helped you discover that by not letting you even go there.  

If you are reeling from an HBS ding and want some help sorting through all this - finding out if your process was sound or flawed, what to do next, etc.  - email us at