The MBA Admissions Directors’ Recipe for Rejection
While the recipe for instant rejection may vary slightly from school to school, the common ingredients are ethical lapses and poor behavior. These are broad categories that each admissions director elaborates on below, but one sentiment provides the dominant seasoning – dishonesty and rudeness are simply not tolerated. For example, Sara Neher, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at UVA Darden, writes, “Treating others with respect is something of paramount importance to Darden. Sometimes rudeness is an indicator of bad character and sometimes it means that the applicant is not really that interested in Darden. In either case, I do not want to admit that person, no matter the quality of their work experience or GMAT.”
A clear lack of fit or improper motivation for choosing a particular program frequently peppers the responses. For example, Sherry Wallace, Director of Admissions at UNC Kenan-Flagler explains: “Regardless of whether we are the top choice or the third choice, we want to see some passion and enthusiasm in the candidate.”
For the full recipe, read the admissions directors’ responses in full to the question: “What behavior or information would cause you to reject an MBA applicant who otherwise is a strong candidate?”
Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Liz Riley Hargrove, Associate Dean for Admissions
Behavior: Off the bat, candidates who falsify or plagiarize any component of their application would be denied. We also deny candidates whom we feel would not represent the school well or would not be positive contributors in the classroom and Fuqua/Duke communities.
Information: We collect a lot of information on our applicants and this information is used to determine the academic ability as well as overall fit with our culture and community. If we determined that a candidate did not have the necessary background to be successful academically, we would not admit them to our programs.
Georgetown McDonough, Shari Hubert, Associate Dean of Admissions
• Rude or offensive behavior towards any staff member throughout the application process.
• Finding out that the applicant lied on their application (i.e., not being truthful about a position, title, transcript etc., or not disclosing a lay-off, being fired, etc.) or did not disclose a criminal conviction.
• Finding out that the applicant misrepresented him or herself in taking an exam (TOEFL, GMAT/GRE) or in an interview (i.e., sent someone else in their place to conduct the interview. We can usually guard against this since we ask for IDs from each interviewee, even those we conduct via Skype).
HEC Paris MBA, Philippe Oster, Communication, Development & Admissions Director
When discussing the characteristics and behaviours that turn us off a candidate, the same things always spring to mind: a lack of respect for both the admissions process and the interviewers, telling lies on the application, poor letters of recommendation….But there are few other habits that will put us off a seemingly strong candidate.
Whilst it is important to sell yourself on your application, it is important to remain true to yourself and your achievements. When a candidate goes overboard trying to sell themselves, it raises a few eyebrows. We double check our applications, and if we find out that a candidate has been less than honest about the scale of his or her achievements – even if it was all in the name of making themselves sound a more appealing candidate – we will not be best impressed. We are fully aware that the top MBA courses are competitive but we also know at the same time that the perfect candidate doesn’t exist; when a candidate seems almost too good to be true, they usually are!
Another key factor in a candidate’s application is coherence. We want to attract the best, most driven candidates, and so their motivation in applying for HEC Paris MBA has to be clear. It is completely normal for a candidate to apply for more than one business school, but when someone just blindly applies to the top 25 without thinking about whether that school offers the best experience for them and their professional aspirations, it doesn’t motivate us to accept them. Eclectic choices with little consideration are not an indicator of the strong-decision making and foresight that is so important when studying for an MBA.
Each business school is different, and so it is important for the candidate to carefully consider their choices and only apply for the ones that cater to both their professional goals and personality. We wouldn’t expect a candidate to find that more than four of the top MBAs complement them perfectly, and so their application should reflect this.
IE Business School, Jean Marie Winikates, Director of North America at IE Business School
1. Information that doesn't add up on the application and is still unclear after the interview.
2. Behavior that exhibits poor judgment.
3. Someone who exhibits goals that do not align with the program outcomes.
IMD, Lisa Piguet, Associate Director MBA Admissions and Marketing
As far as behaviour goes – as you know, our interview process is the most unique in the industry so we get to witness all kinds of behaviours. For me, I do not tolerate people who do not give space to others in a discussion. IMD is 95% international so English is the second language to most of our class (if not the third, fourth or fifth language). Therefore it is really important to me that people give each other the respect and courtesy to express themselves in the best way they know how. If someone in a group discussion does not allow this, I do not tolerate it.
The second part to the question – rejecting someone. We reject people when we see that they have written their own letters of recommendation or if they’ve lied on their application. We also do background checks at IMD (only after someone has been accepted) so if anyone has lied in the application we will find it out here as well and this is automatic grounds for dismissal (obviously we give them a chance to explain or clear things up before dismissing them).
London Business School, Oliver Ashby, Senior Manager, Recruitment & Admissions, MBA Programme
Every communication and information point is a valuable addition to our assessment of a candidate. We have a set of values that define us as a learning community and we look for evidence that candidates are aligned with those when assessing their fit for our school. We do not seek out behaviour to exclude applicants but instead actively seek to champion evidence that a candidate has the right ‘cultural fit’ for LBS. That is to say they demonstrate they are communal, open and engaged. We also look for candidates who we feel are likely to play an enduring role in the schools future.
Notre Dame Mendoza, Debby Herczeg, Assistant Director, Graduate Business Programs Admissions
Our focus is in ethics and values, so something that may cause us to reject an otherwise strong candidate, would be behavior or information that has shown the candidate to be unethical. There are many situations where a person can fall into this category, so of course, we would review the entire case to see if there would be need for concern.
The additional consideration is values. Does the candidate have any example of not having similar values as the University? Ethics and values are an important part of our curriculum and we hope that all of our graduates represent the program and University based on what they learn here at Notre Dame.
Toronto Rotman, Niki da Silva, Director, Recruitment & Admissions, Full Time MBA
The behaviour that would cause our admissions committee to reject an otherwise strong candidate would be arrogance. The culture at Rotman is a program of equals where individuality is a core value at the School, so a candidate who comes across as arrogant simply won’t be a good fit with others in the program, despite having otherwise impressive qualifications.
We are looking for people who value the contribution and unique skills/experiences others can bring and admitting candidates who believe they are superior to others is far too damaging to the culture to be considered. This arrogance can come across in an admissions interview, sometimes in an essay, and also in reference letters.
The Lauder Institute, (Joint-Degree MA International Studies & Wharton MBA/Penn Law JD), Meghan Ellis, Associate Director of Lauder Admissions
As a program that focuses on international business and management issues, global and regional studies, and cross-cultural proficiency, the Lauder Institute has a strong emphasis on foreign language skills. A successful Lauder applicant must have at least an advanced level of proficiency in one of our non-native language programs (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish).
The only exceptions are that native-level Spanish, French, and Italian speakers can enter our Portuguese program without prior knowledge of the language, and for our new Global program we ask that applicants have strong proficiency in two languages other than English.
The above comments refer specifically to the Lauder Institute – not the Wharton MBA.
UVA Darden, Sara E. Neher, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions
I’m continually amazed by how some applicants every year are rude, either directly to me, or to members of the Admissions team. Examples are things like signing up for events and not attending, short, terse emails, or canceling a class visit or interview at the last minute and expecting the admissions team to be able to accommodate you at your convenience (amazingly – expecting a class visit when there are not classes, like Fridays).
Treating others with respect is something of paramount importance to Darden. Sometimes rudeness is an indicator of bad character and sometimes it means that the applicant is not really that interested in Darden. In either case, I do not want to admit that person, no matter the quality of their work experience or GMAT.
UNC Kenan-Flagler, Sherry Wallace, Director of Admissions
Some of the reasons we would avoid admitting applicants that might appear to be strong candidates, include:
• Candidate perceived to be a mismatch with our school. Maybe the candidate’s values (expressed or witnessed) don’t match Kenan-Flagler values. Maybe the candidate seeks a particular curriculum that we don’t offer or a career outcome that we don’t think we are best suited to help them achieve.
• Candidate has been excessive in contacting the admissions office and requesting individual attention. Too many inquiries, too many requests for one-on-one meetings or phone calls – beyond that which is appropriate. Note that we encourage candidates to engage with us. I’m referring here only to those people whose demands for individual attention are unreasonable.
• Candidate received negative feedback from staff or students. Perhaps the candidate came to campus and was rude or inappropriate with the staff or students they met.
• Candidate doesn’t display sincere interest in being a student at our school. We expect that most applicants will consider multiple schools. Regardless of whether we the top choice or the third choice, we want to see some passion and enthusiasm in the candidate.
• Candidate presented fraudulent information.
Vanderbilt Owen, Christie St. John, Director of Admissions
What are reasons we would deny an otherwise strong candidate? I can think of three main reasons.
First, if we hear from our students that a candidate has acted inappropriately in a social situation with the students, i.e., having said or done something highly offensive, we would not admit the person. It doesn't happen a lot, but when our students report such an incident, we know that the person would not be a good fit in our community.
Second, if we feel that the person has career goals that are simply not feasible, whether because of their lack of essential work experience, their interpersonal skills, or maybe because they want something that we don't feel our program can help them with. We talk very frankly and honestly with applicants whose goals don't seem to align with their experience. We explain that we want them to get a job and that we will do everything we can to help, but they may need to be flexible and be willing to work very hard to get into something they just don't have the background for. We feel this is the only ethical way to do business – to set people up for success.
Finally, we occasionally "google" some of the people we are interviewing, just to get an idea of what their interests are. Many times we discover fun facts that help us find the right students to connect with the applicant. But once, a colleague actually discovered some very serious criminal allegations against an applicant which led to his incarceration. No mention of this was made in the application, and had we not done some searching, we would not have known about this. Many schools use background checks for all admitted students to verify credentials and check for criminal offenses. We haven't done that for a while at Vanderbilt but we are considering it now.
There are probably other things but these are at the top of the list.
UCLA Anderson, Jessica Chung, Associate Director, MBA Admissions
Blatant plagiarism in the application essay is something that can make an otherwise strong MBA candidate inadmissible. An applicant can have great academics, work experience and other qualities, but if he/she behaves unethically by copying passages from other sources and passing off as his/her own work, there’s a strong chance that this behavior can continue as a student in the program and that’s not someone we want as a part of our community.
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