The Warren Buffett Club: Thoughts on MBA Rejection


Jan, 12, 2013


Categories: Admissions Consulting | Reapplication | Guru Time | HBS | rants | reapplication

In this post I discuss MBA rejection, but for my less philosophical, but more practical advice on reapplication, please see A guide to my resources for reapplicantsWhile focused mostly on MBA rejection, what I write here applies to rejection from any graduate program or perhaps rejection of any kind. 

 

In a much earlier post, I wrote a review of the Warren Buffet biography, The Snowball, it was titled “A Happy Story of HBS Rejection.”  I will quote part of it at length:

 

“Once upon a time a slightly odd nineteen year-old with a continuous entrepreneurial track record from early childhood, an odd university history (attended a top East Coast School, but graduated from a public university of little repute outside its home state), and who happened to be the son of a United States Congressman applied to HBS.  He was interviewed by a highly judgmental alumnus who decided on the spot that the young man was not ready for HBS.  He was rejected.

 

The young man than applied to Columbia Business School because he realized that the author of a book on investing that he considered to be one of the best on the subject taught there.  He applied and was admitted without interview. The author became the young man’s mentor.

 

From one perspective, it could be said that HBS had made perhaps the worst admissions decision ever as it lost the chance to educate the young man.  But for the young man, his HBS rejection worked out just fine.  Maybe he would of benefited from a case study based education, but maybe not.  One thing is sure, the young man greatly benefited from his association with his CBS mentor.  Finally, it is rather clear that CBS made a great admissions decision.

 

The young man was Warren Buffett and his mentor was Ben Graham.   Buffett’s authorized biography, The Snowball,  does not record who the HBS alum was, but clearly the guy did not have an eye for talent. And yet, if one considers the issue of fit, everything about Buffett as a person strikes me as wrong for HBS and right for CBS.”

 

Young Buffet surely was unhappy with his rejection, but he did just fine.  This might come as small consolation to you if you have been rejected from one or more of your top choice schools.  Still you to get over it and move on. I know when I experienced rejection the first time I applied for graduate school, it was painful, but I learned from the experience. I wrote about this in a real old post from 2007 (updated in 2009), I’lll quote the relavent part at length:

 

“TWO STORIES

A Sad Story
In Fall 1988, during my senior undergraduate year, I decided to apply to for PhD programs in Political Science. As I was graduating in three instead of the usual four years, I was 20 years old at that time. I sought advice from two of my professors, both were tenured, one had his PhD from Harvard and the other from Princeton. They supported me, wrote recommendations (that I later used successfully in 1990), but provided me with little guidance on the admissions process. I simply followed the application instructions and made a horrible mess of the whole thing. As this was long before online applications, I filled my own out in my handwriting (A kind of childlike scribble best not seen). I was dinged everywhere.:(

 

A Happy Story 
As I mentioned in a previous post, when I applied to graduate school in 1990, I was fortunate to have an excellent mentor, a PhD student at the University of Chicago, who remains to this day one of my closest friends. I was lucky because he understood the admissions process and the relative difficulty for obtaining admission at a time when the US Economy was weak and many people were applying to graduate school (Kind of like now, but not as awful.). His advice was timely and practical and helped me succeed at getting admitted to PhD programs in Political Science.”

 

What Warren Buffett and I have in common: We both got over our rejection and found another way to achieve our graduate school objectives.  This is also what anyone who has made successful application after initial rejection has in common with Warren Buffett. It is not a bad club to be a part of. In fact, on a more general level, beyond graduate school itself, if you have been rejected from anything you really wanted, at least initially,  you probably have not challenged yourself.  Rejection is all part of life.  Only those who takes risks even have the possibility of serious rejection and it is worth taking risks.

 

As an admissions consultant, I am happy when my clients are admitted and sad when they are rejected. Like any coach ,I want those I  coach to win. They can’t win all the time. I am very clear with clients about that when they contact me and I am very clear about the role of risk in my own suggested approach to school selection.

 

Admission to top MBA and other graduate programs is a high stakes competition and you will likely lose some of the time.  Given the nature of this competition, unlike going to a casino or playing the stock market, you only need to win once.  That means for some applicants that they will apply to only one school and gain admission, for others that they will gain multiple admissions,  for others that they will apply to many schools and may only gain one admission, and for others they will be rejected completely. For those in the final category, they have to figure out how to become more attractive candidates or simply withdraw from the competition. Sometimes applicants’ school selection is way off,  but whatever the case, failure is something that can be learned from.

 

Recently Dee Leopold posted the following on the HBS Admissions Director’s Blog: 

On February 7, all candidates not being invited to interview will be notified of their release.

That’s it…and I’m thinking about whether the word “release” is a good choice. Suggestions welcome.”

 

While, it would surely not be in HBS’ interests to point out that they rejected Warren Buffett, I would suggest replacing- “On February 7, all candidates not being invited to interview will be notified of their release.”-  with  “On February 7, all candidates not receiving interview invitations will be notified that they are now part of the Warren Buffett Club.”  It could come with an explanatory message that Warren Buffett is not the only applicant who overcame rejection from HBS.  I know this is an impossible suggestion to implement, but if you are “released” on February 7th or have already been dinged elsewhere, or will be rejected everywhere, know that being amongst those who have been rejected simply means you need to move on.   

 

I suppose HBS could change their message to “On February 7, all candidates not receiving interview invitations will be invited to consider all options other than admission to the HBS Class of 2015.”  This, no doubt, would be considered in bad taste, especially amongst those without a sense of irony.  Yet, just like calling it the Warren Buffett Club, this perspective on rejection clearly is meant to tell applicants: Move on, your life is not over, you will have other opportunities.  Having worked with successful reapplicants to HBS, including one client who came to me after being rejected twice before, I know that not being part of the HBS Class of 2015, does not even mean that the Class of 2016 is out of reach.

 

From a practical viewpoint, I would tell Dee Leopold to change it as follows: “On February 7, all candidates not being invited to interview will be notified that they are no longer under consideration for the Class of 2015. Depending on your situation you might want to consider reapplication to HBS,  application elsewhere, or other options for your one wild and precious life.”  That message would be one that was simultaneously direct and  positive.  Whether it is HBS or another school, if you are rejected, life goes on and you need to learn from the experience and use it to get what you want.

 

 

 

 



-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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