Some Straight Talk from the HBS Admissions Team

Earlier this week Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold authored a blog post titled “Some General Thoughts Which You May or May Not Like.” While nothing in this post is particularly controversial or crushing (or even new), whenever an admissions officer speaks, applicants usually pay attention. Most of Leopold’s advice boils down to “Do your homework on HBS, don’t try to full us, and assume that we want you to do what the application instructions say.”

Leopold wrote (taken from the HBS blog; bolding is ours):

  • Try to resist the urge to make “standing out” your primary goal in the admissions process. If you have made traditional choices all along (college, extra-curriculars, major field of study, jobs), own it. You’ll look silly if you try to portray yourself as a rogue daredevil. There are plenty of people at HBS who come from traditional backgrounds.
  • Do your homework about the case method. It’s our signature pedagogy and it is nothing like traditional academia. Watch Inside the Case Method on our website and ask yourself if you find this method of learning intriguing and exciting. If it’s not for you, choose another school now vs. later.
  • When choosing recommenders, determine whether or not they can answer the question we pose: what piece of constructive advice have you given to the candidate? If they can’t answer, they probably don’t know you well enough to write a helpful recommendation.
  • Realize that we’re serious when we say that our challenge is “selection” vs. “evaluation.” Our promise to our faculty and to every student is to deliver the most diverse class – on multiple dimensions – as we possibly can. I’ve never heard an HBS student say: “I wish there were more students just like me in my section.” Selection can look mysterious to the outside world because not all of the elements of diversity can be captured in metrics. Some, like leadership style, are subtle and communicated more obliquely.
  • Stay curious. It’s so easy to stay “heads down” during the application process and become so introspective that you lose sight of the larger world. Keep reading. Keep listening. We’re looking for people who can dig into a case about a company they have never heard of, in an industry they don’t think they care about – and be 100% engaged.

Some applicants have complained that the above is just more abstract advice, and that this doesn’t bring them any closer to knowing what Harvard Business School wants. If you find that to be the case, then ignore the post… it wasn’t meant to confuse you! But rest assured that no business school benefits from intentionally obfuscating the process. They want to make it as easy and stress-free as the process can be, knowing that this is an inherently tough process and will inevitably cause some sleepless nights for all involved.

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