Category Archives: Harvard Advice

R1 Update From Harvard Business School

In her latest update to the Harvard Business School MBA admissions blog, Director Dee Leopold explained what happens today for Round 1 applicants waiting anxiously for news of their status. To recap, potential candidates can …

HBSIn her latest update to the Harvard Business School MBA admissions blog, Director Dee Leopold explained what happens today for Round 1 applicants waiting anxiously for news of their status. To recap, potential candidates can expect to receive either an invitation to interview,  placement on the waitlist, or be released.

For those who received an email notification today with interview details, congratulations! However, if you were not successful in your R1 application to Harvard, you should know that while the blow certainly stings, it truly is better to know now so that you may refocus your energies on your other target schools and perhaps the next round deadlines.

While placement on the waitlist can be frustrating, or even feel like a disappointment, we think applicants should really pay close attention to how Leopold explains the process, and the odds. The waitlist is where promising candidates end up when there has been an array of outstanding applicants in a particular round, and yes, this is good news, because it means you’re still in the running!

At Harvard Business School, placement on the waitlist means the admissions committee wants to re-review your candidacy after they see Round 2  applications. In the best case, you would be invited to interview on the R2 timetable; otherwise, the school will inform you of your release in mid-February.

“We anticipate that approximately 100 Round 1 applicants will be asked to join the waitlist on October 24,” Leopold says, later explaining that, “Last year, we interviewed 48 Round 1 candidates who were placed on this early waitlist before interview and admitted 24 of them.”

Those odds may be longer than you’d like, but for a top-notch MBA program, many applicants are happy to take their chances.

For more on this topic, read our post from the spring with advice for accepted, waitlisted and denied MBA applicants.

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Advice from Harvard’s MBA Admissions Director

Don’t try to stand out, do make sure you understand—and are excited about—the case method approach to learning, and stay curious are three of the main pieces of advice Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold offers …

Don’t try to stand out, do make sure you understand—and are excited about—the case method approach to learning, and stay curious are three of the main pieces of advice Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold offers applicants in a recent post on her director’s blog.

While some candidates may feel deflated after reading her remarks, fearing they might have to switch strategies mid-stream, Leopold’s tips benefit anyone applying to Harvard and other case method-based MBA programs.

Tip #1

“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.”

I would add that excellence comes in many different packages, and sometimes small examples can brilliantly illustrate your distinctive contributions. Avoid any attempt to manufacture a memorable impression and instead focus on relaying with enthusiasm your own unique accomplishments and interests. You’re not being asked to talk about yourself for any other reason than to help a school learn why you made the choices you did. What those choices were is hardly relevant.

Tip #2

“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.”

The Case Method approach is a proven winner because it brings the subject to life, brings business back to reality, and allows you to benefit from the professional experiences of a diverse group of classmates. However, this method may not be for everyone.  Other top programs, such as Chicago Booth School of Business, Kellogg School of Management, Yale School of Management and more rely on a broader mix of teaching methods.

Tip #3

“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.”

I like to remind applicants to stay connected to the bigger picture ”“ remember what this process is all about.  Ultimately it is not about submitting a set of essays.  It is not even about getting in to X school.  It is about your future, your career, creating opportunities for yourself.  Tap into all the things in life that inspire you; this will help you to make things happen.

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Tuesday Tips: Harvard Business School MBA Essay Tips

The essay questions and deadlines for Harvard Business School’s class of 2015 are now posted online on the HBS admissions website along with the questions for recommenders. This year’s essay questions are a strong departure …

The essay questions and deadlines for Harvard Business School’s class of 2015 are now posted online on the HBS admissions website along with the questions for recommenders. This year’s essay questions are a strong departure from previous years, specifically in the number and length of the essays.

At Stacy Blackman Consulting we always take a holistic approach to our clients’ MBA admissions process, and this approach will be especially well suited for the application changes this year.

As you approach the HBS application you will need to think about more than just the essay questions ”“ make sure your resume is a compelling view of your career path, your recommenders are providing specific examples of your management potential and leadership qualities, and approach the two essay questions as opportunities to showcase who you are and what motivates you. The final essay, written in 24 hours after your interview, should fit in holistically with the rest of your application. A thorough self assessment of your strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as you approach this essay set.

The limited word count for Harvard Business School essays forces applicants to be focused and concise. When you answer a question, think about a discrete example that can be efficiently described, leaving you room to discuss lessons learned.

Harvard Business School is interested in knowing how you work as a person, how you think, and what kind of leader you are. Community involvement and a broad international perspective are certainly valued. Most importantly, specific and concise examples are the best way to demonstrate who you are. Without specifics, a claim to be a leader is empty.

Essay 1: Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
Similar to the “three accomplishments” essay prompt of prior years, this is your opportunity to highlight one of your most impressive accomplishments. When you think about the ideal topic for this question make sure you are pulling from all aspects of your life, not just work. If you have an impressive accomplishment in a volunteer or extracurricular activity, this could be an opportunity to showcase both the accomplishment and your commitment to the activity.

While an incredibly impressive accomplishment may seem important to this question, it’s actually better to show the moments where you grew, changed or realized something crucial about yourself. If you were an Olympic gold medalist yet this objectively impressive accomplishment wasn’t meaningful in your life, it has far less impact in an MBA application. Even a seemingly humble accomplishment can be illuminated with your own reflection.

That being said, this is also an opportunity to “brag” about a key achievement, and it should be something that you are proud of not only because of the result but also the process. Make sure you provide detailed information about your own individual contribution to the achievement to highlight your ability to lead and achieve through your direct efforts.


Essay 2: Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)

In past years HBS has required an essay about a mistake. This essay is similar and asks you to consider situations that did not turn out as you wanted.

As you think about a triumph in your life in essay 1, essay 2 leads you to consider a challenge. As you consider how to approach this question, make sure you evaluate how you were able to move past and overcome the situation. Leadership can be effectively formed through difficulty (often referred to as “crucibles”) and HBS is interested in your own personal reaction to setbacks. Are you someone who can effectively navigate disappointment? How do you react when challenged? Are you able to learn from experience?

As you recount the situation that you wish had gone better, it will be crucial to demonstrate what you have learned. Think about why you selected this specific experience and what change and growth resulted from the situation. This essay is your opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities.

New this year is the opportunity to “have the last word” in your HBS application. If you are invited for an interview you will be asked to submit an essay quickly afterwards. HBS is selective in the interview process and does not conduct interviews “blind.” Therefore, you will likely have a detailed opportunity to talk about your specific situation in the interview and also in the written reflection.

Following the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection using our online application system. This must be submitted within 24 hours following the completion of the interview. Detailed instructions will be provided to those applicants who are invited to the interview process.
This essay is your opportunity to leave a positive impression with the admissions committee and you should take full advantage to accomplish that goal.

This essay is designed to give you an opportunity to provide all relevant information, even after you have submitted your application and conducted an in-depth interview. At that point you may feel like you have contributed everything you can to the application process. Therefore, it will be useful to think about how you will approach this essay before you are even invited for the interview.

Before you select a topic for this question refer to your application strategy and list of strengths and weaknesses. Did you cover your key professional experiences? What have you demonstrated about leadership? If you have not addressed important extracurricular or volunteer activities or a story from your background that illuminates your interest in HBS and potential contribution to the class, this is the ideal space to provide that information.

If you have an outline of what you are likely to write in this essay it will make it much easier to submit a coherent and self-aware essay in 24 hours. Then you can tailor the final essay to incorporate your perception of the interview and any thoughts about areas you could have illuminated further. Overall, the entire application should formulate a holistic view of you and your fit with HBS.

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SBC Scoop: Crafting Credibility for a Family Business Applicant

Ahmed was the son of a self-made billionaire who owned a real estate empire in the Middle East. When Ahmed started thinking about business school he decided to work with Stacy Blackman Consulting because he …

Ahmed was the son of a self-made billionaire who owned a real estate empire in the Middle East. When Ahmed started thinking about business school he decided to work with Stacy Blackman Consulting because he saw his experience within the family business, largely working directly for family members, as his largest challenge in the application process.

In reality having work experience and goals that center around a family business can be a huge asset to an MBA application. After all, family business applicants are guaranteed to have a job after graduation, which minimizes any placement stress for the career services office! On a serious note, having a leadership role in your family business can be just as impressive as working for a stranger if you position your experience and recommenders correctly.

Ahmed had strong numbers with a 3.6 GPA from Cornell and a 720 GMAT that was balanced between quant and verbal. He had demonstrated leadership in college, specifically as the President of the International Student Program Board, with a mission to develop international cultural experiences for Cornell students. Ahmed had immediately returned to his family business upon graduation, and he had never worked for any other organization professionally.

We addressed his recommenders immediately upon starting our work together. Ahmed worked closely with his father, the CEO, yet we advised that an immediate family member would look biased if he wrote the recommendation.

Ahmed’s career path within his father’s real estate empire was impressive by any measure, and I was immediately excited to help craft his story when he recounted his work history. Ahmed started as part of the strategic acquisitions team and learned how to structure deals and operate within a challenging political environment to achieve the company’s business goals in commercial real estate. Ahmed had a vision for expanding the company into temporary housing and hotels to serve a growing expatriate worker population, and pitched the board an idea to develop their first apartment building. When his pitch was approved Ahmed moved from an analyst role to supervising construction, sales and operations of the apartment property. His building was an immediate success, after Ahmed’s team signed corporate relocation deals at a higher profit than the region’s average. Ahmed now wanted to return to school for his MBA with a long term goal to run the residential division of the family business and drive rapid growth. Ultimately Ahmed was positioned to take over the entire business from his father.

While Ahmed’s work history was impressive, he needed the confirmation of unbiased outside observers to give his work experience credibility. We had to delve into Ahmed’s work history within the firm to generate a list of possible recommenders who were not family members. After two brainstorming sessions we finalized the following list:

The firm’s head counsel ”“ he was not part of the family, but did report into Ahmed’s father
An independent business consultant who had worked with Ahmed on several acquisitions ”“ he was not a direct report of Ahmed’s father, but did have a vested interest in working with the company again
The banker who worked with Ahmed’s company to finance big deals ”“ again, not directly related to the company but invested in its success

We determined that these three professionals were the most unbiased of the possibilities, and had the added benefit of being unrelated to Ahmed. In the end he used the consultant and banker as references for Wharton, Chicago and Kellogg, and used all three recommendations for Harvard. For Stanford he asked the banker, consultant and a classmate who had worked with Ahmed as part of the International Student Program Board for a peer recommendation.

In addition to formulating a strong recommender strategy for Ahmed, we showcased his strong results for the business by quantifying the revenue his new division generated for the business. Luckily his numbers were impressive and the combination of strong leadership skills, business acumen, and independent recommendations earned Ahmed an admit to Harvard.

To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.

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Tuesday Tips – Harvard Business School (HBS) Essay Tips

The essay questions and deadlines for Harvard Business School’s class of 2014 are now posted online on the HBS admissions website along with the questions for recommenders. Set your strategy before you approach any set …

The essay questions and deadlines for Harvard Business School’s class of 2014 are now posted online on the HBS admissions website along with the questions for recommenders.

Set your strategy before you approach any set of MBA essays. This year Harvard has given applicants four required questions, requiring you to address specific aspects of your candidacy. A thorough self assessment of your strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as you approach this essay set. If you are working with a consultant, it’s a great idea to brainstorm about the best stories you have to demonstrate your key leadership, management, academic and personal qualities and that also fit the required essay prompts.

The limited word count for Harvard Business School essays forces applicants to be focused and concise. When you answer a question, think about a discrete example that can be efficiently described, leaving you room to discuss lessons learned.

Harvard Business School is interested in knowing how you work as a person, how you think, and what kind of leader you are. Community involvement and a broad international perspective are certainly valued, as you can see by the topics. Most importantly, specific and concise examples are the best way to demonstrate who you are. Without specifics, a claim to be a leader is empty.

1. Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

This HBS classic remains largely unchanged from prior years. This is your opportunity to highlight your most impressive accomplishments, especially those that are very unique to your experience. When you think about topics for this question make sure you are pulling from all aspects of your life, not just work. If you have an impressive accomplishment in a volunteer or extracurricular activity, this is the ideal place to showcase both the accomplishment and your commitment to the activity.

While an incredibly impressive accomplishment may seem important to this question, it’s actually better to show the moments where you grew, changed or realized something crucial about yourself. If you were an Olympic gold medalist yet this objectively impressive accomplishment wasn’t meaningful in your life, it has far less impact in an MBA application. Even a seemingly humble accomplishment can be illuminated with your own reflection.

That being said, this is also an opportunity to “brag” about your own key achievements. Make sure you provide detailed information about your own individual contribution to the achievement to highlight your ability to lead and achieve through your direct efforts.

2. Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)

In past years HBS has required an essay about a mistake. While this essay is similar because it requires you to reflect upon your ability to learn from difficult circumstances, it also a mirror reflection of the “three accomplishments” essay.

As you think about the triumphs in your life in essay 1, essay 2 leads you to consider the difficulties. Setbacks can be either a result of your own actions or of circumstantial, however the most important aspect of a setback is how you were able to move past and overcome the situation. Leadership can be effectively formed through difficulty (often referred to as “crucibles”) and HBS is interested in your own personal reaction to setbacks. Are you someone who can effectively navigate disappointment? How do you react when challenged? Are you able to learn from experience?

Use most of the allotted space to describe your reaction to the setback rather than the background story. As you recount your setbacks it will be crucial to demonstrate what you have learned. Think about why you selected each experience and what change and growth resulted from the situation. This essay is your opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities.

3. Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)

In past years Harvard has asked about your career vision. This new essay prompt allows much more latitude in your response, yet should be focused entirely on the overall “why MBA” question.

For all applicants career goals are a crucial reason to pursue a professional degree like an MBA, and it will be important to communicate what you hope to accomplish with the degree. While this question is not focused on your career vision, it may be a useful exercise to imagine the future career of your dreams. What will you need to do to achieve this goal? What will an MBA from Harvard add to your life to bring you closer to your dream career? Thinking about the deeper motivations for your career like helping others, being part of a transformation in your country or industry, or serving as a role model for underrepresented types of leaders can help you crystallize what you truly want and how an MBA fits.

Also consider exploring personal motivations for your MBA. Focusing only on professional advancement may not describe the full range of motivations for an MBA. For many applicants there are additional reasons to pursue an MBA that can range from networking opportunities to cross functional inspiration. It is certainly likely that you hope to learn from your classmates and professors, and that you plan to take advantage of clubs and extracurricular opportunities.

4. Answer a question you wish we’d asked. (400 words)

Entirely open ended questions can be a gift to an applicant, or can derail an otherwise strategic application.

While this question may look similar to the “optional essay” asked by many other business schools, do not be tempted to use this space to explain a low GPA or GMAT score. If you must discuss a significant weakness in this application there is a brief space in the online application for that information. This essay is your opportunity to leave a positive impression with the admissions committee and you should take full advantage of the 400 words available.

Before you select a topic for this question refer to your application strategy and list of strengths and weaknesses. Have you covered your key professional experiences? What have you demonstrated about leadership? If you have not addressed important extracurricular or volunteer activities or a story from your background that illuminates your interest in HBS and potential contribution to the class, this is the ideal space to provide that information.

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B-school Buzz: Interviews, Acceptance, Book Recs and More

This week, our B-school Buzz bloggers share some exciting news on their b-school applications and internship interview tips, among other updates.

This week, our B-school Buzz bloggers share some exciting news on their b-school applications and internship interview tips, among other updates.

Accepted! – If you’ve ever had the gratifying experience of learning that your b-school application has been accepted, then Ellipsing My Way… To Business School’s post about hearing from the Cornell Johnson School of Management will take you right back to that magical (and overwhelming) moment. He writes, “I didn’t know what to do or say. To be honest I barely remember what was said…  ‘Congratulations this…  deposit that…’  All I could do is keep saying ‘Thank you… Thank you…. Thank you….’  I do remember saying ‘I’m sorry I don’t even know what to say other than thank you…'” Way to go, Ellipsing!

Interview invites – Mako at Random Wok had good news to share this week as well: He’s been invited to another interview, this time with the Wharton School. This was especially great to read, given that Mako was dealing with a rejection from Harvard Business School last week. Once again, he writes with emotional candor about his application process so far, and ends the post on a positive note: “I’ve been invited to interview at more than half the schools I applied to, and reaching this milestone is a good feeling.”

Internship interviews – Meanwhile, Praz at Columbia MBA Class of 2012 reminded us that the interviews don’t end once you’re accepted to a program. He shared his preparation strategies for on-campus internship interviews, explaining how he readied himself for both the technical and behavioral/fit parts of his interviews. The result? “For the summer I’ll be here in NYC at American Express as a finance manager intern,” he writes. Nicely done!

A couple of other posts worth checking out this weekMilitary to Business shares some research he conducted to find out how many military personnel have made their way to Harvard Business School, and the GMAT Prep blog highly recommends the book The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma, commenting, “I like the way Robin Sharma makes success look so easy and achievable…. Consistent simple steps followed daily lead you to success.” Sounds like a book worth checking out.

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