Pearls of Wisdom from Harvard Business School Admissions

Attention applicants! Prateek Kumar of the Harvard Crimson recently published two articles discussing B-school applications by undergraduate seniors.  The opinions presented are only the opinions of ONE PERSON, and some are debatable, but this is a worthwhile read for anyone applying to business school, and much of the advice may be broadly applicable.

In Riding the College-to-Business School Express, Kumar opens with a recitation of the staggering statistic that roughly 8,500 applications were submitted to Harvard Business School this year during its three round process. What admissions criteria are used to distinguish the cream of the crop from the bottom of the barrel? At least one important factor is the sense of “organizational context” that a student can offer. Specifically, the admissions committee looks at the organizations an applicant has been a part of, and how long they have been involved.

Of course, strong academic performance is highly valued, perhaps even more than one’s GMAT score. For older applicants, exceptional experience may make up for a weak area elsewhere in the application. And, as always, admissions committees are interested in an applicant with diverse interests.

In A Shrewd Undergraduate’s Guide to Harvard Business School admissions, Kumar lists six suggestions for building a strong application:

1. high GPA

2. high GMAT

3. Be strategic about extracurriculars: try to be a leader.

4. Be a “work in progress”.  Demonstrate that Harvard Business School can help to transform you.  If you are already sculpted, why would you need to be a part of their program?

5. For the “Harvard Business School 2+2” program, which is new, it is better to pretend to be ‘out of it’ about business than someone who has been obsessed with business ever since your grandfather gave you 100 shares of General Electric for your 10th birthday.

6. In your essays, show what makes you tick; the essays are not brag sheets.  Show HOW you accomplished X, not just that you accomplished X.

For more details on these points, refer to the articles.

Of course, for many applicants, certain aspects of their application are already fixed (i.e. GPA) and cannot be changed. However, the value of Kumar’s articles is that they give us an idea of how we should be framing or presenting ourselves to the admissions folks.


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