SBC Consultant Dawn Shares Her HBS Insights
Every year, SBC admissions consultants hear many of the same misconceptions, fears, and questions about Harvard Business School. SBC consultant Dawn, a Harvard MBA, stopped by the B-Schooled podcast to share her HBS insights with host and fellow HBS alum Erika.
Dawn’s been with SBC since 2011 and has a wealth of advice on what HBS looks for in applicants and what can send an application straight to the reject pile. Here are some key takeaways from their conversation that Harvard MBA hopefuls should consider.
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Pedigree Is No Guarantee
One of Dawn’s former clients had a 730 GMAT and graduated Summa Cum Laude from an Ivy League university. On top of that, he worked at a renowned global firm and had loads of volunteer leadership. She asked him why he wanted to work with an admissions consultant, given his impressive background. His answer encapsulated what we always stress.
“He said, and I quote, ‘I know many people from Ivy League universities who have better backgrounds and stats than I do who did not get into HBS. I want to know my strengths, but I also want to know all my gaps and weaknesses. I want to know everything I can do to improve to create the best background and application possible for HBS’,” Dawn shared.
Intellectual vitality and emotional IQ make an excellent foundation for a candidate’s approach to the HBS application process.
In the past, we have encountered clients who believed they didn’t need to show any volunteer work in their HBS application because their father was an alum or was a big donor to the school. “People like me don’t have to do any volunteer work and we can still get in,” one applicant boasted.
If someone comes into this process assuming they’re a slam dunk for HBS, that’s an instant red flag. Sure enough, that particular applicant eventually felt the sting of the ding from the HBS AdCom.
Applicants should understand that HBS wants leaders who deliver high-impact results. Having volunteer leadership in your background is very attractive to the admissions committee. There’s a section of the application that asks about volunteering. So, if HBS mentions it, it’s because they do value these experiences.
Why Stats Matter
Harvard Business School is famous for its case method of instruction, which originated more than a century ago. For the uninitiated, students are presented with an actual business case and must place themselves in the role of the decision-maker as they study the situation and identify the problem(s). The next step is to perform the necessary analysis—examining the causes and considering alternative courses of action to develop recommendations.
“The case method requires students to think very quickly on the spot,” Dawn explains. “It’s important to illustrate through stats, background and experiences that you have the intellectual vitality needed for the case method.”
HBS also values analytical skills, both quantitative and qualitative. For quantitative, they look at whether the candidate can analyze numbers, even if a person works in a non-quantitative field.
For example, if a candidate works in marketing, understanding units sold or how a product’s revenue increases or decreases with specific advertising methods allows the professionals to make more informed decisions.
Equally as important are qualitative analytical skills, Dawn adds. This relates to the ability to assess a problem and come up with optimal solutions.
Harvard Business School admits have a 3.7 GPA average and a 730 GMAT score. This doesn’t mean you won’t get in if your scores are lower. Likewise, higher scores don’t mean you’ll definitely get in.
“The GPA and GMAT score are a way for HBS admissions to assess the candidate’s intellectual curiosity,” says Dawn. “It does not mean that it always correlates, but it’s one area that they evaluate.”
Know the Program
A common mistake we see year after year is applicants targeting Harvard Business School based on brand recognition alone. We can’t overemphasize how crucial it is to make sure the case method learning approach is right for you. (Spoiler alert: it isn’t for everyone.)
It’s HBS’s philosophy that you cannot continuously improve if you don’t understand your strengths versus weaknesses. This MBA program prefers people who are open to improving not only their hard leadership skills but also their EQ—emotional intelligence.
Personality types who resist criticism will be uncomfortable in an HBS classroom. “In many classes, there will be people who disagree with you and point out things that you could have done better. This is part of the HBS case method process,” Dawn explains. “If this is something that you may not like as much, then you may want to take a step back about how you feel about the HBS program.”
More introverted applicants wonder whether they must take part in case method discussions. Can they get by focusing only on the written tests and spreadsheets?
“Students are evaluated on their verbal participation,” Dawn confirms. It’s common for HBS professors to “cold call” on students who aren’t raising their hands. “The bottom line there is just you’re not going to do well at HBS if you can’t or don’t want to take part in class in the case discussions several times per week if not every day.”
As an HBS applicant, you must ensure you’re up for the challenge and find a way to communicate that in your materials, she adds. “Ensuring that in your application you relay that you can communicate effectively and respectfully when challenged is something to keep in mind.”
Advice for Years-Away Applicants
Are you a couple of years out from applying? Thinking about the HBS application as early as possible helps you optimize your chances, says Dawn. The MBA application process has two phases: candidacy and execution. If you can strengthen your candidacy in advance, you have much better materials to work with once you begin executing the application.
Did you know SBC offers a Plan Ahead Package for those who are more than 13 months out from submitting applications? Contact us to learn how to boost your profile today for future admissions success.
We’ll leave you today with these final words of wisdom from Dawn, hoping they inspire you to live the life you imagine.
“How you view yourself and the world truly influences every decision you make and whether or not you optimize an opportunity.
“Challenges will arise…and when this journey seems so tiring and you feel that you may not achieve this goal, I hope this thought keeps you going: There is something that you will do better than anyone else. If you remember that, then authenticity is an infinite source of energy.”
Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to test prep to hourly help with targeted tasks. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.
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