Harvard Business School is a dream school for many aspiring MBA candidates. To learn more about the Harvard Business School (HBS), its admissions process and philosophy, our correspondent sat in on a session with Deirdre Leopold, MBA admissions director at HBS. We bring you the highlights. We also pull out information from the HBS website and other sources to complete our information package for you.
Full text of the interview with Ms. Leopold, Admissions Director, Harvard Business School (HBS)
What is unique about the Harvard Business School MBA program?
"The case method is what distinguishes HBS from other schools."
(watch a video clip on the HBS website for more on the case method ).
"90% of these cases are written by our faculty and research staff. It’s not just what we do but who we are."
"It’s nobody’s comfort zone. We may have someone with deep finance knowledge sit in a class with someone who has no background in finance. If history is any indicator, it is not the people with finance experience who get the top grades. It is not about reporting what happened. It is about thinking about possibilities and being bold about what you would do if you were in that situation. You have got to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist of the case. It is learning to take the risk. You are learning a pattern. It is a pattern of taking a problem, analyzing it and acting on it. This is repeated over and over – about 550 times before you leave here. That way of approaching things really becomes muscle memory."
"These cases are not just random stories about people. They are written to teach specific principles.”
“What kind of people don’t do well here?” asks Ms Deirdre Leopold rhetorically.
“Plenty of people who are going to do just fine may not do well here! People who expect to be spoon-fed will not do well here. You can come into a class and leave 90 minutes later less certain than you were before. There are no right answers but you definitely have preferred approaches. We are not looking for an answer, say 36.25 but at what you are going to do in that situation. What is your approach?”
What do you look for in a candidate?
1) Leadership: “We are looking for leaders. We believe that leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Not just the “larger than life leaders”- one who is always in control, rides ahead and says ‘follow me’. There are other types of leaders – you may be a positional leader or an entrepreneurial leader, one who loves creating or a thought leader or a serving leader. We look for all types of leaders,” says Ms. Leopold.
The HBS website states ‘In essence, we are looking for evidence of your potential — a portfolio of experiences, initiatives, and accomplishments that reflect a habit of leadership.’
Ms. Leopold continues, “So when you are handling a case, an entrepreneurial leader may make a point and the positional leader may react by saying, 'I would never do that!' Those are the kinds of nuances we want you to have when you are out there in the real world, you have the ability to consider other possibilities and perspectives.”
2) Intellectual growth: “We also look for intellectual capacity. It takes a strong intellect to be able to go through the program.”
3) Contribution: “Finally we are also looking for people who will contribute to society. So much of our system is based on sharing. We are looking for people who think in terms of giving instead of taking. This is very important to us.”
The HBS website states: 'So much of our MBA experience — including the case method, section life, and student-organized events—requires the active collaboration of the entire HBS community. That's why we look for students who exhibit the highest ethical standards and respect for others, and can make positive contributions to the MBA program. The right candidates must be eager to share their experiences, support their colleagues, and teach as well as learn from their peers.
Ms Leopold adds, “These are the main things we look for in an applicant. It is very hard to explain a subjective process. We spend a lot of time on each application. We spend hours agonizing on whether a candidate fits our profile.”
How many years of work experience do I need to apply to Harvard Business School?
"There is a myth out there that in order to get into business school you need to have been out there working for years and years and years. I must admit that for a while we were also guilty of propagating this myth!"
When is the right time to apply?
"It is hard to say. Look at our essay questions and if you feel that you have the answers go ahead and apply. What is the worst that can happen? You could get admitted or you could get a deferred admission or you may not be admitted. You can always apply again."
Someone asked a question about ROI.
“It is not about an ROI! It is not a transaction that you pay something and you get something. You really change yourself. You change the way you think! It is a transformational process. You are changed for life.”
What is the course structure like? How flexible is it?
"I was at a conference at Philadelphia the other day and a colleague was bragging that her MBA program was the most flexible. I jokingly said that our program is the most rigid! (smiles) The reason is that during the first year all the students go through the same 11 or 12 courses. We think this is critical and it helps everyone build a strong foundation. During your second year you can pick any courses you would like to study."
How many people apply to HBS each year and how many people are admitted? How many people are offered admits each year? How many usually accept.
"We usually get about 8,000 to 9,000 applications each year. We issue about a thousand offers each year and our yields are usually about 90%."
How do you treat international applicants? Is there any thing different an international applicant needs to do?
"International candidates are not treated any differently. They are treated just like any other candidate. "
How important is the GMAT as a selection criterion?
"Every application is reviewed as a whole package. We are admitting candidates with personalities, not scores."
If I have done my GMAT more than once, which score do you look at?
"We only look at the scores reported by you."
Are there any differences in the selection process for each round that we need to be aware of?
"Rounds one and two are essentially the same. We usually make about 400 offers each. The third round is usually different and is kind of a balancing round where we try to shape the class profile."
What is the status of a re-applicant? Do you treat them differently?
"Re-applicants are not treated differently. There is no stigma attached to a re-applicant. It makes sense to reapply if you have changed in some manner, a new experience or role or some other development."
Are there any drop outs from HBS?
"You have to really work hard to be a drop out!" (smiles!)
Can I apply to Harvard Business School straight out of college?
Financial aid at HBS?