On May 22, 2012, after dropping hints for years, Dee Leopold, director of admissions for Harvard Business School announced that they are
revising their application process in a significant way. For those of you who may have missed it, here are the details:
All applicants must submit answers to two essay questions listed below.
Essays required for all applicants:
- Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
- Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)
Joint degree applicants only:
- How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 words)
First, let’s look at the official comments on the website. For the essays, they simply state, “Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”
Second, let’s think about the interview part of the MBA application. If you make the cut, you will be invited to interview. After that interview,
“Candidates will be required to submit a written reflection within 24 hours following the completion of the interview.”
Dee has explained it at length in Poets & Quants, (read her interview before reading that of admissions consultants) saying “We’re also trying to find ways to help the candidate. We know how anxiety producing and stressful this whole thing is.” She’s also hosting an MBA admissions webinar. Dee is very straightforward about the HBS admission requirements.
So let’s think about it. OK, they are reducing your essay requirement. This just means that HBS is making clear that your grades, scores, and career progression are your first hurdle. That’s no surprise! Harvard has always been selective in that way. It was never true that you could get in on the strength of your essays if you were weak in academics. Dee Leopold has always said out loud, “Hello, we’re a school.”
Now this doesn’t mean that if you have the numbers that you will automatically get in — that’s why essays still exist. Career progression and quality recommendations also count — but they always did. As for requiring that the student write fewer words — it’s still going to mean that you pick what you write about carefully. You’ll just have to pack in more meaning to each word. That’s plenty of room to tell a good story. I mean, Shakespearean sonnets are normally 120 words, and each speaks volumes.
And now they are adding a 24-hour post interview response. I admit that’s an interesting twist. I’ve never seen anything like it in business, although I have in political debates. I think the best way to think of it is to assume that nobody is trying to be nefarious.
Harvard Business School admissions tries its hardest to be straightforward. Says Dee, “We’re always in design/development mode. All throughout the year we meet and dream up ways that will make it easier for you to feel ‘understood’ and undertake assessment steps that map to what we do here in the classroom and what you will do in your careers.”
Let’s see how it all plays out