Tag Archives | Dee Leopold

How to Navigate the Harvard Business School Application — Step-by-Step

Here’s a step-by-step “How to Navigate the Harvard Business School Application” video that was also posted on Poets & Quants. Believe it or not, the application’s short answers give you a really great way to present yourself as a true, and worthy member of the next class.  Take every advantage of this opportunity!

This year, the HBS application takes on a disproportional importance, as it has been made very clear by the head of admissions, Dee Leopold, that the application, plus the optional essay is simply there to determine who is going to go through their face-to-face interview process.

Of course the essay is important, but it is likely that the application that will weigh heavily, especially as they determine who will be interviewed.  Given the application’s importance, you’ll want to read through and think about it well in advance.  Note that they require you to log into the HBS site and click through about 10 times to even read it.  And then if you do, you would have to take about 20 more screenshots to even figure out what’s going on. That’s why I made this video; I went through every page and found the most important areas to differentiate yourself.

Don’t leave this all to the last minute.  But incorporate the application as part of your overall strategy to make the right impression before the admissions committee, by getting clear on what you want to say in the short answers, text boxes, and even in the additional information session.

For those of you who aren’t able to see the video, (or don’t have six minutes to spare), I’ve posted the main takeaways below:

1. Start by reading through the entire online application–without typing anything in those annoying little boxes.

2. Gather all your GMAT and employment data to fill in at the same time.

3. Don’t craft substantive answers in the text boxes. Use your Word program or pen and paper to assure your answers are as good as they can be.

4. Take advantage of these opportunities to tell the truth about yourself.

Have fun with the essay, but the application will probably weigh more up front, at least as admissions officers consider the first cut.

GMAT or GRE?

GMAT test successFor those who are applying to business school,  the question arises: should I take the GMAT or GRE?

Or if you’ve already taken one or the other,  you may be wondering if you should have taken a different test.

In all honesty, I think the answer is either, but it’s not entirely black and white.  These days, just about every top US business school accepts the GRE.  But read the fine print. Not all schools value it equally (UCLA for example) and some even have quirks (Columbia).

You’ll see a list at the end of this article that indicates, at least of this writing, which do and which do not. I’ve also put links to the school websites for further explanation. Things change all the time. The most recent data shows about 10% of students are using the GRE, and the numbers are growing.

Why do schools even take the GRE? Because they are casting a wider net to get more interesting students, and because they realize that lots of students think about joint degree programs.

Harvard Business School was one of the first schools to accept the GRE, because, as Dee Leopold said in 2009

HBS: Since many HBS applicants are also considering graduate programs besides the MBA, there is now no need for them to take the GMAT if they have already taken the GRE. We believe that the GMAT and the GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate’s ability to thrive in our MBA Program.

The Rumor Mill
Face it, both tests are standardized, and both are computer adaptive.  They are both annoying and require more studying than you want. Most, but not all schools are perfectly happy to take either. For example, this line is from Michigan Ross’s application instructions:

ROSS:Your performance on either exam will be used as part of our assessment of your academic ability, and you are at no advantage or disadvantage by taking one exam instead of the other.

But other schools, such as UCLA Anderson, strongly prefer the GMAT

ANDERSON: We prefer GMAT scores as the common denominator by which we have historically compared candidates, but we accept the GRE now as well.

That means you have to check carefully and rely on what you read and hear from admissions officers, beyond what is on chat boards, and even blogs like mine.

I thought the next few lines were hearsay, but they were just confirmed, May 30, 2014, in person, by senior members of the admissions office at Columbia.

COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL: If we have a GMAT score, we are going to use that. We will disregard the GRE.

I had a student who took the GRE for Columbia, did well, but felt he wanted to take the GMAT to prove his quant mettle. He didn’t do well because he had an off day, but because he HAD taken the test, Columbia took his GMAT instead of the GRE. What would have happened if he didn’t report the GMAT? Who ever knows? (He went to Yale SOM anyway, his first choice).

Other schools are much more relaxed.  At a May 2014 conference, Isser Gallogly, Assistant Dean of Admissions at NYU Stern, suggested that students try the GRE if they are sub-par in the GMAT.

NYU STERN: If someone is struggling with one test, try the other, the GRE

Your Quant Score
Most admissions officers admit that they want to see a balanced score on both verbal and quant. The general buzz is that around 80% on both is about right, but there’s definitely some give on both sides. So don’t fear if you get a 47 on the quant, which is turning out to be a 78% these days. As for the GRE, the population on the quant side is a bit less numbers oriented, so if you get an 80% in that pool, it’s pretty well known that you are being measured against a different population, usually not as quant-oriented as GMAT test takers. So shoot for a higher percentage, say about 85% on quant.

If you are worried about how you look by taking one test vs. another, I say, don’t worry unless they really make a point of it (like UCLA). All you need to do is get it over the net, and they pretty much tell you what a normal distribution looks like. Get within one standard deviation of the average, and you are fine.

Having said all that, if test taking is not your forte, you really should take a GRE or GMAT course. You don’t know what you don’t know about your own study habits. It’s worth the investment.

Future Employer Preference on GMAT vs GRE

One more thing–and perhaps this deserves a blog post all to itself, employers will take any statistics you throw that them.  At least that’s what representatives of the Career Development Office at Yale SOM stated on May 27, 2014, “Employers love points of data wherever they can find it. So gre or gmat doesn’t matter. They do like the numbers!”

MBA Programs: GRE in addition to GMAT

School GRE? Link
Cambridge YES Cambridge Judge
Chicago YES Chicago Booth
Columbia YES Columbia Business School
Cornell YES Cornell Johnson
Darden YES UVA Darden
Duke YES Duke Fuqua
HBS YES Harvard Business School
INSEAD YES INSEAD
Kellogg YES Kellogg MBA
Mich Ross YES University of Michigan Ross
MIT Sloan YES MIT Sloan
NYU Stern YES NYU Stern
Stanford YES Stanford GSB
Tepper YES Carnegie Mellon Tepper
Texas YES Texas McCombs
Tuck YES Dartmouth Tuck
UCLA YES UCLA Anderson (GMAT Preferred)
Wharton YES Wharton MBA
Yale YES Yale School of Management
Haas YES UC Berkeley Haas (Part-time YES)
LBS NO London Business School
Oxford NO Oxford Said

If you are looking for more schools the ETS link has a full list of MBA programs which accept the GRE.  Further, to confuse, or perhaps clarify you, ETS also has a GRE-to-GMAT converter.

UPDATED: June 5, 2014.

Interested in admissions consulting? Email me at betsy@masteradmissions.com

Just have a question? post it at my Wall Street Oasis forum

Talking About Round 3: Is it Worth Trying?

It’s that time of year for students to ask about MBA application chances for Round 3.  I’ve personally seen a number of students go through successful third-round quests, but it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Fewer Spaces, Tired Application Readers

First the odds are more competitive, as admissions committee members from Tuck recently posted on their blog. But not impossible, as they say. A work change could be a perfectly fine reason to make the third round plunge: Tuck bloggers tell the story of one student who “wasn’t completely satisfied with her professional life. She decided she was ready for a change, but, because she wanted to ensure that she presented the best possible application, she opted to let a few rounds pass..Providing a little explanation in your application as to why you’ve chosen to apply at this particular time helps the committee understand your motivations better.

And of course, Dee Leopold of Harvard Business School also chimes in with her straight talk about Round 3. Here’s what she said in a recent blog post:

Myth #1: There are no spots available.
Not true. We manage the selection process to ensure that there are always spots open for the candidates we want. Are there as many spots open as in Rounds 1 and 2? No. Are there as many applicants? No. Do I think a strong candidate has a fair shot? Yes.

Here’s more from her blog a few years back:

…we always conclude that we like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again. I know you wish I could define “interesting” with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation …

Kurt Ahlm, admissions director for Chicago Booth, also gave this advice in a March 7, Booth Insider blog post (2013, but still fresh)

Make it your best effort, not a last-ditch effort to get accepted. Treat this round with the same drive you would for any round, for any of your target schools. We know when an application has been rushed, so make sure you’re putting together a product that you can be proud of and is an accurate representation of what you can do. Don’t use the opportunity to reapply a few months later as a back-up plan.

Do’s and Don’ts

Indeed, don’t take the process cavalierly, or you will be wasting your time and the political capital you had to spend to get people to write those nice recommendations. Last year I wrote up a list of Round 3 tips that still hold true

Do apply third round if

  • You realize that there are other schools after HBS and Stanford GBS
  • You improved your GMAT score by enough to put you within the target school’s range
  • Your work or life situation changed
  • You are considering part-time programs when you only applied to full-time programs

You should NOT apply third round if

  • You only want to go to a top 5 school and you didn’t get into the top 4
  • You are outside of the school’s class profile
  • You aren’t sure what you want to do
  • The thought of filling out another application gives you a rash
  • You hate your life and it just occurred to you to get an MBA last week

Yes, it is a little on the late side, and if you are just starting to think about taking your GMAT, you probably should delay until next year. But! If you are already in the process, and ready to go, take heart. Stranger things have happened.

Apply Now or Later?

“When should I apply?”  That’s one of the first things students ask when planning their MBA application process.  The highly personal answer depends on both strategic and tactical considerations.

The Decision is Part of Your Career Strategy

round-2-boxing

The “when” question is strategic because an MBA application requires asking yourself big questions about your career and where you want to go next. Often these decisions depend on the experience you already have. If you are looking at full-time programs, that means you have to figure out whether you have enough experience to convince an admissions committee that this is the right time to leave your current job and take on the hard-core leadership and managerial training to set you up for the next phase.  Remember, the admissions committee is trying to determine your value added to your future stakeholders: classmates, faculty, and alumni.

But I Hate My Job!

That’s among the worst reasons to apply to business school. It’s really better to apply from a position of strength. Sometimes you just need one more year to gain more work autonomy, or you might want to switch functions to round out your experience, or even push yourself in a completely different direction. If you are not sure now is the time , then you are probably not ready.

Is there a target number of years? Not exactly. Most schools publish their average age and years of experience on the class profile page.

HBS Histogram

You’ll see that over the past 10 years, Harvard Business School’s students matriculated with a range of 41-54 months of full time experience.  And there’s a standard deviation of a about year  around that, giving you a plenty to work with.

If you are on the young side, think hard about the quality of the challenges and emotional intelligence you’ve demonstrated to influence outcomes. Remember, your teammate may be an astronaut, a West Point-educated Tesla employee,  a prize-winning athlete,   or just a high-performing consultant. Do you bring enough maturity, self-awareness, and resilience   to add to your teammate’s experience? It’s quite a tall order, and that’s why admission to the top schools is so competitive.

You’ll note that I’m not writing too much about someone with many years of experience. In that case, your question is not “when?” but “if?” If you think you are on the “more experienced” side, then don’t wait.  For a good, balanced perspective on the “too old” question, take a look at  Wharton’s excellent Student2Student forum.

Round 1, 2, or 3?

The decision about Round 1, 2, or 3, is more of a tactical one. I’m writing this article in the first week of January, so chances are, if you are reading it in early 2014, you probably have already missed Round 2. However, if you are thinking of next year, all things being equal (and they never are) I recommend Round 1. You’d rather have an admissions reader who is fresh and not looking to fill a gap in a class that’s already half-full. Furthermore, as a practical matter, Round 1 lets you enjoy the holiday season more, and your family with thank you for that.

This does not mean that Round 2 is an overly-tough round. Thousands of students apply and are admitted in the second round. Many have skipped on the first round because they haven’t done enough personal reflection to make sure their story and purpose are clear. Others wanted to take the GMAT score again, and for others, life got in the way. All of these are great reasons to postpone to Round 2.

Wrangling Recommenders

Recommendations are often overlooked when considering your tactical timing. I call this wrangling recommenders. You’ll need to brief and rally your recommenders to make sure they do the very best job for you. It is your job as project manager of your application to take this part of the application seriously. You will want them fully on your side, and the whole process WILL cost you some political capital. And no, you cannot write your own recommendations and just have them tweak and sign. That’s wrong.

Am I Crazy to Apply Round 3?

Finally, it’s come to this: the Round 3 question.  I personally know or have worked with students who have gotten into every top school in the country that has a third round. (MIT does not). The odds are against you, but if your tactical timing is right, then it may just work. As Dee Leopold, head of Harvard Business School admissions says,

“We like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again.”

Yes, it is a little on the late side, and if you are just starting to think about taking your GMAT, you probably should delay until next year. But! If you are already in the process, and ready to go, you may not be as crazy as you think.

The choice is always yours. Whenever you decide to apply, make sure you execute well. That probably means you shouldn’t rush. Business school is a big decision and a bigger commitment, so you should apply when you feel you are presenting your best, true self.

This prompt is partly about your ability to plan logically and partly about your ability to envision a wild future.

MBA Third Round Chances

Every year I get the same question: is it worth applying in Round 3?.  And every year I see students get in and happily matriculate, so … why not?

Fewer Spaces, Tired Application Readers

Well, it is more competitive,  as admissions committee members from Tuck recently posted on their blog. But not impossible, as they say. A work change could be a perfectly fine reason to make the third round plunge: Tuck bloggers tell the story of one student who “wasn’t completely satisfied with her professional life.  So although an MBA was something she had been considering, when her company began undergoing some changes, she decided she was ready for a change as well.  Because she wanted to ensure that she presented the best possible application, she opted to let a few rounds pass.  Additionally, providing a little explanation in your application as to why you’ve chosen to apply at this particular time helps the committee understand your motivations better.

Kurt Ahlm, admissions director for Chicago Booth, also gave  this advice in a March 7, Booth Insider blog post

Make it your best effort, not a last-ditch effort to get accepted. Treat this round with the same drive you would for any round, for any of your target schools.  We know when an application has been rushed, so make sure you’re putting together a product that you can be proud of and is an accurate representation of what you can do. Don’t use the opportunity to reapply a few months later as a back-up plan.

Do’s and Don’ts

Indeed, don’t take the process cavalierly, or you will be wasting your time and the political capital you had to spend to get people to write those nice recommendations. Last year I wrote up a list of Round 3 tips  that still hold true

Do apply third round if

  • You realize that there are other schools after HBS and Stanford GSB
  • You improved your GMAT score by enough to put you within the target school’s range
  • Your work or life situation changed
  • You are considering part-time programs when you only applied to full-time programs

You should NOT apply third round if

  • You only want to go to a top 5 school and you didn’t get into the top 4
  • You are outside of the school’s class profile
  • You aren’t sure what you want to do
  • The thought of filling out another application gives you a rash
  • You hate your life and it just occurred to you to get an MBA last week

And of course, Dee Leopold of Harvard Business School said this in her blog a few years back:

Round Three – Should You or Shouldn’t You?
…You may be asking yourself whether it’s worth your time and money to submit an application. Is it too much of a long shot?

…we always conclude that we like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again. I know you wish I could define “interesting” with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation …

Yes, it is a little on the late side, and if you are just starting to think about it, you probably should delay until next year. But! If you are already in the process, and ready to go, take heart. You are not as crazy as you think.