We’ve frequently applauded HBS for improving the process for Brave Supplicants, and for being more transparent, such as with GRE and GMAT scores in applicants and students done in 2014. The changes that HBS made to admissions over the years, particularly with the “mid-cycle release”, really revolutionized how the process works for all of you, and several other schools followed their lead and implemented similar changes. This is super-applicant-friendly. Round 1 candidates benefit tremendously. You get to find out really early in the season if you’re moving to the next stage with them.
Before this innovation with the mid-cycle release, you had to wait till December if you were going to be rejected — or actually, January, since at the time, that’s when Round 1 decisions came in. Yup, you had to submit Round 2 apps at other schools without even knowing if your Round 1 apps were successful or not. Don’t have to tell you how much THAT sucked. Can’t recall which school was the one that started pulling decision releases into December but we’re thinking that was Harvard too.
Harvard has also been the school to move Round 1 app deadlines into September; they did so tentatively at first, moving it from the beginning of October which had been everyone’s standard, up to September 24 in 2012, and then to September 16 in 2013, and then in 2014 a full month earlier than many other schools’ deadlines. (In 2017 the Round 1 deadline was September 6.) This we also feel is to the benefit of EVERYONE in MBA admissions, because it lights a fire under the BSers’ butts much much earlier than ever before. Several other schools now have apparently felt empowered by Harvard’s bravery to also place their Round 1 deadlines in September, which provides further benefit since it means more of those deadlines are spread out over a longer timeframe – which in our experience, results in better apps to every school, since all the workeffort isn’t all lumped together in one two-week period for all of your apps. We noticed this specifically this year with the increase in quality we saw in BSers’ Rd 1 apps. So again, “Thank you, Harvard Business School.”
But the biggest innovation came in 2010 with this mid-cycle release thing. Before Harvard implemented that, you’d just submit the app in October and wonder. And wonder. And wonder. You’d finally get the “no” in December confirming what you would by-then know was inevitable – you’d basically resign yourself to being rejected if you didn’t get an interview invite by the end of November, but that’s a very long sequence of grueling undefined and doubt-filled days to go through before you get the actual word “No” on your app. This is still how a few schools do it, which is pretty lousy, as many of you will be experiencing in the weeks to come. For Harvard and several others, the process is now different.
We are of course referring to the vast majority of Harvard applicants here – not the ones who are getting the interview invitations this week, but the ones who did not, and will not. For that second group, the mid-cycle “release” seems very kind. You’re hearing really really early in the cycle that you’re a no-go for Harvard. Blat. OK well, shoot, that hurts. But at least you can regroup and move on. You can start your Round 2 planning early enough to actually fix the issues and create a competitive application.
So why is the title of this post referring to some “major problem” with how HBS does it?
It is this:
The “major problem” is, a very large percentage of those people are actually TOTALLY QUALIFIED and will UNDOUBTEDLY (if they play their cards right) MAKE IT IN TO ANOTHER REALLY GOOD SCHOOL. One without the word “Harvard” in its name, but a good school nonetheless.
Yet on the “release” day, all these well-qualified and capable Brave Supplicants turn into the most self-doubting and dejected group of people on the planet.
In fact, if you got all of them together in one room on that release day, you’d probably see the world tilt off its axis due to the weight of the depression and despair.
Despite all of our warnings and cautions and the work we do in trying to help set expectations among the lot of you, we know it doesn’t help. You get rejected – when you thought you’d be The One – and it is downright awful. (This is particularly sharp given that those who are rejected from Harvard, despite being so qualified, have typically been success stories in life, so this is sometimes an unusual set of circumstances, and emotions, to be dealing with.)
Those more-reasonable schools have barely begun releasing any interview invitations, though. It’s very possible that hot on the heels of a Harvard rejection, you are going to get news that a different adcom is interested and wants to meet you. And yeah, that can help. However, it’s unlikely that that happen news has hit your inbox quite yet.
So this week, on the second day of HBS interview invites, things are often quite awful for many applicants. We appreciate how early HBS gives this news, but we do sort of wish that it happened a tiny bit later in the cycle, so that people would already have a few invites from other schools racked up, and they wouldn’t go off the emotional deep end quite so much.
All we want to do is remind you that all decisions are independent events, and most people are rejected from Harvard, and lots and lots of that group make it into Very. Good. Schools after that rejection.
If Harvard doesn’t happen, there will still be lots of opportunities out there!
Here's what others have said about this:
Thanks for the article, EssaySnark.
Just wanted to add one more thing that’s been pressing down on me over the last 24 hours or so. I don’t have a good name for it, all I can think of is “not-Harvard-itis.” I did get an interview invite from another good school this week, but whenever I think about my other outstanding apps these days all that rings in my head is that “They’re not Harvard.” Suppose I’m accepted to one of these great schools. Suppose I decide to enroll. Will I do so because I love that school or because Harvard said no? I truly wish it’s because I’ve learned to love that school (I do like all the schools I’ve applied to, of course) and go beyond the Harvard obsession. I’d like to be as “in love” with the school as they would be in love with me if I am admitted (hopefully, God knows how it will all work out). I want to go to that school for the right reasons, for the many great things that school has to offer, not just because HBS said no.
If I do go to that school without being in love, will I turn into one of those people who say “Yeah we’re better than HBS, those pompous losers” if we’d win a sports/business/knitting competition against HBS? God, I would so hate being that person… And I also hate it whenever I read about Warren Buffett going to Columbia because he was rejected by Harvard. Yeah the story is that you can be successful even if you don’t go to Harvard (which is so obviously true), but many times whenever I read about it, it feels to me like a small “diss” to Columbia in a way… That school deserves love for what it is and what it has to offer, which in my (romantic?) view of the world is how every school should be treated.
I’m trying hard to get past this right now, but it feels damn tough to get over my “not-Harvard-itis.” That’s why I now question entirely whether bschool is right for me at all. It’s foolish, it’s immature, I’m blinded by prestige… I’m not at my best right now.
…and sometimes I feel like slapping myself and saying: “What is my ultimate goal? To get this awesome job in this great industry that I’d like to see myself working in for the next 10-20 years? Or to go to Harvard?”
Did you ask the hottest girl at the party to dance because your friends told you she was the hottest or because you really, really liked her personality?
Chin up. It’s Harvard. To keep the metaphor rolling: she only has so much room in her pants and way too many eligible bachelors making a pass.
I’m in the same boat. HBS is a cruel and fickle beast, but if you want an MBA for the right reasons it’s not about rubberstamping yourself with the HBS tick mark on your resume. Go, learn, meet a bunch of smart people, then be better at whatever you want to do post-MBA than you would have been pre-MBA. There’s way more than 1 place that will fit that bill.
We’re sure that this was intended to be supportive but it’s a little harsh. And crude.
Meant to be supportive and commiserative. And agreed. Maybe “only so many songs they’re going to play and way too many people asking her to dance” is a little more fit for public consumption and on point with the original metaphor.
Anyway, I’ve just tried to keep in mind that it’s a tall hill for anyone to climb. The odds are long no matter what your profile looks like, so it doesn’t make sense to fall in love. Also, I’m jaded.
Hey Glass5, thanks for the support. Yup, indeed such a tough one… I hope your other apps work out swimmingly though!
So…. not to get all fatalistic and woo-woo on you but…. after watching people go through this process for so many years, EssaySnark is now convinced that everyone ends up EXACTLY WHERE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE.
We frequently have people come back to us a year after they’re through with everything and say, “I’m so glad that I was rejected from School X! I absolutely LOVE IT where I’m at and I can’t imagine going anywhere else!!!”
Or they meet the love of their life at bschool, and they are sooooooo grateful that they didn’t make it in to Harvard. ‘Cuz that’s not where this fabulous person was headed!
Or whatever personal story they have to share.
Sure, this is easily attributed to the natural tendency of humans to adapt. We are a resilient species, and the person who is today swooning with new love having met their dream date at bschool has forgotten that acute sting of rejection from the year prior. But we are eternal optimists. Things tend to work out pretty much perfectly.
We also doubt that you’re the type of person who will turn into an HBS-hater. But school pride is a positive thing too and nothing wrong with that type of bonding (in moderation; we’re totally with you on how annoying it can get when people become juvenile about it – pure insecurity, that is).
These emotions are both totally normal – and also very instructive. The MBA is a damn expensive way to get from A to B. Some people can get to B – and C, D, E, etc. – without the time and expense of it. At the same time, it can be really really fun and absolutely amazing. It’s not exactly a full-on vacation but it’s definitely a break from the mundane for two years. HBS does not have a lock on “really really fun” and “absolutely amazing” – plenty of other places can meet the bill on that – so we just end up falling back on our (perhaps too convenient) belief that we all end up exactly where we’re supposed to be.
No small consolation, we’re sure, when the sting of rejection is still fresh. It can feel so personal. We get it. You put all of yourself out there and they just said ‘no’ – without even asking to meet you for the interview. Sock in the gut.
So this weekend, there is chocolate. Or beer. Or whatever distraction you want to indulge in to get through it.
And perspective will grow as time passes.
(Wow we should embroider that on a pillow or something.)
We look forward to some future date when we get an email from Gulliver telling us about the extreme happiness and deep-seated satisfaction that they are experiencing in their new (non-HBS) life – wherever that might be.
Thank you, EssaySnark, you’ve been super supportive. But yeah with things still so damned fresh, it’s still painful. I’m going to be alright in the long haul, we all are. I just need some time to regroup.
So, this Gulliver person from 3 years ago almost 100% applied both Columbia ED and HBS, with full intention of using ED as an insurance policy (no way they would know about a CBS interview by October if they had applied RD). I don’t know where he ended up, but it is really hard for me to have sympathy for someone like that. They didn’t “leave everything on the table”, they tried to game the system.
Maybe this is cultural, but it drives me bananas because this method of operating is one which is focused only on brand name. Just going to HBS does not guarantee a Mckinsey job and a $150,000 salary. You still need to be personable, make connections, and actually operate within the business world. There is a reason HBS rejects those it doesn’t believe have a habit of leadership: they don’t show CEO qualities. Business leaders are generally not the smartest people in the room, they’re the person who is smart enough to bring together the smartest people around her and lead towards a vision! Those who hope to rely on smarts alone tend to get pigeon-holed into technical roles in consulting and finance: sure the compensation is okay, but they will never be the CEOs that HBS wants to list on its website.
A rejection from Harvard is saying: right now, you are not one of the top ~1000 leaders at your level. How you react to that, I think, is indicative of your character and, frankly, whether you actually deserved a spot at all.
You’re actually way off base, Jackstack. We worked closely with Gulliver and this person did not apply to Columbia ED and HBS Rd 1 simultaneously. Please be careful about tossing out accusations like that! We are the first to call ‘game the system’ on folks and we can assure you that that’s not what was going on with this applicant.
Apologies, I suppose I read their comments on CBS and assumed, fulfilling the old saying.
Jack Ma says
Maybe I just got the blagh wrong here, but just a thought there ES- When Harvard wants to release its list of round 1 invitees is the call taken up by Harvard. I mean- if they postpone their round 1 invites, it will delay their process- and honestly why should they care if the applicants are getting depressed- that the applicants problem, not Harvard’s. Don’t you think so ES?
@Jack Ma, nope you’re not wrong at all, in fact you’re spot on with that assessment! It’s totally Harvard’s prerogative to decide how to manage their process. However, we often feel like the schools lack awareness of how their actions truly impact the applicants (it’ll be interesting to see if Darden’s admissions process changes at all next season, since they just brought on Dawna Clarke, Tuck’s former admissions director, into their lead admissions role, and Dawna had spent a year as an admissions consultant in between these assignments — so, new perspective!!!). Accordingly, the ‘Snark often tries to rattle cages a bit, to get the schools to see things from the applicant’s side. Here are some examples:
We don’t harbor any illusions that the blahg is even read by many admissions folks — but one time it was! Long long long ago we did a series on how Columbia was unfriendly to applicants in its requirements, and they actually changed something mid-season as a result!!
Because that happened once then it makes us keep rattling our drum at schools when we think that things could be done differently.
Not that we expect those venerable leaders at Hah-vahd to be reading the ‘Snark, butchyaneverknow!