There’s probably three categories of folks who don’t get into Harvard Business school:
1. The qualified but not differentiated
2. The qualified who thought they were differentiated (ouch)
3. And perhaps the most frustrating category: The differentiated who didn’t leverage the app
People in Category 1 will likely land at a good school in the end, but it’s also likely to be a real blow to the self-esteem when they’re cut loose from Harvard in October. These folks usually have been successful compared to their peers in life, such as getting into a good college, following the path laid out for them by going to work at a brand-name firm after school, etc. They are the play-by-the-book types who assume that Harvard will be in range since they landed a 760 GMAT. But for Category 1 folks, no matter how hard they work on the essays for Harvard, they are not likely to be enough to tilt the scales in their favor. We try to gently offer this feedback to them from the Comprehensive Profile Review to the Essay Decimator process, and we also try not to be overly discouraging — because after all, it’s not up to EssaySnark to decide your fate. That’s only for the Harvard Admissions Board to decide. It would suck for an admissions consultant to be so discouraging on your chances that despite your own enthusiasm and motivation, you decide not to apply at all. Because if you really want to try for Harvard, you need to try for Harvard! Regret sucks. It would be awful if you skated straight into schools like MIT and Tuck and Kellogg and didn’t even put your hat into the ring for HBS. You’d have a hard time reconciling that, especially if you only opted out of HBS because some schmuck on the internet told you you’d be wasting your time.
Category 2 is a tough place to be. This is basically the same as the Category 1 folks, except that nobody has offered any input to help manage expectations, and/or the person has a higher opinion of his or herself than reality justifies. This is often the “HBS or Bust!” type who washes out in the end as a bust. The good news is that this person, although often a bit cocky, is still very qualified and very smart, and will inevitably land on their feet and end up in an amazing place in their career later on, building great success for themselves without the MBA. Because the MBA is really not necessary to get where you want to go, if you’re motivated and work hard. Right? Right. And, the other good news is that if this person has humility and self-awareness to know their limitations, and they are able to accept feedback, and do so early enough, and be flexible enough, that they are able to change course with the path that they are pursuing with their Harvard presentation, then it’s very possible that they can turn it around and make the essay do more for them. This often entails throwing away the essay that they thought was close to being “done” and starting over. And, even then, it does not always pan out. But we do often see candidates in Category 2 who actually are differentiated, based on how they change direction and showcase that differentiation much more effectively in the presentation that they deliver in the end. (Shameless Self-Promotion: The Harvard Essay Decimator will let you know if you’re in good shape with what you have, based on a full profile review in conjunction with essay critique, or if you need to go back to the drawing board and try again.)
Category 3 is the land of heartbreak. This is the candidate who really does have some interesting elements to the story, but they didn’t recognize the amount of work that’s needed to get that Harvard essay to say the things that they wanted to say. They are the ones who shy away from introspection, or who become victims of their own procrastination, and often they are those who simply listen to the wrong advisors for help. They put together a passable attempt at an application, but they’ve left all their money on the table and not maximized the opportunity that this Harvard essay truly is.
(As we’ve cautioned before: The essay isn’t as much a determining factor at Harvard, the way it can be at certain other schools. But the essay is a real opportunity and it can take a borderline-consideration candidate way over the edge and down the waterfall to an interview invitation when done well.)
Harvard has been changing its admissions strategy in recent years, so be careful who you are asking for advice on the “how to get in” front. There is no one cookie-cutter answer for Harvard the way there (sort of) is for some other schools. If the admissions consultant you’re using does not have a long track record of success, and a RECENT track record of success, with Harvard Business School, they may not be helping you maximize your own opportunity. Please be careful about who you leverage for advice. We’re not saying that we’re the only one wise enough to give valid input. We are saying that you’re going to have one chance and (for most of you) one chance only. You don’t want this to extend to a multi-year app cycle due to misunderstanding the stakes and underestimating the workeffort.
If we can help, you know how to get us on board!