We should trademark this phrase! It’s so useful in capturing a key objective in how you present yourself in your MBA essays — the resume too, for that matter. So what in heck do we mean by this? Obviously what you want to be presenting in your essays especially is evidence of impact. “Impact” and…
This was originally posted on the blahg in December 2016 — but we figured it was worth reblahgging for all you planning on trying for HBS in Round 1 this year… We heard a former Ivy League undergrad admissions person say it point blank: Too-long essays are chucked without being read. As in, they…
We’ve previously spoken of applying for an MBA along with another graduate degree and today we’ll offer additional points to consider as you’re thinking about dual-degree application strategy, including the perennial question of “Is it easier to get in?????” New programs typically do not get that much interest, so app volumes are usually lower, which…
Well this is a welcome change! We’ve been harping on the uselessness of Round 3 here on the blahg basically since its inception and now Harvard Business School has acknowledged the reality that Round 3 is not really helping. It’s definitely one of the most applicant-unfriendly things around — heck, we even took the former admissions team at Harvard to task for their very mixed messages about it in the past.
The only one who benefits from Round 3 is the admissions teams who can report to their deans that their app volumes were higher because they encouraged hapless BSers to apply late in the season even when the adcom knows there’s no room.
Because let’s think about it:
If a school has ANY applicant on its waitlist, why on earth would they be encouraging MORE applicants to apply??
It’s like if you’re engaged to someone who you’ve decided is A-OK in your book…. and yet you’re still active on Tinder.
Just doesn’t seem right.
Some schools like Duke don’t even want international applicants to try in Round 3 due to stress and possible delay from the visa process.
And on-campus housing is often quite scarce. And some schools have far less scholarship money there at the end of the season. So even if you got in, there were challenges and major disadvantages (though that wasn’t the case with HBS who always has spare money available for granting scholarships when they want).
Not to mention the fact that someone who tries in Round 3 sets themselves up at a significant disadvantage when they’re rejected — which most Round 3 candidates are — and then they have to pull everything together into a brand-new but not-new reapp in just a few months.
So this is a good thing. As we said yesterday:
Finally! A top #bschool ditches Round 3. Thank you @HarvardHBS! Hardly anyone ever got in during that last round and it just raised applicants' hopes unnecessarily. Let's see if other schools will be brave enough to follow. https://t.co/fxzznxKx3B
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) May 15, 2018
Will other schools turn this into a trend?
We’re betting that most of them won’t, for that reason we just stated above. Heck, MIT Sloan only recently added a Round 3 when they hadn’t originally had one. They’d been a two-round program for ages, and then switched like two seasons ago.
Admissions directors are rewarded for having more apps come in every year. Harvard and Stanford and maybe Wharton are the only schools that have the abundance of app riches, that would allow them to entertain something this drastic (and we really don’t see Wharton ditching their last round). For other schools, dunno. There’s quite a bit riding on things like applicant volumes.
Harvard has long been a trend-setter among bschools. They can afford to be.
Some other schools in the past have taken risks with their applications (notably UCLA many seasons ago, when they asked for an audio essay) and have seen app volumes decrease. Who knows if it was a direct cause-and-effect relationship but common wisdom in the admissions office that year was that it was. Making big changes can be dangerous to a school that’s not comfortably ensconced in the lead.
The only known outcome of ditching their Round 3 is that guaranteed, the school’s numbers will go down.
Harvard of course is still maintaining its Round 3 but only for a special category of applicants, those who are currently in college and want to try for their 2+2 program. So it’s not like they’re getting rid of it entirely.
But this is one of the applicant-friendliest moves that we’ve seen come out of a top school in awhile.
Also recently, Tuck’s new-ish admissions director made a big deal about how they’re standardizing their rounds which is also helpful in terms of reducing some confusion, but unfortunately they also decided to take away a mid-season round that many applicants valued, so unfortunately that change didn’t really tilt in all of your favor. Would much prefer to see three rounds, one in September, one in November, one in January!!!! And preferably not the very first week of January! But alas, does anyone listen to the ‘Snark???
We had predicted that HBS would be making more substantive changes to its essay question this year which has not happened, but turns out they are in fact making a very significant change overall.
Now, if only Chad Losee could find a way to do something about THIS! The major problem with the way Harvard handles its MBA admissions
[WARNING: This is a looooong post! May want to jump to the bottom and hit that little Favorite button to save it for later! (Favorite feature available to blahg members)]
Anybody who first starts thinking they want to get an MBA is immediately going to be thinking about Harvard.
And why not?
Harvard is a world renowned brand.
EVERYBODY has heard of Harvard.
Even if you have only a vague notion of what an MBA is or why you might want one, you have still heard of Harvard Business School, and you probably wouldn’t mind going there.
An application to the MBA program at Harvard in many ways is going to look like an application to an MBA program anywhere.
They want a GMAT score, or a GRE is fine.
You’ll upload your resume and enter your work history.
They need an essay, and some letters of recommendation.
Pretty standard stuff.
However, that’s where the similarities end.
The approach that you take with your Harvard application should not necessarily be the same as what you might take with, say, Columbia.
Both these schools offer the MBA degree. Both have semi-similar profiles that show average GMAT and grades and they’re not terribly different from one to the next. You can expect that a high GMAT score will be beneficial to you in getting into Harvard, as it would be for Columbia, or Kellogg, or anywhere else.
If you want to get into Harvard, though, you can’t be just another cookie-cutter candidate.
The secret to getting into Harvard is to show how you’re different.
BUT!! There is risk here!!!
Being “different” for the sake of being different is not going to help you.
Wearing different-colored socks to your interview will not demonstrate that you’re unique.
All that will do is demonstrate that you want to stand out and attract attention. That might get people talking, but it’s not necessarily going to land you an offer at this school.
The most important thing to keep in mind with Harvard is that they are trying to construct a class.
That’s true at any school in the world, but Harvard gets first pick.
They’re like the Cleveland Browns but for opposite reasons.
(For any non-US-football-fans out there: The Cleveland Browns were the football team with the worst record in 2017, so they earn the privilege of picking their players from the college draft first in 2018.)
In the bschool market economy, since EV-ER-Y-BO-DY wants to go to Harvard, then Harvard has an abundance of riches. They can cherrypick the ones that they like most. They get first dibs. The best of the best.
Or, in this case, the most unique and differentiated who will fill out their class.
What this means is, if your profile is stereotypical — the Princeton grad who went to McKinsey and now wants to go for an MBA — then HBS will need to see superlative grades and an exceptional GMAT and particularly wonderful recs.
You need to be the best out of a crowded category of very good players.
What if you…
Work at Deloitte (not the most prestigious firm) and went to BC (Boston College; good but also not considered “the best”). You have a 3.6 GPA and a 730 GMAT.
When faced with the profile of the Princeton-McKinsey person, you may assume you have no chance at all. You’re obviously qualified but being qualified and being accepted are two different things.
Or, what if you…
Are an international applicant, like the Indian engineer, or you are coming from finance? Or applying from Singapore or Hong Kong or China?
For all of you, finding ways to stand out will be crucial. It’s not going to be only the basics of your profile. The adcom will need to know who you are — best revealed by what you have done — for you to have a true chance. This is where the advantages of an MBA admissions consultant can pay off. (A very good one, that is. A merely competent consultant is not necessarily going to add much value for Harvard.)
We saw some stat somewhere once that something like 90% of applicants to Harvard are qualified — meaning, they fit within the parameters of acceptance that the school has mapped out. Not sure if that’s saying that 80% of applicants fit within the class profile (the range of GMAT or GRE scores and college academics) or if it was against some internal measure of acceptability that the Admissions Board has.
Regardless, almost anyone applying shows evidence that they could succeed in the curriculum, and that they are capable of completing the program.
That is hardly enough to guarantee admission. It’s kind of like going with a competent admissions consultant. If you’re going for the gold and you’re going to pony up the dollars for help, then make sure you’re going with one that actually can add value in the game that you’re in.
If being qualified is not enough to get in to Harvard, what then does matter? What will tip the scales and convince the HBS adcom to want you?
There is not a specific profile or a specific collection of app stats that will ensure you get in. However, over the years, we have identified what we now call the “Harvard type.” It’s someone who is obviously a go-getter, an overachiever who’s done something interesting in life.
We cover it in many posts here on the blahg:
What is “the Harvard type”? is a good place to start.
We also discuss it at length in our MBA essay and application guide to Harvard Business School.
Heck, we have a whole category of posts here on the blahg on HBS and what they are looking for.
What we would boil all of this down to is one simple word:
The secret of getting into Harvard is that you have to show evidence of drive.
This fact is the main reason we’re able to with complete confidence predict people’s chances of interest from Harvard in our Comprehensive Profile Review. Through that service, you lay out the details of your background, your career, your school targets and core stats, and we go through it all and assess your chances to see if you are presenting enough evidence that will give Harvard reason to say yes. We are very very rarely off base with these and when we are it is only marginal misses. Usually we have BSers come back to us at the end of the season saying some variation of, “Wow, you were right! You said I wouldn’t get into X but that Y would admit me, and they did! That’s exactly how it went with my apps!”
For almost every single business school in the world, we are firmly convinced that getting help on the app is beneficial.
For Harvard? Yes also beneficial, very much so — but only to one certain extent.
The people that Harvard is likely to admit are very likely to get into Harvard anyway. Even without outside help.
Will outside help be useful? Sure, in giving an assist to the process. In making sure that you don’t step in it, and mess things up in an avoidable way. (See also: A Stanford applicant case study: Avoidable Mistakes)
But very often we see Harvard give interviews even for applicants whose essays truly sucked. Where they did not take advantage of what the essay could do.
But based on the other aspects of their profile — or more often, based on how they are coming from a less-crowded pool and so it was easier to stand out against the crowd — this person earned an invite to interview even in the face of a pisspoor job on the essay.
For whom then is getting help on the app the most helpful? In what situation would an MBA admissions consultant (an exceptional one, if you are serious about Harvard) add the most value?
Either for the applicant who is overwhelmed by the steps of applying, or who does not know where to start, or who lacks confidence in her own writing ability, and especially for someone who finds value in the ability to bounce ideas off of someone. Or all of the above. A very good admissions consultant can help that person create a very good essay for Harvard.
You do not “need” an admissions consultant to get in though.
We remain unmoved by any admissions consultant who brags about how many applicants they got into Harvard. It’s like a coach at the Olympics. The coach cannot take credit for the athlete’s success. Yes, a coach can be supremely helpful. But it’s not the coach who earned the medal. It’s the hard work and dedication and the willingness to persevere and the sacrifices made by the athlete that earned that person the spot on the podium.
When Harvard admits people, many times they would admit that person whether or not the essays were incredible. It’s because they are admitting the whole package; the entire set of facts. Not just granting a Best Essay award. That’s not always how it works elsewhere. Sometimes, an exceptionally mediocre applicant can put together an amazing set of essays that totally wins him or her the admit at another school. An incredible essay alone won’t do it for Harvard.
Of course, an MBA essay can keep you out of Harvard, too.
Very often, BSers make foolish mistakes in their essays. They say silly things. They focus on the wrong elements. They don’t maximize the opportunity at hand. For these people, a (highly qualified) admissions consultant can do wonders.
But the secret of getting into Harvard Business School does not come down to the essay. It’s the entirety of who you are and what you are presenting, and it’s at least as much about Harvard as it is about you.
That’s why when you’re rejected from Harvard, it’s not actually that big of a deal. So many incredible people are rejected each year that you cannot read anything into it.
Harvard is the one school that’s least served by the admissions consulting industry.
We’re not saying not to get help on your HBS MBA application. We do believe we can help you! We have dedicated services exactly for that.
But someone who is the Harvard Type is likely to get into Harvard anyway. Not because they paid the big bucks to a consultant to assist them.
It’s one reason we strongly recommend against reading other people’s essays in your quest for the HBS admit. Seeing what someone else said is not going to let your best essay come through — and frequently, an essay did NOTHING for an applicant’s chance of success. All you can extrapolate from reading a Harvard student’s essay is that the essay did not PREVENT them from getting in. You cannot know that the essay itself helped them at all.
ESPECIALLY not when the essay was written in a different admissions cycle for a different entering class in a different era of MBA admissions, such as we’re entering now.
Someone who got into the Harvard Class of 2009 was operating on a totally different playing field as an applicant, compared to someone who got in for the Class of 2019, and most definitely there are major differences from what the ’19 applicant faced compared to what the Class of 2021 will be facing this year. It’s a different school. It’s a different admissions landscape. Almost definitely it will be a different application for Harvard this year. You cannot make inferences from one person’s essay to your own.
The only constant that remains?
The Harvard Type.
It’s something that we recognize when we see it (the Comprehensive Profile Review being the best way for us to assess this). It does not come down to any static descriptor or a set of stats on a profile. It’s the sum total of who you are based on how you present yourself — in the resume, in the college experience, in your profession today. Yes, in the essay itself too, but that’s rarely the differentiator that it can be at other schools.
There are many ways to get your message across in your HBS MBA essay, and we’re not saying that the essay is inconsequential. The essay matters — for some candidates even more than others. But the adcom is going to overlook a subpar essay if the profile itself shows as differentiated against the pool of others with whom you’re competing.
If you’re wondering right now whether or not you’re the “Harvard type” then that’s a fair question. We can help you with some objective advice on whether you might be perceived that way today.
And what else you can do is work on being that even more in your day-to-day efforts at work.
Nobody can predict with certainty if you’re going to be accepted into Harvard. But stepping it up and doing all that you can to be a better person every single day is the best way to find out.
We wrote a whole book on how to get into Harvard Business School!!
You may also be interested in:
- More examples of the “Harvard type”
- How to add greater value at work (plus, Harvard secret)
- The Harvard secret we didn’t get to yesterday
- Which came first, the ambition or the advantage?
- Once more with feeling: SOME ADMISSIONS CONSULTANTS MAY HURT, NOT HELP
(Trigger Warning: We’re talking about ETHICS again today. If that just turns your stomach, click away now.) We’ve walked through our stance on ethics and applying in a school’s binding Early Decision round plenty o’ times before on the blahg. (Which isn’t really “our stance.” It’s more like, “This is how a person of honor…
In spite of all our implicit and explicit HBS bashing lately, we should probably do a specific post on “What to do if you’re completely lost on the HBS essay” — since we know lots of you BSers are aiming to try for Harvard anywayz! 🙂
It’s not like some silly ol’ ‘Snark is gonna deter you wide-eyed whippersnappers from the school o’ your dreams!!!
How do you deal with that essay that they’ve got?
We heard from a BSer recently that he stumbled upon the ‘Snark through a google search that was phrased somehow like that, so let’s see if we can offer some starting points and ways to break into the analysis process for dealing with the Harvard MBA question this year.
Just in case you’re in the 0.0001% of BSer who’s never peeked at it before, the Harvard Business School MBA essay asks:
Shameless plug: We do a much better job of laying out strategies and considerations in our Harvard essay guide!!!
But in an effort to be helpful, beyond what we’ve already covered on our dedicated Harvard MBA application info page, we’ll offer this snapshot of snarky advice to help you get a handle on your approach:
1. Start by doing another school’s essays.
Please don’t cut your teeth on your MBA application process with Harvard Business School. It’s one of the hardest essays of all. You will not be making your job easy if you do it that way. Get through at least the third full draft of some other school first. Then turn your attention to Harvard.
2. Start Harvard’s essay by filling out the actual HBS application.
You don’t know what else you need to convey to the adcom if you don’t know what else you’ve conveyed. Go through that puppy and study it. Fill out what you can, and make a list of the items you know you need to spend more time on. Those are typically in the Employment, Intended Post-MBA, Extracurriculars and Awards sections.
3. Start making lists.
You will likely cycle through dozens of ideas on what to write about before you come up with a solid plan — and that’s OK! That’s to be expected!! Start a running list, and keep adding to it. You’ll think of a new idea at random as you go through your day. Don’t judge or critique the ideas; just write them down. Once you have assembled a selection of possibilities, then you can start to examine them.
As you can see, the main message is GET STARTED!! Hopefully that helps you to do so!! The HBS essay is about thinking through who you are, and what makes you unique, and shows you are accomplished, and lets you demonstrate that you will bring a unique perspective to the case method experience of your fellow students at Harvard Business School.
Simple? Sure. Easy? Not at all!!!
Pick up the SnarkStrategies MBA guide for HBS!
We’re also still accepting new clients for Round 2 – get that all-important Harvard essay decimated to make sure you are impressing the Admissions Board and not coming across the same way that dozens and dozens of other applicants will do!
Sure, if you want to pursue the most expensive way in the world to start a business. EssaySnark is just not a fan of using the MBA to launch a company. And we really don’t think Harvard is the best place to learn entrepreneurship specifically. They were fairly late to jump on the entrepreneurship bandwagon…
It’s because Harvard is stupid.
There is no way that your Harvard education is that much better than what you will get at Tuck or at Duke or, heck, at Cornell.
Rankings mess with your head.
From the description of a book, aptly named Engines of Anxiety , that studied the effect of US News rankings on the law school market:
The authors find that prospective law students not only rely heavily on such rankings to evaluate school quality, but also internalize rankings as expressions of their own abilities and flaws. For example, they often view rejections from “first-tier” schools as a sign of personal failure.
What you get with Harvard (bschool, law school, any school) is ACCESS.
You get to go play with the rich boys and girls for a few years. You get “the network” so that when you try that little startup idea you have (before it crashes and burns) you can hit up these alumni with money to see if they’ll fund your starry-eyed dreams.
Is that worth it?
Hell yeah, if you’re going to use it.
But please do not fool yourself.
Harvard is not ‘better.’ It’s just what this system of class and money has designed to fool you, to continue with the illusion that class and money matter.
Exhibit A: Harvard Fellowships Have Always Been A Joke
Mostly what you get with Harvard is the smug satisfaction of the rubber stamp of Society Approval.
Sure, you have to be smart to get in.
Sure, you have to work hard.
But the Harvard kids are not smartER. They did not work hardER. They are just like everybody else — or, frequently, they’re members of the Lucky Sperm Club where they landed in a family of Harvard grads, so they’re what’s called a ‘legacy applicant’ and definitely in undergrad admissions, Harvard College loves those kids. For the class of incoming freshman that just got on campus this summer, one-third are legacy .
It’s like buying a Rolex or a Gucci handbag or a Ferrari.
A brand like that will deliver some attention to detail and refinement in the product. It’s going to be made with better materials and care of construction than what you find at your local Macy’s or the Kia dealership.
But a Rolex is just a watch.
Wearing a Rolex is a symbol to the world that you can spend that much money on a bauble on your wrist that tells you the time.
Everyone else is just looking at their phone. You get to shoot your cuff and show off this glint of luxury.
That’s all that Harvard is going to do for you.
(And the value only goes so far. If Harvard Business School were so great, why are its tweets so lame? We are convinced that they’ve got an undergrad student writing them — no offense to Harvard undergrads. But c’mon people.)
Please don’t be confused by what you are going to get.
Is there value to that prestige?
Sure. But the EDUCATION is what will change your life.
Not the association with wealthy elite.
So many people think getting in to Harvard will finally be validation. No, maybe they don’t CONSCIOUSLY think it, like, “If I go to Harvard then I’ll finally be worth something!” But it’s what’s driving the engine, under the hood.
But guess what? If you’re actually so insecure that you’re constantly seeking out external validation from The World, and you think going to Harvard will finally put all those internal voices of doubt and self-criticism to rest, no, that’s not what will happen. Instead, when you get on the campus at Harvard, you will be surrounded by a more extreme concentration of People Who You Think Are Better Than You than you’ve ever experienced in your life. You will see all these other AMAZING students who have done more impressive things (who have way more money than you) who have traveled the world, who already have a Rolex and not a Gucci bag but a Birkin. You think that’ll make you feel better?
We’re not saying not to apply to Harvard. That would be silly. We’re saying that you may want to look at your reasons for why you’re so enamored of the BRAND.
Because that’s all it is.
It is a BRAND.
A school is different than a consumer product, because a school is an experience and a community and oh yeah, an education. But very few people are focusing on applying to Harvard because of any of that. They may not be consciously thinking, “I want to go to Harvard for the prestige” but really, that’s what’s driving our social-construct personalities so much of the time.
Unless what’s really fueling your interest in Harvard is so that your unborn children will get to go to Harvard. Then by all means. Apply to Harvard.
We hope you get in!
You may also be interested in:
- The schools being ranked think that rankings are stupid.
- MBA Application Mistake #1: Not Researching Schools (and why we balk at the M7 thing)
- Why we react so negatively to someone focusing on brand or prestige (kinda the same thing we’ve said in today’s post, just 3 years earlier)
- An MBA is what you make of it
We got a question posed on the blahg that we coulda sworn we’d answered directly here at some point, but a search turned up nothing. We’re going to repost this because we know that not everyone reads the ‘snarchive and even when they do, they don’t always look at the comments. Here’s what we were…