We’ve long used a term here in Snarkville to try and capture what it means to be a candidate who’s actually got a chance of acceptance at Harvard Business School: The Harvard type. We’ve used this term (and the complementary phrase “Harvard material”) frequently as a way of giving BSers a heads-up on what’s required…
This paragraph is stolen from our just-published 2019 MBA application guide for Kellogg in our discussion of Kellogg Essay 2: Please. Please. Do not use values like “collaboration” and “teamwork.” That would be pandering. In some very rare cases, yes, there is a Brave Supplicant out there who does truly care about such qualities. But…
Fuqua? McDonough? Kenan-Flagler? INSEAD? Haas? Ever wondered how in heck to say these words? You might want to figure it out before you talk to anybody about them. Like, in an interview perhaps? These are not official phonetic spellings (we’re not sure the rules of all that), they’re just our attempt to help you not…
So you want to go to Stanford. Well hmm. The thing with Stanford is that it’s pretty impossible for anyone to say if you have an honest-to-goodness chance to get in or not… except for Stanford. We often can tell when it’s likely a no-go — as in, someone has little to no hope at…
[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)]
We originally wrote this in 2018 and we’re republishing here in 2019 to help you eager-beaver BSers who want a leg up on the quintessential of the quintessential-est schools.
Because 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
We’ve been in this industry long enough that we’re able to identify and (try to) analyze some longer-term trends. One interesting cycle involves leadership of top business schools and who is appointed as dean. (Warning: Long post ahead! And who the dean is, well, that might not matter altogether much for you as a current or near-term future MBA student. Read on if you’re curious but this post may not offer too much practical utility for actually constructing an MBA application strategy.)
You would think that naming a new dean at a school would be a wholly independent and internal event, not tied to or associated with any other factors or circumstances in the outward environment. In other words, you would think that a business school, when their current dean announces his retirement (and it’s almost always a “his”), would go about finding a replacement as an activity they manage unto themselves. From the outside, that’s what it appears that they do:
1. School issues announcement that Dean X is retiring and will finish out the current academic year, and then step down on June 30th next year.
2. A few weeks later, school announces that a search team has been formed to find Dean X’s replacement.
3. Everything goes dark on the process and you hear nothing as months and months go by.
4. Maybe two or three months before Dean X is supposed to leave, Dean Y is announced as his successor (or, sometimes, an interim dean is named if the school hasn’t been able to find the right permanent candidate, and then six months-ish later, we hear who the next actual dean will be).
That’s typically not how it goes with any corporate leadership change. If a CEO is retiring from a major company (or being fired) then usually the board of that company figures out who will replace him (again, usually a “him”) and they issue a single press release that announces the departure and his successor, all at once. There would still be a similar process going on behind the scenes, where a committee is working with a high-end executive search firm (aka headhunter) to find the replacement if they’re going outside, or they’re figuring out who to promote from within, which seems to happen more regularly in the corporate world than it does in academia. We can only recall one time in recent memory that a school opted to promote from within, and that was Ross when they brought Dean Scott DeRue into the head office (more on him later).
So why the difference in process? Why do bschools make a big deal about the departing dean long before he’s gone and before they have a replacement?
One reason is to signal to the market that there’s an opening.
Corporations don’t do this because shareholders get spooked by instability, and the company’s stock would tank if they announced that they were having turnover in leadership without knowing who would be driving the ship. Also, non-competes are very common in big businesses, where a high-level exec of Google is prohibited by contract from going to work at Facebook, even though it still happens frequently enough, though it also can result in lawsuits about theft of intellectual property and trade secrets . Academia has traditionally been much more incestuous; it is rare indeed that any university would hire a non-academic for any leadership role in any of its schools or colleges. The one exception that stands out in the recent past is UVA who brought in former McKinsey exec Scott Beardsley to run Darden after beloved dean Bob Bruner stepped down from the post. (Beardsley was just this week reappointed to a second term at Darden.)
Anyway, enough backstory. We’re here to talk about trends.
And this is what we’ve observed. For whatever esoteric chaos-theory reason that would be better studied by philosophers or behavioral economists, top bschools tend to experience turnover in waves. We have been doing this long enough that we’ve observed the pattern: Clusters of bschools go through leadership transitions at once. It’s not always the same bschools who have a change in deanship together; different schools apparently have different term lengths for their appointments, and certainly some schools’ deans stay for longer and get their appointments renewed. All of this happens at irregular intervals; these are not lock-step patterns or trends.
But there will be clusters, where one school, and then another, and then at least a third if not more schools announce that their dean is stepping down and they are to bring in new leadership in the same year or two. And then all quiets down for at least two or three years with no movement at the top of any school, before another wave starts to hit. When there are changes, those changes come in groups, where more than one school is going through it simultaneously.
Here’s what a last wave looked like in 2015 and 2016:
Dr. Matthew Slaughter
Dr. Scott Beardsley
Dr. Geoffrey Garrett
Dr. Jonathan Levin
Dr. Scott DeRue
And here’s what our current wave looks like so far in 2019:
Dr. Ann Harrison
Dr. Francesca Cornelli
Dr. Kerwin Charles
As we’ve laid out, finding a successor to a departing dean is a very secretive process on campus and everyone is totally hush-hush about it until they’ve secured their new person, and you would think that it would be an entirely internal task where the school board selects the best candidate for them looking at their own priorities for where they want their school to go, and not impacted or influenced by anything in the outside world.
But clearly, the world has had its influence.
If anyone believes that #MeToo has not had an impact, they are mistaken. And #BLM. And all the other social upheavals and long-overdue changes that society is trying to finally accommodate.
Drs. Harrison and Charles are succeeding white men; Dr. Cornelli is succeeded a white woman, Sally Blount, who had become the last female dean of a major school after the only other female dean, Judy Olian at UCLA, had announced her retirement in early 2018 (Dr. Olian is now President of Quinnipaic University; Dr. Blount has returned to a faculty role at Northwestern and will continue to teach there).
In between, we had NYU Stern’s popular dean Peter Henry — a Black American, born in Jamaica — step down, and Dr. Raghu Sundaram — an Indian American, born in Madras — be appointed from within to take his place. There’s actually been quite a few Indians leading top bschools, however, including current Booth Dean Madhav Rajan, former Booth Dean Sunil Kumar, Cornell Johnson’s former Dean Soumitra Dutta, and current HBS Dean Nitin Nohria. Indians are minorities in the U.S. however they’ve been represented quite well on the business school circuit (at least, men of Indian heritage have been).
So who’s next?
Well, UCLA still doesn’t have a permanent dean. After Judy Olian left, they named an African-American, Dr. Al Osborn, as interim. After having a woman, and now a minority as interim dean, the pressure is on at Anderson to not hire another white man.
And the other big one we’re waiting on is Columbia, who is saying goodbye to Glenn Hubbard this summer. Unfortunately, given Columbia’s track record and generally conservative or even staid approach to change, we kind of expect them to replace like for like. Not exactly expecting to see them hire, say, a Hispanic woman for the top slot.
Duke Fuqua’s Bill Boulding has also been there quite awhile; we have no knowledge that he’s planning on stepping down anytime soon, nor have we heard that Harvard’s Dean Nohria will be doing so, but both of those gentlemen have been in their respective positions for quite a long time. Maybe one or both schools will end up being part of this latest wave too?
As we’ve said, whoever is in the dean’s chair at your school doesn’t really matter to you as a student. However, seeing the world change and be more open and flexible and representative is a good thing for all of us — and we will be watching who else these other schools choose to lead them into the next era.
You may also be interested in:
Just in case you were starting to wonder why you put in all this effort only to have to sit on your hands for what seems an interminable amount of time while the schools figure out if they even want to meet you to interview… Today we have a fun update to share! This person sent in a happy update once they started their first semester at their Dream School last Fall. We are sharing it with permission so that it hopefully can infect you with excitement for what you are working towards.
B-school has pretty much lived up to the hype. And all the things I heard about the first semester are actually true – recruiting hits you earlier than you thought it would, there are some tough courses, and it’s easy to sometimes get blown away by the diversity you see in your class. This last point, more than anything else, has been what I’ve enjoyed most at NYU Stern in the two months I’ve been here. And by the way, the EQ thing seems to be true too. My classmates are highly accomplished in multiple ways, but they are mostly nice and helpful human beings as well.
As you had suggested, this was the right choice for me – I love the people, the exposure to media that I have here, and yes, New York!
But when I was randomly going through some of your latest posts, I find one very interesting comparison between Columbia and Stern (not the first time you’ve pitted those two against each other). I entirely agree with you – Stern is still seen as an ‘inferior’ school by many, even some of my current classmates! There are some who have remarked that they decided to attend Stern only because either they got a sizeable scholarship or that it happened to be the highest ranked school they could get into. This is rather perplexing to me, and even disheartening. Stern was one of my top choices, as you know, and I have been more than impressed by the quality of the student body, professors and the access that I have to all top companies across industries so early in my MBA. What else were these people looking for? This ‘status anxiety’ is rather disappointing.
That being said, I do wish we had some time for career exploration before recruiting began. It starts too early in my opinion, and the process is even more stressful because of the increasing conversion rates for summer internships into full-time offers. Most students see getting a big summer internship as their primary goal, after which the second year promises to be more relaxed. This is not entirely surprising for international students though, as the number of companies ready to sponsor them have reduced significantly in the last two years.
Anyway, I have to get back to work. I promise to be back again for another update in a few months.
All the best for the admissions season!
And all the best to you, too, former BSer! And all we can say is: When trying for an MBA, it’s very easy to get caught up in the hype and FOMO and get confused around what an MBA will actually bestow. Going to a “top” school becomes paramount, and there’s a good chunk of Sternies who end up there only because everywhere else that they tried turned them down. Stern remains one of those sleeper schools that flies under the radar, but which in our eyes is an underappreciated gem! But if someone wants an MBA because of the prestige they think it’ll bestow, then an admit to NYU and NYU only is gunna be a letdown. It’s not an ego-enhancing school. Maybe that’s why we appreciate them so much, because they are high quality and innovative and they have been strong carriers of culture and values since the beginning of time. That’s one reason it was so enjoyable to work with this BSer when they were applying to bschools, because it seemed that they were choosing their targets intelligently, for personal and professional reasons that went beyond the shine, to the substance. Always gratifying to see a candidate like that make it in to their top choice institution!! And always fun to get reports like this from the field when they start in on the adventure. All of you now applying: Don’t forget about the ‘Snark, ya hear? We’d love to post updates like this from your experiences, too, when the time comes next Fall. Fingers are crossed for all of your successes to come!! 🙂
This is admittedly an odd post to be publishing on a blahg selling services to help you get into business school, but there it is.
Go watch this Exhibit A video:
Of course, that advice is 100% sound. It’s what we help applicants do in positioning themselves for success in their apps!
But that video….
That video is SO polished. It is SO slick. It is so obviously intentionally produced as MARKETING.
Not marketing Harvard Business School. Marketing the companies that are featured in it.
You get three beautiful students who are so incredibly amazing that they made meaningful contributions in entirely new industries in only 10 weeks during summer internships.
Yeah, we know, that’s the premise behind the summer internship experience that most MBA students at all schools are supposed to be going through.
EXCEPT IT’S NOT.
An internship is where you’re an intern — someone new to the field who is learning how it works. Who by definition knows little to nothing about it.
Yes, the companies that hire interns are hoping to get a return on their investment and have the interns actually be productive.
But who are we kidding. In your first three months of any new job, did you really learn much more than where to find the restroom?
Yet this is touted as if these ah-ma-zing Harvard students are so fabulous that they hit the ground running and learned a full statistical programming language (R) and used it to product insights on a new industry they’d never worked in before.
We’re really not trying to harsh on these students. This is ALL the fault of the marketing department at Harvard Business School who came up with this ridiculous concept and sold it to the companies that come recruiting on campus.
THIS IS A PROMOTIONAL VIDEO TO EMBELLISH THE BRAND OF HARVARD AND BOOST UP SOCIAL MEDIA SIGNALS FOR THE COMPANIES WHO DO THEM A FAVOR BY HIRING THEIR GRADUATES.
No. Didn’t think so.
Instead we get taken on a tour of trendy offices with open-floor layouts and smart-looking people in white lab coats. The video is pretending that this is everyday life and how all interns breeze through their days. How brilliant they all must be! So successful!
This is so polished it’s ridiculous.
Truly, we apologize to those three HBS students — this is NOT directed at them. We know they must be incredibly accomplished or they never would’ve made it to Harvard!!!
But that’s kind of the point.
Why does HARVARD need to produce a video like this?
C’mon people, IT’S HARVARD!
We know your students are smart. We know they’re super accomplished.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS VIDEO?
Who is the intended audience? What is the reaction supposed to be?
The only thing we can tell is it’s intended to boost social signals FOR THESE THREE FIRMS in a modern-day quid pro quo.
They may all be wonderful companies.
This may have been produced with no conscious ill intent.
It’s just marketing. It’s just showcasing our students.
But puh-lease people. Why the need for this – what is it meant to actually convey?
Yes this struck a chord.
Because it just seems so disingenuous.
Like, Harvard Business School needs to market in this way?
They’ve already got 10,000 poor souls a year falling over themselves trying to get in.
This video, dunno, for some reason it comes across as really pompous and smarmy. The students are being taken advantage of, like they’re the product that this gleaming machine is spitting out.
It just feels somehow a teensy tiny bit evil, like we should be looking closer, opening up the hood, examining.
What is really going on here?
Is this our 2019 Stepford Wives???!?
And so, a challenge.
For any bschool admissions folks who may wander into this post:
Why not BE AUTHENTIC yourselves and share what the MBA really is like?!???
And for all of you interestd in bschool, for those of you wanting to change the world, for all of you professing your interest in making a difference, for those gearing up to this next exciting phase of your careers:
Maybe what the world needs is less spin and more real.
Well that’s a provocative headline ain’t it.
As industry-watchers, we, you know, watch the industry. We try to keep our fingers on the pulse of what these MBA programs are doing, how they’re responding to changes in the marketplace of interested prospective students, in some cases, how they’re responding to each other, what they’re doing to anticipate the future needs of employers in the world and how they are (hopefully) innovating and strengthening their offerings to better prepare the workforce of tomorrow.
It’s really hard to know for sure what’s going on at a school from the outside. This of course is why we constantly emphasize the importance of a campus visit in order for you to know if a school is even right for you. After all, you’re the one who’s saying she wants to spend two years of your life there. What if it’s not even a place that you really like? What if they don’t have the focus on the niche sector you’re most interested in? What if the students don’t seem to prioritize quite the same things?
When you’re going on name and reputation alone or have outsourced your decision on where to apply based on what some business publication has decried as “the best” then you’re flying blind. You don’t really know what a school is about. You certainly aren’t in a position to discuss its culture and community if you’ve not experienced it firsthand.
And so EssaySnark is indeed going out on a limb with the questions we’re posing today. Because we’re outsiders; we don’t know what’s going on in the halls of Fuqua. We can’t say for sure what’s behind the things that we’re observing today.
All we can do is evaluate the adcom’s actions, meaning three specific components that we use as tea leaves:
1. What is the school’s strategy? What are they doing to attract candidates? How “out there” are they in drumming up interest? How engaged on social media, how visible in the marketplace where applicants congregate (be that virtual or IRL)?
2. How does the school construct its application? What means do they have to solicit useful and insightful information from candidates that allow them to shine as individuals?
3. Who are they accepting? What do they value most in a candidate? Where are they overlooking flaws like lower GMAT in favor of interest and diversity? Where are they sticklers for stats?
These three dimensions give us quite a bit of information, as esoteric as they may seem, upon which we can draw conclusions about trends that are in play at a school and where that school is going.
For example, over just five or so years, Ross has fully impressed us with their focus on culture and new initiatives, and they’ve gone from an almost second-tier school that many applicants used only as a safety, to a school that many BSers now choose as a top pick. They have made their value prop visible, and you likely have at least a reasonably positive impression of them even if you have not got them on your short list. You probably have been exposed to enough buzz about Ross that it’s rubbed off on you and your overall sense is that it’s a good school, regardless of how well, or not, you personally have researched them before.
This phenomenon is something called “brand equity” and it’s the intangible value that you associate with a firm or a product, like the generally positive associations with Apple, or the leaning-negative feelings about Facebook. Brand equity is the reason why HBS is in constant demand and is seen as the pinnacle school — even when you don’t really know why.
If you’ve become enamored of Ross and decided you really want to go there, it’s likely you can rattle off at least three reasons unprompted.
Most people who apply to HBS cannot come up with even one. Or they say “case method” but that’s not a reason to go to Harvard Business School. That’s not something to be excited about; it’s just how it’s done there. Every other bschool in the world also uses cases as part of its pedagogy, but yet when you wrote your essays to them you didn’t gush about the case student method in your “why MBA” essay.
Nobody on the planet wants to go to Harvard because of the case method.
You want to go to Harvard because it’s Harvard.
Okay, back to Duke.
Duke is a good school. We saw Fuqua embrace culture as a critical component of the bschool experience before many of its peers did. Duke University is of course world renowned, a very good school, just like Northwestern or Dartmouth or University of Chicago or all these other places.
Fuqua was practically a renegade when they created their “25 Random Things” non-essay essay, way back in 2012. That was pretty revolutionary at the time. The only other schools that gave applicants such a blank-slate approach to an app requirement then were NYU and Booth.
But 2012? Dang, that’s a long time ago now.
Sure, the 25 Random Things has proven the test of time. It’s probably the most FUN assignment of any business school’s app. Apparently the Fuqua admissions people have a “it ain’t broke” philosophy in place. Their app requirements have been almost entirely unchanged in all of that time (excepting some tweaks to the phrasing of the long-essay prompt).
Okay, but what about category #3 that we can observe: Who gets in?
What seems to be happening in the most recent admissions cycles is, candidates who are accepted to a set of two or more schools, where Duke is among that set, are often choosing the non-Duke school to matriculate.
Candidates who are accepted only to Duke are going to Duke.
Obviously this is a gross generalization, and we don’t have access to the entire results of all applicants everywhere.
But from our slice of the admissions landscape, it’s a trend that we seem to have spotted, which has generated this working hypothesis.
Other schools like Ross are really kicking it into high gear. Same with Darden, which used to be seen as a next-tier school, but which has gotten a somewhat higher visibility sheen in the past few years. But Duke? They’re not really on our radar as much. It’s not like they’re a safety school; oh no. They’re still quite selective and it’s by no means easy to get in.
But from what we can tell, they’re just not impressing the BSers out there enough to get them to say “yes” when there are multiple options on the table.
We’re going to keep watching and see if this theory is wrong.
About six years ago, Duke was so popular that they became quite difficult to break into.
But just this past season, we’re not sure that still holds as true as it was.
Anyone get into Duke + other schools who wants to share your experiences and impressions? Where are you leaning? What school will you choose, and why? Is Duke a first choice for lots of you? Why or why not?
We want to learn. Comments are open if you want to share your opinions!
…. changing their data?!?!????
What is this?
EssaySnark keeps tabs on things like app volumes and GMAT scores reported by all the top schools, as a way to track trends in the industry and see what schools are currently in favor among applicants and which ones may be the “sleeper school” that can be surprisingly easy to break into — and which schools are actively working to make improvements to their offering, and which might be coasting a bit. Data is just what we do.
We’ve recently been pleased to see some schools be more forthcoming with more kinds of data about their student body, including a newish development of admissions teams disclosing GRE data on accepted applicants, and at a few schools, even some greater transparency in how many underrepresented minorities are in their incoming class. NYU has been particularly generous with publishing data, and a few other schools including Yale, Cornell, and others have also given more insight into their class on these helpful dimensions.
So needless to say, this is stuff we tend to track.
Imagine our surprise last week when we discovered some weird-a@@ discrepancies in the data we’ve captured over the years, compared to what Harvard Business School’s website was now showing.
Here’s what it WAS…
And here’s what their website has just been updated to…
Where did those additional 371 applications come from???
That was enough of an increase that it pushed the admit rate to 11% from 12%.
Where were these mysterious new applications hiding?
Were these a stack of files that had slipped behind some admissions director’s file cabinet and were only now uncovered when they moved offices?
Like what is UP with this?
This is one reason why we couldn’t in good conscience give HBS the Radcom of the Year Award last week. (That went to MIT, in case you were wondering.)
At first we thought maybe they had changed their reporting methodology and had previously excluded the HBS 2+2 applicants from the count of standard full-time applicants, and decided to retroactively put them together…. but this theory was debunked when we consulted our trusty database of school stats and were reminded that Harvard has been getting well over 1,000 applications for 2+2 every year since at least 2015. An increase of <400 is way too small to be representing this pool. They also are now reporting higher enrollment for the Class of 2015, from 1,838 to 1,865. Where did these 27 students come from? How had they been overlooked before? And how did these 27 new students cause the yield to increase from 89% to 91%? A school's "yield" is how many of the admitted applicants end up accepting the school's offer of admission and matriculate. Harvard has long had the highest yield in the industry, wavering only between 89% as a low and 91% as a high for ages and ages (with the exception of one outlier year, the Class of 2012, which our data show was 84% -- unless HBS is going to be restating their numbers of that one, too). The next-highest yielding school is Stanford and they typically only get like 84%, which is still a remarkable number of course. If you get into Stanford, you're likely going to go to Stanford -- unless you also got into HBS, or you go to tell your boss that you're going to bschool and she throws bucketloads of cash at you to get you to stay. Anyway. Back to Harvard and this data update. You sharp-eyed observers will have noted that it's not only the Class of 2015; they also updated the Classes of 2016 and 2017. We do know that for perhaps the first time in a generation, Harvard is feeling pressured from the competition of other MBA programs -- at least, to an extent. There aren't that many schools out there that can really claim to be peers of Harvard. If someone gets into HBS and Kellogg, it's 99% probability they choose HBS, even if Kellogg offers a sh!t-ton of scholarship money. Stanford and Wharton are really only the main players that are true contenders for this same set of applicants. It's never wise to sit on your laurels; there are plenty of case studies being taught at Harvard Business School that caution against hubris and the dangers of myopia that come with a leadership position. Stanford doesn't seem all too concerned about Harvard, though Wharton seems to have made it their mission to become the "best" business school as ranked by the well-known publications. Should Harvard be worried? Is that why they've revisited the numbers they reported and massaged the dataset being published on those recent classes? Who knows what's going on behind the scenes or where these newly-discovered students came from. Harvard is making a big push with their HBS Online initiative (formerly called HBX CORe) which is a real money-maker for the school. We've even had to comment on some questionable messaging they've used: https://twitter.com/EssaySnark/status/1069986689492357120 On the increasing numbers in their historical dataset: Yes, we realize that we could contact HBS admissions and ask what the deal is. But honestly, if you're restating your numbers on something so fundamental to how your organization is run, shouldn’t you at least put a darn asterisk on the page and explain it?
Or maybe nobody is supposedta notice or care.
Dunno. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth though.
We get enough reasons to distrust The Man today. Apparently EssaySnark was living under the illusion that the word “veritas” is supposed to mean something.