How to get into Harvard Business School

How to get into Harvard Business School


Many MBA applicants ask us – ‘How hard is it to get into Harvard Business School?’ ‘What are my chances of getting into Harvard?’ ‘What does Harvard look for?’ When there are tons of excellent bschools
in the world, why do so many applicants single out Harvard Business School? The simple answer is – because it is Harvard! Harvard does not depend on MBA rankings for
credibility. In fact, it’s the other way around. Any business school ranking that doesn’t
feature Harvard among the top, loses its credibility. Among the most popular stories on our website
is about an MBA Crystal Ball consultant who got into Harvard Business School and rejected
it. If you’re curious to know why, we’ll share
a link in the description below. However, his story does not get into the nuances
of what it takes to get into Harvard Business School. That’s what we’ll focus on in this video. So watch till the end. Before moving on to the how-to part, let’s
tackle some of the pre-application questions. How hard is it to get into Harvard Business
School? The short answer is – very hard. Here’s why. Though technically Harvard University wasn’t
the first to set up a business school (that distinction goes to Wharton), its century-long
existence gave it a huge first mover advantage. Over the years, as a large number of universities
followed suit, Harvard ensured that it stayed in the driver’s seat when it came to innovation
and setting the bar for management education. With an endowment that’s among the biggest
in the education sector, it can tap into resources that few other universities can. The HBS brand is super-strong not just in
the education space, but also in the industry– in almost all fields of specialization. That pretty much covers the entire spectrum
of post MBA opportunities. This means that the alumni network (one of
the key takeaways of an MBA) is entrenched in the higher echelons of power in all business
fields (and non-business streams like politics as well). All this attracts the best and the brightest
MBA applicants from across the world hoping to bag a seat at their dream school. So, yes, it’s pretty hard to get into Harvard
Business School. Which is probably why a lot of applicants
want to know the answer to the next question. What are my chances of getting into Harvard
Business School? Unlike the earlier question, this one can
actually be answered with statistics published by Harvard. The selectivity rate for the Harvard MBA is
11%. The statistics may vary from year to year,
but if you look at the trend, it has become tougher to get into HBS over the years. That should give you a general idea about
your chances of getting into Harvard Business School. But as with all statistics, be aware of what
these numbers don’t tell you. If you blindly assume that your chances of
getting into HBS are 11%, that would be incorrect. There are many other factors at play that
are not captured by these statistics. The big one being the self-filtering that
happens in the applicant pool even before the application is submitted. As a hypothetical example, there may be 1000
aspirants out there who want to get into Harvard. But only 100 may actually apply. The remaining 900 may have reasons not to
jump on to the bandwagon. Some may believe that their application fee
would be better spent on other programs where the chances of getting accepted are better
than Harvard. Others may believe they can wait for a year
or two to strengthen their profile. Out of the 100 that apply, 11 will get an
offer. It’s a simplistic example to prove a point. Despite the selectivity numbers, your chances
of entering Harvard are not 11%. They may be better, or worse – depending
on your overall profile and more importantly – your potential as perceived by the Harvard
MBA Admissions team. Alright, with the basic queries addressed, we’re ready to move on to the main one. How to get into the Harvard Business School
If you are applying this year, some of these suggestions (like being able to influence
the undergrad GPA or industry & role) won’t be relevant. Pick what you think is useful and create your
own Harvard application strategy. 1. Understand what makes Harvard what it is
This is an important step to understand ‘fit’ with HBS. While you may not find a specific ‘Why Harvard’
essay, Harvard Admission Officers will sniff out pseudo-fans who have nothing more to justify
the choice apart from Harvard being a top name. With some of the other business schools, if
your other profile parameters are favourable, you just might get away by minor tweaks on
your MBA application essays. Don’t even think about that strategy with
Harvard, even if you are hard-pressed for time. Spend time trying to get a handle on the ‘average
Harvard student’ statistics. Even better if you can search for students
from your country who have attended Harvard. (Tip: LinkedIn is a good source)
If you aren’t coming close to them, there may be a message for you – to re-focus your
energies on other bschools and not be devastated when you hear back from the Harvard admissions
team. Try to visualise yourself as a Harvard student
and what you’d be expected to go through in those 2 gruelling years. For instance, consider the primary weapon
in their academic arsenal – the Case Study. Read more about how Harvard Business School
uses the case study method. Also, be aware of the grading practices at
HBS. It’s a bell-curve rating where you’ll
be pitched against your peers. Class participation could influence half those
grades. So if you are an introvert, depending on how
you can adapt to the environment, either you’ll come out majorly transformed or completely
crushed. After you’ve done the data collation, research
and visualisation, ask yourself – “Is it a pretty picture or scary?” Step 2. Ensure you have stellar academic statistics
The world believes Harvard is a machine that churns out business leaders who are also highly
technical. While HBS probably enjoys hearing that, the
truth is an MBA degree cannot do what an undergrad or bachelors degree can i.e. improve the technical
skills of its students. So, Harvard relies on a filter system that
squeezes out the best technical brains in the applicant pool and trains them on business. If you notice, a large number of Harvard students
have a technical or engineering undergrad background. From an Indian angle this means, many have
an engineering degree (and being an IIT graduate doesn’t hurt). And then adding some icing on the cake – think
about all the leadership positions you held on campus. And then put a cherry on top of it – like
a high GPA or gold medal. Don’t be fooled by stories of low GMAT scorers
getting into Harvard. That generally does not happen with applicants
from highly represented countries like India and China. Harvard’s median GMAT score is 730. The range of GMAT scores is 580 – 790. With its huge batch size, HBS relies on Indians,
Chinese and other high scoring demographic pools, with high scores to offset their decision
of taking in low scorers. Step 3. Get into the right industry and role before
applying Being a branding success story, HBS knows
the value of how brands work. One in four students at Harvard has been a
consultant at a top management consulting firm such as McKinsey, Bain, BCG. What if it’s too late for that? What if you are not in the consulting industry? Well, you still have those 3 seats (out of
4) to compete for. But the primary rationale doesn’t change. Take any other field and find out the market
leaders who are known for their stringent employee selection process. Google in technology, Goldman Sachs in investment
banking, Carlyle in private equity are some good examples. In certain industries, the milestones are
pretty fixed. For example, if you join a consulting firm
as an analyst immediately after your engineering degree (lucky you!), you’d be expected to
move out for an MBA after a few years. For other industries where this is not the
norm, show your role progression and increasing quantum and complexity of the responsibilities
you’ve handled. Show the admissions officer at Harvard that
this is not your first trial by fire. Step 4. Present yourself as a Leader
Remember the earlier point about HBS not being able to churn out technical wizkids, seems
like there’s not much that they can do about creating leaders magically in 2 years either. But the impression that Harvard graduates
are highly-skilled leaders still sounds good. So, they extend the filtering to include those
who are already leaders. If that’s so, why would someone who is technically
savvy and also a born leader, try so hard to get into Harvard? Because the doors that can open for them after
graduation can be bigger, grander and more lucrative. Who wouldn’t want that? Show them that you not only have the achievements
of a leader but you can communicate as a leader too. Use your essays and interview to do this. Step 5. Apply in your mid-twenties
From the previous point on leaders having a better shot at Harvard, it may seem as if
the folks with all those achievements might be close to retirement. But from the statistics on the Harvard MBA
admissions page, seems like that’s not true. HBS students are actually younger than the
students at the other Top 10 MBA programs. The sweet-spot for applying is when you have
around 3 years of experience after graduating. The more experience you have, the lesser your
chances of getting in. There may be exceptions to the rule, like
MBA applicants from the army / military or you have a strong masters or doctoral degree
that skewed your experience-to-age ratio. If you are thinking, “All this is fine,
but it can’t be a universal formula to get into Harvard” then you are absolutely right. These tips are purely based on the typical
profiles that you see at Harvard. If you do a comprehensive analysis of Indian
/ Chinese / African / American students who’ve attended Harvard Business School, you’ll
find many who don’t have a top degree from an ivy league university or IIT or any well-known
college across the world, who aren’t from consulting and who don’t have a high GMAT
score. Try to analyse what it was about those profiles
that may have got them a seat at HBS. After all has been said and done, keep in
mind that Harvard is not the only good business school out there for you. In fact, when it comes to ‘value’ there
are many other bschools that are much better than Harvard. In a few years, you may realise you were chasing
it only because of the brand. MBA graduates of other programs are equally
capable of changing the business world too. If you need a little help with your Harvard
MBA application or for any other elite MBA program, drop us an email. For all we know, your mentor might be the
top consultant from MBA Crystal Ball who rejected Harvard. Good luck to you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *