Harvard MBA Essays - Rumors and Truth

First, I would like to clear up some rumors regarding the new HBS MBA Application Essay for the 2012-2013 season:

1) Rumor #1:  HBS no longer values leadership. What? This new process is the ultimate test in leadership by seeing if applicants can keep calm, think clearly, and be both decisive and strategic under pressure.  The interview and the follow-up essay are also clever tests of leadership. If you do not have the endurance to write an essay after their interview—and if you cannot make savvy decisions about the content of that essay—perhaps you do not have what it takes to go to HBS.

2) Rumor #2: HBS is no longer asking “why HBS?”.  Here is a piece of news: they never asked that question. Lots of people wanted to answer that question, but that was a mistake because really, the HBS admissions committee already knows why applicants want to go to HBS.

3) Rumor #3: HBS no longer cares about an applicant’s career plan. I don’t understand why this has surfaced as an interpretation of the new application. HBS wants to hear whatever a candidate want to tell them. If your career plans are meaningful and important to you, and if they provide insight into an important aspect of your motivations and personality, then by all means those career plans should be clearly communicated in the application, via recommendations, the essays or interview.

4) Rumor #4: It will be harder to get into HBS this year.  It is true that the new format makes it “easier” to submit an initial application, with only 800 words initially required.  An easier application will likely lead to a higher volume of applications.  As a result, the numbers will make it seem like it is now harder to get in, as a lower overall percentage will be admitted. 

My guess is that this is one of the motivations behind the application overhaul.  However, those numbers never reflect the quality of the application pool.  The percentages can be very misleading:  10% of a very strong, competitive applicant pool, is just not the same as 10% of a lackluster one.  Applications will increase and in turn, statistics will become more intimidating.  However, HBS is looking for the same inherent qualities as always, and for the same types of very accomplished, driven and visionary people.  I don’t think it will be any harder to get in, unless you are the type of person who buckles under the pressure that will be created by the interview and follow up essay.

In the new HBS application, the vast majority of applicants will only have 800 words. This is not a lot of words, and it is a great reduction from prior years. However, let’s face it:  many experts can look at an applicant’s stats and brief bio and in 90 seconds form an opinion on whether or not he/she is “HBS quality.”  So now Harvard has 800 polished words, a resume, test scores, transcripts and a set of recs. That’s probably more than enough to select a set of people to interview.

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Stacy BlackmanStacy Sukov Blackman has been consulting on the MBA application process since 2001. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy has worked with the admissions committees at both schools, conducting alumni interviews and evaluating applicants. Stacy has published a book, The MBA Application Roadmap,. Stacy has been profiled in several publications, including Fortune Magazine, BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal.
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