Category Archives: MBA Adcom

HBS Adcom is answering applicants’ questions every day until the R1 deadline. Answers so far…

Deidre Leopold, Harvard Business School’s Managing Director of Admissions and Financial Aid is answering applicant questions at the rate of two a day on the HBS ‘From The Director‘ blog, until Harvard’s Round 1 deadline on October 1.

The following are the questions that have been selected so far, and HBS Adcom’s answers:

September 25, 2009

1. Are you reading applications now?
No. We don’t begin until the night of October 1. That’s when we print all applications and begin review. So our process is not “rolling” in a classic sense. That said, I would advise NOT waiting until the final moments before the deadline to submit because the server will probably be backed up and you will be very anxious.

2. When can I visit a class?
The online scheduler for class visits is available now. Class visits begin on Monday, October 19. Whether you have visited a class or not has no bearing on our consideration of your candidacy. However, here’s (yet another) plug for our video filmed in the first year classroom.

September 24, 2009

1. Must applications for the MPP/MBA Program, or other joint degree programs, be submitted separately?
Yes. In order to participate in a Harvard joint program, you must be admitted to each school independently. HBS offers five joint degrees with four Harvard schools.

2. May I scan an unofficial transcript into the application?
Yes. After admission, we require the official transcript to be sent to us.

September 23, 2009

1. Do you expect applicants who are working in consulting to include actual client names in their resumes and essays?
No – even though applications are confidential and not reviewed outside the Admissions Board, please don’t do anything that violates confidentiality policies of your organization. Use general language such as: “For a client in the energy industry, etc. etc. etc.”

2. I know that you need GMAT/GRE results in order to submit an application and that AWA/Analytical Writing scores can be added later…but what about the TOEFL or IELTS?
If you are required to take the IBT TOEFL or IELTS, you must have results to report or else we will consider your application incomplete until scores are reported. If you do not submit an IBT TOEFL or IELTS score by the Round One deadline of October 1, your application will not be considered until the next round.

September 22, 2009

1. Do you accept the GMAT or GRE total score in the application without the AWA or Analytical Writing score?
You must have a GMAT or GRE score in order to submit an application. If you haven’t yet received your AWA or Analytical Writing score, that’s fine. We will add it to your file when it arrives.

2. Is it OK to write about accomplishments that are not recent?
Every year, many successful candidates write about things that happened quite a while ago. It’s probably not a good idea to have everything you write about be from your childhood – we would wonder if you were moving forward or fixed in the past. As always, we encourage you to use your best judgment and remember that this is an application to business school.

September 21, 2009

1. What should I enter on the application for GPA if my university doesn’t use a 4.0 grading system?
Don’t enter anything. Don’t convert your grades to a 4.0 system. We review all transcripts and are familiar with a wide variety of grading systems.

2. Are essays read in consecutive order?
Not always. Each Board member may have his/her own way of approaching the written application. Speaking for myself, I often skip around with no particular pattern. If I start with an essay that seems to be building on a theme in another essay, I just go back and catch up. Not a problem. I can reassure you that all essays are reviewed!

Do You Have Any Questions? Submit your questions via email to admissions@hbs.edu and put “Questions for the director” in the subject line.

‘I’m unemployed, does this mean my MBA application will be dinged?’

In normal times the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Unless there is a compelling no-fault reason you are unemployed, or you have just sold a company for a few million bucks, your unemployment will count against you. In a situation where 3 in 20 are admitted, it’s going to be hard to be one of the three.

But these are not normal times. Lots of people have been squeezed out of the job market due to the Credit Crunch and resulting recession. If you’re one of them, Adcom will understand that. The emphasis then shifts to how you have responded: (a) what have you done with your time, and (b) how has the experience changed you? How have you grown? Unemployment often forces on us a period of life-stocktaking, where we have the breathing space to reevaluate our goals or at least ask ‘what do I really want to do next?’ Adcom is interested to see if you can do this ‘personal work,’ and what your answers are.

Keep in mind also that the average senior executive — your role model in your MBA aspiration — will face periods of career upheaval. Showing you can cope with this is a mark in your favor. For a sense of what others are doing and thinking, and particularly how to reflect on this kind of career bump, see the Wall Street Journal blog ‘Laid off and Looking.’

Also see The Rose Report, written by Rose Martinelli, Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions at Chicago Booth GSB. I’m a big fan of this blog which really walks the walk in making the admissions process transparent. This is what Rose has to say on whether unemployed candidates will get into Booth this year:

“The simple answer is yes! Many people have been displaced over the past year through no fault of their own, and finding a new job in their target industry/function has been equally difficult.

So what can you do? First, take stock of what you have learned about yourself during this time. For many of you, this may have shaken your confidence and impacted what you want to do with your life/career going forward. Help us to understand this in your application. Second, let us know what you have been doing with your newfound freedom and what motivates you. Are you taking classes, volunteering your services, traveling, etc.? There is no right or wrong activity… Again, help us to understand your choices and motivations. As you’ve probably learned by now, we’re so much more interested in how you have coped with these surprises and what you’ve learned about yourself.”

Footnote: back in June I posted an article here about the humanities-based diversity of Adcom’s own career backgrounds, and how this should affect your approach. Martinelli fits this mold too. She received undergraduate and master’s degrees in vocal performance from Northwestern University, and spent 15 years as a professional opera and concert singer before doing an EMBA at Chicago Booth.

MBA essay word count: we can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Or can we?

“How strictly do I have to stick to the essay word limit? How much can I go over? Does it matter if I’m under?” is a question I get a lot from clients and people who pop up on email.

To answer this, it’s essential, as always, to think about any process or task or limit in admissions from AdCom’s point of view. Put yourself in their shoes. Why do they ask for it? What are they trying to achieve? How does it help them?

So, what is AdCom trying to do with word limits? First, if there were no limits applicants would ask incessantly: “Please Miss, how long must it be?” Second, some applicants would write the great American novel, which would waste their time and the Committee’s. Third, limits provide a way of getting essays from different applicants to be more directly comparable, being the same length.

But there is play in the system. The purpose of the essays is to get to know the applicant via their writing, and everyone knows that writing is a creative process and certainly nobody expects you to hit the word count on the nail. This is not engineering or accounting. (Believe it or not, some clients fuss the word count until they have exactly the number asked for, taking touching comfort in a detail that will provide them absolutely no refuge.) Anyway, application forms often talk about a word “guide” rather than word “limit.” So you can clearly go a bit over, but by how much?

My advice to clients is not to go more than +5% in any essay. This kind of margin is a natural “rounding error” in finishing up what you have to say and will not hurt you if your reader is a reasonable person, which we assume she is. More than this will start to look like you are taking advantage and/or asking for an indulgence that your competitors are not getting.

However if you write a number of essays that are noticeably short it is fine to have one or two that are commensurately longer, so that the whole comes out more or less right. In fact, Stanford GSB explicitly allows this: its guidance is both per essay and for the essay set as a whole (1,800 words), so you are invited to trade off between essays as you see fit. How well you do this is, by the way, a test of your communications judgment.

Can you go under the limit? Similarly, I advise clients not to go less than -5% on any essay. In one sense, like all professional communicators, I believe strongly in “say what you have to say; say it once, strongly and clearly and then stop talking.” This is the royal road to more powerful communications. Certainly there’s no merit in padding, wafffling, and repeating yourself. But admissions essays are relatively short pieces of writing, and you — if you merit a place at a top b-school — are a multifaceted, talented individual with an valuable track record, and if you can’t find things to say to take up the word count this in itself flags that you have not been able to (or haven’t bothered to) properly investigate your own motivations or fully argue your merits.