Tag Archives: MBA Admissions

The business school campus visit, and how the HBS Director of Admissions writes about it

Keeping up with Adcoms’ blogs as I do (and I suggest MBA applicants do too) my eye stopped on this recent post by Dee Leopold, Director of Admissions at HBS.

It offers two things: First it clears up some of the shibboleths of who’s noticing what in your b-school visit and how it is weighed in admissions. (What is true of Harvard is broadly true of other schools too.) Second, just as important, it’s worth noting as a writing sample. Here’s the text:

“Lots of questions on the road from prospective applicants about visiting schools.

Answer: We always welcome visitors to campus. It’s beautiful here and we have lots to show you. Do you need to make a pilgrimage in order to send a signal to the Admissions Office? Absolutely not. Visiting campus has absolutely no impact on how your application is reviewed. It may have a gigantic impact on how enthusiastic you are about US – that’s where the value-added comes into play.

Are we going to ask you to sign-in to an information session? Yes. Do we use that list in the evaluation process? No. So why do we ask you to do it? To track whether these sessions have any impact on whether an attendee chooses to apply to HBS or not, i.e. standard market research. If we found out that no one who attended an info session chose to apply to HBS, you’d better believe that we would make some changes!

When may I visit classes? This is the tough question. For those applying in Round One, it’s not possible to visit a class before the October 1 deadline. Why? Our first year students begin classes in early September. Our first priority is for them to get settled into the classroom. We have limited seats designated for visitors in each class – and we could fill them every day of the year. The faculty likes for the first few weeks of the first semester to be “students only.” We rely on the students in sections to be hosts for our visitors – and they really aren’t ready to do that right away. Class visits will begin in mid-October; information about the sign-up process will be posted on our website.

Applying to business school(s) is expensive and stressful. The last thing you need is to make it a scavenger hunt in which you need have “visited campus” checked off the list.

So…the message is: We welcome you to visit HBS – but don’t think of this as a “command performance.”

The takeaways and more:

(a) Visiting is good because it will create in you a much sharper appreciation for the school and its particular form of MBA offering. It will help you refine your list of target schools, and make your applications essays more naturally enthusiastic and therefore convincing. But visiting is not a formal requirement and is not weighed by Adcom in deciding whether to admit or ding you.

Where possible, register your visit with Adcom. Note that campus visit programs only start when MBA programs begin (after Labor Day) and some programs like HBS delay class audits to allow new MBA cohorts to bed themselves down without distractions.

Use your time with admissions and/or school marketing reps wisely, that is, to ask pointed questions about particular aspects of the program or the school that are relevant to your career progress, so that you come away with specific information that will help you make the right school-choice decision, and then help you motivate this convincingly in your essays and interview.

By the way, the formal visit program will only take you so far. To go deeper into the school’s culture, get talking to students. If you walk up and say “Hi, I’m a prospective applicant, may I ask you about your experiences at this school so far …” it is likely you will get a friendly and informative response.

(b) I’m aware it’s dangerous to offer HBS blog text as a writing model because applicants will mimic this style. Do NOT do this. But it has elements worth noting. It’s informal-formal, like recorded speaking. There are no mistakes, but the copy is not stiff and overly “written.” In this way Dee comes across like someone you’d like to meet. Also note the the rhetorical question-and-answer style. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it is a superb device for getting information across quickly and clearly. Overall the text has a crisp, to-the-point feel, but it is not rushed or clipped.  Your MBA admissions essays are not a blog, but information-laden crispness that suggests you are worth meeting is exactly what you are looking to achieve.

New HBS Dean talks of competence, character, internationalism, and dirty boots. Adcom will follow suit

The soul-searching at Harvard Business School over business ethics and the relationship between business and society has been widely documented. From Anderson to Enron to Lehman Bros., risktaking, dodgy, and sometimes outright criminal companies have been loaded with HBS alumni (as well as many from other schools as well, let’s not forget.) But somehow, of all business schools, perhaps because of its self-proclaimed “leadership and influence” focus, Harvard sees itself as needing to lead a new era in business-society relations.

With this as background, a recent Economist piece views the appointment on July 1st of new dean Nitin Nohria as part of a general HBS ethics-focused shake-up.

“Mr Nohria is the first HBS dean who was not born in North America. He is also the first who has come to the job having said that business faces a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ and that business education is at an ‘inflection point’…

“Mr Nohria’s first task is to try to restore faith in business in general and in business schools in particular. This means improving two things, he reckons: “competence” and “character”. He wants the faculty to focus more on the risks of clever financial techniques; they will have plenty of case studies to choose from. He also wants HBS to renew its commitment to shaping its students’ characters as well as their intellects. He has long argued that business people should regard themselves as members of a profession. He supports a movement by students to adopt a business equivalent of the Hippocratic oath… (For more on the MBA Oath see here.)

“Mr Nohria’s other great passion is for super-charging innovation at HBS. This will involve making the school even more globally connected than it already is: one of Mr Nohria’s first acts as dean was to embark on a whistle-stop tour of the world’s business hot-spots. More ambitiously, he wants to rethink the school’s hallowed teaching methods. Since the 1920s, HBS students have pored over case studies of business decisions. The new dean wants them to take part in live case studies—to take themselves to the Midwest or Mumbai and spend time working for real companies. This answers one of the most persistent criticisms of business education: that it is too abstract. Mr Nohria wants his students to get their boots dirty.”

So there is clearly a manifesto from the top of HBS to (1) address character issues and define competence more broadly, that is, to exclude absurd risk-taking; (2) to increase the school’s active global connections, including in emerging markets, in the spirit of innovation, and; (3) to extend the case-method to include “do-it-don’t-just-think-about-it” immersion.

Nobody is suggesting that the Dean makes admissions decisions directly. But HBS Adcom as a whole can hardly be immune to the strong winds of this new directive either. Therefore, applicants who (while staying true to themselves!) show evidence of good character, a measured risk-taking profile, global-innovative intent, and readiness to go beyond the ivory tower during their studies and afterwards, will be doing themselves a favor.