Snag Your Harvard Business School Class of 2017 Seat

If you’re aiming to attend Harvard Business School or another top 10 MBA program in 2015, then you’ll want to view our most recent webinar, Get Accepted to Harvard Business School.

In her presentation, Linda Abraham, CEO & Founder of Accepted.com, offers loads of advice on how to gain a competitive edge to a top b-school in general, and Harvard Business School in particular.

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View Get Accepted to Harvard Business School on-demand now!

Watch 'Get Accepted to Harvard Business School'!

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Top MBA Programs Using Shared Letter of Recommendation Questions

Looking for application essay tips? Click here!

A Shared LOR = Good News for Applicants, Recommenders, and B-Schools

The number of top-ranked MBA programs now asking the exact same questions for the letters of recommendation is growing, which is good news both for recommenders and for candidates. LORs are very important to an applicant’s case, providing an objective assessment from a supervisor, former manager, or other professional that helps affirm (or not) what the applicant has stated about her own skills, traits and abilities. But different questions with different word limits were onerous for both applicants, who had to ask the same people to write varying assessments for their multiple applications, as well as the recommenders.

This year, Harvard, Darden, Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Wharton are asking these questions:

 • How do the candidate’s performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. 

 • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.

Harvard, Wharton, and Yale have word limits for both questions, though the other programs do not. Not all schools had released their LOR questions for the 2015 application season as of this writing, so this list is not comprehensive, and other schools may be added to the list. Stanford has a helpful link to a transcript of a podcast on what elements make for successful and effective LORs. This advice is certainly applicable to LORs for any other MBA program as well.

Some schools also ask recommenders to fill out a personal qualities and skills grid form, evaluating applicants in a variety of areas. Currently, there is no unity among the schools on the use of a grid, so carefully check each school’s requirements.

Graduate school admissions consultants have lobbied to streamline this LOR process for years, and this convergence around shared questions is a direct outgrowth of those efforts. Last year, at the annual conference of the Association of International Graduate School Consultants (AIGAC), the topic of LORs became unexpectedly lively, with school admissions directors expressing concern over the integrity of what they were reading in LORs, and AIGAC members arguing that using shared questions would enhance the integrity of the process because it would take pressure off both applicant and recommender.

Anna Ivey, president of AIGAC, is pleased with the development of more schools converging around shared LOR questions. “Applicants have for years found themselves in quite a pickle because they have had to dump so much work on their recommenders. In some cases, their recommenders have had to write more words than the applicants do in their essays. That has created all kinds of distortions, despite good intentions.

“As AIGAC’s MBA Applicant Survey has shown since its inception, a sizable minority of recommenders ask applicants to write their own letters, and we suspect that’s because there’s only so much bandwidth they can dedicate to someone else’s application, let alone for multiple people for whom they might be writing letters. That multiplier effect makes for a daunting amount of work. Any convergence around common recommendation questions not only makes the application process easier for applicants and their recommenders, but also helps preserve the integrity of those recommendations and the application process. Cutting down on the duplication and extra work for recommenders will make it more likely that recommenders write their letters themselves, and that’s a great outcome.”

Download our free special report: Best MBA Programs

Judy Gruen By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

HBS 2014 Class Profile

Want to get into Harvard Business School? Click here!Let’s take a look at who comprises the 2014 incoming class at Harvard Business School (from the HBS site):

•  Percent admitted: 12%
•  Percent of women: 41%
•  Percent of international applicants: 35%
•  Median GMAT: 730
•  Complete GMAT range (lowest and highest scores): 580-790 (note that there were no perfect scores)
•  Percent from STEM fields: 39%
•  Top 4 pre-MBA professions:

Consulting -18%; Venture capital/private equity -17%; Financial services - 14%; High tech/communications - 13%

Are you looking to join the next HBS class? Join us for our upcoming webinar, Get Accepted to Harvard Business School, to learn key strategies to help you get accepted!

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Harvard Business School 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Click here for more info about Harvard Business School.

Make Every Word Count.

For the second year in a row, Harvard Business School is simultaneously demanding less and much more of applicants: No essays. Fewer words. Fewer characters. More thought. More brevity. And as much substance as you can cram into the responses limited not to a few hundred words, but to a few hundred characters. If any of you think creating a compelling HBS app will be easy, think again.

Required Portions

The required portions represent what Harvard wants to know about you. The HBS admissions committee is quite clear and specific about what it wants to know. And how much it wants to know. Please realize that your resume and the boxes are now the heart of your application Before you begin completing the application, first review Harvard’s three criteria for admission. Write your descriptions and response so that you show these qualities:

•   Habit of leadership.

•   Analytical Aptitude and Appetite.

•   Engaged community citizenship.

For additional understanding of Dee Leopold, Director of Harard Business School’s Admissions, and her thought process, please review the Poets and Quants interview with Dee, published in June 2014.

Because of the brevity required – most of the longer answers have a 500-character limit — you must be succinct:

•   Focus on business and leadership achievements, not technical feats.

•   Don’t merely describe your responsibilities; highlight your accomplishments– where you have made a difference, where you have gone above and beyond the expected, the typical, and the ordinary.

•   Quantify as much as possible.

•   Write tight.

The Optional Essay: (No word limit)

“You’re applying to Harvard Business School.  We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.   What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”

Now what else – really and truly — do you want HBS to know about you? The HBS admissions committee has told you what it wants to know. That’s in the required sections of the application. What do you want the HBS readers to know? The answer to that question is not something I can give or even suggest to you in a blog post aimed at the many. (For individual advice, please see Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting.) It should be different for each of you. Again, refer to the HBS criteria, as you contemplate possible topics, but the options are infinite. A few possibilities:

•   Context for events described in the required elements.

•   Motivations for the decisions or commitments you have made.

•   Challenges you have faced.

•   Something you would like to do at HBS.

•   More depth on an activity or commitment that is particularly important to you.

Please don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. I am offering them to stimulate your creativity, not to shut it down. Some of you may wonder if you should write this essay given that it is optional. If you don’t have anything to say, say nothing. Nonetheless, I can’t believe that accomplished, remarkable people have nothing valuable to add to the required portions of Harvard’s application. A persuasive, impressive essay simply gives Harvard more reasons to accept you, and you should want them to have those reasons. On the other hand, if you slap together something hastily or rehash or copy-and-paste another school’s essay, then you run the risk of actually reducing the quality of your application. Bottom line: Make it worth reading. Write a thoughtful essay that reflects you and complements the required components.

Since I’ve been in MBA admissions consulting (almost 20 years now), HBS has valued concision. And, in today’s tweet- and sound-bite-driven world, it is requiring even shorter responses, at least in the required portion of the application. Don’t take the absence of a word limit on the optional essay as a license for verbosity. Make every word count. If you must pull a number out of me, don’t go over 800 words. And if you can say what you need to say in less than 800 words, do so. A few caveats and warnings on the essay. It is not:

•   Stanford’s “what matters most to you and why?”

•   The kitchen sink in which you throw everything.

•   An autobiography.

Interview Reflections

2015 Application Deadlines:

Application Due    Decisions Released
Round 1    Sept 9, 2014 Dec 2014
Round 2 Jan 5, 2015 Mar 2015
Round 3 Apr 6, 2015 May 2015

Have our MBA admissions experts critique your HBS application!

Linda Abraham By , president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Harvard Business School: Analytical Aptitude and Appetite

Click here for more insight into the traits that HBS is looking for in candidates. So HBS wants “analytical aptitude and appetite.” What is there to add? I mean, it’s pretty obvious. We didn’t really need HBS to say it. Yet they did say it.

Maybe it’s not as obvious as it sounds. Let’s take a look.

Analytical: This concept encompasses a range of things – quantitative methods, various tools and processes such as decision trees and FMEA, mental objectivity, an exacting attitude. Parsing the relationship between a whole and its parts. Pursuing root causes.

Aptitude: Ability, innate and/or learned.

Appetite: This is the really interesting word, because it’s open to interpretation. We can read it as meaning to enjoy, to savor, to be open to, to relish, to hunger for, to have capacity for. Here are some of its practical implications and nuances (in question form):

• Do you use objective analysis in understanding past events, planning future actions and strategies, and making decisions?
• Do you respect results and outcomes determined by analysis when they don’t jive with your preconceptions, ideologies, or preferences?
• Does your analytic mindset allow you to be comfortable with – even relish – ambiguity and uncertainty?
• Do you help your teammates understand and use analytic approaches and thinking?
• Perhaps most important, do you use language effectively as an analytic tool, e.g., when the team is facing a muddle, are you the one who can verbally separate the threads, clarify them, and guide the team to understand their relative weight and importance?

As the HBS website indicates, for HBS, analytical aptitude is not a solitary feast (regardless of how hearty the analytic appetite). You’ve got to bring your analytical chops to the table, i.e., to classroom debates and case studies, projects, etc. Therefore, you must be able not only to read and play the analytic score – but also to improvise, on the spot and with other virtuosos.

The adcom will grasp your analytic aptitude from your transcript(s), test score, and resume. But if you feel these elements don’t properly show this dimension, use other parts of the application (essay, short answers, additional info, recommendations) to amplify it.

As for showing analytical appetite:

• Your resume may reflect this quality, depending on your work.
• Invite your recommenders to discuss this quality and to provide examples.
• In your essay(s) use a story or two that demonstrates analytical appetite.

And be assured, it won’t hurt to let other programs you apply to appreciate your analytic aptitude and appetite!

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBAand Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com, including many successful applicants to HBS.