Friday, June 20, 2014

Admissions Advice from HBS Dean

I recently stumbled across an interesting article, highlighting a revealing interview with Dee Leopold, the head of HBS admissions. The article made me realize all of the little things that the admissions committee thinks about, many of which I'd never considered. It also made me extremely thankful that I never have to go through the application process again.

I also thought it was interesting that out of the 10,000 applicants who applied to HBS last year, only 10 people chose not to write the "optional" essay. And one of those people was actually accepted!

So anyway, for those of you planning to apply to b-school this coming fall, the article is worth a quick read.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

5 Things to do Now to Prepare for Round 1 applications

It's that time again, folks! Within the past few days, several schools have started to push their Class of 2017 applications live. Round 1 apps are due in as soon as 3 months. That may seem like a long time, but last year I found that time absolutely flew by. So, here's my advice for how to use your summer to be best prepared for application season. Let the games begin!

1. Prioritize the GMAT and get it done. You may be busy at work or dealing with family life, but you don't have time to delay the GMAT at this point. Try to get the test done by July, so that you can fully devote yourself to the many other aspects of applications -- especially essay writing.

2. Define your career goals. Every school will ask you about your short and long-term career goals. These must be realistic, yet ambitious.

3. Select your schools of interest. This ties into your career goals. Figure out where you want to apply. I recommend applying to about 4-6 schools -- 2 schools that are a fit based on your GPA, GMAT, and work experience; and 2-4 schools that are more of a reach. I've said it numerous times, but I honestly did not expect to get accepted to HBS or Stanford. The odds seemed crazy. The only way to be accepted is to apply.

4. Finish the "little things" early. Having not needed to apply to a job or program in a few years, I had let my resume become outdated. Every school will ask for your resume. Update it now so that you don't have to worry about it later when you are swamped with other stuff.

5. Brainstorm essay ideas. When I needed a mental break from GMAT studying, I would spend some time casually jotting down bullet points regarding how I would respond to various essay topics. This way, I still felt like I was being productive, but I was able to escape the misery of Data Sufficiency. Even if the essay topics for all of your schools aren't yet available, there are some common questions that you'll need to be able to answer at some point, i.e. What's the biggest obstacle/challenge you've faced? What's your greatest leadership experience? What are your strengths/weaknesses?

If you have any other strategies to prepare early for applications, feel free to post a comment below. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Who got in to HBS?

HBS just released the preliminary profile for the class of 2016. I scoured these profiles when I was applying last year, trying to gleam any hidden trends. It's crazy to think that my data is now included.

There are currently 940 students in the class, and Dee Leopold expects that number to settle somewhere between 930 to 939, after summer melt and a few waitlist additions.
For me, the biggest takeaway from this data is that you should never count yourself out. If you want to go to HBS, just give it a shot and apply. There is no guarantee that you'll get in, but there's also no guarantee that you won't. Someone in the class was accepted with a 580 GMAT. If you had asked most admissions consultants or entered that person's data into one of those online admissions chances calculators, I bet the odds would not be in his favor. But somehow, he got in! I think that's pretty amazing. Admissions are truly a holistic process.

Personally, I didn't expect to get accepted. I worked as hard as I could and tried to best position myself for success, but I didn't expect my dream to actually become a reality. I decided to apply, because I knew I would regret it if I didn't; I would always think "what if?" That's part of the reason I went by the username "Defying Gravity." I was hoping I could achieve what seemed to be an unexpected feat, not allowing anything (including my own doubts) to bring me down.

So if you're even considering applying to b-school for the Class of 2017, my advice is to go for it. Keep your expectations reasonable, but don't be afraid to shoot for the stars, because you have the chance of something pretty freakin' amazing happening.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to respond to the HBS essay prompt

There are still 3 months and 8 days left until the HBS round 1 application for the Class of 2017 is due. However, I've recently had quite a few people asking me about my essay. When I applied, HBS provided the following essay prompt:

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? There is no word limit for this question.  We think you know what guidance we're going to give here. Don't overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don't know your world can understand. 

Interestingly, this exact same prompt is being used for the Class of 2017, even though Dean of Admissions Dee Leopold has previously gone on record stating that the question will change every year. Clearly this 'optional' essay worked out pretty well.

So, what brilliant topic did I write about in order to land the golden ticket? What is the secret sauce behind this question. Honestly, there's no secret sauce. I spent significantly less time on the HBS essay than I did on my Stanford essays, and the essays of every other school to which I applied. I took the advice to heart of not overthinking this, even though my natural reaction was, of course, to totally overthink it.

Anyway, I wrote about what has motivated me to pursue my career goals. I connected my personal and professional experiences into a ~700 word essay. The advice I have given to other applicants is to tell a meaningful story that highlights something important to you. Don't try to guess what's important to the admissions committee, because you'll probably guess wrong.