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Harvard Decisions on 1st Round Applicants Due Today

By noon tomorrow, the Harvard Business School will break a lot of hearts but also fulfill the dreams of some 800 young people who have been interviewed by HBS admissions officials in the past two months.

That’s when the school’s MBA admissions staff will send emails to interviewed applicants in the first round of Harvard’s admissions cycle for the Class of 2013. The email will direct each interviewed applicant to log in to their online application for the inevitable yes, no or waitlist decision that has been made by HBS’s admissions committee. Of the 800 applicants who have made it this far, more than 200 interviewed candidates are expected to be turned down for admission, while under 500 likely will get invites to join the Class of 2012. Another 100 or so interviewed applicants will be put on a waitlist.

“Some of you will be disappointed tomorrow and wish to know ‘what went wrong,’ wrote MBA Admissions Director Dee Leopold in an email to applicants today (Dec. 13). “In most cases, the answer is ‘nothing, it’s about composing a class.’ If we had the resources to do individual feedback calls, this is the message that you would most likely hear. We would be reckless if we tried to communicate otherwise.”

Harvard is one of the first to begin notifying first round hopefuls, but over the next week a number of top schools are releasing their early decisions. Chicago’s Booth School of Business will send out notices the day after Harvard, while Wharton and Dartmouth’s Tuck School plan to release decisions on Friday (Dec. 17). Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management weighs in on first round applications next Monday.

At Harvard, this will be the first class shaped by new Dean Nitin Nohira who in stump speeches before alumni groups has been emphasizing what Harvard now calling the five Is: innovation, intellectual ambition, internationalization, inclusion, and integration (increasing connection with the rest of the university). How those early notions of the school’s future direction translates into changes in who gets into Harvard has yet to be seen.

The applicants who will receive emails tomorrow met the noon Oct. 1 deadline for the first round and were invited to interview by Harvard. Invites for those interviews were sent out on Oct. 15 through Nov. 1.

Anticipating the usual flood of disappointing emails and telephone calls, Leopold tried to explain that the admissions board’s decisions are less a reflection of an applicant’s quality than they are an attempt select an entering class. “Everyone invited to interview is a highly qualified candidate for Harvard Business School,” she said. “As I tried to make clear in all the interviews I personally conducted, once the hurdle of being invited to interview is cleared, the candidate moves from the realm of being ‘evaluated’ to the world of ‘selection,’ which is more complicated.

“Our promise to students each year is to comprise a diverse and balanced class – and our metrics for diversity are more complex than those which can be easily reported in a class profile on the website. If my job were to rank order candidates from high to low in order of individual strength, whatever that might mean, different decisions might be made.”

Leopold said she plans to set aside an hour every day during the week of Jan. 3 to speak with interviewed applicants by phone. She invited those with questions to call her from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. any day that week at 617-495-6128. “I won’t have your file in front of me, but I’ll try my best to answer general questions,” she said.

About 100 first round applicants will be invited to join the waitlist after having been interviewed, Leopold told applicants in the email. They will join 100 other applicants in the first round who didn’t get to interview. Eileen Chang, director of MBA admissions operations, and Dana Scalisi, waitlist manager, will be in touch with this group before week’s end.

Finally, Leopold thanked all of the applicants who came in for interviews. “We sincerely enjoyed meeting you and appreciate the considerable time and effort you invested,” she added. “Our admissions process is not perfect – our ability to get to know the “real you” is limited – but we do work very hard to make sure it is thoughtful and fair.”

Harvard’s deadline for its second round, typically the period in which it receives the most applications, is Jan. 11, while its third round closes on March 31.