‘Rogue Daredevils’ Better Be Rogue

Deidre Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School

With only one week to go before Harvard Business School’s round one deadline, Admissions Director Dee Leopold today (Sept. 17) dispensed some timely advice to potential applicants. Much of her counsel, in fact, would be helpful to applicants to any top business school.

Here’s what she is recommending to applicants:

Try to resist the urge to make “standing out” your primary goal in the admissions process. If you have made traditional choices all along (college, extracurriculars, major field of study, jobs), own it. You’ll look silly if you try to portray yourself as a rogue daredevil. There are plenty of people at HBS who come from traditional backgrounds.

“Do your homework about the case method. It’s our signature pedagogy and it is nothing like traditional academia. Watch Inside the Case Method (link below) on our website and ask yourself if you find this method of learning intriguing and exciting. If it’s not for you, choose another school now vs. later.

“When choosing recommenders, determine whether or not they can answer the question we pose: what piece of constructive advice have you given to the candidate? If they can’t answer, they probably don’t know you well enough to write a helpful recommendation.

“Realize that we’re serious when we say that our challenge is “selection” vs. “evaluation.” Our promise to our faculty and to every student is to deliver the most diverse class – on multiple dimensions – as we possibly can. I’ve never heard an HBS student say: “I wish there were more students just like me in my section.” Selection can look mysterious to the outside world because not all of the elements of diversity can be captured in metrics. Some, like leadership style, are subtle and communicated more obliquely.

“Stay curious. It’s so easy to stay “heads down” during the application process and become so introspective that you lose sight of the larger world. Keep reading. Keep listening. We’re looking for people who can dig into a case about a company they have never heard of, in an industry they don’t think they care about – and be 100% engaged.”


“Of course we’re thinking a lot about Round 1,” she wrote in a post on her director’s blog. “And all of us have been on the road doing info sessions so I know that I have “panel-itis.” I try (very hard) to do continual reality-checks about what I’m saying out there to both groups and individuals. My challenge is to explain this process as best I can – and, just as important, to dispel myths. But it’s also to stay real and to not shy away from saying that the answer to most questions asked is “it depends” – because it’s true. There is a lot of noise out there about what are the “right” answers, the “right” backgrounds, and “right” time. Strong opinions voiced with authority can be seductive – sort of along the lines of “often wrong but never in doubt.” Most of the time I know better than give out prescriptive advice to candidates just to hear myself talk. Every so often – like today – I try to capture some of our bigger picture advice. So here you have it. As always, the intent is to be helpful.”

Leopold also provided answers to some of the most common questions from potential applicants she has been getting on the phone, via email and at events.

GMAT/GRE scores – you must have a score in order to submit an application. Unofficial scores can be submitted on the application. The official score report can reach us later.

Recommenders – you need to input their names and contact info IN ADVANCE of the application deadline. That’s the only way they will be able to access the recommender form.

Resume – one-page is still a good guideline. Don’t think that because we are reducing the number of essays we are encouraging you to include really extensive detail on the resume.

Class visits – the online scheduler for first-year class visits will open on Monday. Here’s the link. Again, we love to have visitors but that plays absolutely no part in how we evaluate applications.

Informational webinars – check for upcoming dates and times. Here’s the registration link.

Financial aid – it’s all need-based and is NOT awarded at the time of admission because we need more detail from you which is provided in a financial aid application AFTER you are admitted. You do not apply for scholarships or fellowships at the time you submit your admissions application.

Extra stuff – one word: don’t. We simply cannot consider materials submitted beyond the specified online application requirements.



  • hbsguru

    1 “. Try to resist the urge to make “standing out” your primary goal in the admissions process.”

    I think she copied this from my website, honest–hmmm, this is good advice as far as it goes, but the most common way to fit in– by having 720+ GMAT, 3.6+ GPA at Select Schools, and Two Very Select Jobs– is beyond your control by the time you start the application. The issue of how to present yourself in essay choice is different issue, and in fact, if you have the above traits, you might be able to move the needle a bit by picking less trad. topics, assuming you can back them up.
    2. “Do your homework about the case method.”

    This is not impt app advice per se, although you should sit in on a class or watch the video before your interview, b.c. they often ask how, given your background, you would contribute to case method.

    3. “When choosing recommenders, determine whether or not they can answer the question we pose: what piece of constructive advice have you given to the candidate? If they can’t answer, they probably don’t know you well enough to write a helpful recommendation.”

    Well, rec writer should be able to say convincingly how he knows you, but this Question is not the most impt -that is rec Q’s 1 and 2, and rec is kinda over by that point. This Q, can be screwed up if guy goes into some long song and dance about a case you worked on where you used the wrong wrench and screwdriver, and he explains in detail what that means, and why in this business you need different wrench and screwdriver in that circumstance, etc. etc. Instead of just saying, ‘I told Laddy to be more _____, and here are five examples of how he did it. ”

    4. “Realize that we’re serious when we say that our challenge is “selection” vs. “evaluation.”
    Meaningless CYA blather. And nothing you can do about it as an applicant, just a way for her to say in a PC way that they are under pressure from diversity, blah blah and also, sure they are not going to “disrupt” their standard cohorts (banking, PE, consulting, non-profit, military, ‘corporate’) in any dramatic way in any year–although they might start shaving basis points off any cohort per annum, which could start to add up, e.g. service academy cohort is prob down 10pct over past 15 years, replaced by internationals, females, etc. Yeah, I know, females go to service academies, but run the numbers.

    5. “Stay curious.”
    And, to quote Mick Jagger, “wear white at night.”

  • Shaniqua “La Bootay” James

    Best possible advice for life: “Try to resist the urge to make ‘standing out’ your primary goal …”

  • Sanjay Chandershekar

    @ Rich from Denver I feel the same way. I don’t know if I would be happy there (of course not like I’m a lock to get in). I read this book called ahead of the curve by this guy named Phillp Bougton. He wrote about his time at HBS. Good read.

  • Rich from Denver

    Snooty school. Great network and access to jobs but snooty snobby school.