Can You Get Into Harvard’s B-School?

by John A. Byrne on

harvard_business_school.gi_What does it take to get into the best MBA program in the world?

Let’s start with the raw data, the most tangible way to answer the question. The latest entering class of MBA students reported an average GMAT score of 724 which would essentially put them in the 95th percentage of test takers. So Harvard MBA students scored equal to or better than 95% of those who took the GMAT exam.


If your GMAT score is lower than 724, you are at a slight disadvantage. But don’t give up. Harvard accepts a wide range of applicants, and for the Class of 2014, at least one had a GMAT score of only 570, which put that candidate in the not-very-impressive 55th percentile. The highest GMAT score of a Harvard MBA student, by the way, was 790, which is in the 99th percentile and just ten points shy of a perfect 800 score.

Screen Shot 2013-03-06 at 5.48.07 PMDuring their undergraduate years, applicants who were accepted to Harvard Business School got very good grades as you would expect. The average grade point average for the entering class was 3.66, much better than the 3.3 average GPA at a private university or the 3.01 average at a public university (See table at left for how Harvard’s stats compare with other top ten U.S. business schools and the top ten averages).

On GMAT and GPA alone, you pretty much have to be among the top 5% of all MBA applicants in the world to have a better than 50% chance of getting an invite to the school.

But remember: it’s also not merely your GPA that counts here. What also matters is where you got your degree. This is, after all, a bit of an elite game, especially at the very top schools which place a premium on landing graduates of prestige universities and colleges–not your local state college.

The top ten feeder colleges to Harvard Business School? Harvard University undergrads lead the pack, followed by Stanford, UPenn, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Duke, UC-Berkeley and MIT. Then comes Georgetown, the Indian Institute of Technology, Cornell, Brown, New York University, the U.S. Military Academy, Brigham Young, Northwestern, and the University of Virginia.


Yet, many of Harvard’s applicants who failed to get into the school had GMATs well above the 724 average and GPAs above the 3.66 average. That’s because the entire applicant pool has an average GMAT at Harvard of over 700. So the competition is tough, requiring the school to turn down many who meet or exceed the average scores. That’s why the school accepted only 13% of those who applied to HBS last year, among the lowest acceptance rates in the world.

Here’s where the intangibles come into play. They include the value an admissions officer would attribute to the company that employs an applicant, the career progression and accomplishments of the applicant on the job, and the number of years of work experience.

If the applicant’s employer is a well-known company, the odds fall in favor of the applicant’s work experience. People who work for such firms as McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co., Boston Consulting Group, Booz, Deloitte Consulting, Google, J.P. Morgan/Chase, Goldman Sachs, the U.S. Army as an officer, Citigroup, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley have an advantage over those who work for no-name companies that lack glamour and prestige.


And if you’ve been promoted and have been given increasing responsibility during your stint at work, you’re far more likely to get an invite to Harvard–especially if your GMAT and GPA is close to the averages and you are working for a brand name firm.

As for experience, too much work is a bad thing. Too little work also isn’t very good, either. The average age of an entering student in Harvard’s Class of 2014 was 27. The sweet spot for work experience among successful Harvard applicants is three to five years. When you have more than five, the odds start falling. When you have less than three years, they also decline.

Some other random facts about successful applicants to Harvard last year:

  • Most recent job was at a start-up: 14%
  • Have founded/co-founded a business: 20%
  • Have worked outside their home country for 3 months or longer: 57%
  • Worked for (or plan to work for) a family business: 9%
  • Are “first in family” to graduate from college: 13%



  • Susanne Pfahl

    You would be sorry if you wouldn`t release us!

  • Linda Abraham

    John, while I have seen the stats on average age and level of experience at HBS and agree with your comment about the sweet spot, have you seen data on the age/experience range for applicants to HBS? I suspect that the number of applicants also declines over 28. We are actually seeing slightly more success with applicants over 30 than we had seen previously, and I believe the HBS data shows it too. But I have never seen the acceptance rate broken down by years out of college or level of experience.


  • Bruce Vann

    I will never understand why Darden isn’t considered to be a top ten school by some folks. To each his own.

  • CommonSense

    Because it isn’t.

  • AIG_Quant

    Darden is in the top ten of the top 11-20 programs

  • Bruce Vann

    That’s what you say but it’s not gospel.

  • Bruce Vann

    How much should we trust AIG math and logic given what happened a few years ago using it?

  • Atif Jain

    Hi, I’m from India. I’m not really sure whether gpa in US in on the scale of 4 or 5.. Can you please clarify?

  • Victo

    It’s on a scale of 0-4.0. Perfect A’s = 4.0 or if you go to a school that uses plus minus grading, all A+’s is a 4.0.

  • Raj

    Hi My college gpa is on the scale of 10. How will the GPA will be calculate for the admission of the US colleges.

  • anamika

    its simple…use unitary method. for e.g. if u got a 8.5 cgpa ,
    8.5 out of 10 . so out of 4 ?

    will be 8.5*4/10=3.4

  • vikrnat

    hi, i have less gpa 2.3 or 2.4 than what is my chance to get a good MBA collage after a good score in gmat ???

  • M Khurana

    I have a gpa of 3.2… I am from IIT Delhi.
    Can you elaborate on my chances of getting to Harvard?

  • Tiger’13

    That’s not necessarily the case. Grading doesn’t always translate on a 1:1 scale like that. I don’t know the specific scale Raj referred to, but take the French system as an example (it’s the one I know best). Their scale is out of 20, 10 is passing, whereas usually in the US ~70% is passing, or 14/20. A 16 is something like an “A” in the US system, and an 18 is stellar. I sat in a room full of students at Sciences Po Paris (top political science university in the country) and they told me that they had never gotten a 20, even in high school–they just aren’t given.

  • Anon A$hole

    No chance. LOL.

  • A.I.
  • Name

    You should learn what an average is and how little predictive power it provides on its own.

  • WallStreet Junkie

    Not enough info to evaluate. Or maybe you think colleges such as IIT or BITS are enough? Typical Indian mentality. Sorry to be harsh, but it’s the overall profile that matters.

  • Jacquiline

    Are you an idiot? If it were that simple, no B-School would take WES calculations. Tiger’13 is correct.

  • Magnus


    I am a 29 year old (turning 30 july 2014) Norwegian with a “colorful background” (according to a Ivy League Adm Dir), including a MSc and 4year+ experience. Would it be wise not to spend time applying to HBS and Stanford since these are targeting “younger” applicants?

    Best regards

  • D’brickashaw Fergosun 1971

    Wow, thanks. Retrograde Analysis (chess) always works……too easy.

  • Barbarossa

    His question is relevant if you try to understand his point. In a lot of schools(like IIT D), the grading is a bit tough, therefore it’s difficult to gauge the value of his gpa of 3.2.
    IIT AND BITS? IIT is one of the top feeder schools for Harvard and other top US schools whereas BITS is a good private engineering school(not so well known on the global school).
    M Khurana – Your IIT background would definitely give you an edge over the other Indian applicants but since a lot of IIT Grads apply for Harvard, the final decision depends on the overall profile.
    @WallStreet Junkie- Yes, overall profile matters. And your undergrad school is one of the most crucial parts of you overall profile.

  • Hrishika

    Bachelor’s from Private Institute in India with a GPA of 3.86
    Masters from University of Southern California ,Los Angeles. GPA-3.2
    Work Experience of 4 years. 1 Year in Intel and 3 in Qualcomm.
    Good Recos too.
    Is there any chance for me to even apply to Harvard Business School?
    GMAT yet to be given

  • estud

    is 3.1 acceptable? :P

  • Surya Prakash Manchikanti

    what do you have to lose?

  • A person

    You can’t even spell “college” correctly.

  • Rajiv Galani

    For a person who has already a Master’s degree,which GPA is considered – UG or PG ?
    Bachelors from Mumbai University (india) – 65%
    Masters from Indian Institute of technology – 8.5/10
    4 years of work exp in semiconductor industry (Not a well known company)
    3 years of which in South Korea (away from home)
    Current age 28, will be 29 by the time I apply.
    Yet to give GMAT (current score estimates 720 – 740)
    Any chance of dreaming about HBS or the likes?

  • peter

    “Best”?…Hmm, that’s a bold claim.

  • james


  • pratyush kumar hore

    James , why do u think that she doesn’t stand a chance?

  • Alex

    Brown University Junior, Economics and Political Science
    Working at Goldman Sachs next summer, in Investment Grade Capital Markets
    GPA = 3.95
    On the executive board of Brown Student Council, founded the Intercollegiate Finance Journal.


  • Harvard Boung


  • JohnAByrne

    Would need to know your GMAT and why you want an MBA degree? What are your career goals?

  • sunil

    I got undergraduate degree with 66% from state govt engg college,raj(india)
    Now I employed (IES) india engineering services at executive engineer with 4yrs work experience.
    Can I take admission my dream college HBS.
    Plzzzz tell me.

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