How To Apply To Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School across the Charles River

Harvard Business School across the Charles River


A 10-Step Guide To Winning A Seat In An HBS Class


In the admissions consulting business, we love to ask the question, “Where are you applying?”  And applicants appear to equally enjoy giving an answer that starts with “HBS, of course.”  HBS, of course. The first rule of applying to Harvard Business School is to understand that everyone applies to Harvard Business School. Applying to HBS isn’t a novel exercise, but rather the first box on a checklist for virtually every candidate pursuing an MBA from an elite program.

So what does this mean you shouldn’t apply to HBS? Of course not. But it does mean two critical things:

  1. Your interest in HBS must rise above “it’s HBS”
  2. You absolutely must do everything right

To the latter point, doing things “right” includes not just what you do, but what you don’t do.  It’s about handling your business with total confidence, self-possession, assuredness, and mastery. It’s about stepping into a world of ambiguity and not breaking even a hint of a sweat. Harvard has so much talent to choose from that it’s almost an impossible task to sort it out, so one thing they have done is introduced some stress and then watched to see who handles it. Basically, you don’t have to be perfect when you apply to Harvard, but you have to be perfectly composed. You have to own who you are, know when and where your personal expectations took shape, understand the path you are on, and – above all else – know how to put one foot in front of the other without doubting yourself along the way.

Quite honestly, if you are a legit candidate at HBS and have dreams of going there, this is a place to invest some resources and hire someone who can coach you through the process. You will not only submit a better app and stay closer to that ideal of perfection, but you will also grow and evolve as a person – that’s just the kind of app process it is. Nothing builds character more than navigating ambiguity and coming out the other side. For those who can’t afford services, we have created this 10-step approach to applying to HBS that can at least help you set the right path. Indeed, the following guide will help keep you on the straight and narrow as you undertake the nerve-racking task of applying to the world’s most famous business school.


The first step, as indicated above, is to lock in a reason for applying to HBS that goes beyond the school’s name, rank, and prestige. Simply being one of the best applicants who wants to go to one of the best schools is not a good enough reason. Instead, really think through why you want to go to Harvard. What does the school offer that makes it a good fit for you?  There are dozens of things that make HBS unique, starting with the entire teaching model (case method, highly theoretical). Latch on to some of them so that Harvard starts to become a visualized place rather than just a brand name.

Hint: If you are applying to both HBS and Stanford GSB, you need to read this paragraph five extra times and then ask yourself: why? Harvard and Stanford share almost nothing in common except a prestigious perch atop the rankings. And, as you just read, that is no reason to apply to a b-school (except in extreme cases). It certainly isn’t a reason that will resonate. We are constantly advising clients to pick one or the other when it comes to HBS and Stanford. Being forced to choose one will hone the school search and application message for every other school.

Finally, understand that just because HBS does not ask you “Why Harvard?” within the written application, it does not mean you get a free pass. HBS features an application that is more open-ended and introspective than most and is designed to find out more about you than about external factors such as career path or interest in the program. That said, “Why Harvard?” may still determine your fate … in the interview. That is the stage where you have to showcase true fit, program knowledge, and everything we are encouraging above.

Authors: Paul Lanzillotti is founder and principal and Adam Hoff is principal of the Amerasia Consulting Group, a boutique MBA admissions consulting firm.