When it comes to branding, Harvard Business School is academia’s answer to Google and Coca-Cola. Just ask any stranger about HBS; you’re bound to hear the same themes. One is leadership. Dubbed the “West Point of Capitalism,” the school’s alumni roll is dotted with business royalty like Bloomberg, Dimon, Romney, and Immelt. Another is prestige. Just mention that you hold a Harvard MBA and eyes widen and doors open — the degree reflexively confers clout. More than anything, Harvard is associated with excellence. Each year, 9 out of every 10 applicants are rejected, the washout rate higher than Navy SEAL recruits. The elite students come to Cambridge, and it is HBS’ job to pick from the best-of-the-best.
BIG NAME…HEAVY RESOURCES…HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Another word often applied to the school is resources — massive ones. HBS boasts a $3.3 billion dollar endowment, the same as Wharton, Stanford, and Columbia combined. The business school isn’t shy about spending it either. For example, it budgets $31.5 million for scholarships according to a 2014 Poets&Quants report, along with pouring millions into HBX, a ground-breaking online learning platform that provides MBA-caliber, interactive courses to professionals worldwide. That doesn’t even count its hordes of renowned faculty members, including superstars like Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen, let alone its far-reaching course offerings. Let’s not forget HBS’ inimitably diverse and accomplished student body, where section mates may include anyone from a former assistant to Sheryl Sandberg to an inventor of an iPad toy for toddlers.
Such advantages come with the highest of expectations. HBS may not be cutthroat competitive, but it is intense and rigorous, with a fast pace and a heavy workload. It is a different kind of preparation for the real world, one that requires a delicate balance. Here, everyone is talented. To get noticed, students must learn how to stand out. That first demands a transformation, of corralling their impulses so they can first listen and face the painful self-reflection that produces growth.
HBS FIRST YEAR HAS AN ASTEROID NAMED AFTER HIM
In the end, the mission for every HBS student is to go from being exceptional to extraordinary. Chances are, the Class of 2018 will someday include the next Pincus, Schwarzman, Khan, or Sandberg. Perhaps it will be Alonso Lucero, whose father came to the United States as an immigrant making minimum wage. A former competitive Mexican folklore dancer, Lucero colorfully describes himself as the “Plymouth Valiant from Spielberg’s 1971 movie Duel – the underdog car that defeats the monstrous big-rig.” Another candidate may be Daniel Handlin, who was inspired to study aerospace engineering and astrophysics from watching Star Trek. His claim to fame: He had an asteroid named after him. Let’s not forget Frances Dixon, a U.S. Air Force officer who once tried out for the U.S. Olympic team…in synchronized swimming.
Their accomplishments also reflect a class of eclectic impact players who know how to navigate the c-suite and get things done. Sacramento native Adrian Kimbrough is a case in point. A Berkeley grad and former Cyptologic Linguist with the U.S. Marines, Kimbrough worked his way into being an energy industry analyst with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). However, his journey has a slight twist: He landed the job without any background in economics, finance or energy policy.
“I persuaded partners from major law firms, PhD economists, CPAs, commercial executives, and senior management from the Commission to adopt my positions during numerous litigated and negotiated proceedings,” he explains. “My time with the FERC gave me a newfound confidence in my ability to adapt and excel in demanding, complex endeavors.”
Lucero made a similar leap of faith, taking a leave from his job to volunteer with the Zimbabwe Microfinance Wholesale Facility, where he was able to connect his “big data analytics experience with my passion for social entrepreneurship and impact investing.” In the process, he made major contributions, uncovering fraud, lowering portfolio risks, establishing pricing methodologies, and developing policies and benchmarks for the organization. “This project gave me confidence and pride in my ability to make a difference with my interpersonal skills and intellect,” he notes.
ALL-TIME HIGH IN ENROLLING WOMEN
Over the summer, Dee Leopold stepped down from her role as managing director of admissions and financial aid at HBS to take over Harvard’s 2+2 program. A 36-year veteran of the school, the Class of 2018 represents the final class that she will shape. “Year after year, for more than a century, Harvard Business School has attracted leaders who are serious about making a difference in the world,” Leopold shared with Poets&Quants in August. “Our enviable annual challenge is really a consistent one, to compose the most interesting class possible — women and men from different countries, different backgrounds, different life and job experiences.”
By that measure, the Class of 2018 maintains, if not exceeds, HBS’ lofty standards. Applications to the school rose from 9,686 in 2014-2015 to 9,759 in 2015-2016, with the program maintaining its onerous 11% acceptance rate, second only to Stanford’s 6% rate. HBS’ status as the go-to MBA program, however, is reinforced by its 11% yield, meaning 9 of every 10 students who earned an acceptance letter ended up enrolling — higher than any other full-time MBA program. Overall, 942 students comprise the class, down from 948 in 2017.
Harvard also held steady with GMATs, reporting a median 730 score, no different than the two previous classes (though tied with 2018 classes at Wharton and Booth). The school’s GMAT scores ran from 690-760 in the mid-80% range, with average undergraduate GPAs coming in at 3.67.
The 2018 Class also features 43% women, a high water mark at the school and just a shade under Wharton (44%) for top honors. 35% of the class also hails from overseas, with 26% of the class belonging to U.S. ethnic minorities. Although the class includes students from 68 countries, 68% of the students come from North America, including 65% from the United States alone. Asia (14%), Europe (11%) and Central and South America (5%) also represent large swaths of the class. Like previous years, HBS accepted more students from international schools than domestic ones, this time by a 149-to-141 margin.
That said, a business background helps in being admitted. 41% of students studied business and economics as undergrads.However, STEM majors nearly equal that mark at 38%. Humanities and social science majors make up a fifth of the class. The program also takes great pains achieve class balance in terms of professional experience. Exhibit A: High tech, consulting, and venture capital and private equity each compose an equal 15% of the class. In fact, financial services (11%) is the only other category to achieve double digits, with other large blocs coming from government and non-profit (8%), consumer products (7%), energy (7%), and healthcare (6%). Military veterans compose another 5% of the class.
Go to next page to read profiles of incoming HBS students.