“Dee” Leopold, director of admissions at Harvard Business School, has some very keen advice for recommenders of applicants. “The best recommendations have a lot of verbs,” she told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published today (March 1). “They say, ‘She did this,’ versus adjectives that simply describe you.”
SCREENING FOR UNDESIRABLE QUALITIES THAT WOULD BE TOXIC
In the seven-question Q&A, Leopold said she sometimes questions her own admission decisions. “This process isn’t perfect,” said Leopold. “We’re like very experienced country doctors who see a lot of patients. We’re screening out undesirable qualities that would be toxic in our community. We like to think that our arrogance detectors are pretty good. We’re looking for confidence, with humility.”
AN APPLICANT WHO IGNORED HARVARD’S ADMISSIONS DIRECTOR AND MADE A GOOD IMPRESSION?
Leopold then gave the Journal a recent example during an interview session she held at the Harvard Club in New York. “The person I was supposed to interview was engaged in conversation with a mother and a daughter. They were adorable, but they wouldn’t let him go. He knew he had 30 minutes. I’m standing there, and he had such grace and composure to treat these people well. That’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
NEEDS A CHIROPRACTOR ONCE THE APPLICATION SEASON IS OVER
The director of admissions said she spends a “minimum” of 10 minutes on every application for the 1,800 applicants who are invited to interview. Half of those are invited to attend Harvard. “If you aggregate all the times I go back, probably 30 minutes or so,” she said. “I sweep over, look at everything, and then go back. Everybody goes in different piles—things that I need to spend more time on, things that I trust my quick judgment on. I kind of go into hibernation after interviews. By the end of that period,” she joked, “I need a chiropractor.”
APPLICANTS ARE OVERESTIMATING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ESSAYS
Asked how important the essay questions are in the overall application, Leopold said that she believes people overestimate the role they play. “They’re very, very helpful for the candidate, and they’re a really good platform for starting a discussion in an interview, but we don’t admit people because of an essay.
“I don’t need to have too much of a dramatic arc. There are some essays where I start reading and all of a sudden I feel like I’m in the middle of a very well-written novel. It can get overdone and overcrafted. Sometimes the challenge in the essay is to be honest and to be clear. It may be helpful for someone to say, “I have no ideas what you’re talking about.’ De-jargonizing is helpful.”
PLANS TO SURVEY THIS YEAR’S INCOMING CLASS TO GET A BETTER PICTURE OF ITS DIVERSITY AND BACKGROUND
Leopold also disclosed that Harvard intends to try something new with this year’s incoming class to get a broader and deeper picture of Harvard’s newest admits. “We’re going to try something a little different this year, asking (admitted students) to answer some questions,” she told the Journal. “How many have been involved in a start-up? How many have worked abroad? That might not show up in their most recent work experience, which is the way we have captured a class before.”