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Behind Harvard’s Big Admission Changes

Asked how she believes consultants are likely to react to the changes, Leopold said, “It’s going to be disruptive to admission consultants who write essays.”

While the changes essentially lower the initial burden of applying to Harvard, they also increase the pressure to make a final memorable impression in a short, 24-hour period if a candidates is invited to an interview. In the most recent admissions year, roughly 9,060 people applied to Harvard’s MBA program. With an acceptance rate of  12%, Harvard interviewed about 2,200 candidates and accepted about 1,100 to fill its 905 to 910 available seats.

So the third essay would be written and submitted by slightly less than a quarter of the school’s application pool, requiring admissions to read and evaluate about 2,200 essays rather than more than 9,000 if the essay was placed at the front end of the application process.

MANY OTHER TOP B-SCHOOLS STILL REQUIRE FOUR ESSAYS

Most other major business schools have not released their new essays yet, but this past year Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management required applicants to complete four essays. Stanford’s combined word count for the requirement is 1,800 words, while Kellogg’s is 2,200 words. So the changes at Harvard to a mere 800 words are a significant departure from current practice.

Harvard is not the only school that is making changes to its admission process. As an experiment for 30 third-round interview applicants, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business recently added a team-based exercise in which candidates engaged in a discussion about a business issue with other applicants while being observed and evaluated by admissions staff. That practice may become permanent this year.

Wharton currently asks candidates to complete three essays, with a combined word count of 1,500 words, though it also offer applicants the chance to turn in an optional 250-word statement on what it calls “extenuating circumstances” that allows a person to specifically address weaknesses in their application, such as a low undergraduate grade point average or a below average score on the GMAT or GRE.

‘WE’RE NOT WRITING A TEN-YEAR POLICY HERE. IT’S AN EXPERIMENT’

Leopold described Harvard’s changes as an “experiment.” “We’d like to think we’re not writing a ten-year policy here,” she told Poets&Quants. “We’re always in design/development mode. All throughout the year we meet and dream up ways that will make it easier for you to feel ‘understood’ and undertake assessment steps that map to what we do here in the classroom and what you will do in your careers. We’re always trying to tweak and improve and this is what we’ve come up with for the Class of 2015.”

In the most recent admissions cycle, applicants to HBS had to answer the following four questions:

1. Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

2. Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)

3. Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)

4. Answer a question you wish we’d asked. (400 words)

CHANGES UNRELATED TO TWO STRAIGHT YEARS OF 4% APPLICATION DECLINES

Leopold said the changes are unrelated to application declines at Harvard for the past two consecutive years. Last year, applications to Harvard’s MBA program fell by 4% to 9,331. This year, applications fell an additional 4% to 8,963. The peak year for HBS applications was back in 2004 when the school received 10,382 applications.

Leopold also said that for the first time admissions expects to host weekly Q&A webinar sessions for full-time MBA applicants beginning June 1 at noon EST. Subsequent sessions through the summer will be held on Thursdays at 1 p.m. EST. Those who want to attend will have to sign up in advance at the school’s online events page.

On-campus admission information sessions, meantime, through the summer will be held every Monday and Friday at 1 p.m. No advance registration is required for these events.

 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL’S NEW APPLICATION DEADLINES

Application Period Deadline Notifcation of Decision
Round One Sept. 24, 2012 Dec. 12, 2012
Round Two Jan. 7, 2013 March 27, 2013
Round Three April 8, 2013 May 15, 2013

DON’T MISS: A CANDID & PROVOCATIVE LOOK AT THE NEW HBS CHANGES or THE GATEKEEPER TO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL 

(See following pages for the essay requirements at other top business schools)