More Anxiety for HBS Applicants?

Sandy Kreisberg, HBS Guru, in Harvard Square

Some consultants, however, were somewhat critical of the change. “I feel that the two essays in response to two excellent questions give applicants less of a chance to make themselves understood than last year’s four essay questions,” said Abraham. “It’s perplexing, to say the least, to read that Harvard wants to understand candidates better but allows them to say less.”


Sanford Kreisberg, founder of, said that for “the vast majority of interviewed applicants who have ok but not super-duper interviews, it is just more stressful work that is not going to add any value or new information or change anything.” Kreisberg, in a Poets&Quants interview published yesterday, thinks the 24-hour deadline is “a logistical nightmare for some jet-lagged kid who also needs to catch another plane home in those 24 hours.”

In the most recent admissions year which just ended, 8,963 people applied to Harvard’s MBA program, down from 9,331 last year and 9,524 in 2010. 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. For the past two years in a row, Harvard’s applicant pool fell by 4% each year due to the post-recession economic cycle that tends to encourage people to hold on to their jobs and postpone graduate school.

Regardless, every consultant contacted by Poets&Quants agreed that the change would increase applications to Harvard. “I am convinced this change will increase the number of applications to HBS, unless Harvard raises its application fee a lot,” said Abraham. “It’s just less time-consuming to write two essays than four. Harvard may get a few more rushed, last-minute applications. They probably will also see more people on the margins who don’t rush their applications but figure that for a chance to go to Harvard, they’ll write the two essays and pay the fee.”

Isiadinso, who had been on the inside of Harvard’s admissions and also writes a Q&A column for Poets&Quants, agreed. “For HBS, fewer essays will attract more applicants and will allow the MBA board to spend less time upfront reading essays,” she said. “The increase in applications probably won’t result in an increase in their acceptance rate. So they’ll still be considered as exclusive as ever. For applicants, they’ll see a reduction in the amount of time devoted to essays. However, the new September admissions deadline and the 24-hour deadline on the essay after the interview may increase applicants’ anxiety rather than reduce it.”


Admission consultants were divided over whether the changes were good or bad for business. Some privately expressed worry that it could be harder to charge clients thousands of dollars when Harvard is requiring only 800 words upfront. Bauer, however, thought the new HBS approach will make the work of consultants “more challenging and more valuable.”

Because Harvard admissions staffers will now have less essay content to help them decide who gets interviewed, Bauer added, “the other components of the application must work harder than ever. The resume, recommendations, and the short-answer questions must be planned and refined more thoughtfully and thoroughly. The scope and rigor of the interview preparation process now becomes critical.”

Abraham thought the changes would be good for business largely because they will result in more people applying to Harvard. “I actually think this could increase admissions consulting business,” she said. “More people will apply to Harvard because it’s less demanding to do so. And Haavahd is mightly appealing. The change will mean less work associated with each app, but probably more applicants and more clients.”