HBS Expects New App To Up Applications

Deidre Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School

Deidre Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School believes its new streamlined MBA application will result in an increase in applications to the school. Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid, said the new application should make it easier for greater numbers of people to apply.

Leopold made her comments in an interview in The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard. “We hope to have more people consider applying by minimizing the written application as an unnecessarily daunting hurdle,” she told co-editor Kate Lewis of The Harbus. Applications to Harvard’s MBA program for the Class of 2014 fell 4% to 8,963 from 9,331 a year earlier. The decline resulted in a slight increase in the school’s acceptance rate, pushing it to 13% from 12%.

“We are looking for leaders who make a difference, regardless of academic or professional background. While this isn’t a broad-scale effort to increase the number of applications we receive each year, we want to make sure the initial application doesn’t deter good candidates from applying in the first place. In that sense, we are trying to make it easier to apply to HBS.”


Leopold also said that applicants who are invited to interview with admissions would be able to participate in a larger agenda of activities when they visit on campus. “We are expanding our on-campus interview day programming and hope for applicants to stick around for a day or two to learn more about what life is like at HBS,” Leopold said.

“On top of the traditional class visits and campus tours, faculty and career professional development panels, as well as presentations by RC (Required Curriculum or first year) head Rawi Abdelal and yours truly, will be available to interviewees and their families. We are also giving applicants more chances to interact with current students. The idea is to center the interview experience around Spangler Center in addition to Dillon House so that current students will spot the red interviewee folder and engage applicants on campus. My hope is that current students will serve as good ambassadors for their school.”

As reported earlier, Leopold cut the required essays to apply to Harvard in half, giving applicants just 800 words to make their case. Then, if selected for an admissions interview, applicants must write a ‘reflection’ on the interview and email it to admissions within 24 hours.


Leopold conceded that the post-interview reflection would allow Harvard a glimpse at whether an applicant used an admissions consultant. “I believe that it will be very obvious if the reflection was crafted before the interview was actually conducted; in that way we will know if the assignment was completed with outside help,” she told the Harbus. “The use of consultants is now part of the admissions landscape, but I don’t know if they help or not. To say that a hired consultant increases chances of admission is to attribute undue causality. No one really knows why they are admitted to HBS.”

Asked if the interview would increase in importance due to the more limited essay requirement, Leopold insisted that interviews would not  be given more weight. “The interview has always been the keystone of our approach, but it will not increase in importance this year. After the interview, the application is reconsidered as a whole and the complete package is discussed again during final decisions.

“Essay writing is not a skill that is very relevant to the business world. Professionals today express themselves in email messages rather than essays in the formal, traditional sense. Suppose the applicant were asked to recount the highlights of a meeting in an email. What important things happened? What went well and what didn’t?”


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