Harvard MBA Applications Up 3.9%

Dillon House is where Harvard Business School makes all of its admission decisions.

Dillon House is where Harvard Business School makes all of its admission decisions.

Harvard Business School said today (May 17) that 9,315 applicants sought admission to the school during the 2012-2013 admissions cycle, a 3.9% increase from the previous year. The increase, occurring after HBS made major changes to its MBA application process, reverses two consecutive years of application declines.

In the 2011-2012 season, applications fell 4% to 8,963. Two years ago, applications to Harvard’s MBA program also had fallen by 4% to 9,331. The peak year for HBS applications was back in 2004 when the school received 10,382 applications.

This year’s increase came in an admissions cycle that saw the most significant changes to Harvard’s MBA admit policies since 2002 when the school required interviews for all admitted candidates. Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid, cut in half the number of required essays for most applicants to Harvard’s full-time MBA program. Instead of requiring applicants to write four separate essays, for a total of 2,000 words, MBA candidates had to turn in just two essays, for a total of 800 words (see Behind Harvard’s Big Admission Changes).

The two questions that formed the basis of the new essays also were more direct and simple than the previous menu of questions. Harvard asked candidates to “tell us something you’ve done well” and to “tell us something you wish you had done better,” both in no more than 400 words.

The school also added a novel twist for MBA candidates who make the first cut and are invited to an interview with the school’s admissions staff. Those applicants were asked to write an additional “written reflection of the interview experience” within 24 hours of the interview. Harvard also moved up its round one deadline for applicants to the earliest date ever, Sept. 24.

Commenting on the increase, Sanford Kreisberg, an admissions consultant and founder of HBSGuru.com, said, “Could be that the essays are less, that Dee Leopold is more (inviting than most adcoms), that the shellac outer coating of the economy (where the applicants live) is pulsing bright once more, and that hey, people are tired of gloom and doom and just want to party.  That sure sounds like HBS.”

Leopold partly explained the move by saying that essays had become too large a part of the admissions process. “I’ve been saying that admissions is not an essay writing contest and that is where a lot of the anxiety (among applicants) is,” Leopold told Poets&Quants. “When we never met anyone, essays were the only way we had for applicants to get some form of personalization of the application. But since the Class of 2004, we’ve been interviewing all admitted applicants. The interviews are a big investment of our time, money and assessment energy, so I think it’s time to have a corresponding reduction in that initial (essay) hurdle.”

Initially, some applicants had been relieved to hear they had only two essays to write this year, explained Linda Abraham, founder and president of Accepted.com. “Others were frustrated because they felt they couldn’t really tell their story,” she said. “And sometimes the relief combined with a feeling of being cheated and overly constrained in the same individual.”

Whether Harvard will stay with its new application process for next year is anyone’e guess. The school is expected to announce its new application by the end of May.


Because the changes essentially lowered the initial burden of applying to Harvard, the school and admission consultants expected to see more HBS applicants. Harvard joins several other highly ranked schools in reporting applications increases, reversing several years of declines. While most business schools have yet to officially report their numbers, the largest single percentage increases so far are at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, up 12.6%, and at Cornell University’s Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 10.12.11 AMJohnson Graduate School of Management. Applications to Johnson’s two-year MBA program have risen 12% following the school’s news to open a New York City campus. Several other schools have reported healthy increases. They include  the University of Virginia’s Darden School, up 11%, and the University of Chicago’s Booth School, up 10%.

As previously reported by Poets&Quants, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management had a 9% increase in applications for its two-year MBA program and a 30% rise for it’s one-year MBA program for students with undergraduate business degrees.

For many of the schools, the increases represent something of a rebound. The University of Michigan’s Ross School, which is reporting an 8% increase in MBA applications, saw its application volume fall by 16.8% a year ago. That drove up the school’s acceptance rate to an unusually high 40.6%, 8.4 points more than the  32.2% acceptance rate for the school in 2011. Columbia Business School, which saw applications fall 19% last year, says it is up 7% over the same time last year.

“Coupled with what we’re hearing from our peer schools, there seems to be a significant uptick of interest industry-wide,” said Christopher Cashman, a spokesman for Columbia.

The rising volume of applicants is not entirely unexpected because it follows an 11% increase in GMAT testing volume for the year-ended last June.


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