Kellogg | Mr. MBB Private Equity
GMAT TBD (target 720+), GPA 4.0
Wharton | Mr. Data Dude
GMAT 750, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Startup Founder
GMAT 700, GPA 3.12
Harvard | Mr. MedTech Startup
GMAT 740, GPA 3.80
INSEAD | Mr. Media Startup
GMAT 710, GPA 3.65
Yale | Mr. Yale Hopeful
GMAT 750, GPA 2.9
MIT Sloan | Mr. MBB Transformation
GMAT 760, GPA 3.46
Wharton | Mr. Swing Big
GRE N/A, GPA 3.1
Harvard | Mr. CPG Product Manager
GMAT 720, GPA 3.5
UCLA Anderson | Ms. Triathlete
GMAT 720, GPA 2.8
MIT Sloan | Mr. Latino Insurance
GMAT 730, GPA 8.5 / 10
Stanford GSB | Mr. Tesla Intern
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Supply Chain Data Scientist
GMAT 730, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Global Consultant
GMAT 770, GPA 80% (top 10% of class)
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB/FinTech
GMAT 760, GPA 3.7
Stanford GSB | Mr. Digital Indonesia
GMAT 760, GPA 3.7
Stanford GSB | Mr. Equal Opportunity
GMAT 760, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. LGBT Social Impact
GRE 326, GPA 3.79
Stanford GSB | Mr. Nuclear Vet
GMAT 770, GPA 3.86
Stanford GSB | Mr. Oilfield Trekker
GMAT 720, GPA 7.99/10
Stanford GSB | Mr. SpaceX
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Kellogg | Mr. Big 4 Financial Consultant
GMAT 740, GPA 3.94
Stanford GSB | Mr. Mountaineer
GRE 327, GPA 2.96
Harvard | Mr. Tech Start-Up
GMAT 720, GPA 3.52
Rice Jones | Mr. Simple Manufacturer
GRE 320, GPA 3.95
Columbia | Mr. MD/MBA
GMAT 670, GPA 3.77

A Revealing Interview With Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold

Headshot of Dee Leopold of Harvard Business School

Dee Leopold of Harvard Business School

It was only last year when Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, surprised the admissions world of B-school admissions by requiring only one essay of applicants and even making that optional.

Admission consultants worried that business would dry up. Some applicants feared that by putting less emphasis on essays, HBS would become more reliant on GMATs and GPAs. Neither prediction came true, but schools are continuing to slash essays, word counts and recommendation letters as a result of Leopold’s changes at Harvard Business School.

Asked in an interview with Poets&Quants what HBS has sacrificed by going down to just one optional essay from four only three years ago, Leopold says matter-of-factly, “It’s hard for me to think of what we lost.”


Only about ten applicants out of 9,543 for the Class of 2016, she said, decided not to turn in an essay at all. She admitted one of them, Impressed by the candidate and the rest of his application—even though he failed to turn in an essay. Leopold points out that the acceptance rate for the group that didn’t write an essay was roughly the same as the 12% of admits who did.

In a wide-ranging interview, Leopold provided insight into candidates who made a memorable impression on her, what she commonly tells applicants who gain interviews but are ultimately rejected, how the case method comes into play when making admit decisions, and how she evaluates GMAT or GRE scores. For the first time ever, HBS is asking applicants to list online courses and MOOCs on their application because Leopold believes such classes can help to build a case for a candidate whose quantitative ability may be in question. As for dispelling myths, Leopold explained why it’s not necessary for applicants to have what she calls a “laminated life plan” with a clear career path and also why applicants who want to do a startup at HBS are more than welcome.

And despite fairly negative publicity from a New York Times story on gender inequality at HBS last September, Harvard apparently had no trouble increasing the percentage of women in its applicant pool. Leopold says that female applicants were up 5% this past year, while applications from men rose 1%. All told, applications for the Class of 2016 rose 2.4%.


Few admission directors bring as much experience or perspective to the job of selection. Leopold, who graduated with her MBA in 1980, began sorting and reading HBS applications from home in 1980—making this her 35th year in admissions. Jokes Leopold, “We rode in on our brontosauruses, parked them outside and then we read the applications on stone tablets.”

In her early days, when she and another part-time staffer sorted all the files that came in, the applications were typed on manual typewriters with Wite-Out brushed on the paper to barely disguise typos and other changes.

“By the time you got the mail, you had a pretty good sense of the differences among candidates,” she recalls. “Some people were a mess, and some people were pristine so it was a lot like getting someone’s personal craft project. But those people were far less informed about what went on at HBS and who was here. We had a catalog, a very pretty catalog, and people would write or call in and request a catalog and we would mail it out. Maybe they would apply or maybe they wouldn’t. That is how the process worked.”


When she first started in admissions, HBS had five or six admissions rounds—built around GMAT test dates. “We also had an admissions board guru—Jim Foley—who was an operations expert,” she says. “He liked to run a level process. The machines were always running. We were always open for business in terms of applications being in process. There were no interviews. It was all a written application and your job was to read a certain amount of applications each week.”

“You did a writeup on them and then they would get sent out to be read again. That was it. You didn’t really know what happened. There was no central tracking of them, no Excel spreadsheet or any sort of data management. You just had to go into drawers to see what happened to people. It was a very small operation. and we were in Morgan Hall, right down from the dean, and Dean (John) MacArthur would wander in every so often. We admitted about 750 a year back then—and many of them were college seniors. By the early 1980s, about 250 in each class would come through deferred admission. They had applied as college seniors and had come right after two years. Another 100 would come direct from college. And our recruiting consisted mostly of going to colleges.”


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.