Did You Get Good News From HBS?

On Harvard Business School's sprawling campus

On Harvard Business School’s sprawling campus


It was 6 p.m. in Egypt for me. I was on a work phone call when I heard a tiny beep in the middle of the call meaning that I got an email. I instantly hung up, checked the email, said “HELL YEAH!” at the top of my voice, then called back the technical developer I was on the phone with a minute earlier; he couldn’t understand why all of a sudden I sounded so excited about discussing data warehouse solutions.

I was in my first week of working out of my consultancy’s Chicago office (having moved over from London). I hadn’t heard back on the first day set aside for interview notifications and the Internet forums had convinced me that this meant that I’d failed. Was fully expecting that to be confirmed. More specifically I was in an interview booth cold-calling people to get reactions to a new product we were looking at. I checked my emails, saw the invite, swore loudly, whatsupped my family and tried to calm down as I continued calling the next person on my list. 

I was driving home from volleyball in Lilongwe, Malawi when i got the email for an HBS interview invitation. i got so excited I started driving on the wrong side of the road and almost ran into a ditch and a family on a bicycle. I waited to read the email until I got home

That’s how Nabil Mohamed, Fahim Bashir and Rahima Dosani, respectively, found out that they had been invited to interview at the Harvard Business School. Bashir and Dosani are now first-year students at HBS expected to graduate in 2016. Mohamed is a second-year student at HBS and editor of The Harbus, the student newspaper, and he’s empathetic toward the applicants who didn’t get good news today.


HBS notified the first and largest batch of first round applicants–roughly 800 candidates–whether they would move to the next stage of the admissions process by inviting them to interview with the school. HBS plans on sending out another 150 invites on Oct. 15 to first rounders and will also push about 200 more applicants into round two consideration. Those who get to interview with admissions have a 60% chance of being admitted–far higher than the school’s overall acceptance rate of 12%.

Everyone else–at least 2,000 or so other applicants–will get a ding. So for thousands of candidates who failed to get an invite today, the next week will be an especially anxious and jittery one. “I imagine they must feel terrible,” says Mohamed. “Sometimes uncertainty is even worse than bad news. At least with bad news you get some closure and you can move on. With uncertainty, there is this void. You don’t know what to do, and you are waiting for something to happen.”

Just how others found out their good news is a new section of The Unofficial Harvard Business School Admissions & Interview Guide newly published by The Harbus. “We wanted to add a little bit more of a personal touch to it,” explains Mohamed. “We also added more weird or unique questions that threw some people off base.” The students sell the 80-page guide, with 36 pages of real interview questions, for $65–which goes to a foundation to support the newspaper and charity.


The interview questions were all culled from enrolled HBS students, and some of them are of the head-scratching variety. At the end of one student’s interview, for example, the HBS interviewer asked if the candidate had spoken to other waiting applicants downstairs. When he said he had, the oddball question came: “What were their names?”

Another candidate, says Mohamed, was asked: “Tell me tell me something about Sweden that americans in general don’t know” while another was told to name the last book that she had read.

But tricky questions are definitely in the minority–if they come up at all, agrees Mohamed. Instead here are the most important questions HBS asks in a typical admissions interview:

Introduce yourself to us. Give us a short personal narrative.

Explain the choices you’ve made so far in choosing your undergraduate college and your major as well as your employer and your career.

How would a friend describe you? What is your greatest weakness?

Tell us about a time when you received feedback from a colleague or a boss?

What did you learn by working on the project or for the team you described in your essay?

How do you go about solving problems or leading people?

What can you tell us about yourself that would surprise us?

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