How To Apply To Harvard Business School

On Harvard Business School's sprawling campus

On Harvard Business School’s sprawling campus


Once you ensure that you aren’t going to be brutally screened out for a low GPA or for being too old, you want total immersion into the program and into figuring out what makes HBS go.  You did some of this in step one, when you made sure you had at least a passing connection to the school, but now it is time to become an expert.  Best-case scenario, you take a trip to Boston and spend a few days roaming the campus, visiting classes, talking to students, and hanging out in areas where people congregate.  Worst case, you research the hell out of the school.  Read the website, read free guides, read blogs, read forums.  Research clubs and organizations.  Review the employment report.  Learn the faculty and even the staff (five minutes of research into the Director of Career Services at any school can be the smartest five minutes you ever spent).  You want HBS to seep into your pores so that when you apply, it’s second nature.  And by the time you interview?  You will sound like a second-year student.


Understand every angle at Harvard. If you are a college student, you should know that HBS 2+2 is ideal for non-business majors who might be headed down another path but have the talent and background to lead. If you are a college senior with huge talent and potential and the desire to one day attend HBS, you should apply round three with the hopes of gaining “deferred admission” for several years out (round three applicants applying this spring for the Class of 2015 are deferred to the Class of 2017 after gaining two years of work experience). If you have a strong background in business fundamentals but are much better on the verbal portion of the GMAT, strongly consider the GRE, as HBS is one of the schools currently accepting either test and perhaps the only school taking the GRE experiment very seriously. In short, you have to look under every rock and around every corner for your chance to gain access to such an elite school. As mentioned above, the older you get and the further you get from your college graduation date, the harder those opportunities are to find, but that is all part of understanding the school.


Obviously, your timeline for applying to HBS – or any business school – will be dictated largely by the application deadlines.  HBS has one of the earliest Round One deadlines (an insane September 9th) and one of the latest Round Three deadlines (April 4th).  This is due in part to the school’s desire to take a good, long look at as many candidates as possible – something that requires time when you have the largest MBA applicant pool in existence.  The deadlines also reflect the school’s standing as the most famous business school in the world.  Unlike other programs, Harvard doesn’t have to worry about being “too early” in round one, as MBA candidates will set their watches to HBS and go from there. Likewise, HBS has the luxury of waiting to close Round Three because they simply never need to hedge or build much of a waitlist, given the school’s lofty 89% yield. That number affords HBS such amazing enrollment protection that the school can afford to keep the admissions season open as long as possible.

That said, just because you can apply any time over a six-month period doesn’t mean you should.  There is a steep drop off from Round Two to Round Three (except for college seniors, who actually do better in Round Three for reasons described above) and applying during Round One has the logistical advantage of giving you visibility on your options before you have to put down deposits at other schools.  We have heard countless stories of applicants getting into other elite programs as Round Two applicants, only to face an enrollment decision at, say, Kellogg, before they even are notified about interview possibilities from their Round Two HBS application.  Granted, students can and likely will pull their enrollment from Kellogg should Harvard come calling, but the deposit is non-refundable (so you are out the cash) and leaving another school high and dry often leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Strategically, however, there is little evidence that there is a difference between Round One and Round Two, so we encourage submission of your application for either deadline.

The deadlines for HBS for 2010-2011 are:

  • Round One – September 9, 2015
  • Round Two – January 6, 2016
  • Round Three – April 4, 2016

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