How To Apply To Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School across the Charles River

Harvard Business School across the Charles River


In fairness, step nine will probably need to be started before step eight, as it often takes longer to secure your letters of recommendation than it does to actually compose your essay responses.  However, we knew we were trying your patience as it was by putting the essay section so far down in the document and we didn’t want to delay any longer. Make no mistake though, you need to start working on your recommendation letters early in the process.

Note: all Amerasia clients receive our Letter of Rec Guide, which explains the Rule of 10%, dispels the common myths associated with this part of the app, and also lays out tips for securing the best letters.  As a courtesy to all candidates, we are including that last part – best practices and tips – here:

Tip #1 – Select wisely

See above – find someone who knows you well, wants to recommend you heartily, and can articulate those thoughts.

Tip #2 – Ask nicely 

Sounds weird?  We live in a time where people forget basic manners, make assumptions, and bank on shortcuts.  I am not implying that you, the reader, will do that, but just making sure that you do not.  Don’t assume that anyone is obligated to do this, that it is particularly fun, or that they won’t need reminders (gentle ones, of course).  The best way to get this off to a great start is to do the most basic thing of all: ask nicely.

What does that entail?  Three things:

  • If possible, face-to-face contact.  You may have to call a former supervisor, but you should always have a conversation.  Don’t shoot an email to your boss asking for something that is important and time-consuming.  This should probably be obvious, but I’m saying it anyway.
  • Solicit advice.  Nobody wants to be someone’s tool.  Don’t just say “I’m applying to HBS, will you write me a recommendation so I can go have an awesome life.” Go in like a soon-to-be-groom asking the father-in-law for permission to pop the question.  “I am strongly considering applying to business school this fall and I would love to chat with you about it for 20 minutes – can I buy you coffee?”  That’s the “I want to marry your daughter” speech.  In both cases, we know the individual is going to proceed with the plan regardless, but it’s the courtesy that is appreciated.  If this person is important enough in your life to ask for this favor, they should get the chance to weigh in, however briefly and ceremoniously.
  • Thank them and acknowledge the effort and time required.

Tip #3 – Get the Yes

Don’t stop at just asking nicely.  You want to be sure they will heartily recommend you.  Best way to do that: ask.  “Do you feel comfortable fully endorsing me?”  It’s not always the easiest question to ask, but you want to make sure.

Tip #4 – Let Me Help You Help Me

Once you have asked and they have said yes and then you’ve asked if they will be positive and they say yes again, you are ready to arm them with some materials to help in the task.  It goes without saying that you need to send them any links and log-in information required to do the job, but you should also provide some very basic information to assist them in actually writing the letter.  Here is what I recommend:

  • Your resume
  • A “query letter” that formalizes this process, thanks them for doing it, and offers some insights into who you are.  This should be about 2-3 pages (max) and feature accomplishments at work (or whatever context this person knows you in), other interests (to present a fuller picture of who you are), and some themes that are important to you.
  • That is all!

Tip #5 – Schedule a Reminder

Put something on your calendar to remind them a few weeks from the deadline.  Then remind them, of course.

Tip #6 – Stay out of the Way

Other than checking in to see if it is done or will be done by the deadline, stay out of the way.  Even if the recommender asks you to get involved, respectfully decline.  Say you have been advised not to, say you trust that person, say you checked the box relinquishing your right to see it, do whatever you have to do to let the process unfold without you being a part of it.

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