Nearly 3,000 applicants to Harvard Business School received bad news this past week. They were, in the euphemistic words of Admissions Managing Director Dee Leopold, “released.” These often highly qualified candidates to HBS were not invited to an admissions interview and, to use a less sensitive word, dinged.
As we have in the past, we’ve asked Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, a leading MBA admissions consultant and an astute reader of all HBS tea leaves, to take a look at the profiles of “released” applicants and explain why they didn’t make the first cut.
If you would like Sandy to explain your HBS ding, just post your profile, your GPA, GMAT, company information, and any other facts you think made your application different. The more detail you provide, including what you wrote in your essay to HBS, the easier it will be for Sandy to determine why HBS turned you down.
To give you an idea of how this plays out, here is his round one ding report from last year: Who HBS Dinged In The First Round.
Meantime, we’ve asked for Sandy’s impressions on Harvard’s first round based on his own clients as well as the applications he is now seeing from mock interview clients who got a ‘yes’ from HBS.
So Sandy, you’ve now seen a lot of Round 1 HBS applicants who got interviews and a lot of candidates whose applications resulted in a ding. Is anything new this round from prior years?
Well, the essay is new, and the issue is, has that changed anything or is it the same blah, blah as the last two years, when the essay was similar?
[Editor’s note: This year’s essay is ‘Introduce Yourself To Your Classmates.’ The prior essay was, ‘What Else Do You Want Us To Know About You (beyond the information we have from your transcripts, resume, recommendations etc.)’]
Do you think the change in the essay prompt made any difference?
Oddly, yes. Bear with me, I got a complicated theory about this, which is borne out, well, impressionistically, from the winning and losing apps and essays I have read from Round 1. That is about 200, which is a real sample.
I’m bearing with you, let’s hear this.
The bottom line is:
1. The essay counts more this year than the past two years because it is more ‘voiced’ . . .and . . .
2. because of that, there is more randomness in how the essay is ‘judged.’
I don’t think Dee ever normalized her admissions board, a point I will get to later. But simply stated, some essay readers like deeply personal stories about your strict father and how you came to forgive him or your pet dog Taffy who went blind. They like those stories a LOT, and they have a bias towards personal info like that. Those readers can be overly unfriendly to essays that are not like that, while some readers like those stories just OK (who doesn’t?) but are not upset or annoyed in some subtle way if your essay is more business-like, e.g. you actually tell your classmates where you went to college, where you worked, what some influences were, and what your goals are in a talky and reasonable way.
Let’s start with 1. Why is the essay more important this year?
It is unintentional and a lot of old-ish news.
First, some macro stuff. The stats part of the application (GMATs and GPA) are being flooded at the high end. GMAT scores are becoming more like commodities and there are lots more high scores, whole blocks of kids at top schools with GMATs of 720+, which used to be a real solid score and is now, amazingly, technically below average at HBS, Wharton and Stanford.
Second, great and selective and hot feeder firms are becoming more diverse and difficult to identify. It used to be the universe of great feeder firms was composed of X consulting shops, Y banks and PE shops, and Z hi-tech icons. Of that group Z has really expanded. There is the old Z, and a bunch of new Z’s (start-ups, early-stage companies, and mid-sized corporations) that adcom boards may not be sure about, don’t know about, and might be really interested in. In the back of the adcom mind, there is an awareness that new and growing and sexy companies is where it is at, but they don’t have a simple way to judge that.
So in the old days, sorta last year, the way things are going, you had a kid apply to HBS from Microsoft with a 730 GMAT and a real solid GPA (which is also now becoming even more inflated as well) and that was a solid profile. Today, that kid is competing against a cohort of nerds at hi-tech companies you and I have never heard of. It is not as easy to thin out the pack based on GMAT, GPA and JOB as it used to be.
This is also true with consultants and finance cohorts as well (as new consulting and PE/VC shops expand to service those new companies).