What’s so great about Wharton, anyway? Does Stanford GSB mostly admit students from prestigious undergraduate schools? How does one prepare for the full-time MBA interview at Columbia? What can you do in the next year to better your chances of getting into a top program?
If you’re looking for the answers to these questions, or if you’re just curious about who takes the time to answer them (and how much snark they use), Quora can fill your hours. The “online collaborative information sharing and learning platform” allows you to punch in any question about any subject, then scroll through previously posted answers or alert experts to your query and await their responses. You can also take your chances, throw the question out to the masses, and hope for a snark-less reply.
Poets&Quants is no stranger to the platform — editor-in-chief John Byrne is a regular contributor — but we thought it would be interesting to compile some of the questions and answers about the top MBA programs in the U.S.
Richard Ludlow, MBA ’12: I would give the following advice based partially on my experience, but primarily on the profile of my classmates:
• Apply by your mid-20s. HBS is trending younger than it used to, with the bulk of students being 24-26 years old and 3-4 years out of school. Nearly all students I’ve met age 30+ had long military obligations (e.g. doctor, fighter pilot).
• Consulting is the clearest path there. People will tell you that consultants are a dime a dozen and you’re much better off doing something more interesting, but the fact of the matter is that 1 in 4 students in the entering class had worked at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG. I’ve heard that McKinsey Business Analysts have a 92% success rate in getting into at least one of HBS and Stanford GSB.
• Emphasize what makes you a great leader, not a great worker. HBS really does try to select for people that will be leaders in business and society, not people who will be great individual contributors. Make sure that your essays reflect that, and at least as importantly, make sure that your letters of recommendation reflect that as well.
• If it’s a good fit for you, get an advanced degree in another field, either before you apply or to enroll in jointly. 1 in 9 students are pursuing a joint degree with another Harvard school. Furthermore, HBS loves applicants that show both leadership potential and technical skill. An engineering degree from a top program is a huge boost to your candidacy.
Evan Reas, Stanford MBA ’09, accepted to HBS as well: It is all about telling your story in a compelling and unique fashion. I’ve heard numerous people tell me about their fantastic GMAT scores and great recs from a top investment bank and how they fit the HBS profile perfectly, but that is exactly the wrong way to look at it. Consider that they have thousands of people that fit the mold who are applying and you have to truly stand out.
What is something that makes you totally different from every single applicant? They want the class to be extremely diverse so think about the HBS incoming class as a whole and figure out what very unique traits/background/experiences you bring.
What was something you learned while growing up that very few others might have?
What is your ambition that nobody else will have?
What crazy world record do you hold?
Tyler Cormney, MBA admissions consultant since 2006, HBS graduate: By carefully studying my clients who have been admitted to Harvard Business School, I found three common denominators both in their makeup and, it follows, their MBA applications: They all had talent, passion, and purpose. Of course, they were competing with highly qualified candidates who also had talent, passion, and purpose. The secret sauce, if you’ll forgive the expression, appears to be the way in which those three ingredients combine to create a compelling leadership identity. The successful candidates proved in their application and interview that they had impressive talents fueled by exceptional passion and directed by a clear sense of purpose.
Therein lies the answer to your question. If this person hopes to get into Harvard Business School, his or her application (and interview) must convince the admissions committee that he or she has impressive talents fueled by exceptional passion and directed by a clear sense of purpose.
How is this done? This person needs to spend a number of weeks (if not months) answering four questions:
• What are my most impressive talents?
• What am I truly passionate about?
• What fills me with a sense of purpose?
• How do these things combine to form my leadership identity?
The challenge then becomes to use the MBA application media (essays, resume, reference letters, application form, and interview) to communicate this leadership identity to the HBS admissions committee in a persuasive, unforgettable way.
I want to add that the challenge is similar for all the top-ranked business schools. MBA admissions officers understand both the potential and limitations of the MBA experience. An MBA can supply knowledge, skills, relationships, and many new opportunities but it cannot supply talent, passion, and purpose. MBA students must have these three things the day their MBA classes begin.
Our firm MBAPrepSchool.com would welcome the challenge of helping a qualified applicant like this one to discover his or her leadership identity and to create an MBA application that will stand out in an admissions campaign for Harvard Business School and other top-ranked business schools.
Just think of what is the #1 thing that separates you from the world … and if there isn’t anything yet, do that first and then apply for a 100-times-better chance of being accepted.
Bradley Lautenbach, HBS MBA Class of 2010: All of this advice is prudent. And surely you must tell a compelling story in your essays, meet a minimum requirement in your numbers, and deliver an engaging interview.
But don’t discount the luck factor in the admissions process. It was not lost on me during my two years at HBS that for our admitted class of 900 students there were surely hundreds more in the applicant pool who were just as qualified as we were. I felt a little like I had won a lottery by being admitted and not a day went by where I didn’t feel extremely fortunate to be there. The line between those admitted and those not is very gray.
Beyond this, I’d offer that the admissions committee has a picture of the class they want to build. They want a certain proportion of gender, age, work background, geographic background, academic background etc. You should make a compelling case for why you’re the best/right __ year old, (male/female), former ______, who grew up in ______, and studied _____, and who will contribute a unique perspective about _____ in the classroom discussion.