5 Common Fears About Applying to HBS Dispelled
Harvard Business School consistently ranks as the top MBA programs in the world. It can be daunting knowing that when applying – especially when just 10% of applicants are ever accepted into the program. What can you do to boost your odds of getting into the “West Point of Capitalism?” Bankole Makanju, a Harvard MBA grad, recently discussed five major concerns he had when applying to HBS and how he overcame them.
1) Not Being Interested Enough
When applying to business school, many applicants fear that their personal background may not match the “preferred background.” Makanju studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Lagos and spent three years in management consulting work across Africa. He says he was worried his background wouldn’t match the one the HBS admissions committee was looking for.
“I hadn’t studied outside Nigeria and most of my work experience was local,” he says. “Were the things I had done ‘impressive’ enough? I felt like all I did was go to work, do a good job, and go home every day without a compelling ‘here’s how I saved the world’ story.”
Yet, as he went through the application process, Makanju says he made an important realization: he had a story to tell and it was his own story. “I learned that the best thing I could present was myself and not a perceived image of what I thought the good people at HBS Admissions wanted to see,” he says.
His advice to applicants is to be themselves and to spend time reflecting on what experiences make you unique.
“Ignore the voice in your head saying you are not impressive enough to apply,” Makanju says. “Resist the urge to embellish. Put your best foot forward in the application. That way it’s easier to live with the results, whether you get in or not.”
2) Not Being Able to Afford an MBA
Financial feasibility is a big worry among many applicants, but Makanju says HBS actually offers “very generous” need-based scholarships.
“I learned more about financial aid at HBS and realized it’s hard to find anyone who gets in and doesn’t attend because they cannot afford it,” he says.
According to the HBS website, 50% of HBS students are eligible for need-based fellowships. The average one-year fellowship award for students is $37,000.
Makanju says applicants shouldn’t let financial fear get in their way.
“Worry more about getting in,” he says. “HBS, through fellowships and other aid sources, will help you figure out how to make the numbers work. There are also external fellowships available that you can explore.”
3) Difficulty in Learning Business Concepts Through the Case Method
One of the highlights of studying at HBS is learning through the case method. According to HBS, “the case method is a profound educational innovation that presents the greatest challenges confronting leading companies, nonprofits, and government organizations—complete with the constraints and incomplete information found in real business issues—and places the student in the role of the decision maker.”
Students can expect to read 500 cases during their two-year HBS MBA. Often times, the case method requires heavy student participation.
For Makanju, his main worry was that he’d have difficulty learning through the case method. “I like intellectual discussions but I was skeptical about the potential for real learning through the case method,” he says. “All I had done up till my MBA were class lectures.”
While the case method may require more work than a traditional method, Makanju found that he got more out of it.
“I found that learning concepts rooted in real-life examples solidified my understanding. It is one thing to listen to a professor explain the intricacies of, say, deferred tax assets, but it stays with you longer when you learn it in the context of a real-life business decision and speak to the case protagonist,” he says.
4) Not Fitting into the HBS Community
HBS has a total enrollment of roughly 1800 MBA students each year. According to HBS, Class of 2017 students came from 64 countries and 135 international undergraduate institutions. It is tough enough going to business school for the first time, but experiencing America as an international student added another layer of complication. This was Makanju’s fear.
“Having lived in Nigeria all my life, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t fit in,” he says. “I assumed I wouldn’t get all the American references in conversation and I’d be an outsider, only hanging out with other international students. Not true.”
Contrary to Makanju’s initial beliefs, his unique background actually helped him to fit in.
“There are people here from all over the world, and they are different and unique beyond their background or what they did before their MBA,” he says. I found it easy to connect with people on many different levels…be it through my section, industry interest groups like the Venture Capital and Private Equity Club, or on travel during FIELD Global Immersions. There are many opportunities to connect and build deep friendships with your classmates. And I have been fortunate to make friends for life at HBS.”
5) Struggling to Make a Career Transition
Makanju also feared an MBA would simply put him in a “business analysis” box and keep him from exploring new industries. Rather, he found that HBS offered him several resources to explore new career opportunities.
“HBS has a strong brand, vast alumni network, and a tireless career services team that I relied on to get interviews for and ultimately secure a private equity internship over the summer,” he says.
Makanju advises applicants to not let their fears get in the way of their MBA experience. For him, HBS has played a special role in who he’s become today.
“There’s no doubt that applying to HBS was intimidating,” he says. “I’m grateful to the community of people who helped me overcome my insecurities and recognize that I had a perspective worth sharing. I can’t imagine not being here on campus today.”