The Round 2 Ding Report For Harvard Business School MBA Hopefuls

Mr. West Point

  • 170V/164Q GRE
  • 3.27 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in chemistry and mechanical engineering from West Point, with significant research but no publications from it
  • A third of the way toward a CMS at the part-time (online) program of another Ivy’s engineering school
  • Applied to the MS/MBA program. Did not use a consultant
  • Work experience includes nearly five years as a U.S. Army Infantry Officer, Ranger qualified; currently a Company Commander of ~150 Soldiers a year ahead of my peers; no combat experience( although only 10-20% of his peer group has it now
  • “Without doxing myself I would assume it would have more “wow/elite” factor than normal positions outside of Special Ops. Previous assignments consistently rated top in my peer group”
  • Recommendations from his former company commander and his current brigade commander
  • Essay addressed two formative experiences: “1) growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, father died violently when young, had to homeschool and work part-time to support family, then got admitted to West Point against the odds. 2) Overcoming failing Ranger training the first time through, mentored by Commander (who wrote 1st rec), went back, and completed it. The MS program essay hit on my current involvement in the DoD product development/research process and how that links into my career goals, focusing on why I think that innovation in that space is needed”
  • Short-term goal: Consultant in defense/aerospace practice at MBB
  • Long-term: Start a defense contracting company focused on soldier-borne systems and weapons
  • “Mostly think I was turned down because its too much bronze/silver and not enough gold, with a low GPA, not Special Forces/Pilot, no combat experience, no General Officer recs, maybe a poor translation of my military resume to something civilians would understand”
  • 26-year-old white male

Sandy’s Ding Analysis: Grrrr, as often noted here, adcoms have a hard time evaluating military resumes, so big-ticket items like rangers or pilot count a good deal. Once you get past that, and many HBS military admits are not pilots, it gets murky, but as also often noted, GPA and GMAT count as one way to do the sorting.

Not sure how much combat counts, but battle deployment certainly could be made to count if woven into an application story correctly, but often that attempt just leads to “war stories.”  Soooooo . . .six of one and bananas of the other. (I like war stories, but I’m not an adcom girlie.)

But you are a West Point grad and that counts for a lot. In HBS’ Class of 2020, there are seven West Pointers along with a dozen MBA students who punched their cards at the U.S. Naval Academy.

You say that in your essay you wrote about two formative experiences, “1) growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, father died violently when young, had to homeschool and work part-time to support family, then got admitted to West Point against the odds. 2) Overcoming failing Ranger training the first time through, mentored by Commander, went back, and completed it.”

That is rich material if you managed to sort it out correctly and did not verge into pity party territory. Your goals are OK if perhaps too granular. The better version of that is, 
”My goals are to lead an impactful organization in consulting or manufacturing. I admire companies and leaders like A B and C and hope to use them as role models.” You need to be real careful about who A B and C are: they can be folks we don’t know but you gotta explain why. Something like this, 
”Joe Blow has managed to lead ACME, diversify its offerings, and expand its footprint to Latin America by doing 1, 2 and 3 .”

You also need to really hand-hold rec writers to the point of letting them know that we need believable raves. No time for understatement or military reticence. As often noted, it is YOUR job to get them to agree to YOU writing the recommendation in some acceptable form [through an outline, suggested language, or samples].

All that said, even after you take out the pilots and special ops guys, and even take out the guys who do a version of the above, you are left with a cohort of solid military guys and getting picked out of that group involves some luck.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.