Harvard Business School recently hosted a virtual event called “Busting HBS Myths: A Candid Conversation,” hosted by Chad Losee, a 2013 HBS MBA and the school’s managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid; and Cyril Straughn-Turner, a second-year HBS student and chief admissions ambassador.
Together, they busted 11 myths about what it’s like to apply — and attend — Harvard Business School.
MYTH 1: IT’S IMPOSSIBLE FOR MOST PEOPLE TO GET IN
Losee grew up in a 5,000-person town in Utah. Following high school graduation, he went to a state university. When it was time to apply to graduate school, he says, HBS seemed out of reach. Like many prospective students, he experienced imposter syndrome — doubting one’s abilities and feeling like a fraud.
Like Losee, Straughn-Turner also felt imposter syndrome when applying to HBS. Although he got his undergraduate degree from Stanford University, he was intimidated by the long and rich history of Harvard. “It’s daunting to consider going to a reputable school like HBS. I felt timid as I began the application process, and I wondered how I’d match up when other applicants seemed so impressive,” he says.
To both of their surprise, they were each accepted to HBS — Losee in 2011, and Straughn-Turner in 2020. Straughn-Turner says that once he got into the program, he realized the importance of remembering that each person — no matter what their academic, professional, and personal backgrounds — has a valuable contribution to bring.
“If any of you are experiencing imposter syndrome and counting yourself out of HBS, I would encourage you to count yourself in and shoot your shot,” Losee says.
MYTH 2: APPLICANTS ARE SCREENED BY A MACHINE
There’s a common misconception that a big, reputable school like HBS uses a machine to screen applicants. But according to Losee, this isn’t the case. “We have no algorithmic cut offs, minimum scores, or anything else that screens applicants. Each application is read by two real humans on the admissions board who strive to do their very best to get to know you and build a diverse and interesting class of students,” he says.
Once the application is reviewed, the next step is an interview led by an admission board member. Losee says that the interviewer will read the candidate’s application a number of times to prepare for an engaging conversation. “You really feel like the admissions process is a personal process,” says Straughn-Turner. “It doesn’t feel like a machine because there are several independent people involved. The people you’re talking to have gone through your application in a lot of detail.”
Once the interview has been conducted, there is an opportunity for the candidate to reflect on the interview experience; each person has 24 hours following their interview to submit a written reflection through the online application system. That information is then put into the candidate’s application file. Finally, the application, interview, and reflection are used to determine whether or not a candidate will be accepted into the program.
MYTH 3: THERE IS A TYPICAL HBS PROFILE THAT THE SCHOOL LOOKS FOR
Contrary to popular belief, Losee says there’s no one profile that HBS is looking for. Rather, the school seeks a diversity of perspectives so that it can fulfill its mission of educating leaders who will make a difference in the world. “We don’t think we can create these leaders without having a diversity of voices in class,” he says. “We want to get to know you, your voice, and the unique perspective that you’d bring to your class, section, and community — both as a student and as a future alum of the program.”
In the most recent MBA class, there are 300 different universities represented, as well as hundreds of companies and many lived experiences and backgrounds. Straughn-Turner says that he’s been impressed with his class’ diverse representation, and how issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are not only spoken about in class, but also in class material. “These are issues that we’re seeing business leaders constantly face in today’s society. There’s no better place to practice tackling these problems than in a safe environment like HBS,” he says.
Since the primary method of instruction at HBS is the case study method, it relies heavily on discussions with people who have different points of view. This method differs from a lecture-based approach in the way that students do most of the talking. “Diversity helps to approach complicated business issues,” says Straughn-Turner. “There aren’t any easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers in business; there’s a lot of nuance and different ways to approach any question or problem that comes up. People who have different experiences see the same set of facts differently, and they can help you learn how to think through these problems in a way that differs from how you would.”
HBS is aware and proactive about addressing the inequities in education, according to Losee. He says that the school is working hard to do outreach to different groups of people to ensure that they understand how HBS could benefit their careers. Plus, they’re working to remove financial barriers that inhibit people from applying through generous financial aid programs, need-based scholarships, and waiving the application fee for those experiencing financial hardship.