There’s no doubt that applying to business school can be a stressful undertaking. Researching MBA programs, taking the GMAT, writing essays, chasing after recommenders (often while also trying to balance a full time job) can be downright difficult.
When prospective students talk to members of our Admissions team they’re often eager to learn more about the admissions process. While we outline the basics, we find it’s often more helpful for you to get advice from our students and alums. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, they feel your pain, and they’re here to help. Here’s what Stephanie Marr (MBA 2016), Sam Travers (MBA 2016), Ryan Hansen (MBA 2017), Leslie Moser (MBA 2015), Terrance Rogers (MBA 2017), and Peter Nolan (MBA 2017) had to say about applying to business school.
1. Be your authentic self
Stephanie: Be honest and genuine. I spent time reflecting on what really motivates me and what is most important to me. It may sound straight-forward, but I think it’s really important to have clear direction on what you want to do and how the HBS experience will help you get there. Then make sure that your application really shows your personality and conveys this message of who you are and where you want to go.
2. Pick your recommenders carefully
Sam: Select recommenders who know you well enough to tell a story that covers your accomplishments and the obstacles you overcame to achieve them. I chose recommenders who had seen me take on responsibility, struggle at times, and adapt to reach my goals. I think this matters much more than having recommenders with a particular job title or connection with HBS.
3. Learn more about the generous financial aid options HBS offers
Leslie: Trying to figure out how you’re going to afford your Harvard MBA can feel very scary – I definitely remember the sticker shock I felt when I read the expected student budget for the first time. Luckily, there are a lot of ways for you to get support as you decide how you want to finance your time at HBS. Many students, myself included, aren’t able to pay for business school out of their savings and instead utilize a combination of financial aid, scholarships, and loans to get themselves through the program.
HBS has an incredible need-based financial aid program; over $36 million dollars is awarded to students each year. The administration firmly believes that funding should not be a barrier for anyone to attend business school and they ensure that no student is required to take on too much debt. HBS wants everyone who is admitted to be able to come and therefore the aid is awarded solely based on financial need. Nearly 50% of the class receives HBS Fellowships with the majority of Fellowships in the $30,000-$50,000 range per year.
The average starting salary at graduation is $135,000. Most alums are able to pay back loans in considerably less time than the terms provided. HBS also offers a variety loan forgiveness programs available at graduation for those students plan to pursue a career path in a less lucrative field—for example, there are financing options for graduates heading into social enterprise or pursuing entrepreneurial ventures.
4. Keep in mind HBS is reapplicant friendly
Ryan: I had been dinged from HBS once and wondered if it was worth applying a second time. Although uncertain of whether or not I’d be accepted to the program, I wanted to give it another shot. Fortunately, and likely due to some divine intervention, I was accepted to the program. I was absolutely elated when I received the good news.
5. Don’t self-select out
Peter: When you’re lifting your finger to hit the submit button, or when you’re walking into your interview, stop thinking about your imperfections and deficiencies. In fact, stop thinking about yourself as an individual. Rather, think of yourself as a piece of something bigger – your potential HBS class. What you do have to offer? What characteristics you bring to the table that will make your section that much better? I bet there are several things about you that no one else can claim, and that’s the good stuff. Tell admissions about them.
Terrance: To those thinking about applying to HBS, I encourage you to go for it. Don’t let your own self-doubt sabotage what could be one of the best experiences of your life.