Chad Losee, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, recently sat down with Cyril Straughn-Turner, second-year MBA student and Chief Admissions Ambassador, for a “Busting HBS Myths” event aimed at demystifying what business school is really like and what is important in the HBS application process. Below are excerpts from their conversation touching on 5 top myths about HBS and the MBA application.

“HBS is a competitive environment”

Cyril: I will definitely say, I did kind of fall into the trap of this myth for a hot second. But I just have been so pleasantly surprised by how supportive this community is. This is probably one of the safest, most supporting communities I've ever existed in.

There are a lot of different things that help to facilitate collaboration. Academically, you have a big MBA class, but it's broken down into the sections. So you have this very family-like element that exists in your day-to-day life, people you take the same classes with and that you really grow a bond with. You spend a lot of time outside of the classroom getting to know them, their partners, their families, even their dogs! It just goes to show that it's a very supportive environment. And it's necessary, because the way that we teach is very much like a Socratic method, where you really do need to learn from each other as opposed to fighting for the right answer.

Chad: There's a tradition at HBS called MyTakes, where people share really personal things about their experiences, their life story, things that have become formative or defining for them. The fact that people took the time to share things that were personally important really helped us early on form a supportive network. I think that transparency and trust that people extend within the section and within the class experience really goes a long way in making it supportive rather than competitive.

“Only extroverts can thrive in the HBS classroom”

Cyril: It's definitely a big myth. And I will say to the audience, there's actually probably more introverts here at HBS than extroverts. I definitely consider myself an introvert naturally. I think a lot of what helps is what we’ve discussed around the section experience, and the support that you get from the broader community. You really learn it's less about just speaking for the sake of speaking. But it's also about the quality of what you say as well. I mean, I remember last year being in the height of COVID and there was a lot of uncertainty. And it was interesting as we were reading some related cases to hear the stories of doctors in my section who could share their perspectives. They weren’t even long comments necessarily. But the quality of their experience and their thought leadership is something that really resonates with me still to this day.

Even being vocal at HBS doesn't even have to be through words. It can be through your contributions to the HBS community. To Chad's point, there's a lot of people who are committed to really paying it forward and really helping to make this a stronger community, whether it's just a safer community for people of all different backgrounds or just making sure that incoming students have the resources they need to feel comfortable. Being an introvert, it's definitely not an inhibitor at all.

“Admissions looks for a typical HBS profile”

Chad: I think this is one of the ways that, as an applicant, you can get into this imposter syndrome mindset, and I'll give you an example. When I speak to people who are in consulting, a common question I get is, “I know there's so many other consultants applying. How do I stand out?” When I'm speaking to someone who doesn't have a background in consulting, they say, “I know that a lot of consultants apply. You probably don't take anyone from my industry or company.” So it’s like we have this mentality as human beings to count ourselves out before we should be counting ourselves in.

My advice to you is please count yourself in to the process. Put yourself in and have confidence that we're excited to get to know you. There truly is no one HBS profile that we're looking for. In the class that is just starting now, there's 300 different universities represented, hundreds of companies, many, many lived experiences and backgrounds.

Cyril: Absolutely. It's really important for the classroom for there not to be one sort of profile. We really do need that diversity of different perspectives, experiences, to bring the richness of these very complicated business issues into light and how we think about decision-making as we develop into business leaders.

Chad: One of the things that we have learned over the years is just how much financial barriers can play a role in who has access to graduate school. And that's part of the reason that we have a very generous financial aid program that's based on need, not on merit, but focused on who needs this money in order to access graduate school. This year we introduced a need-based application fee waiver, so that if the fee to apply to business school presents a hardship for you, there's a process for you to get that fee waived. We hope the fee waiver removes one of the many things that we know can prevent people from different backgrounds from applying to HBS.

“It’s advantageous to have a recommendation letter from an HBS alum”

Chad: No. We're not evaluating the recommenders for admission. We're evaluating you for admission. And what's most important with these recommendations is that they know you well and that they've seen you in a professional work context so they can comment on, what are your outstanding skills and what are the development areas that you're still working on? We have this belief that all of us are still working on getting better at some things. So who are the people that have worked closely enough with you that they can share those examples with us?

“It is impossible to prepare for your HBS interview”

Chad: I would say yes and no, in terms of answering your question, is an HBS interview hard to prepare for? I would say yes in the sense that you can't go to the internet and download the 10 questions that HBS is going to ask you. If you googled "HBS interview questions" then you'll probably find a few hundred questions. That's because we don't have a standard set of interview questions. Each interview is custom to the person.

And so that's why I say, no, it's not hard to prepare. Because the interview is going to all be about you. There's not going to be any case questions. There's no mental math that you need to do, no complex geometry problems. What I do as an interviewer, before going into the interviews, is I re-read your whole application so that I'm ready to have a great conversation with you where we can go beyond scratching the surface. What we're looking for on our end is just getting to know you and understand what would you say if you were in a class with 90 other people at HBS. What perspectives would you have to bring? What's the evidence that you've invested in others and you would do the same in our community? Are you curious about the kinds of things that we're talking about? So it's all about you.

Cyril: To Chad's point, my interview felt very personal. I was very pleasantly surprised by all of the different facets of my life that we really explored. I just found, through both the interview and that post-interview reflection exercise, that it was really a great way to learn more about myself, really feel convinced about some of the things I'd been thinking through, and identify things that I would want to test in business school if things worked out. It's not your stock interview questions but I think there's a lot of really rich value that comes from it that really, I think, differentiates HBS.

Watch the full Busting HBS Myths event recording here.