15 May 2020

Flagship MBA Admissions Event Goes Virtual


by Jennifer Mele

At the end of March, round-two applicants find out whether they have been accepted to the MBA program. That’s when the MBA Admissions team shifts into “yield” mode, offering a variety of campus and regional events, as well as communications, to help accepted students make their decision.

“We aim to make a compelling case to admitted students to come to HBS,” explains Kate Bennett, director of MBA admissions marketing. “We ultimately care most about each admitted student making the decision best for them, but we want them to make that decision after experiencing the warmth, authenticity, support, and engagement of the HBS community.”

In a typical year, the flagship yield event is the Admitted Student Welcome (ASW), during which accepted students are invited to spend two intensive days on campus. They visit classes, participate in mock case discussions, hear from alumni, and learn more about financial aid, housing, and student activities.

“Our goal is to help admits get a real feel for the School and envision themselves at HBS,” says Bennett. “They also get to know each other and begin to bond as a class.”

This March, when public health guidelines restricted large in-person gatherings due to the pandemic, the Admissions team had to convert ASW into a virtual experience. “Fortunately, we knew this might be necessary,” says Allison Desjardins, assistant director of yield and campus events. “During round-one ASW in early February, we were already encouraging attendees to say hello with a smile or an elbow bump.”

The team quickly realized it would be more effective to spread out yield activities over the month of April. “We knew admits were juggling work, family, and personal challenges as a result of the pandemic and wanted to provide options and flexibility,” explains Desjardins.

Admitted students were virtually welcomed into the HBS community by School leadership, including Dean Nitin Nohria, Senior Associate Dean and Chair of the MBA Program Jan Rivkin, Executive Director of the MBA and Doctoral Programs Jana Kierstead, and Managing Director, MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, Chad Losee. In a series of virtual chats, professors talked about their classes, their research, and what makes the HBS experience special. For example, Professor Jill Avery talked about the case method. She acknowledged it might seem daunting at first: “Be ready to wrestle with tough decisions…Your first cold call will be a moment you remember for the rest of your life.” But she also reassured them: “Don’t be afraid…You will be able to do it and do it well…I will be there to help you…to make sure that every voice is heard…[and] respected.”

Since admitted students couldn’t tour the campus in person, Lori Ossip (MBA 2021) and Adam Friedman (MBA 2020), chief admissions ambassadors for the HBS Student Association, worked with staff to create a housing overview video, as well as video tours of the residence halls and campus apartments.

“Where you live is such a key part of the HBS experience,” says Ossip. I thought it was important for incoming students to be able to hear from current students on why they chose their specific housing, and see a bit more than the photos online.”

In lieu of a student activities fair in Shad Hall, a wide array of clubs offered virtual sessions. Other sessions introduced admitted students to the Harvard Innovation Labs, the California Research Center, and the HBS Initiatives. In the Initiatives webinar, each director gave an overview of their work and introduced a current student who is currently engaged with their programming. Then, attendees had the opportunity to split into breakout chats with individual initiatives.

“The vast majority of admitted students have indicated an interest in health care, social impact, or another area represented by the Initiatives,” explains managing director Laura Moon. “So we explained how the Initiatives can help them pursue their interests at HBS and connect them with other students, faculty, and alumni who share those interests.”

Participation in ASW, which comprised over 30 virtual events, was high, and feedback has been positive. Going virtual had silver linings, too. The Admissions team was thrilled to see how admits took the initiative to build their own community by setting up a Slack channel, planning small-group events, and supporting each other. Plus, admits who live abroad or whose work or family obligations make it harder to travel were able to come to the virtual events. “It's been a really great way to reach them and help them feel more connected,” says Bennett.

“Virtual ASW month was a huge team effort to pull off, led by our yield and campus events team, but with every member of the Admissions and Financial Aid team playing a large role, and involving support from many faculty, staff across the School, current students, and alumni. We are grateful to everyone who helped show our admits the very best of HBS!”

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