10 Apr 2020

Managing Through Crisis: MBA Admissions During COVID-19, a Q+A with Director of Admissions Chad Losee

Chad Losee

by Shona Simkin

From online classes and social distancing to remote work and virtual events, COVID-19 has led to many shifts in departments across the Harvard Business School campus. We sat down with Director of Admissions Chad Losee to ask about how it’s affected MBA admissions and his team.

How are you getting information about COVID-19 and its effect on applicants and admitted students?
Like everyone else we’re very tuned in and grateful for the Dean's office daily updates. I’ve also been on regular calls about the situation with the Harvard International Office and the Graduate Management Admission Council, which is a consortium of business schools, and I stay in touch with my counterparts at other business schools. As we learn about new issues that may affect the admissions process and those who are thinking about applying, we're trying to respond directly to address those anxieties and reassure them with as much information as we have.

What were the first concerns, and how did you address them?
One of the first issues that came up is that of student visas. We typically have over 300 international students enroll in each class, and they need a student visa. On March 19 we learned that visa appointments at embassies and consulates were suspended globally. Incoming students are rightly anxious about that. We have two rounds of admissions, one that we released in December, and another March 31. The visa announcement happened in the middle of our second round, and we realized there might be questions or concerns that we would change our admissions decisions based on that situation. We wrote a blog post reaffirming our commitment to international student diversity and we will do all we can to get those students here once we’ve admitted them. We are hopeful that the visa situation improves.

Another concern was with our 2+2 admissions round deadline, in which college seniors apply for admission now, then work for two, three, or four years before starting at HBS. That application was supposed to be due April 2. We started hearing that testing centers were closing all over the world, and that applicants were having trouble getting recommendations from faculty members who were busily transitioning to online learning. On top of everything, seniors were moving home from their college campus on short notice because of COVID-19. We brainstormed as a team about what we might do, and we are grateful for the support of the MBA Program and the Dean’s Office in moving back our dates—which I don't believe we've ever done with such short notice. We moved back the deadline to June 1. Testing centers are now proctoring exams online, and that gives everyone a bit more time to put together an application for 2+2.

How are you shifting events and outreach for admitted students?
One big transition is admitted student weekend. Admitted students usually come to campus with their partners or family so that they can really see what it’s like to be a student here. Now that’s virtual. Several faculty members have volunteered to conduct Zoom sessions with new admitted students. The Dean is also doing Zoom session, and we're having a fireside chat with the incoming Student Association co-presidents. We also usually have a phonathon, in which current students call the new admitted students—we moved that to a virtual phonathon last week and had more student participation than ever before. Clubs have been creating videos and otherwise reaching out to congratulate new students. We are grateful that the whole HBS community has really pitched in to be flexible and welcome the next class of HBS students.

How are you changing things for prospective students?
This is when our outreach and marketing season really ramps up to recruit the next class, including traveling across the world to host events in different cities. We just hosted a virtual event in Detroit—we had planned to invite local prospective students for a reception with a panel of Detroit-based alumni discussing their alumni community and their journeys to HBS and beyond. We’re now shifting all of those events virtually.

We were scheduled to have a Women’s Visit Day on April 3, and we did that virtually as well. One of the silver linings is that normally we can accommodate about 100 students on campus for that event, but we were able to host more than 500 for this virtual visit. The Women's Student Association co-presidents spoke, there was a student panel, and a session with a faculty member. We're trying to do as much as we can in this new world and finding that there are some benefits—one clearly is that we can accommodate more interested people virtually than we could in person for some events.

What are more recent concerns you’re hearing from admitted students?
The pandemic has created many challenging situations around the world, and our admitted students are affected too. Some have family and friends who are dealing with things directly. Of course nearly all have had significant shifts in their work, along with the rest of the global community.

With all of this going on, we have received heartening emails from incoming students about how they are creatively building community virtually. For example, one recently admitted student has organized virtual hangouts for his fellow classmates. Those who opt in are randomly matched with four other classmates once per week so they can get to know one another.

How have you and your team been coping through all of this?
We're trying different strategies, trying to be more purposeful about staying in touch since we don't have the normal in person hallway gatherings anymore. We had a virtual happy hour, a really fun Zoom Pictionary game, and we have plans to do Zoom charades. We're trying to do things to stay connected and make time for light-hearted moments as well.

We're also trying to learn as much as we can through this challenging situation. We’ve jumped into the deep end with virtual events and we’re figuring out how to make those most effective. We’re learning to collaborate in different ways. When these restrictions are lifted, we hope there are many learnings that we'll take away and incorporate into our model going forward.

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