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Straight Talk from Harvard Business School’s Dean of Admissions

Dee Leopold, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School (HBS), devoted a recent post on her Director’s Blog to advising applicants who are gearing up to apply to the Boston business school as part of its first round. In short, she said: Don’t try too hard to stand out, learn about the case method, choose your recommenders wisely and stay curious.

Some applicants make “standing out” their primary goal in the admissions process, Leopold wrote. Resist this, especially if you have made traditional choices in terms of college, extra-curriculars, majors or jobs. “You’ll look silly if you try to portray yourself as a rogue daredevil,” she warned. “There are plenty of people at HBS who come from traditional backgrounds,” she assured.

If you are considering HBS, make sure you understand the case method. “It’s our signature pedagogy and it is nothing like traditional academia,” Leopold said. If you haven’t already, check out the Inside the Case Method video on YouTube.

As for who to choose for your letters of recommendation, make sure he or she can answer the question HBS will ask, which is, “What piece of constructive advice have you given to the candidate?”

Leopold also encouraged applicants to stay curious about the world around them even when they are up to their eyeballs in application prep. “Keep reading. Keep listening. We’re looking for people who can dig into a case about a company they have never heard of, in an industry they don’t think they care about – and be 100 percent engaged,’ she wrote.

Finally, don’t expect to ever completely understand how HBS makes its final decisions about who will join its next class. “Our challenge is ‘selection’ vs. ‘evaluation,’ wrote Leopold, adding that she and her team have promised the HBS faculty that they will do everything they can to deliver the most diverse class possible, on multiple dimensions. “Selection can look mysterious to the outside world because not all of the elements of diversity can be captured in metrics,” she added.

For more advice from Dee, check out her Director’s Blog.


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Posted in: Admissions Tips

Schools: Harvard Business School

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