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Harvard Business School Reduces Number of Application Essays, Recommendations

Prospective applicants to Harvard Business School (HBS), take note: Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Dee Leopold shared a lot of interesting information in her Director’s Blog today. Topline news: Applicants for fall 2014 will only answer one essay (with no word limit) and will only need to submit two letters of recommendation (down from three).

The single essay question asks simply what else the Ad Com should consider about an applicant’s candidacy in addition to the other elements submitted as part of the application (resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores).

“That’s it. No word limit. Use your own judgment as to how much to tell us,” wrote Leopold. “We have neither a ‘right answer’ nor a ‘correct length’ in mind,” she added, noting that her team will review all elements of the written application before inviting some candidates to advance to the interview stage.

Some applicants may even choose not to submit an essay if they feel the other elements of the application tell their story completely, Leopold offered. Repeating something she said last year when HBS first reduced its number of essays, Leopold explained that HBS has further reduced the number of essays because applying to business school is “not an essay-writing contest.” “There is always –and will always be – great variance in both subject matter and degree of polish in the essays of admitted candidates,” she wrote.

As to the rationale behind requiring fewer letters of recommendation, Leopold said she hopes it will remove a hurdle for prospective applicants “who come from organizations where there is not a tried-and-true path for talented folks to leave for business school.”

Looking into her crystal ball, Leopold predicted that roughly 1,800 candidates will advance to the interview stage of the selection process, on par with the last several years. Her team will admit roughly 1,100 of those who interview, to result in a final class of 930 or so matriculating students. And the post-interview reflection – an invitation to applicants to send a brief follow-up email within 24 hours of interviewing – will be part of the application process again this year. “We liked it,” Leopold shared.

So there you have it.