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Admissions Director Q&A: Chad Losee of Harvard Business School

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It’s hard to believe that the Round 1 deadline for Harvard Business School is next week!  Before you submit your application, you’ll want to read our Admissions Director Q&A with Chad Losee, the Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid.  He walks us through the life of admissions, new and exciting developments at Harvard, the interview process and more.

Losee applied to business schools in the Fall of 2010 and feels grateful to have been admitted to HBS. While a student at HBS, Losee developed his interest in higher education leadership as an admissions ambassador, through an internship in a university president’s office, and by completing a one-year fellowship at HBS after graduating in 2013. Losee remembers vividly what it feels like to go through the process of applying to business school. He and his team aim to make applying to HBS as simple, fair, and transparent as possible for all applicants.

Read on for some rich details about the MBA program and more.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at Harvard in the coming year?

Chad Losee: We’re excited about the two new MS/MBA joint degree programs that we’ve recently launched with the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Students in these joint degree programs complete two degrees in two years.

Chad Losee, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School

The MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences program builds upon students’ existing technical knowledge and skills and prepares them for leadership roles in technology ventures. Graduates will be prepared to make “what to build” and “how to build” decisions, which are the province of startup founders and product managers, general managers, and CEOs in mature technology companies.

The joint degree confers an MBA from HBS and a Master of Science from SEAS. The inaugural cohort will graduate in spring 2020.

The MS/MBA Biotechnology: Life Sciences program builds upon students’ existing biotech and life sciences knowledge and equips them with the latest business and scientific insights. This empowers them to grow transformative organizations that will advance new drug discoveries or therapeutics.

The joint degree confers an MBA from HBS and a Master of Science from GSAS in the Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology.

We’re excited to receive our first round of applications this fall. The inaugural cohort will matriculate in August 2020.

CA: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

CL: HBS is a place where you learn both the content side of business and where you can develop your leadership capabilities. The true depth of soft skill development that occurs over the course of the two-year HBS MBA is something students aren’t fully aware of before being immersed in the program. Across all classes, the case method approach to learning has a deep impact on skills like active listening, articulating a point of view, being challenged to re-think individual perspectives, exercising judgment and making difficult decisions—a skillset that prepares students for the challenges of leadership.

During the first year, all students take two courses with a deep focus on building leadership and interpersonal skills.

The elective curriculum at HBS also allows students to take advantage of a variety of leadership, interpersonal development, and talent management electives to continue to build out their soft skills. A few of those courses include:

  • Authentic Leadership Development (ALD), which focuses on helping students understand who they are as a person and what their personal leadership style will be
  • Arts of Communication, during which students present public speeches and will get written feedback from everybody in your class on those speeches
  • Leadership, Execution and Action Planning (LEAP), which builds on students’ leadership skills and teaches them how to take action as a leader
  • Crafting your Life, a course designed to help students reflect and think critically about how they make the most important decisions in life and how they spend time
  • Becoming a General Manager, a class taught by the Professor who popularized the concept of “psychological safety” designed to help students learn to lead across industries and context

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.)?

CL: We have two applications rounds, meaning you can apply by September 4, 2019 or by January 6, 2020 to matriculate in the Fall of 2020. Once we reach the submission deadline for a given round, we are off and running as an Admissions Board reviewing all the written applications. We are looking to see the impact that you’ve had as we create a diverse class from a wide variety of backgrounds who will add to and thrive in the case based discussion environment of the HBS classroom.

As for the process, at least two different people on the Admissions Board evaluate every application that we receive. We read, and re-read applications as we work to build the interview pool. Once a candidate is invited to interview, the interviewer reads the application thoroughly. The interview helps us to learn more about you using your application as the jumping off point for the conversation. This is my favorite part of the process as we get to (finally) meet you in person. More on the interview below.

If that sounds like a lot of reading, it is. We spend a great deal of time with these applications and use our best judgment in building the class each year.

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

CL: Here I will refer back to a blog post I wrote last year. Let me start by reminding you of the essay prompt:

“As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”

The first thing you should know about the essay is that we consider all the elements of the application to get to know you and never look at just one piece by itself. The essay isn’t more or less important than other elements of the application. If you’ve been stressed about the essay, hopefully this releases a little anxiety.

Two of the most important words in the prompt are: “what more?”  The most helpful essays build on the rest of the written application or share new information. It’s hard to say “what more” you’d like us to know if you haven’t already filled out the rest of the application (or at least thought about what you’d like to say). The essay should help you bring all the aspects of your application together.

We’ve had the same prompt for a few years now, and we like the freedom it gives you. Students who are currently at HBS have taken many (many!) different approaches to this essay and were successful in the application process. There are too many approaches to list, and if I started giving a few examples, you may feel like you had to take one of those approaches. You don’t.

Instead let me share some approaches that are NOT particularly helpful to your application:

Essays that are basically a paragraph version of your resume: This is surprisingly common: I went to college X then decided to take job Y and that led me to job Z, and now I’m applying to HBS. There’s nothing “wrong” with this essay per se; it just doesn’t add much to your application because we already know all of that from the other elements of your application. Of course you can build on things that are raised in other parts of the application—just make sure it’s additive.

Essays that are too long: I wish I could give you a general rule that essays over X words are too long, but sometimes you need more space to bring things together. And that’s the reason there’s no word limit. Use your best judgment, and try to be clear and concise in your writing. What do we need to know to understand you that hasn’t been addressed elsewhere? (And what don’t we need to know?)

Essays that aren’t about you: I know this sounds obvious. I like the advice I heard an HBS alum give recently: After you’ve written your essay, ask yourself, “Could this essay also describe someone else?” If so, it probably isn’t personal enough to add to your overall application, and you likely need to do some more introspection. For example, we occasionally receive essays that talk at great length about HBS or an element of the program like the case method, but only share a tiny bit about the person themselves. That’s a missed opportunity to bring us into your world, your decisions, your motivations or your formative experiences.

Final thought: I know from personal experience it’s tempting to write, rewrite and rewrite again. Be careful in all that polishing that you don’t “shine away” your personality. And, remember, the essay is just one element that we consider in the context of the overall application.

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process?  Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (blind, non-blind)?

As I mentioned above, the interview is my favorite part of the process because we get to meet you and learn from your background and experience.

One thing different in our interview process is that we do not use students, faculty or alumni volunteers to conduct our interviews. We have about two dozen individuals on our Interview Board who receive regular training and each conduct many interviews each year. This helps us stay calibrated and consistent. It also means that your interviewer will have access to your full application. We prepare for each interview by reading the application in its entirety and doing any additional research prior to the interview as needed to understand the applicant’s background and experience.

Because the interview is a conversation about you, there are no brain teasers, mental math problems, “case questions,” or anything like that.  Although we may reference the resume in the interview, we try to go much deeper.  We may dive into something you wrote in an essay, a short answer field (for example about their employment or post-MBA career goals), or something a recommender might have mentioned.  Wherever we go with the interview, it is always a conversation in which we strive to understand your experience, abilities as a leader, and how you might thrive in and contribute to the HBS community.

Overall, we interview about twice as many people as we can admit, so after an interview you have about 50/50 odds of receiving an offer of admission.

CA: Anything else you would like to add?

I feel fortunate I had the chance to study at Harvard Business School as a student and now work here full-time. Thank you for considering HBS as part of your personal and professional journey.

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.