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Admissions Director Q&A: Rupal Gadhia of Harvard Business School

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Following the release of new application essays this year, Rupal Gadhia, managing director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School, joins us for this edition of our Admissions Director Q&A series.

Gadhia graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2004. Her post-HBS career began in brand management with Sara Lee and Campbell Soup Company, followed by a move to Booz & Co as a management consultant. Leveraging her passion for brand and consulting, she joined the Brand Union, managing North American strategy and research for consumer and corporate clients and was recruited to Interbrand to lead the relationship for two of their largest clients. 

In 2017, she was recruited to Genpact as global vice president of brand and digital marketing and helped guide the company through a brand transformation, leading a global team made up of the creative, editorial, talent marketing, digital, social, and brand groups. In her most recent pre-HBS role, Gadhia was senior vice president and global head of marketing for SharkNinja’s robots and home environment categories, where she focused on bringing new innovations to market. Gadhia re-joined HBS as managing director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid in October 2023. 

Read our discussion below for more information on the Harvard MBA admissions process, what to expect for a potential interview, Gadhia’s insights into what makes Harvard special and more

Rupal Gadhia, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, Harvard Business School

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

Rupal Gadhia: Our joint degree programs. In collaboration with six Harvard University graduate schools, HBS offers seven joint degree programs designed to prepare students for complex leadership challenges. In any given academic year, we have around 100 joint degree students on the HBS campus. Our joint degree students continue to have incredible impact during their time at HBS – two entrepreneurial students from our MS/MBA Engineering Sciences program come to mind. Yinka Ogunbiyi (MS/MBA 2023) and her company Halo Braid won the 2023 HBS New Venture Competition, while Wale Lawal (MS/MBA 2024) recently won the Harvard Innovation Labs President’s Innovation Challenge for Mesa Quantum. 

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in the Harvard admissions office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision? 

RG: We have two application rounds – you can apply by September 4, 2024 (Round 1) or by January 6, 2025 (Round 2) to enroll in the fall of 2025. Once we reach the submission deadline for a given round, we begin our review. 

As for the process, at least two different people evaluate every application. We read, and re-read, applications as we work to build the interview pool. We spend a great deal of time with these applications – as much time as needed to feel we are making the right decision in building the class each year. 

The second part of the application process is an interview with a member of the Admissions Board. Once you are invited to interview, the interviewer reads your application thoroughly as they prepare. The interview helps us to learn more about you while using your application as the jumping off point for the conversation. I love this part of the process as we finally get to meet the person behind the application.  

The last part of the process for the applicant is the Post-Interview Reflection. An honest, authentic approach to this written reflection works best. 

Our Admissions Board will read the Post-Interview Reflection as we make a final decision on your candidacy. After that, we send final decisions to our applicants on the specified decision release date. 

CA: How does your Harvard admissions team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? 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? 

RG: This year’s application will feature three essay prompts. We are excited about this change as we think it will give applicants the space and direction to share the experiences and aspirations most meaningful to them, while at the same time, providing our admissions team with the information most helpful in evaluating their candidacy. 

This year’s essay prompts are: 

  1. Business-Minded Essay: Please reflect on how your experiences have influenced your career choices and aspirations and the impact you will have on the businesses, organizations, and communities you plan to serve. (up to 300 words)  
  2. Leadership-Focused Essay: What experiences have shaped who you are, how you invest in others, and what kind of leader you want to become? (up to 250 words) 
  3. Growth-Oriented Essay: Curiosity can be seen in many ways. Please share an example of how you have demonstrated curiosity and how that has influenced your growth. (up to 250 words) 

The most helpful essays build on the rest of the written application and bring all the aspects of your application together. We know it can be tempting to write, rewrite, and rewrite again. Just be careful in all that refining that you don’t edit out your personality. Be authentic and be yourself!  

CA: Could you tell us about the Harvard MBA admissions 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 (resume-based, application-based, behavioral)? Will your admissions interviews be in-person or virtual for the 2024-2025 admissions season? 

RG: The interview is our way to get to know you better. Interview invitations typically come about four to six weeks after the application deadline. You will have the option to interview virtually, in-person on campus, or in-person at a domestic or international location. 

An HBS interview lasts 30 minutes and is conducted by a member of the Admissions Board. 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 your resume in the interview, we try to go much deeper. We may dive into something you wrote in an essay, a short answer field, or something a recommender might have mentioned. Through this conversation, we hope to learn more about your experiences, leadership abilities, and the impact you hope to make in the organizations and communities you plan to serve. 

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not? 

RG: A GRE or GMAT score is required to submit a complete HBS application. One of the biggest misconceptions about applying to HBS is that admissions decisions are based largely on your GRE or GMAT score. That is not how it works at HBS. We consider every element of your application to get to know you as a whole person, and we know that you are more than a standardized test score! 

We’re looking to craft a class of diverse thinkers and leaders who will make a difference in the world, and that goes well beyond a test score. We always keep that in mind as we get to know you through the whole application and make our decisions. 

CA: In the application data form, many schools ask for information about work experience, activities, hobbies, and much more. What advice would you give to applicants as they approach this component of the application process? 

RG: These additional parts of the application help us go beyond your resume and allow us to really dive into your experiences, challenges, and key learnings. My advice is to be just as intentional and thoughtful with these sections as you are with your essays. In doing so, you will put forth a much more holistic and compelling application. 

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution. 

RG: One thing I remember from my time as an HBS student, and is still true today, is how quickly our faculty are able to infuse the curriculum with courses and cases most relevant to the business world. Therefore, it is no surprise that we have many new courses and cases about generative AI and the technologies that continue to shape our economy including 3 Technologies that Will Change the World, Data Science for Managers, and Tough Tech Ventures. Tough Tech Ventures is an exciting new course designed for students who are considering founding, joining, or investing in ventures that face both high levels of technological and commercial pathway uncertainty. 

At the same time, I also think it is important for our students to reflect on where they have been and where they want to go. One such course, Crafting Your Life, prepares and equips students to better handle the choices, tradeoffs, and surprises that come with a career. Throughout the course, students will discover and implement practices to help them think more deeply about what they want out of life and how to best equip themselves for what lies ahead. 

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight about your MBA program or the Harvard admissions process? 

RG: I joined the HBS team in October 2023. Since then, many events have transpired at the global and national levels that have demonstrated the importance of diverse perspectives in the broadest form. Our entire learning philosophy at HBS is built around this concept, starting with the case method, a magical learning experience where the professor curates a conversation, and learning is based on engaging with the different perspectives of your classmates. This pedagogy is most successful when people bring their authentic selves and diverse ideas to the discussion and are welcome to do so in a safe and collaborative community. At HBS, diverse perspectives and experiences are encouraged and celebrated, which creates an intellectually stimulating yet compassionate community. This is what attracted me to come to HBS for my MBA in 2004 and what makes HBS so special to this day. 

As a student at HBS, I was always impressed by the extraordinary caliber of my peers. My classmates were some of the most intelligent, articulate, and compassionate people I had ever met. And now coming over to the other side of the table, I get to see the incredible talent within our applicant community (which makes decisions incredibly tough amongst such an impressive group of individuals). I am looking forward to reading about and meeting our Class of 2027 applicants. Their stories inspire me and excite me for what lies ahead.  

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.