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Who gets into HBS? 7 Insights from the Admissions Director

June 27, 2014 :: Admissionado Team

When Poets & Quants published A Revealing Interview with Harvard Business School’s Dee Leopold, we couldn’t wait to write about it.

Dee Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at HBS and 35-year veteran of admissions, definitely revealed a LOT.

In case you missed the article (or were too busy trying to hit that early deadline), we’ve picked out the seven most important, most revealing insights… straight from the Admissions Director herself.

1.It’s ALL about fit and personality.

“It’s a selection process. There aren’t rules like if you have this score you will be in and if you have that score you will be out. Selection is thoughtful and not rule-based… And it’s about the class. It’s not about whether I think John is a better person than Jim. It’s trying to get this wonderful salad going in the class and what ingredients does John bring and what does Jim bring.

We spend a lot of time imagining the kinds of conversations John would have with Jim if they were in the same section. What would they learn from each other? What would they ask each other? HBS is an amazing opportunity for conversations that you won’t ever have again in your life in terms of the richness of the kinds of people who are all heads-up and want to make a difference in the world and come from way different backgrounds. So we spend a lot of time thinking about what those conversations will be like. Those are fun speculations to have.”

“We are not hiring into a specific skill set to do a specific job. We are trying to assemble the best conversations so that would require a lot more things exploding in different places in a good way. You don’t want all the same types of people, and you are also catching people at a time in their lives when they are still changing a lot. You are catching people in flight and making some bets.”

2. Make a strong first impression… and fast.

“It’s fair to say that with 9,500 applications, we are not going to get to know 9,500 people. Our job is to get to that next stage—the 1,800 people who we are going to interview and to do that as fairly, intelligently and strategically as we can. And then pour it on in terms of our investment for the 1,800.”

3. Write honestly and be yourself.

“There were no word limits [for the essay], no expected answers. When I think about what that might feel like from a candidate’s standpoint I imagine there is this, ‘What should I write? What do they want to hear?’ That is obviously not the question I want them to ask. It is ‘what do I want to say?’ versus ‘what do they want to hear?’”

4. Highlight what’s UNIQUE about you.

“The way I organize my head is in a two-by-two matrix. One axis is work experience—or the voice you bring to the class—and the other axis is personal qualities—what kind of person you are. We don’t have people in the lower left corner. It would be great to have people coming from mutual backgrounds with amazing personal qualities who will be great at the case method.

I also think that maybe it’s time to think about the liberal arts majors. History majors know how to think analytically really well and they have context. If they have the quantitative chops, that is a cool group.”

5. Have a plan… but show curiosity, interest, openness.

“There is a big difference between having a laminated life plan and having some direction of what you might like to do. We are not big fans of laminated life plans…. I don’t think it’s true that people have to have found their one life passion at age 20 something. If they haven’t, you could call it passion deficit disorder but there is nothing wrong with you if you haven’t found your calling.

We don’t think you know what you want to do before you come here. You can say you want to be X and then you come here and everything changes for you.”

6. Remember, you’re more than a number.

“We are looking at sub-scores. We are not looking at overall numbers like a 700. We are looking underneath the hood of that…

If we are looking for your analytical ability, we can look in a lot of different places. You can take MOOCs and do well. We are not looking for people who can do abstract math. We are looking for people who can use numbers to get to words. A familiarity with financial accounting and statistics is a lot different than being able to develop theorems.”

7. Have a conversation. Make a connection.

“…[In the interview], our hope is that we just have a conversation. We are trying to talk about some industry-wide things and people just didn’t seem to find that interesting or exciting. And we think, ‘Oh my God, this is business school. You are going to have 550 cases and not all of them can be about the exact thing you do. Will you like it here?’ We are trying to figure out if you will really thrive in a case method environment and do you really want to be in a community where there are no bystanders. You really have to be a giver and not a taker in this ecosystem.”

Ok, these 7 things are really important. Soooo…how do I do ’em? Check out some more articles –