How to Get In: Harvard Business School

What can you do to set yourself apart in your application? Admissions officials have the answers.

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6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?

We expect recommendations from people who really know you and what you've accomplished. That's what's important to us, not the title or the prestige of the person writing the recommendation. They should be willing to take the time to answer the questions we ask. A long list of adjectives won't do the trick. We want to hear about real episodes in your life that enable us to know more about you.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

We have three application periods each year, which we call "rounds." Students can apply within only one round each academic year. Up-to-date information on the deadline and ensuing acceptance date for each round can be found in the M.B.A. Admissions Web site.

8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

We have hundreds of companies recruiting on campus. At the same time, many of our students often take a proactive initiative with companies that are of particular interest to them. And you can add student club activities and career "treks" to the mix. Our M.B.A. Career and Professional Development Office is very active and very successful in helping students find both summer internships and jobs upon their graduation.

9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?

As I've indicated, trying to be someone you're not is a common mistake. We conduct about 1,800 interviews a year—everyone we admit is interviewed, but not everyone we interview is admitted. These are meant to be conversations that show a candidate's curiosity, ability to think on his or her feet, interest in others, etc. It's a mistake, therefore, to regard them as an opportunity for a presentation or for covering a long list of talking points. We definitely don't want to hear a rehearsed response.

10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?

The common thread among our students is leadership talent and a desire to make a difference in the world. We believe that leadership manifests itself in many interesting variations: some leaders gravitate to hierarchical organizations with established reporting structures, some leaders are entrepreneurs—the people who love to start things and get them up and running, some leaders can inspire a divisive and fragmented small team to work together effectively, and some leaders are the ones who can be relied on to bring a nuanced and unexpected way of thinking to a problem— "thought leaders." All schools talk about the desirability of "diversity." At HBS, diversity is not a "photo opportunity," an interesting cover shot for the Web site. It is the bedrock of our learning model, the case method. In our classroom, students depend on listening to smart and engaged colleagues bring their backgrounds and perspectives to the "case." At the end of class, the most commonly overheard comment is, "I never thought of it that way."