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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

May 29, 2012

HBS MBA: Learn about it first, apply second!

This is the second in series of eight posts. My analysis of the HBS Application for the Class of 2015 (and 2+2 Class of 2017) consists of:

My comprehensive service clients have been admitted to the regular HBS MBA for the Classes of 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005 and one 2+2 client admitted to the Class of 2014. My clients' results and testimonials can be found here.  In addition to providing comprehensive application counseling on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with HBS interview preparation. I have worked with a large number of applicants from Canada, Europe, India, Japan, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application.  I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS. In the posts in this series, I provide insights based on that experience.

While the application has changed at HBS (see first post in this series) and there have been some changes to the curriculum, much remains the same. In this post, I discuss some key aspects of HBS as well as suggest how to learn about the program.  Given that the HBS MBA has some very unique aspects to it, I think it is particularly useful to learn what makes the program distinct. This is true of any program, but given the high brand value of HBS, some applicants just focus on it without consideration as to whether it really suits them.

Some applicants begin the process of applying by focusing on the application initially. I don’t suggest doing that for HBS or any school because you really need to determine whether the program is a good fit for you first. You will save yourself considerable time and effort if you learn about HBS (and other schools) first before making the decision to apply.  By learning about programs, you can best determine which ones you really should focus on.


  • Learn as much as you can about HBS. If possible, go visit the campus. Visiting HBS, like visiting any business school, is one of the best ways to learn about it. I have clients who travel from Japan, India, other parts of Asia, and Europe to visit HBS and other top US schools.  I am always surprised when my US-based clients, especially my fellow Americans, don’t make such visits. Visiting gives you a better understanding of an MBA program than anything else can!
  • Attend admissions outreach events as these will give you an opportunity to hear from admissions directly and possibly interact with alumni. Alumni can provide you with great insight and possible support.  Make every effort to network with alumni.
  • The HBS curriculum, while focused on case study has included non-case based learning.  For more about that, look at the Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) course http://www.hbs.edu/mba/academics/field.html, Immersion Experience Program (For 2013, set to be in China, Japan, Peru) and  Field-based learning.  
  • HBS is not right for everybody, so look at it closely to see if it right for you. HBS is very open about who they take.  Not everyone should apply or go to HBS.  For a happy story of HBS rejection, see here. I discuss this issue more fully in the third post in this series.

If you are thinking about applying to HBS, you should learn about the case method. The case method remains at the center of the curriculum. One of the clearest explanations for the case method is, not surprisingly, the HBS website. Every MBA applicant could benefit from watching the case study video which will provide you with a clear 13 minute and 25 second image of what case study is about. You should most certainly look at videos found at the HBS' YouTube channel.

While Harvard Business School is most known for its use of the case method (80%), many other top programs use it typically 30%-50% of the time with the remainder consisting of lecture, experiential learning, simulations, and other methods. In addition to HBS, Darden and IESE are also schools that primarily use the case method. By the way, if you want to know what HBS students read in addition to case studies, see http://www.computersexy.com/blog/2008/02/03/hbs/what-do-hbs-students-read/.

One great resource for cases studies is caseplace.org, where you can read cases written by and for top business schools. Many were published by Harvard Business School through Harvard Working KnowledgeHarvard Business Review, and Harvard Business School Publishing. Sources for other cases include Stanford Social Innovation Review,Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

Sponsored by the Aspen Institute"CasePlace.org is a practical and dynamic resource for up-to-date case studies, syllabi and innovative MBA teaching materials on business and sustainability— from corporate governance to sustainable development." Given the sources and purpose of the site, this is a wonderful opportunity to read cases on a diverse range of subjects. If caseplace.org is not enough for you then you can also purchase case studies directly from HBS and other schools.

Please keep in mind that the objective of learning about the case method is to get enough background to make good decisions about your applications, so don't feel obligated to spend so much time reading cases. Just spend enough time to know what the case method is and how it will impact your application decisions and admissions strategy.

It is important to understand that HBS is about leadership. The case method is used to teach HBS students how to think like leaders, to think about the different ways leaders succeed and fail, and in the process to become aware of their abilities as a leader. The HBS mission statement makes this core focus on leadership  clear: The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. As such HBS places a very high premium on applicants' leadership potential:
A Habit of Leadership
We recognize—and welcome—leadership that may be expressed in many forms, from college extracurricular  activities to academic or business achievements, from personal accomplishments to community commitments. We appreciate leadership on any scale as well, from organizing a classroom to directing a combat squad, from running an independent business to spearheading initiatives at work. In essence, we are looking for evidence of your potential — a portfolio of experiences, initiatives, and accomplishments that reflect a habit of leadership.
I will discuss leadership in more depth in subsequent posts in this series. 

HBS has a very open-ended conception of leadership, but they are rigid in the necessity that applicants demonstrate it and aspire to engage in it. In the next post in this series, I discuss who should apply to HBS.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide.  If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on Google Docs here, and then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. See here for why. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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