How to get into Harvard Business School

By Arvind Kumar

Harvard Business School (HBS) is one of the most prestigious and sought-after institutions for those aspiring to pursue an MBA in the United States. Known for its rigorous academic programs, accomplished faculty, and strong alumni network, getting into Harvard Business School is a dream for many. 

However, it’s important to note that the admissions process is highly competitive, and only a select few make the cut. For 2023 admissions, out of 8,149 applicants only 938 candidates enrolled in the Harvard MBA Class. That’s an acceptance rate of a mere 11.5%. Therefore, with such stiff competition, it’s crucial to have a systematic and planned approach to Harvard MBA admissions. 

To make this easier, in this article, we have shared a comprehensive 5-step guide on how to get into Harvard Business School. From the initial self-reflection to the critical interview stage, each step is designed to help you navigate the application process with confidence and authenticity.

Step 1: Research and Self-Reflection

Research and self-reflection serve as the foundational steps in your journey towards Harvard Business School (HBS). Before you start drafting your application, it’s crucial to invest time in understanding the institution, its values, and your own aspirations. 

Here’s how you can go about it:

Identify Your Goals

Take the time for deep self-reflection. What are your career goals? Why do you want to pursue an MBA? How will an HBS education help you achieve these goals? HBS is keen to admit students with a clear sense of purpose and direction, so make sure your goals are well-defined and align with what the school offers.

Self-Assessment

Evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, and unique qualities. Consider your academic and professional accomplishments, leadership experiences, and extracurricular activities. What sets you apart from other applicants? Harvard Business School values diversity, so your unique background, experiences, and perspectives can be a valuable asset.

Consider Your Fit

Harvard Business School looks for candidates who are a good fit with the program and the culture. Ensure that your values, aspirations, and personality align with what HBS represents. HBS looks for 3 broad characteristics when assessing fit:

  1. Habit of Leadership
  2. Analytical Aptitude and Appetite
  3. Engaged Community Citizenship

Read about these characteristics in detail.

Explore Harvard Business School

Begin your journey by thoroughly researching Harvard Business School. Visit the official HBS website and explore the academic programs, faculty profiles, and the wide array of resources the school offers. Take note of any specific features or aspects that stand out to you, whether it’s a unique course, a renowned professor, or the school’s commitment to case-based learning.

Don’t forget to take a look at the latest MBA class profile. This will give you an idea of the academic and professional background of the candidates who made it to HBS.

Here are a few important statistics for the latest class i.e. MBA class of 2025 of the Harvard Business School

Applications Received8149
Class Size938
Median GMAT Score740
GMAT Range500-790
Median GRE Score326
GRE Range295-340
Average GPA3.73
Average Work Experience4.9 years

Take a look at the class profile page of the HBS class of 2025 for more details.

Step 2: Prove Your Academic Prowess and Readiness

Academic excellence is a crucial component of your Harvard Business School application. HBS seeks candidates who have demonstrated the ability to excel in rigorous academic environments. This is important because Harvard Business School looks for candidates who can not only get in but also get through the rigorous Harvard MBA program.

You can prove your academic prowess and readiness through your undergraduate GPA and GMAT or GRE.

Undergraduate GPA

One of the first things the HBS admissions committee will consider is your undergraduate GPA. While there is no specific GPA requirement, HBS typically admits students with strong academic records. The average GPA of the class of 2025 is 3.73 on a 4.0 scale which is quite high. To stand out, aim for a GPA above the average of the latest incoming class. If your GPA is not as high as you’d like it to be, consider taking additional courses or scoring really well on the GMAT or the GRE.

GMAT/GRE

Harvard Business School requires applicants to submit GMAT or GRE scores. These tests assess your quantitative, verbal, and analytical abilities. Scoring above the school’s average can significantly bolster your application. Plan your test preparation well in advance, and consider taking the exam multiple times to achieve your best score. Additionally, note that HBS does not have a strict cutoff score, but higher scores can make your application more competitive.

We would suggest scoring at least 20 points more on the GMAT than the median GMAT score of the latest incoming class particularly if you are from an over-represented demographic. Since the median GMAT score of the HBS class of 2025 is 740 you should set a target score of at least 760 on the GMAT.

Step 3: Have an Impactful Professional Experience

Professional experience is a cornerstone of your application to Harvard Business School (HBS). The admissions committee is keen on selecting candidates who have demonstrated leadership, innovation, and impact in their professional roles. Here is what you need to keep in mind:

Quality Over Quantity

While the number of years of work experience matters (the average work experience is 5 years), HBS places a higher value on the quality of your experience. Instead of simply accumulating years, focus on the depth of your roles and the impact you made. Highlight significant projects, achievements, and leadership opportunities.

Career Progression

Highlighting a clear and upward career progression is crucial in your application. Show how you’ve grown in your roles, taken on more responsibilities, and made a significant impact in your professional endeavors. This showcases your leadership potential and your ability to contribute to the HBS community.

Leadership Experience

Leadership is a core value at HBS. The admissions committee is looking for candidates who have a track record of leading teams and driving positive change within their organizations. Leadership doesn’t always mean managing a large team; it can also be demonstrated through influence, collaboration, and innovation. Use your application to showcase specific instances where you’ve exercised leadership in your workplace.

Entrepreneurial Experience

If you have experience as an entrepreneur or have worked in startup environments, emphasize your entrepreneurial spirit. HBS values individuals who can think creatively, take risks, and innovate. Describe how you identified opportunities, overcame challenges, and contributed to the growth and success of the ventures you were involved in.

Global Experience

In our interconnected world, global perspectives are highly valuable. If you have international work experience, highlight your ability to work effectively across cultures. Discuss how your global experiences have shaped your understanding of business and leadership, and how you can contribute a diverse perspective to the HBS community.

In summary, demonstrating strong leadership in your professional experience is crucial for gaining admission to Harvard Business School. Admissions committees are looking for candidates who not only have impressive resumes but also possess the qualities and experiences that align with HBS’s values. By showcasing your leadership abilities, impact, and potential for future growth, you can significantly enhance your chances of being accepted into Harvard Business School.

Step 4: Create a great application through essays, resume, and LoR

Now that you have done all the preparation with respect to your Harvard MBA application, it’s time to put your experiences, stories, and anecdotes to paper.

This step is really important because it tests your ability to compose and convey your thoughts and experiences effectively through your essays and resume. It also tests how effectively you can help your recommender with specific information to get the most compelling letters of recommendation.

Creating a strong resume, well-crafted essays, and compelling letters of recommendation are essential components of your Harvard Business School (HBS) application. These elements provide the admissions committee with a comprehensive view of your qualifications, aspirations, and character.

Creating a Strong Resume

Your resume is the first opportunity to make a positive impression on the admissions committee. It should be a concise, well-organized document that highlights your professional and academic achievements. Here are 10 tips on how to create a stellar resume.

Crafting Compelling Essays

HBS’s essays are your chance to tell your unique story, explain your motivations, and demonstrate how you align with the school’s culture and mission.

There is just one essay asked and the prompt is as follows:

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? (900 words max)

The Harvard Business School essay is all about that little phrase “what more.” The key thing to remember about the Harvard Business School essay is that it’s not your opportunity to repeat what’s already in your resume, career goals statement, recommendations, or application form. If HBS wanted to know why you’re pursuing a business degree or why you’re interested in Harvard, they would have asked those questions directly. In fact, they’ve asked those questions in the past. But with this open-ended prompt, HBS is after answers that go beyond the typical. They’re interested in hearing things that wouldn’t be prompted by standard questions. They want to discover what sets you apart as an applicant. So, it’s clear that HBS intentionally moved away from traditional essay prompts for a reason. They’re looking for something unique here. Get creative, be genuine, and show them the real you.

Compelling Letters of Recommendation

Getting strong letters of recommendation is a crucial part of your graduate school application, and this holds true when you’re applying to prestigious institutions like Harvard Business School (HBS). HBS asks for 2 letters of recommendation

Your letters of recommendation provide third-party perspectives on your qualifications, character, and potential. 

The first step in obtaining effective letters of recommendation is choosing the right people to write them. When considering potential recommenders, focus on individuals who can speak to your professional abilities, character, and accomplishments. Ideally, at least one recommender should be a current or former supervisor, manager, or colleague who knows you well and can provide detailed insights into your work. 

Here is a detailed article on how to get compelling letters of recommendation.

Step 5: Ace the Interview

Acing the interview is a critical step in your journey towards securing admission to Harvard Business School (HBS). The interview provides the admissions committee with a chance to get to know you better, beyond what is written in your application. Here’s what you need to know:

Understand the Format

HBS typically conducts interviews either in person or via video conference and they are considered non-blind interviews. Familiarize yourself with the format you’ll be facing, as the dynamics of an in-person interview can be different from a virtual one. Practice with friends or family members to get comfortable with video interviews if that’s the chosen medium.

Research Common Interview Questions

While HBS interviews are known for being conversational, it’s still important to prepare answers to common interview questions. Be ready to discuss your career trajectory, your goals, why you want to attend HBS, and how you intend to contribute to the community. Practice articulating your thoughts clearly and concisely.

Know Your Application Inside Out

Expect questions related to your resume, essays, and other components of your application. Be prepared to elaborate on the experiences and achievements you’ve mentioned. Remember, the interview is an opportunity to provide depth to what’s written on your application.

Showcase Your Fit with HBS

HBS is interested in students who not only excel academically but also contribute meaningfully to the school’s community. Be prepared to discuss how you align with HBS’s values and how you can actively participate in and enrich the school environment. Talk about specific clubs, initiatives, or aspects of the HBS curriculum that resonate with your goals and interests.

Questions for the Interviewer

Towards the end of the interview, you’ll likely have the opportunity to ask questions. Prepare thoughtful questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in HBS. Inquire about specific programs, opportunities, or aspects of the school that genuinely intrigue you. Avoid asking questions that can easily be answered through basic research, as it may indicate a lack of preparation.

Post Interview Reflection

The post-interview reflection is a unique and distinctive aspect of the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA admissions process. It’s an opportunity for applicants to provide the admissions committee with additional insights into their candidacy after the interview. HBS introduced this reflection as a way to allow candidates to express their thoughts and clarify any points they may have wished to address during the interview but didn’t get the chance to do so.

Final Thoughts

Securing a spot at Harvard Business School is an achievement that signifies more than just academic success. It signifies determination, resilience, and a vision for impactful leadership. As you work on your Harvard MBA application, remember that it’s not merely about meeting the criteria; it’s about showcasing your unique strengths, experiences, and aspirations. The steps outlined in this article are not rigid rules but guiding principles, meant to be tailored to your individual story. By understanding the intricate details of each step and infusing them with your authenticity, you can create an application that reflects your genuine passion and potential.

Embrace the process, and let your passion and authenticity shine through in your application. So, be inspired, be genuine, and best of luck on your path to Harvard Business School. 

If you find yourself needing expert guidance and personalized assistance, get in touch with us.

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