HBS Application

Explore our insights on what the Harvard MBA program
has to offer, along with top tips on the Harvard MBA application.

Table of Contents

How to Get Into Harvard Business School

How to Get Into Harvard Business School

A Flight Plan for the HBS Application:

The MBA gold standard since its founding in 1908, Harvard Business School graduated the first-ever MBA class in 1908. That initial cohort of 80 has grown to a class size of 900+ students each year over the past century, with 90,000+ grads across 173 different countries. HBS routinely receives 9,000+ applications each year — nearly 20% more than any other business school, and this fact alone demonstrates its brand strength and desirability even as its formal ranking has shifted throughout the top five to 10 b-schools in recent years. Stats from the 2025 Class Profile like the Harvard Business School acceptance rate (14%), average HBS GMAT score (740), and average HBS GPA (3.73) illustrate that it is one of the most competitive applicant journeys for any graduate program in the world. The HBS application requirements reward those who can clearly articulate the unique gifts and contributions they will bring to the incoming class and include a new triad of essay prompts that require applicants to get tactical and specific given tight word counts.

Don’t worry, however, if you are only just beginning your MBA application journey and aren’t yet deeply familiar with Harvard Business School. Below we have assembled the key insights you need to move from a 30,000-foot cruising altitude view of the school to an on-the-ground insider’s perspective.

The insights shared in this article demonstrate only a taste of the expertise, care, and attention Fortuna brings to each current and prospective client we meet. Don’t hesitate to schedule a free brainstorming session with us if HBS truly is your dream school. Even if you’ve done some preliminary research, you likely haven’t had a one-on-one conversation yet with a coach who will keenly listen to your story, hear your fears about potential flags in your profile, and above all else evaluate your why for Harvard Business School. Our award-winning coaches look forward to serving as co-pilots on your HBS journey.

What Is HBS Really Looking For?

Behind-the-Scenes Secrets:

Our aim here is not to spend time rehashing HBS common knowledge like The Case Method. Instead, we’ve assembled a literal think tank of admissions strategies from our 10+ years working with clients. Everything shared below aims to comprehensively answer the question, “How do I actually get into Harvard Business School?”

We begin with a high-altitude view of the school, then share advice sourced from our team of HBS MBA experts. The admissions secrets assembled are decidedly tactical. They’re on-the-ground. They’re brought to you by members of our team who walked the Baker Building halls as staff, students, and alumni themselves and will take your HBS knowledge to the next level.

30,000 Ft View: The Big Picture

Harvard Business School has a brand like no other business school in the world, boasting more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than any other MBA program, several former Presidents (U.S. and Mexico), and an unrivaled global network of influence. Applicants with more traditional profiles and career goals tend to align with HBS’s vision of itself as a school that prepares future C-suite Fortune 500 leaders. The school maintains strong recruiting connections and job search outcomes within traditional finance (banking, PE, and VC) and management consulting (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG). Together, these two industries make up more than 54% of the graduating class’s recruiting focus, with more students exiting to PE (17%) than all of Big Tech combined (16%).

In recent years HBS has attempted to extend its influence to Big Tech and also positions itself as pro-entrepreneurship in many of its marketing materials. However, the HBS curriculum’s lock-step approach leaves little time to build something of your own. It is therefore not the ideal landing spot for those looking to found a startup while in school, but perhaps the best school in the world to land a coveted MBB consulting offer or Goldman Sachs banking job.

The HBS MBA Admissions team is made up of five key individuals. Its small size explains the school’s move toward a more streamlined application in recent years. HBS only requires two recommendations
and three very concise "mini" essays of 250-300 words each. Your resume and recommendations have never carried so much weight. Another notable Harvard Business School trademark is their interview invite process, which offers fewer invites than peer schools and prefers a quality-over-quantity approach that often puts one applicant in a room for a 30-minute conversation with two AdCom members simultaneously. One will have read your application completely, and the other – traditionally a note-taker –will have only seen your resume.

Key Stats to Consider for Harvard Business School

Average GMAT Score: 740

Average GRE Score: 326

Average Years of Work Experience Possessed by Students: 4.9

Average Undergraduate GPA: 3.73

Average Age of Students: Not Disclosed

Number of Applications Received: 8,149

Harvard Business School Acceptance Rate: 14%

Total Cost of Tuition Per Year: $74,910

Harvard Business School Graduate Average Starting Base Salary: $175,000

Harvard Business School Full-time Employment 3 Months After Graduation: 86%

Top Recruiting Companies at Harvard Business School: Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Procter & Gamble, Citi, JP Morgan, American Express, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Tesla, Netflix, Walt Disney, and J&J

20,000 Ft View: Strategies to Get Accepted

This video from a recent Masterclass we recorded provides a high-level overview of what the recipe for Harvard Business School acceptance looks like, and below it we have put together an even more detailed list of our top five strategies to execute on.

1. Stand Out from Your Peer Group

Given the 9,000+ candidates Harvard Business School selects from, successful applicants demonstrate how they stand out from the crowd. The HBS admissions team prioritizes a diverse and dynamic classroom, with individuals who will bring unique perspectives to class discussion. Candidates who have strong experience but whose profiles seem undifferentiated from the hundreds or thousands of other candidates from the same sector will not make the cut. “HBS is looking for a combination of unique perspectives,” Fortuna coach Alterrell Mills likes to point out. “For example, maybe you did a McKinsey secondment in Brazil working for an early-stage company. HBS wants students with expected skill-sets, but also an additional combination of experiences that will make your classroom discussion contributions that much more fascinating. Give some deep thought to what is unique about your background and your potential contribution to the program.”

If you work in PE, VC, consulting, or IB expect the stiffest competition of any school in the world. Hundreds of your peers will vie for a handful of seats per industry. Some will have application advantages you do not. Their employer may be KKR, while your employer is a regional middle-market firm. It is critical to identify what elements of your life story, professional experience, and personality will help you stand out. It may be a mistake to rely on the application advice of a colleague at your firm who went to HBS themselves. Their admittance to the school doesn’t mean they have knowledge of how the HBS selection process works, or crucially why they got in. If they haven’t worked in admissions and been in the room where acceptance decisions are made, they will likely focus on your professional accomplishments to the detriment of other candidacy facets you should be highlighting.

2. Showcase Your Leadership

Leadership is at the core of the Harvard experience. Harvard Business School is known as the school for general management training, specifically developing leaders who will “make a difference in the world.” The admissions office gives greater weight to leadership experience than some other top schools that prioritize test scores above other application components. So when applying to HBS, along with a strong GMAT score near their median of 740, make sure your leadership experience comes across prominently, not just as a one-off, but as a pattern of leadership that can be demonstrated at different stages of your development.

If you’re wondering, “How important is leadership, really?” An example that stands out is a past applicant with a 720 GMAT who worked at EY in a traditional consulting role. Her leadership potential, however, was off the charts according to her recommendation letter writers, and this carried the day in her application and helped her gain acceptance and a 50% tuition scholarship.

3. Articulate a Clear, Ambitious, and Realistic Harvard Business School Career Vision

Reflect on how your career vision aligns with HBS’s values. It should be detailed, with short-term goals and long-term goals. It should be ambitious but also achievable. This means being realistic and understanding that if you haven’t worked in PE/VC or at least finance prior to b-school, PE/VC is unlikely to be a viable career pivot for you to make. If it seems to you that West Coast rival Stanford GSB has cornered the market in careers that change lives and change organizations, think again. Harvard is equally interested in finding out what impact you intend to have on an institution, an industry, and the world.

You should also think of two different paths that could lead you to your long-term career goals; this gives you more flexibility if one of your short-term goals prove challenging to achieve. Keep in mind that HBS isn’t going to admit a class with 900 investment banking and private equity professionals. Oftentimes an authentic career vision that is less generic and more specific than other applicants stands out in a pool of sameness. What elements of your career vision are uniquely tailored to your own lived experience, dreams, and goals?

4. Spend Time Fine-Tuning Your Resume

The resume is often the first element that the Harvard Business School file reader will review, so it needs to pack a punch. And with HBS now requiring three "mini" essays that don't leave room to make a comprehensive impression, your resume has never been more important. Make sure the strength of your credentials comes across very strongly. Highlight your achievements and the impact you had in your roles. Quantify your achievements and impact with specific numbers and qualitative evidence wherever possible. HBS is looking for candidates on a rapid career trajectory, so make sure your evolution (promotions, increasing scope of responsibility, etc.) is clearly demonstrated. You may want to consider adopting the HBS resume format.

5. Demonstrate Strong Communication Skills

Class participation makes up a whopping 50% of the student grade. You are expected to speak up confidently and participate actively in class. The Case Method requires that you listen carefully to the discussion unfolding in the classroom and remain prepared to jump in and share an insightful point in a clear and concise manner. In your application, you should think of how you can showcase your strong communication skills–for instance, discuss your success presenting in public and engaging in debates, or in front of key decision-makers at your past employers.

10,000 Ft View: 3 Things Reddit Won’t Tell You About the School

Fortuna is known as the firm with the deepest on-the-ground knowledge of elite schools like HBS. In this video, Fortuna coach Karla Cohen demonstrates this by providing some of her tailored admissions advice as a former HBS MBA insider. We’ve followed that up below with Fortuna coach and MBA alum Alterrell Mills’ top 3 on-the-ground realities at HBS you probably don’t know about.

1. Clubs Are a Great Learning & Networking Opportunity

HBS has 95+ business school clubs available for students to join, and students sometimes join clubs at other relevant Harvard graduate schools. Clubs are not only an excellent way to kickstart your journey into a new career, but they can also serve to expand your network, develop new skills, and put your leadership skills into action. 

Members of clubs are provided special access to conferences and professional “treks.” Most clubs with a functional and industry focus (e.g., Marketing, Venture Capital Private Equity, Real Estate) hold annual conferences, bringing leading voices in their respective areas to discuss important topics–from building a career to the most pressing issues facing senior leadership. Conferences are also a great way to network into industries with less formal, structured recruiting processes (e.g., sports, entertainment, media). Many of my classmates secured introductions to hiring managers or key leaders who spoke on conference panels. 

Conferences and treks are made possible by student leaders. Club leadership is an overlooked area for professional development, especially for those looking to pivot into a new function or industry post-MBA. Many students interested in marketing post-MBA joined the Marketing Club to deepen their functional expertise, however it’s also a great idea to take on a leadership role within a club that is personally meaningful to you. For example, the CMO of the Africa Business Club will have their work seen by close to 1,000 attendees. In addition to the great resume bullet points that will come from that work, leadership roles also provide access to recruiters and key figures if you organize the club’s career fair or solicit club sponsorships from employers. Moreover, club leadership also puts you in touch with HBS alums, many of whom are very eager to help you break into their industry. 

2. Your Network Starts with Your Section

One lesser-known fact about HBS is that you are randomly assigned to a section, lettered from A through J, that becomes the primary unit of your network for life. You are assigned a seat in your first semester that you sit in for every single class–whether it’s operations, strategy, entrepreneurship, or finance. This means you do not move seats between classes, but your professors rotate. Your classroom becomes a homebase, making the 900-person class a bit more homey in some ways. 

There are about 90 people in each section, representing a cross-section of the MBA class. The section is a great structure for those who prefer a highly intimate, familiar group. Many HBS alums have very close relationships concentrated within their section, while other alums have extensive cross-section networks. While in section, you start to develop friendships with the people most closely seated next to you instead of those only from similar professional backgrounds and national origins. It’s an intentional effort to work against a natural tendency to “self-sort” with those most similar to you.

Sections operate like mini-countries. Each section has a leadership team that includes a Section President, and this team liaises with admissions and professors. Of course each section also has intramural sports and social representatives. Ahead of large social events like spring formal or reunions, your social chairs organize dinners, karaoke, etc. In many cases, some sections join forces–when not battling for sports supremacy–to have combined socials. Given the structure that underpins a section, it is no surprise your relationship with your section is everlasting. Nearly all first-years wear section branded gear, proudly claiming their section letter and mascot. As an alum, the first email I send for recommendations traveling to another country, support with a job search, or to share life milestones is my section.

3. The Harvard Name is A Double-Edged Sword 

Getting into Harvard Business School is a dream come true for so many. However, dropping HBS into a conversation is a double-edged sword. This is something most grads learn by trial and error. The Harvard name carries a lot of weight. It can help you get into interviews and rooms you previously couldn’t, but it can also raise a barrier if you are not self-aware. 

When you move to Boston, you might update your Tinder and other dating apps to include your school. And for some, your updated profile leads to increased interest. You wear your HBS jacket on the Amtrak for a weekend trip to NYC, and strangers ask you about your experience. It is an incredible feeling. 

However, knowing when to share that you went to HBS or to talk about the case method requires the ability to read the room. Some of my classmates landed prestigious internships in financial institutions where HBS was a badge worn proudly, yet others spend their summers in work environments where the HBS brand lands differently. In some industries, speaking about any MBA program can be seen as boasting, as those experiences may read as out of touch with your colleagues. 

When you’re deep in your program, it is 100% your world. However, too many references to your MBA can suck the air from the room. While being branded “the HBS person” might initially help with upward career progression, it may not help you deepen relationships with your colleagues. One of the best lessons I learned from a noted HBS alum was that ascending to CEO was “easy,” but getting C-suite peers to want to be managed by you takes skill. And I think that’s how HBS can be a double-edged sword if not navigated with humility and self-awareness.

In Search of More HBS Insights?

Fortuna’s approach to advising HBS-focused clients is drawn from insiders like Alterrell who are former students themselves, as well as Karla Cohen, who provides a deep dive on her do’s and don’ts for the application process in Poets&Quants. You will also want to watch the HBS-focused Masterclass we hosted featuring both Alterrell and Karla.

HBS On the Ground: Tackling Each Application Element

It will be important to resist the urge to “phone in” any portion of the HBS application, even the seemingly route online form, due to the overwhelming number of applications the school receives. You will be glad you scrutinized every word and small detail if you’re fortunate enough to be interviewed, because HBS is notorious for the most granular question asking and deep-dive app review of any US business school. Below we provide guidance on each step of the HBS application process, moving chronologically from the first to last element you should complete.

1. Resume

It won’t be enough to simply include generic descriptions of your day-to-day job responsibilities, regardless of whether you work at a company with high brand recognition in a major metro or a fledging startup in a mid-size city or small town. HBS will be looking for concrete bullets that tell memorable, measurable stories of impact. When possible, use numbers to back up the results you’ve achieved. It is fine to approximate in terms of dollar and percent totals, but be forewarned: the Harvard Business School Admissions Board is notorious for drilling down and making 10-15 minutes of your interview about a single resume bullet, so make sure none of the points in your final draft are purely stat-padding.

2. Recommendations

It may seem counterintuitive, but the information you provide to your HBS recommenders may have a larger impact on your HBS MBA app success your 3 required "mini" essays or another seemingly more important app element. We have seen recommendations that characterize applicants as true difference-makers at work result in acceptance and significant scholarships even when a GMAT or GRE score was suboptimal. Harvard Business School is looking for future leadership potential above all else, and demonstrating this trait begins with recommendations that tell clear stories about the scope and impact of your work. One recommender will ideally need to be your current manager, and the other should be a true sponsor–someone you know will advocate for you when you aren’t in the same room as them.

For a closer look at the art of recommender selection, read “MBA Letters of Recommendation,” which provides several key tips, or watch this deep-dive video.

3. Essays

Harvard Business School launched new required essay questions for the 2024-25 season, the biggest change by HBS admissions more than 10 years. Jettisoning its longstanding wide-open prompt in favor of a series of three much shorter essays with a total word count limit of 800, HBS has decided to reward thoughtful concision and compression over wordier writing. 

Essay #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)

HBS wants to see a logical thread connecting your key experiential influences to your career vision and community impact. What are the big life transitions that have shaped the professional you have become today? How have these transitions set the course for your future goals? We highly recommend you keep this Essay 1 focused on the past or present and don’t dedicate too much precious word count to the future. Fortuna's Rachel Erickson Hee says, “asking about what kind of leader you want to become is a potential trap here; some candidates will waste word count articulating this in detail instead of giving past examples that the AdCom can extrapolate from.” Given the word count constraints, you can't focus on more than one main story or point in all likelihood.

You will want to start with an exhaustive list of potential anchor points to build your essay around. Choose the one that, most critically, ties concretely in some way to acts of service you're committed to living out professionally and personally post-HBS. Most applicants will fail to think of service and instead focus on achievement. This is a critical mistake that completely avoids the final portion of the prompt.

Essay #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)

Notice a theme of servant-leadership developing here? We certainly do! It is our hunch this essay ties back to HBS professor Frances Frei’s research around best practices for leadership that inspires others. Here you want to lay out how you have inspired or mobilized change, sharing the results you achieved along the way. Your examples may be intangible (e.g., increased morale or shifting the strategy of a team). This does not mean however that your examples have to be related to work – some candidate’s best examples will come from meaningful extracurricular or community engagement. Whatever examples you choose, be sure you can articulate how they've shaped the leader you'll become in the future. As with Essay 1, staying under word count will be a true challenge. In keeping with our previous advice, build this essay around a very focused answer, and keep your language about the future firmly rooted to concrete examples in the past.

Essay #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)

Similar to GSB's "What matters most to you?" essay, you have the flexibility (and maybe even an obligation) to be vulnerable here, as moments of growth are oftentimes also moments of discomfort and radical change. How have you stepped beyond your comfort zone in the past and been drastically affected by a formative experience? What role did curiosity play in you navigating the challenge you faced? What inspired the next-steps you took? Remember that curiosity is a critical quality to being a stand-out MBA student. HBS is asking you about curiosity because their interactive learning experience requires it on a daily basis. The school needs students who are excited to engage in discussion and debate the status quo both inside and outside the classroom, as well as the status quo they encounter within themselves. You need to show that you are open to new ideas, perspectives and experiences, and will embrace opportunity (and have valuable insights to bring to the classroom). “If an applicant can clearly convey curiosity," emphasizes HBS MBA grad DeJeune Antoine, "I can see that person as a value-add to the classroom discussion and HBS case study method, highlighting perspectives, people, and issues that others may have overlooked.

For an even deeper-dive on the HBS essays, read our long-form article that includes additional tactical tips.

4. Online Application

We often see two types of approaches to this portion of the app–overthinking and underthinking. The overthinker scrutinizes whether they should list a significant high school achievement (the answer is typically “no”–keep things focused on college or later). The underthinker neglects to report they won an award they won, for example, for their work with an Employee Resource Group they’re particularly dedicated to at their company. It is best to split the difference between over- and underreporting yourself and your accomplishments. It is also key to note that anything you list here is fair game for the interview round should you make it there. This means that if the “NGO” you created in college was more of a one-off family donation than a functioning nonprofit business, you might not want to represent it as a fully fledged organization you created and led.

5. Interview

Our best advice for this interview format, which will keep you on your toes and likely require you to ask some tough, pointed questions about your professional background, motivation, and accomplishments, is to practice, practice, practice being challenged. The interview itself will include a series of linked questions that probe with the goal of seeing how you handle pressure, criticism, and counterpoints to the information you share. Since each applicant’s story and experience is different, and you won’t always know who is interviewing you in advance, we hesitate to give concrete advice beyond simulating the experience from multiple angles: with your admissions consultant, then a family friend, and then perhaps an alum of the school. The more tough questions you practice answering, the more prepared you’ll be. Think of this experience as a primer for what the HBS classroom and its emphasis on the Socratic Method will feel like.

In “How to Ace the HBS Interview,” we break down the components you’ll need to successfully prepare for and execute on your big interview day. This video also provides more helpful strategies:

6. Post-Interview Reflection

HBS applicants who complete their interview are asked to submit a 300-450 word reflection on their interview experience, which functions as a “mini-essay” supplement to the rest of their application. The Post-Interview Reflection provides space to leave a final positive impression on the admissions team. Our team likes to compare it to a post-meeting memo you might send a boss or prospective client – a memo that revisits anything you didn’t have time to address properly in detail and reinforces points you didn’t have a chance to make while speaking. What did you want to get across that you couldn’t in the 30-minute conversation? What would you like to rephrase or reframe? To execute on these questions, be sure to take notes immediately after the interview to flag what stood out to you. This way you won’t forget any key details from the conversation you want to reference.

We’ve traditionally recommended a 3-paragraph approach to structure your reflection. For a closer look at this method and our other recommendations, read Karla Cohen’s comprehensive “Tips for Writing the HBS Post-Interview Reflection.”

Hear Directly From Our HBS Experts

These “best of” HBS-focused videos come from our team’s collective experience of working at Harvard Business School, as well as our past decade of client work, helping many MBA candidates secure their spot at the school. Listen in as our coaches dispel common HBS myths and provide tactical takeaways you can implement in your application:

MBA Admissions Master Class: How to Get Into Harvard Business School

M7 Admissions Masterclass II: 7 Things to Know About Getting Into Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School: Strategies for Working with Your Recommenders 

Harvard Business School: Interview Prep Advice

Harvard Business School: Reapplication Strategies

Harvard Business School: Insider Admissions Advice

What Does Harvard Business School Really Want?

These “best of” articles include our strongest thought leadership on HBS MBA application tips and strategies:

HBS Essay Tips: What Is Harvard Looking For?

How to Secure the Best Letters of Recommendation

Letter of Recommendation Strategies for Harvard Business School

What Harvard Business School Really Wants: How to Ace the HBS Essay

Ace the HBS Interview: An Insider’s Advice

Tips for Writing the HBS Post-Interview Reflection 

Top 5 Tips to Reapply to Harvard Business School

Start a Conversation About HBS

Ready to Take a Research Break and Start A Conversation about How to Get Into Harvard Business School?

Our team of former Harvard Business School staff, alumni, and coaches with years of HBS client experience is ready to meet you, discuss your profile, and demonstrate our deep knowledge firsthand. Schedule time with us for a free, no-strings-attached brainstorming session. Just type “HBS expert please” when you fill out the consult form so we know you’re HBS-focused, found us through this HBS MBA deep-dive, and read it all the way to the end.

There is a reason our free brainstorming sessions are rated as the best in the admissions consulting industry. We take the extra time to truly listen, strategize, and reflect with you instead of briskly selling you a coach. Schedule time today and see for yourself. Your Harvard Business School journey begins with that first free call.

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