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How to Get into Harvard Business School

Harvard MBA

Baker Library on the HBS campus (photo credit: Amelia Kunhardt)


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There is no business school quite like the Harvard Business School.

The MBA at Stanford GSB is more selective, the business school at Wharton has been around longer, the five-year ROI at Chicago Booth is stronger, the three-month placement rate at MIT Sloan is better, the aims achieved scored by Kellogg graduates are rosier, and the median base salary of Columbia MBAs is higher. In the global Financial Times MBA  2022 Ranking, HBS could only manage a tie for #3 with INSEAD behind Wharton and Columbia.

But no MBA matches the global brand recognition, network, and pulling power of Harvard Business School. Getting into HBS is still highly prized, and the competition is fierce: the HBS admissions office receives more full-time MBA applications than any other school. For many, getting into Harvard MBA is the golden passport.

Harvard Business School Basics

Every year many thousands of strategy consultants, IB associates, and PE analysts join engineers, military, and product managers throwing their hat into the ring to see if they have what it takes to get into Harvard Business School. Every year the school publishes a short summary of the incoming MBA class to show where the bar is for HBS hopefuls. Here’s a brief snapshot:

Number of Applicants (Class of 2023): 9,773

MBA Class Size: 1,010

Harvard MBA Acceptance Rate: 12.5%

Tuition: $164,460

Average Work Experience: 5 years

Average GMAT: 730

Average GPA: 3.69

International Students: 37%

Women: 46%

Notably, HBS is now reporting both GMAT and GRE scores.

With a world-renowned faculty, HBS can claim academic excellence in many fields. Perhaps best known for General Management and a dedication to the case method, the school touts Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Strategy and CSR among the top areas of study.

Top 3 Undergraduate Majors

  • Engineering (27%)
  • Commerce/Business (21%)
  • Economics (20%)
  • Math/physical science (15%)

Top 4 Previous Industry Experience

  • Consulting (17%)
  • Venture Capital/Private Equity (15%)
  • Financial Services (12%)
  • Technology (11%)

Harvard Business School Program Admissions Requirements

The HBS Admissions team is made up of only five key individuals. Such limited staff resources may in part explain the school’s move towards a shorter, more streamlined application in recent years. HBS now only requires two recommendations and just one essay. Your resume and recommendations have never carried so much weight.

How hard is it to get into Harvard Business School? Remember that most applicants (nearly 10,000) will come with impressive credentials. In her article on how to tackle the HBS essay, Fortuna Admissions coach and former HBS gatekeeper, Karla Cohen says: “Those credentials get you to the threshold, but they won’t get the interview, because Harvard has seen it all. Once you’ve reached a certain level of exceptionalism in terms of being brilliant, driven and dedicated, it’s all about your story.”

View Karla’s essential application tips – and mistakes to avoid – in this 7-minute strategy session with Poets&Quants (note that new in 2022-2023 is that the HBS essay has a word limit of 900 words).

Applying to the Harvard MBA Program

Making the best possible case for your candidacy requires both profound self-awareness and a nuanced understanding of what distinguishes the Harvard MBA. Fortuna’s Karla Cohen, former Associate Director at HBS, is seasoned as supporting passionate doers with bold ambitions in making the best possible case for their candidacy.

Says Karla: “Harvard is a place where the Masters of the Universe pulse through the campus with a regularity that never gets old. It is a place for bold ambitions, brilliant ideas, and a passion that drives the faculty, staff, and of course students; it’s a place where it almost feels as though the only limitation is imagination. That’s powerful. (And, of course, the stuff of legend.)”

It’s understandable to feel intimidated but it is critical to know that HBS is a place of confidence over fear, says Karla. “Start with believing admission is possible, but only if the approach is unique and yours. This is scary for people. I often hear, ‘is it OK to say this?’ To which I often reply, ‘it’s okay if it’s true, real, and relevant.’ Also, remember there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. This is where your sincere reflection allows you to transmit authenticity over bluster.”

5 Tips on How to Get Into HBS

What does it take to get into Harvard Business School? Malvina Miller Complainville, former Assistant Director of Career Services at HBS and one of Fortuna’s resident Harvard MBA experts, offers her top five tips for getting into Harvard Business School.

1. Stand out from your peer group.

Given the thousands upon thousands of candidates that HBS gets to choose from, successful candidates are those who manage to show how they stand out from the crowd. The HBS admissions team puts a great deal of effort into crafting a diverse and dynamic classroom, with individuals who will bring perspective and experience that is different from their fellow classmates. Candidates who have strong experience but whose profile seems undifferentiated from the hundreds or thousands of other candidates from the same sector are not going to make the cut. So, give some deep thought to what is unique about your background and about your potential contribution to the program.

2. Showcase your leadership.

Leadership is at the core of the Harvard experience. HBS is known as the school for general management training, specifically developing leaders who will “contribute to the well being of society.” The admissions office gives greater weight to leadership experience, and less weight to intellectual horsepower than some other top schools. So when applying to HBS, 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.

3. Articulate a clear, ambitious, and realistic career vision.

Reflect on how your career vision aligns with HBS’s values. Your MBA career vision should be detailed, with short-term goals and long-term goals. It should be ambitious and achievable. And 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.

4. Spend time fine-tuning your resume.

Your MBA resume is often the first element that the file reader will review, so it needs to pack a punch. And with Harvard now down to only one optional essay your resume has never been more important. Make sure that 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 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 communications skills.

Class participation makes up 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 be 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.

Let’s Get You In To HBS

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools, including Harvard Business School. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we will coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and how to get into Harvard MBA and other top programs, request a free consultation.

Want More Advice?

View these essential articles on HBS by members of the Fortuna Admissions team:

  1. HBS Essay Tips & Strategy
  2. Recommender Strategy for HBS & GSB
  3. How to Ace the HBS Interview
  4. Tips for Writing the HBS Post-Interview Reflection
  5. Reapply to Harvard Business School: 5 Top Tips
  6. HBS + GSB: Comparing Our Deep Dive Analysis on Who Really Gets In
  7. HBS video strategy sessions on our YouTube channel (8 videos, including our HBS Admissions Masterclass)

You can also request a copy of our Insider Tips Report on HBS or the full deep dive reports on HBS and Stanford GSB.


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