Harvard. The name immediately establishes itself as an authority, a gold standard which demands respect and inspires awe. It is the place where tomorrow happened yesterday. It is the gathering place of the intellectuals, the visionaries, the pioneers and the entrepreneurs. It is the Mecca of great minds, demanding pilgrimage by those of a worthy caliber. It is the goal of each and every individual aspiring for greatness to experience the awe and might that one is imbued with, once homage is paid to Harvard. While there are numerous qualities that are desirable in a potential candidate, the following is a list of qualities that are unique to HBS applicants.

How to Demonstrate Your 'Fit' for

Harvard Business School (HBS)

HBS pioneered the case method, and its Web site explains that via this method, students find themselves “in the role of the decision maker. There are no simple solutions; yet through the dynamic process of exchanging perspectives, countering and defending points, and building on each other’s ideas, students become adept at analyzing issues, exercising judgment, and making difficult decisions—the hallmarks of skillful leadership.” Students both learn from and teach their classmates, and although professors facilitate the discussions, they never provide “the answer”—especially given that simple or “correct” answers rarely exist for the problems presented. In some courses, students might be able to provide more insight or share more lessons, given their past experiences, but in others, these students will benefit more from the expertise of their section mates. Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student.  To succeed at getting into HBS, you must articulate how you’d succeed in this type of environment:  demonstrating that you have an expertise and knowledge to share, and that you’re willing to learn from others.

HBS’ stated mission is to “develop outstanding leadership who contribute to the well-being of society.” It champions its brand as being leadership-focused, and successful candidates must champion their potential as leaders in their application, and should be articulated in any example mentioned in the application – at work, in college, and in the community.  The best examples of leadership to show, to appeal to Harvard, are those that show impact and prove an ability to influence others’ actions.  You should also demonstrate how your leadership prowess and style has matured over time, which HBS refers to as your “leadership evolution”. Likewise, in stating your career goals, it’s important to articulate how you want to make an impact as a leader in the business world.

HBS is famous for its case study learning method, and students can expect to have read more than 500 cases by the time they graduate.  Students spend much of their time outside the classroom reading that day’s cases with other members of their “section” – the 80 to 90 students you take your first semester, required curriculum with. Successful contribution at HBS requires that you be comfortable stating your opinion and speaking up with authority.  While some would find HBS’ case study method, where you’re called upon at random to summarize the case and your recommendation – stressful, HBS seeks to attract students who thrive in such an environment, where open dialogue and defending your point of view is integral.  Articulating how ability to contribute to open discussions and how you would benefit from the case study method are both musts during the application process.

Students are expected to draw from their own experiences and background, and as such, HBS prides itself on seeking a diverse student body with unique and varied professional backgrounds, which they hope will generate a diverse array of perspectives. The section-based learning model is also unique to HBS, which openly communicates that the primary job of an HBS student is to teach his or her classmates.

More than most programs, HBS does pay attention to the brand of your undergraduate institution.  That being said, don’t let that scare you away if you don’t come from a well-known, Ivy League institution.  A typical HBS class has representation from over 250 undergraduate schools.  But don’t shy away from articulating in your application the quality of the education you received as an undergraduate and your in-school accomplishments.  In fact, HBS is one of a few top programs that doesn’t mind recommendations from former professors, as long as that professor can talk about your leadership goals, and as long as that recommendation is supplemented by another, professional one.

HBS expects its students to remain active as alumni, so it is in your best interest to articulate how you’ve continued to contribute to your undergraduate institution.

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