Dear Prep Professor — I am applying to Harvard Business School, what is HBS looking for in their MBA applications?
You’ve set your sights high, my friend. Last year, the Harvard Business School accepted about 1 in 10 applicants. So your question is what distinguishes the one candidate who was accepted by Harvard from the nine who were not.
I have a theory to share with you based on my 5+ years of admissions consulting experience: the applicants who receive acceptance letters to HBS demonstrate tremendous leadership potential in their business school applications.
Perhaps, you are thinking, “Duh, everyone knows that Harvard Business School is looking for leaders.”
Duh, indeed. The problem is that although everyone is aware that HBS and the other top-ranked MBA programs are looking for future leaders, few MBA applicants craft an application that persuades the admissions officers that they should be among the chosen few. The applicants who succeed do a fantastic job of convincing admissions committees of their potential for making a positive difference in the world.
How do you create an MBA application that proves you have unmatched leadership potential? I have carefully studied the applications of the applicants who received an HBS admissions letter. My search revealed three common denominators both in their make-up and, it follows, their applications: they all had talent, passion, and purpose.
To paraphrase the book, Now Discover Your Strengths, talents are “abilities and qualities that enable consistent, near perfect performance in a particular activity.” All of my superstar clients had impressive talents in one or more areas.
Passion has to do with the emotional energy that you direct toward your life pursuits, whether they be personal or professional. As a Harvard Business School admission director once said, “leaders leave footprints in their areas of passion.” My clients that earned acceptance letters from HBS were passionate people and you could see “footprints” in their areas of passion in their resume, essays, reference letters, and interview responses.
Purpose, or a sense of purpose, has to do with what you want to achieve in the world in a larger sense. Candidates who are accepted by Harvard Business School generally have a strong sense of purpose. They were driven to shake up an industry, or help people in need, or dedicate their lives to a cause that they cared deeply about. Typically, they had already taken small, or even big steps, toward fulfilling their sense of purpose.
Getting Into Harvard Business School
HBS is looking for leadership potential and the candidates who are accepted clearly demonstrate exceptional talents fueled by passion and directed by purpose.
If you are applying to HBS and other top-ranked business schools, a clear understanding of those three elements of leadership potential—talent, passion, and purpose—and how they work together in your case is the starting point for a successful application.
- What are my most impressive talents?
- What am I truly passionate about?
- What fills me with a sense of purpose?
Find the intersection of your talents, passion, and purpose in order to derive a unique expression of your own unique leadership potential.
Admission officers at the top-ranked business schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, admit MBA applicants who they believe have exceptional leadership potential. They do so because they understand what an MBA can actually provide. An MBA can supply knowledge, skills, relationships, and many new opportunities but it cannot provide talent, passion, and purpose. The students who are accepted already possess the potential to do great things on the day that their MBA classes begin.