Submitting your MBA application (Harvard Business School)

By Vincent Ho-Tin-Noe (last updated: October 14, 2019)

Just a few hours before the first application deadline for Harvard Business School, we thought that MBA applicants could use a checklist for items to review before hitting the “Submit” button.

View of Harvard University and the Charles River

View of Harvard University and the Charles River

[Author’s Note] Although we initially wrote this article with HBS in mind, it has now been edited to meet the needs of applicants to most MBA programs. Please let us know if you disagree with its content or think we missed anything. Thank you!

1. Thoughts About The Introduce Yourself Essay (Specific to HBS)

We recently covered the new application essay and overall HBS application process in several posts. Make sure to check them out.

2. Completing The Application Form

Most business schools have a lengthy online application form. You should allocate at least 3 hours to go through it and fill it properly. You will be asked about past job titles, exact employment dates, and compensation data. You will have to describe your employer, explain why you left the company, detail your key accomplishments and most significant challenges. You already should have some of this on your resume, but in a different format. Although Mrs. Leopold is telling you not to obsess, you’ll notice that it’s easy to spend 20 minutes writing a meaningful job description in the space allocated to your answer. And then you will go through the same excruciating process for your extra curricular activities, awards and recognition, and academic experience. Some candidates tend to describe the online form as a collection of mini-essays, and approach the form’s questions as such. Don’t fall into that trap. Do your best, but be ready to settle for good enough, unless you are willing to spend 10 hours filling that form. In any case, do not panic if the options from a specific drop down menu do not match perfectly your personal situation, and do not sweat over the limited space allocated to describe your work experiences. Filling this form properly is important, but keep in mind that the admissions committee will largely rely on your resume to assess your pre-MBA experience.

3. Have Your Letters of Recommendation Been Received By The School?

Another important piece of news for anxious applicants is that recommenders will often be given a tiny bit of slack to submit their letters of recommendation. Do not however expect to be given a lot of extra time, and try to make sure that your referrers submit their work a day or two before the deadline. Why not send them a courtesy email on the week end right before the deadline in order to make sure that they are on top of things, and offer to help should they face unexpected technical difficulties (most schools provide contact information in case your recommenders run into technical trouble)?

4. Perform Consistency Checks 

At Harvard Business School, only 20% of applicants will ultimately receive an invitation to an interview. Although you should not spend an unreasonable amount of time reviewing your application over and over again, do try your very best not to appear unprofessional. Get rid of typos and grammatical errors. Make sure that your resume and online form are telling consistent stories. Too many applicants recycle resumes, or engage in frantic copy / pasting behaviors close to the MBA application deadline, and forget to update a thing or two. Save some time to verify all start and end dates, locations, or job titles you list. Once you are done, print your application and read it one last time. If you can, get someone to read it as well and provide you feedback. Having a fresh pair of eyes to review your work is definitely a plus. After weeks working on your application, you may no longer be able to spot obvious errors or inconsistencies in your application. Do not underestimate this last consistency check, and do not review your work after hitting the submit button. Because if you spot an error then, you won’t be able to sleep for several weeks.

5. Anticipate Background Checks (e.g. with Kroll and ReVera) 

On a final note, although I’m sure this goes without saying, do not lie or embellish anything on your application. If your job title differs from your HR title, mention it. There is enough space in the online form to do so. Do not artificially fill gaps in your employment history. If you are converting your grades to a 4.0 GPA, do so rigorously (WES offers tools to do so). Or follow Dee’s advice and just list 0.0 to let the admissions team know that you did not get a GPA on a 4.0 scale. Everything in your application can be checked after you receive an admission offer. Kroll and ReVera will report any inconstancies to the school. And admissions offer can be rescinded if inconsistencies cannot be explained. Do not try your luck. It’s not worth it. If you are not sure what to select between different options, pick the one that can be easily verified. We hope this is helpful. Feel free to reach out should you need a last minute review of your application file. Good luck!

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