Top application tips from a Harvard MBA candidate

Application season can be quite overwhelming, Puja shares tips and her experience of getting accepted to the MBA program at Harvard University.

‘The answer is YES!’ 

This was the first line in the letter that told me that I shall be attending the prestigious Harvard Business School this fall. It was nothing short of a dream come true! I have to admit that the application required very strong determination and keen focus to present my best form and convince the admission committee that I was worth one of the spots in the diverse classroom that they were trying to build. There were many small steps that I had to think about before and during the applications. Whether it is what schools you want to apply to? Do I need a consultant? Do I even stand a chance at cracking a school of my choice? What experiences should I highlight in the essays? Trust me, having gone through the process myself, I can tell you that it can be quite overwhelming. 

So here are my top 3 tips to help you understand and plan the process better and give your best to the applications this season! 

Decide if you need a consultant 

This is a very important decision in your application process and involves significant research and contemplation. I had the innate fear that I would not be able to crack a school without a consultant! Everyone around me was also hiring one and I thought maybe just for be psychological satisfaction, I should take one. Well, I would suggest you take a step back and give this a thought. I spoke to a lot of people who had gone through the process and heard very mixed reviews ranging from consultants being a good way to discipline the process to them not being of any incremental use. It is important to identify why you need a consultant. While they do give a structure to the process, they also bring a very cookie cutter approach about what works and what does not based on their historical experiences. They can be very pricey with the ones in global consulting firms charging anywhere between US$4-5k for applications to 4 schools. So talk to a few of these consultants, some of your friends who have used them and also introspect on your own capabilities of managing the process and discipline of getting things done. 

Storyboard your essays 

I found it to be one of the most useful steps in my essay writing exercise for all the schools. I used to just lay out all the ideas that I had for the essay topics and then put some structure to it. It is important to note that we have very limited space to express our stories and it is important that you use it efficiently to tell the admission committee something that they do not already get from the remaining parts of your application. It made life really simple for me when I put down all the things I wanted to highlight to the admissions committee on a large board and then crossed out what I had already covered in my CV or application form. The idea was to use these items to make a coherent story and have each paragraph highlight certain qualities about me that would allow the reader to gauge certain traits about my personality and passions. 

Plan your submissions 

I have to be honest in admitting that I severely underestimated the time and effort it takes to get a one application done. I remember planning to do five schools in round one and only managed to complete three by the time I reached submission deadlines. If you are not sure that you are putting the best application you can, please reconsider submitting it and defer it to the next round. Spend adequate time in planning how much time you want to give to each element of the application as everything is equally important. Space out the drafts of your essay and keep enough time to check them for grammar and spelling errors. I would advise that you should try and get everything ready at least a week before the deadline and spend a full day on reviewing the entire application before submission. 

Be mindful that these include the recommendations as well. While the schools grant a few grace days for the recommendations, please plan this part with your recommenders and ensure that the submission goes on time. I remember the scare I had when one of my recommenders fell ill and I could not reach him on the last day. Thankfully I spoke to the school and found out that I have a few grace days, but it is better to save yourself from the scare! 

The application process was a great opportunity for me to step back and introspect about what I have done till date and how I want to take my career forward. While it was about getting the perfect application ready, it was also an amazing time to go down memory lane and think about that I had done in the past 5-7 years. When I look back and recall the six months I spent doing my applications, I realise that I miss it a bit too! The adrenaline to complete and submit the applications and then sit anticipating the interview call, jitters of meeting alumni and interviewers and finally looking forward to hearing the results. 

Always remember that it is as easy or difficult as you want to make it 🙂 Happy applications to you!!

Puja is attending the MBA program at Harvard Business School. To connect with Puja, click here.