Dee Leopold, who heads the admissions committee at Harvard, was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal to discuss the program’s admissions process. Below are some interesting points from her interview:
Only 12% of applicants were accepted to the program last year out of over 9000 who applied. Leopold read personally applications from the 1800 candidates who were invited to an interview, of which about half were accepted. She dedicates approximately 30 minutes to each application.
According to Leopold, the process is meant to screen out “undesirable qualities that would be toxic in our community” like arrogance. Harvard is looking for candidates who demonstrate confidence combined with modesty.
In terms of essays, Leopold says that their importance is often overestimated. “They’re very, very helpful for the candidate, and they’re a really good platform for starting a discussion in an interview, but we don’t admit people because of an essay. Sometimes the challenge in the essays is to be honest and to be clear. De-jargonizing is helpful.”
For the essay requesting three accomplishments, Leopold advises that though applicants are often advised by outsiders to write about one professional accomplishment, one personal, and one from the realm of community service, this is not necessarily what HBS is looking for.
For recommendations, Leopold states that the recommenders must know the candidate well, especially in order to answer questions like “”Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant.” A good recommendation is one that includes many verbs, not necessarily adjectives.
According to Leopold, candidates who look at the class profile in order to evaluate their fit should understand that the profile is a result and coincidental; Harvard does not plan it out in advance. Today Harvard accepts more engineers than ever, as well as more candidates with entrepreneurial backgrounds and international experience.