Last week HBS published its 2013 application that included a significant modification from previous years’ applications- only two essays with an overall word limit of 800 words compared with four essays and a total word limit of 2000 words. Another interesting change for candidates invited for an interview is an additional essay about the essay experience (and what they wish they had said in the interview…) they are required to submit through the online system within 24 hours post-interview.
In addition, Harvard pulled up the Round 1 deadline to 9.24.12, what apparently testifies to their expectation of more applications this year due to the decrease in essays. In an interview with Poets & Quants, Dee Leopold, Director of Admissions at Harvard explained the reasons for the change. According to Leopold, the change stems from improvements in the program of study at HBS, which now requires more introspection from the students. The change also matches her belief that the essays have become too significant in the application process and that it is not meant to be a writing contest. While in the past there were no interviews and essays were the sole means to get to know the applicant and his or her personality, today every admitted applicant has undergone an interview and therefore the interview plays a greater role at the expense of the essays. Leopold insists that candidates should be thrilled with the changes in that they are given the last word following the interview and have the opportunity to write what they wish they had said. On the other hand, the short window of time candidates are given to submit the essay after the interview may be stressful. In terms of interviews, last year 9,060 people submitted applications to Harvard, about 2,200 were invited to interview, and 1,100 were accepted to the program (acceptance rate of 12%).
The reduction in number of essays at Harvard stands out among the other top programs that still require 3-4 essays with an overall word limit of 1,500-2,000. According to Leopold, the change is experimental and they are always changing and improving the process in order to closely match the application process to the program of study. She adds that the change is not connected to the decrease in applications HBS has reported in the last two years. Last year showed a decrease of 4% and only 9,331 applications were submitted, and this year showed an additional 4% decrease with only 8,963 submitted applications.