It's the time of year where I start having the "Round 2 conversation" a lot with individual clients. Basically, the idea is that Round 2 might be offering a slight advantage, based on theories of market inefficiencies and so forth. For years, the prevailing belief is that Round 1 is the best round to apply to business school. While there is no hard-core evidence to suggest otherwise, some common sense may point to a different result.
The latest MBA rankings from The Economist are out and people are understandably freaking out about some of the odd placements that you can find in their list. Poets and Quants has already done an impeccable job running all this down, so I am not going to try to repeat all the great work John Byrne already did. But you should definitely check out the P&Q piece on it. What I want to talk about is why I am happy P&Q ran that extensive post on those rankings (rather than dismissing them) and, indeed, why I am happy these Economist rankings even exist.
I just saw a whole lot of MBA essays over the past few months and now that Round 1 is (mostly) finished, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to jot down the most common mistake I saw for each of the most common essays I worked on with clients. Round 2 clients can get a leg up by simply avoiding these traps.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite HBS featuring the most publicized changing of the guard in admissions that I can remember, they are basically keeping their "open-ended" question style intact. In fact, more than keeping it intact, they have reverted to the more straight forward version they used in 2013 and 2014, rather than the more clever (but probably ultimately less effective) "introduction" prompt from last year.
And because they are staying in this lane, it means that my three thoughts need to stay in the same lane they have been in for years - because understanding the psychology behind this essay goes a long way to explaining how you might solve it.
As a follow up to my earlier post today (regarding the video HBS references in their essay prompt), I wanted to unleash a marathon of HBS Case Method videos that I found during my research. So grab some popcorn and sit back - this is sure to beat the Game of Thrones marathon you had planned for tonight (but not really.) Ha.
Today we are going to talk about the new HBS application and what it means for applicants. We've already gone on record with our thoughts on how something like "this" (a school eliminating required essays) might impact our work as consultants, so this post is going to break down what this means for applicants. First, we are going to provide some context, to properly frame expectations.
Today, on her "Director's Blog", Dee Leopold of HBS explained some of the new ins and outs of the HBS 2+2 program.
Her explanation centered on the way all college seniors are being folded into the 2+2 pool of applicants and she stressed that it did not signal a sea change for 2+2 as much as it did reinforce that no college seniors will be going straight to Harvard Business School after graduation. In other words, HBS has always offered deferred admission spots to college seniors applying in the regular rounds one, two, and three, so now they will just be formally moved into the 2+2 pool. The part that Dee (one of my favorite admissions professionals, by the way - incredibly smart, loves her school, plays chess while others are often playing checkers) didn't get into was the removal of the "business major restriction" - in the past, business majors were not allowed to apply to 2+2, as the program was designed to pull people from disciplines such as engineering, humanities, and the arts. Obviously, now that all college seniors are being pushed out of the regular pool and into 2+2, that restriction had to be removed.
So what does any of it mean, exactly?
For starters - and we will stress that this is has a minor impact - it possibly makes the 2+2 pool a little tougher and it definitely makes the regular pool a little easier.
- Say there were 15 amazing college seniors to apply in a year that HBS decided to offer deferred admission to. In the past, those 15 spots were coming out of the 900 full-time seats, two years down the road. Now, either those spots will come out of those earmarked for traditional 2+2 students, or, since college seniors will be applying AFTER their more traditional "junior summer" counterparts, the size of that year's cohort will just swell a bit.
As for business majors, our instinct is that it will still be harder to earn a spot in the 2+2 program if you are coming from a business background.
- This is in part because the road is now paved for you to go do all the things a great HBS applicant should do in the business sector, but also because we believe the program was originally conceived in order to draw would-be law students, public policy students, med students, and PhDs into the b-school orbit. If that is a core philosophy - to capture incredibly bright young leaders and give them business training - then it stands to reason that there won't be massive changes in "typing."
Who should apply to 2+2?
- We actually haven't changed our stance on this much. We believe that anyone - yes, even a business major - who has strong academic chops, has displayed great leadership, and has the passion to apply SHOULD DO SO.
- Why? A couple of reasons: first, worst case scenario, this is a dry run that will transform the way you approach the next 2 - 6 years. Being asked to sit down and map out your strengths, articulate your goals, analyze who you are ... that's intense stuff and if you do it for real, with actual stakes, you will become a better employee and eventual b-school applicant. Even if you didn't get into HBS 2+2, if you take a real run at it and take the process seriously, you will absolutely accelerate your career and grad school time line.
- Second, there still seems to be a *slightly* easier chance at getting in. There simply aren't as many 20 and 21 year olds who have academic excellence, great leadership, and self awareness as there are 24, 25, and 26 year olds who have those same attributes. The field tends to crowd the more you hit the HBS sweet spot of 3 or 4 years out of school. You are up against not only the elite juniors and seniors from your year, but also the people who had the light bulb go off post-college. In other words, if you enjoy an advantage - ANY advantage - now, you should try to press it before people who currently aren't on your radar wind up passing you. Conversely, if you are not competitive now, take heart that you can lap a lot of superior candidates in a few years.
All told, whatever the reasons it was created and whatever small changes are being made administratively, 2+2 is a really cool program that gives college students a unique opportunity to walk the walk and see what they are made of.
A lot of truly exceptional people have been "found" this way already, and HBS is confident they will find many more. So are we.
Applying to HBS 2+2? Be sure to check out our free guide on How to Apply to HBS.
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