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Business Schools

A Talk with Harvard's Admissions Director

Q: Deana, some B-school students say they're interested in learning about ethics as an important part of the MBA degree but that when they get out into the real world, it's hard to apply those lessons. Do you and your classmates get the sense that ethical values will be hard to implement practically?

Menkes: As for implementation, I don't think the dilemma confronts an MBA any differently than it confronted us before we joined business school. From that perspective, [ethics instruction in B-school] maybe gives us some additional insight into handling ethical dilemmas and hopefully some additional tools for managing situations.

The case-study method [puts us] into situations in which we've had to confront such issues head-on and think about a manager's dilemma. So I would hope that going forward, we would approach this situation by creating a new openness within our organizations.

Q: How is the application volume this year?

Dewey: We're still receiving applications, so we'll see the net results in the middle of March when we get our last round in. We've just had two consecutive years of record applications to Harvard Business School. At this point, I don't see us exceeding last year's level. But I think it's quite likely that we'll come in somewhere between two years ago and this past year.

Q: Are you seeing more applicants from any particular industries?

Dewey: It depends on the time period you look at. One of the things we're pleased about is a sharp increase in the number of folks who've applied to us from social enterprises. From consumer products, health care, and biotech companies, as well.

Also if you talk to Matt Merrick, our career-services director, we have seen, with the class that graduated, more students going into areas like health care, biotech, and marketing (see BW Online, 8/1/02, "A Tough Job in a Tough Job Market").

Q: Is that a result of efforts on your part or something that happened because of other issues, like the economy?

Dewey: Certainly economic issues always shape applicant pools. But one of the things that we've tried to stress is the breadth of application of the MBA degree to many different industries in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. [We stress] that many candidates from different industry and educational backgrounds come to Harvard Business School.

Q: Is it harder to gain acceptance in the third and final application round than it is in the first two rounds?

Dewey: There's no significant difference in applying for round one, two, or three. That said, most of our applicants apply in the first two rounds, and we take most of our admits out of the first two rounds. But there are always some fantastic candidates who apply in the third round and who are admitted.

The one thing, though, that we do say to folks who apply in the third round, is to be aware that there are logistical challenges to being admitted in third rounds.

One, if you're an international student, we need to admit you, have you line up your financing, and have your visa issued, all in order for you to get to campus in the summer. We want to make sure that we have enough time to go through that process, and sometimes it's really tight for folks who apply in the third round.

The second point is that at Harvard Business School, many folks want to live on campus. That, I think, is one of the best things about the HBS experience -- we're a residential community, and we value that. If you apply in the third round, you'll miss some deadlines for getting into dormitories or affiliated housing at HBS.

Q: Where else do HBS students or applicants apply to?

Dewey: HBS applicants apply most frequently to Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, and Columbia.

Q: HBS's yield rate was exceptionally high at 89% last year. Where did the other 11% go?

Dewey: The majority of folks who didn't come to Harvard Business School went to Stanford.

Q: What common mistakes frustrate you as an admissions officer when you read them time and again?

Dewey: First and most important, a candidate who hasn't taken the time to think about where they've been, where they want to go, and how Harvard Business School fits into that. The types of things on which we're asking you to comment on the application aren't just what your experience has been, but what are your insights?

It takes a lot of time and reflection to tell us your story. I think that there are candidates who spend too little time trying to understand themselves and why Harvard makes sense. People who haven't done their homework...aren't able to explain to us all the dimensions of who they are.

Q: You mentioned that you want to hear the applicant's voice in the application. Do you have any tips to make sure that voice comes through?

Dewey: Sure. The best way possible, by definition, is be yourself. That's what we're looking for. We want a sense of who you are. We may meet you [in person] if we invite you to interview, but when we're reading the application we're also trying to "meet" you, to really understand you.

Take the time to reflect and to write your essays in your own voice, from your own perspective, and share that with someone who knows you really well. Have them read your essays and react. They know you well. They can they say, "Yes, that's you."

Q: Deana, what unifying traits do you see among HBS students?

Menkes: There are a range of attributes. My colleagues are driven people, generally, in all aspects of their lives. I also think that they're very giving people. A lot of sharing goes on, a lot of cooperation, and teamwork.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you when you started attending classes at HBS?

Menkes: The community itself. Every place on campus is like a student union, with peers constantly milling around, chatting in the library, chatting in the beautiful facilities of the cafeteria.

On a grand scale, what probably surprised me is how willing folks were to help students like myself who maybe had a less extensive business background before coming here. They give of their time, at any time during the day, to discuss a case or help with some dilemma, or even with personal issues.

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