Admissions Q&A: Harvard Business School
Harvard’s Deirdre Leopold explains that the best way for applicants to stand out is to avoid "overcrafting, overthinking, overwriting"
Harvard Business School is buzzing with excitement, says Deirdre Leopold, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at HBS. With fresh talent in leadership roles, including Dean Nitin Nohria, who took on the position in July 2010, the school is renewing itself. For starters, it is inviting rising undergraduate seniors to apply throughout the year, rather than only in the summer, for the 2+2 Program, which offers new college graduates a guaranteed berth in an MBA class after working full time for two years. In addition, the school is launching a new, required course for first-year MBA students, which is designed to have them work in small groups and roll up their sleeves for hands-on projects.
The school also wants applicants to know that anyone, regardless of his or her financial standing, can apply to the HBS MBA program. Harvard has students apply for financial aid after they get accepted, and generous alumni share their wealth, says Leopold. "As alumni look back on their experience at this school, they want to make sure that the very best candidates, regardless of where they come from economically, have access to this place," adds Leopold, a 1980 HBS graduate who has worked in the admissions office ever since. "Therefore we have a significant pool of resources to draw from for need-based financial aid."
Stressing that great thought and care go into the admissions process, Leopold, who became admissions director in 2006, says her team takes a holistic approach to applications and never relies on any formulas or point-based systems in making admissions decisions. Her best advice to candidates, she adds, is to be themselves. The big secret, Leopold says, is that Harvard wants to accept candidates. "It’s no fun to say, ‘No,’" she adds. "It’s fun to say, ‘Yes.’" Recently, Leopold discussed new programs and what it takes to get into HBS with Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation.
What’s new at Harvard Business School?
We have an exciting new course that is going to be required of all first-year students. The course, Field Immersion Experience for Leadership Development (FIELD), has three modules and is going to run continuously throughout the first year. It is meant to supplement our signature pedagogy, the case method, and it gives our students a chance to work in small groups to put into practice the things they’ve been discussing in their case-method classrooms. In the first year, our class of 900 is divided into sections of 90. FIELD is a way to get people working in small groups of about six, which will constantly evolve so you won’t be with the same group of six for the entire year.
The leadership module will allow small groups to work closely with faculty to explore their reasons for being at Harvard Business School and try out some of the things they have been advising our case protagonists to do, like giving and receiving feedback. They’ll consider questions, such as, "How do you lead?"
Module two, Geo, is a way to get our students into the real world. We’ll be going to 14 different organizational sites in 11 countries, all of which are emerging economies, to perform a product development exercise. Countries will include China, South Africa, and Vietnam, among others.
The third module is an integrative exercise in entrepreneurship. Our students are actually going to start little companies with real customers and resources. This is meant to be an integrative exercise that puts together all the things they’ve learned across the 10 [other] required courses. The students will be responsible for customers, marketing, etc., and they may fail. This will be enhanced by a new building on campus, the Harvard Innovation Lab (iLab), which is going to have space available for students to work in unusual configurations, unlike a traditional classroom.