Harvard Business School — MBA Program & Application Overview (2024)

Applying to the prestigious Harvard Business School? Read this guide for the most practical strategies and tips curated by the best MBA admissions coaches in the world and HBS alumni to get you that much closer to your dream school.

Posted March 12, 2024

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Harvard Business School (HBS) has long been considered one of the most distinguished business schools in the world. With its general management curriculum-focused business education, opportunities for industry experience, and world-class faculty, the HBS MBA program consistently has one of the lowest acceptance rates. Read on to learn more about this leading business school and how to earn a seat in the next MBA class.

Harvard Business School Class Profile (Class of 2025)

  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Class Size: 938
  • Applicants: 8,149
  • Acceptance Rate: 11.5%
  • Average Work Experience: 4.9 years
  • Median GMAT Score: 740 (Verbal: 42, Quant: 49)
  • Median GRE Score: 163 Quant, 163 Verbal
  • Average GPA: 3.73
  • Women: 45%
  • International: 39%
  • Students of Color: 37%
  • First-Generation: 13%

"Our students share the following characteristics: a habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship."

HBS Admissions Committee

Application Overview (2023-2024)

HBS Deadlines and Decision Dates

Application RoundApplication DeadlineDecision Notifications
Round 1September 6, 2023December 6, 2023
Round 2January 3, 2024March 27, 2024
Deferred April 25, 2024 June 27, 2024

*Note that all application materials must be submitted online by 12pm (noon) Boston time

For more info on HBS' deadlines, see: Harvard Business School MBA Application Deadlines (2023-2024)


You must submit either the GMAT or the GRE for your MBA application. HBS accepts both tests and does not have a preference for either. When choosing an exam, consider your strengths. The GMAT is understood to have a harder quantitative section, while the GRE has a more robust Verbal section.

  • Round 1 — Your GMAT or GRE test must fall on or between September 6, 2018 to September 6, 2023
  • Round 2 — Your GMAT or GRE test must fall on or between January 3, 2019 to January 3, 2024
  • 2+2 — Your GMAT or GRE test must fall on or between April 25, 2019 to April 25, 2024

Application Essays

MBA Essay Prompt

Here is the essay prompt for the full-time MBA degree application:

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? (900 words)

Joint Program Essay Prompts

For those applying to joint degree programs with the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School, an additional essay is required:

How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 words)

Our Top Tips:

  • Give yourself at least three months to draft, write, and edit your essay. Don’t underestimate how difficult this is!
  • Be as authentic as possible. You want the admissions committee to understand who you are, and feel what you feel, when they read your essay
  • Don’t regurgitate your resume. It’s okay to tell professional stories, but make sure they relate to the story you’re telling
  • Help the admissions committee understand your major life decisions, how they fit together, and WHY you’ve done what you’ve done
  • Finally, some practical tips & tricks:
    • (1) Answer the question. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many applicants don’t answer the prompt
    • (2) Be specific, and quantify any results you share with clear and concise language. Details can make or break your essay
    • (3) Get vulnerable, and be honest. The worst thing you can do is try and predict what the admissions committee wants to hear, and regurgitate that. That’s a guaranteed way to bore the admissions committee
    • (4) Don’t exaggerate, inflate, or lie. Full stop

Letters of Recommendation

You’ll need two letters of recommendation submitted on or before the deadline of the round you’re applying in. Harvard does not have any requirements for who these recommenders should be: how well the person knows you takes priority over seniority level, and the admissions committee understands that not every applicant can ask a current direct supervisor for a recommendation. When choosing your recommenders, seek out people who know you well. That can be a former supervisor, a colleague, or someone you’ve collaborated with on an activity outside of work. Your recommenders will fill out a personal qualities and skills grid, and answer two additional questions:

  • How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)
  • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)

Click here for our free Leland Recommender Prep Doc.

HBS Interviews

Once you’ve submitted your application, you may be invited for an interview. An interview is a strong indicator of interest from the school, but of course, it’s not a guarantee of admission. Interviews are by invitation only and take place on campus, in domestic or international hub cities, or via video conference. Whether the interview is in person or via conference has no bearing on your odds of acceptance. The HBS interview is 30 minutes long and conducted by an MBA Admissions Board member who has thoroughly reviewed your application. HBS is famous for drilling down on things written in your resume, and for probing as to WHY you made the decisions you have, so be prepared to explain, and defend, your career and story.

Post-Interview Reflection:

Within 24 hours of the interview, you are required to submit a written reflection. This is your chance to share thoughts, feelings, and lessons learned from your interview. There’s no prescription, other than to be honest and open.

Other Application Items


  • You will need to upload a current business resume demonstrating at least two years of full-time work experience

Academic Transcripts

  • Traditional — a U.S. Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited institution is required. Degrees from international universities with three-year baccalaureate programs are also accepted
  • 2+2 — this program is open to graduating seniors earning their Bachelor’s Degree. You must graduate from your program between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023. (Candidates in joint Bachelor/Master’s Degree programs are eligible to apply, as are candidates from Master’s Degree programs who began graduate school directly after completing their undergraduate degree and have not held a full-time work position)
  • If your transcript is not yet available, you may upload an “unofficial” or student copy. However, once you are admitted, you will be required to submit the official copy to HBS

Application Fee

  • To apply, you’ll need to pay the $250 nonrefundable application fee
  • Fees are waived for all active duty military applicants and past SVMP participants. If you have financial constraints, you can apply for a need-based fee waiver.
  • If your income is $65,000 or less, a fee waiver will automatically be applied for your application
  • If you're applying to the 2+2 Program, the fee is $100

You can learn more about the admissions process through the HBS admissions page, where they post upcoming campus and virtual events and insights from current students, or by subscribing to their mailing list.

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Harvard Business School MBA Program Overview

Year One


The Harvard Business School MBA curriculum is constantly evolving, but it’s designed to cover broad-based fundamentals in business education, teach candidates how to manage organizations, and set them up to learn throughout life through real world practice and conceptual learning.

Harvard runs on the semester system. During their first year at HBS, all students pursue the same course of study: the required curriculum and FIELD (a global immersion course in which students work with a Global Partner company to address a product or service challenge). Harvard seeks to educate leaders on practical skills and to bridge the knowing-doing gap through this early exposure to the corporate world. HBS operates exclusively on the rigorous and academically challenging case method.

Required Courses:

  • Finance 1 (FIN1)
  • Financial Reporting and Control (FRC)
  • Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)
  • Marketing
  • Technology & Operations Management (TOM)
  • Short Intensive Programs (SIPs)


The required curriculum and FIELD program continue into spring semester. The FIELD curriculum complements case-method learning, featuring smaller hands-on team projects, personal reflection, and immersions. Harvard MBA students also learn standards of communication and collaboration, which helps develop strong and lasting personal and professional relationships.

Required Courses:

  • Business, Government, and the International Economy (BGIE)
  • Strategy (STRAT)
  • The Entrepreneurial Manager (TEM)
  • Finance 2 (FIN2)
  • Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA)
  • FIELD Immersion

Year Two


In their second year, HBS students choose from a wide range of elective courses, which will round out their business education and integrate the functional education from the first year into a total management understanding.

MBA students can select up to five courses per semester. They are also given the opportunity to cross-register for courses in other select graduate schools.

Sample Electives

  • Accounting & Management
  • Business, Government & the International Economy
  • Entrepreneurial Management
  • General Management
  • Negotiation, Organizations & Markets
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Strategy


In their final semester, HBS MBA students choose from more electives, spanning topics from corporate board leadership to authentic leadership development to managing global health.

Sample Electives:

  • Institutions, Macroeconomics, and the Global Economy
  • Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism
  • Product Management
  • Building Trusted Organizations
  • U.S. Healthcare Strategy


HBS students are also permitted to cross-enroll at one of the following institutions (among others):

  • Sloan School of Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University
  • Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
  • Entrepreneurship Lab at MIT

Students can enroll in up to two non-HBS courses in their second year, and still get credit toward their MBA, so long as the course is not duplicative of any core HBS classes and is at a graduate level (though some students may enroll at Harvard University for select classes, such as for language enrichment).

Harvard Business School Student Experience

Once students enroll at HBS, they are assigned a specific “section,” a group of approximately 90 students that spends its entire first year, with all of the required curricula, together. In their sections, HBS students experience a diverse mix of backgrounds, interests, experiences, and ambitions.

Section Life at HBS

First week at HBS? Here’s what you need to know.

Joint Degree Programs

JD/MBA — Harvard Law School

The JD/MBA is the oldest MBA joint degree at Harvard. This four-year joint degree prepares graduates for professional roles that require leadership, legal expertise, and a general management perspective in private enterprise, government, or nonprofit sectors.

Joint Medical Degree Programs

MBA/DMD — Harvard School of Dental Medicine

The mission of this joint degree is to educate leaders in both dentistry and management, combining fundamental management skills with core science concepts for careers in practice administration, medical device entrepreneurship, public health, and more.

MD/MBA — Harvard Medical School

Harvard seeks to develop outstanding physician leaders, skilled in both medicine and management, through this joint degree. Alumni of this program go on to work in a variety of sectors, such as hospital management, academia, and biotechnology.

Joint Masters Degree Programs

MBA/MPP and MBA/MPA-ID— Harvard Kennedy School

Combining an MBA degree with a Master in Public Policy or a Master in Public Administration-International Development prepares students for work on pressing world issues that require collaboration between business, government, and nonprofit institutions to contribute to the well-being of society.

MS/MBA (Engineering Sciences) — Harvard School of Engineering and Social Sciences

The MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences double degree exists to train entrepreneurs and innovators with a deep understanding of technology and management to design business models, products, and organizations and prepares them for leadership and founder roles in technology ventures.

MS/MBA (Biotechnology: Life Sciences) — Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

This joint degree equips students with the latest business and scientific knowledge, after which they’re empowered to lead organizations that will advance new drug discoveries and therapeutics and understand the ethical and social impacts of biotechnology ventures.

HBS 2+2 Program

  • The 2+2 program is HBS’s deferred MBA program. Once you’re admitted you will spend two to four years working professionally before enrolling. It’s a great way for ambitious college/graduate school-aged students to secure their spot at Harvard before they’ve even graduated.
  • Work experience isn’t limited to a particular industry; you can work in a public, private, or nonprofit organization before enrolling at HBS
  • To learn more, click here: An Overview of the 2+2 Program; you’ll also find more information about deferred MBA programs here: Top 10 Deferred MBA Programs

Meet HBS Admits & Applicants in Leland’s Free Slack Community

If you’re applying to HBS, boost your odds by joining the Leland MBA Applicant Community. It’s a free, private community of MBA applicants, admits, and world-class admissions coaches, all here to answer questions, give feedback, share stories, and help each other through the admissions process.

Membership in the Community is by invitation only. To apply, click below.

Harvard Business School FAQs

Who is HBS looking for?

Harvard Business School is looking for candidates with three primary qualifications, as expressed on their website:

  • Habit of Leadership

    Leadership comes in many form — from college extracurriculars to business achievements — and on many scales, from small to big projects, from organizing classrooms to running your own business. HBS believes that your potential is what matters most.
  • Analytical Aptitude and Appetite

    HBS does not require you take a particular course of study, but asks that you be able to demonstrate mastery of analytical and quantitative concepts. The MBA Admissions team will review your prior academic performance, your GMAT and GRE results, and if applicable, TOEFL, IBT and/or IELTS. They’ll also evaluate the nature of your work experience. At HBS, courses are demanding, fast-paced, and highly verbal in nature. As a result, HBS looks for people who enjoy lively discussions and debates. HBS employs case and field-based methods, you should be able to assess, analyze, and act upon complex, often ambiguous, information.
  • Engaged Community Citizenship

    Collaboration is key in within the HBS community — the case method, section life, and student-organized events require active participation. Students are expected to exhibit the highest ethical standards and respect for others, and to make positive contributions to the MBA program. The right candidate should eagerly share their experiences, support their colleagues, and both teach and learn from peers.

How do I apply to Harvard Business School?

  • The HBS admissions process consists of a written application, which includes a resume, letters of recommendation, and several essays, followed by (for those offered) an interview with an HBA admissions officer. The exact requirements depend on whether you’re a joint degree applicant, 2 +2 applicant, international applicant, executive MBA applicant, and/or re-applicant.

Which standardized tests does HBS accept?

  • HBS accepts either the GMAT or the GRE. They do not have a preference for either test.

When is the last time I can take the GMAT or GRE?

  • You should take the GMAT or GRE before submitting your application. Unofficial scores are accepted at the time of application, but every applicant must request to have their official scores submitted to HBS.

In which part of the application may I enter additional information, including special circumstances?

  • If you have important details that you want the Admissions Committee to know, you can add them in the Additional Information section of the application.

How do I add new information if I have already submitted my application?

  • If you’ve already submitted your application, you cannot edit it. The only thing you can update is your contact information. If you want to change something on your application, you can inform the Board during your interview.

Does the reputation/history of my undergraduate institution or company affect my chances of being accepted?

  • No. Harvard Business school puts an emphasis on diversity, and therefore considers individuals from a wide spectrum of academic and work experiences and diverse backgrounds.

Is there an application fee, and can it be waived?

  • Yes. There is a non-refundable application fee of $250 (USD). 2+2 applicants need only pay $100. All active duty military applicants and past SVMP participants do not have to pay the fee. You may also apply for a need-based waiver or automatically qualify for one based on your income.

How many years of work experience is HBS looking for?

  • This depends on each candidate. The HBS MBA program is designed for applicants with at least two years of full-time work experience before enrolling, but if you are a college senior, you can apply through the 2+2 program (deferred admission).

What constitutes work experience?

  • Work experience includes professional opportunities in which the applicant has been able to develop his or her own professional and leadership skills.

Are there specific types of work experience that will make me a more attractive candidate?

  • Applicants should focus less on the type of experience and more on their roles and responsibilities within their jobs, and what they learned on said jobs. Specific categories of work experiences are not that important, as HBS welcomes diverse backgrounds. The Admissions Board will look at the nature of an applicant's work experience and their ability to handle the academic rigor of a Harvard MBA education.

From whom should recommendations come?

  • Your recommenders should be people who know you well and can attest to your leadership ability.

What is the process for recommenders?

  • First, you, the candidate, will enter your recommenders’ names and email addresses into your online application. Then your recommenders will receive an email instructing them to fill out the recommendation. Recommendations are submitted separately but will be automatically batched with the rest of your application. Don’t wait for your recommenders to submit their letters before you submit your own application.

Is the recommendation deadline the same as the application deadline?

  • Yes. Recommenders are encouraged to submit their recommendations when they’re ready. It’s your responsibility as the applicant to ensure the recommender submits their materials in advance of the deadline.

When should I expect an invitation for an interview?

  • Invitations for interviews are sent on a rolling basis. The timing of your interview does not impact your application. Invitations to interview are always a positive indicator no matter when you receive them.

What should I expect for my interview?

  • Interviews can last approximately 30 minutes. You’ll be interviewed by a member of the Harvard MBA Admissions Board. It can take place either in-person interview or via Zoom/video conference.

How can I best prepare for my HBS interview?

  • The interview is designed to get to know you / understand you better as an MBA candidate. HBS encourages its applicants to relax and be ready to talk about themselves.

How can I learn more about the Post Interview Reflection?

  • Once you are done with the interview, HBS will send you the details for your Post Interview Reflection. Candidates should submit their essays via the online application; the deadline is 24 hours after you complete your interview.

Whom should I contact if I have a question regarding my application status?

  • You may contact ApplyTech@hbs.edu for any technical questions about the application.

Will HBS provide feedback for applicants who have been rejected?

  • Because they receive a large number of applications, HBS does not accommodate requests for personalized feedback on your application. The decision of the Board is final, and HBS cannot advise you on whether or not you should reapply in the future.

How long can I defer my acceptance?

  • If you are applying as a traditional candidate, you should submit applications only for the year in which you plan to enter the full-time MBA program. Postponements and deferrals are only granted on a case-by-case basis.

What Round should I apply for 2+2?

  • There is a designated round for deferred candidates, with a deadline in April.

I am in the process of getting a master’s degree. Am I eligible for the 2+2 program?

  • Yes. You can apply to the HBS 2+2 program if you are completing your Master’s Degree, as long as you began your Master's degree directly after completing your Bachelor's degree.

Are international students eligible to apply to the 2+2 Program?

  • Yes, Harvard Business School welcomes applications from around the world.

Is an interview required for admission to the 2+2 Program? If so, what should I expect from the interview process?

  • Yes, 2+2 applicants are also invited for an interview by the MBA Admissions Board. If invited, you must participate in order to complete the application process. HBS does not admit anyone without an interview.

Key Takeaways

  • Harvard Business School offers a rigorous business education through its MBA degree making it a highly competitive business school to apply to.
  • Students can cross-register at other graduate schools or enroll in joint degrees to round out their business education and gain industry experience through hands-on learning opportunities.
  • The application process involves taking the GMAT or GRE, writing a compelling essay, participating in an interview, and submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a resume.
  • In your application, consider how you will meet the three primary qualifications at HBS: habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship

Here are a few other articles you may find helpful as you research and apply to MBA programs:

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