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Harvard Business School — MBA Program & Application Overview (2022)

Applying to 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.

February 3, 2023

Harvard Business School (HBS) has long been considered one of the top MBA programs in the world. With its general management curriculum, international student body, and world-class faculty, HBS consistently has one of the lowest acceptance rates at 11-12%. Read on to learn more about this venerable institution and how to earn a seat in the next class.

Class Profile (2024)

  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Class Size: 1,015
  • Applicants: 8,264
  • Acceptance Rate: 11-12%
  • Average Work Experience: 5 years
  • Median GMAT: 730 (Verbal: 42, Quant: 48)
  • Median GRE: 163 Quant, 163 Verbal
  • Average GPA: 3.70
  • Women: 46% of class
  • International: 38% of class
  • Students of Color: 40%
  • 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 (Class of 2024)

HBS Deadlines

Round 1: September 7, 2022 at 12pm EST

  • Decisions released December 8, 2022

Round 2: January 4, 2023 at 12pm EST

  • Decisions released March 29, 2023

Deferred: April 27, 2023

  • Decisions released July 6, 2023

*Note: Applications must be submitted online by 12pm (noon) Boston time on the day of the deadline.

GMAT/GRE

HBS requires that you submit either the GMAT or the GRE. It accepts both tests and does not have a preference for either.

When choosing an exam, consider your strengths. Traditionally, the GMAT is understood to have a harder quantitative section, while the GRE has a more robust Verbal section.

To read more, click here: GMAT vs. GRE for Business School—Which to Take and How to Ace Both

HBS Essays

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)

Our best 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 all 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. 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

*Note: This year, Harvard changed the word limit for the first time from unlimited to 900.

Read more here: A Guide to the HBS Essay and How to Write a Powerful MBA Essay

Recommendations

HBS Recommender Requirements

For the HBS application, you’ll need two recommendations submitted on or before the deadline of the round you’re applying in.

HBS uses the Common Letter of Recommendation, which means 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)

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. How well the person knows you takes priority over seniority level.

Click here to read more about How to Get the Perfect MBA Recommendation Letter, and 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.

For HBS, interviews are by invitation only. Interviews can 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 interview is 30 minutes long. It is conducted by an MBA Admissions Board member who has thoroughly reviewed your application (i.e. it is not blind). HBS is famous for drilling down on things written in your resume, and for probing as to WHY you made the decisions you have. 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. The reflection is your chance to share thoughts, feelings, and lessons learned from your interview. There’s no prescription, other than to be honest and open.

To read more, click here for How to Ace Your HBS Interview (written for deferred applicants but applicable to traditional and executive candidates). You’ll find broader, general interview tips here — How to Ace Your MBA Interview: With Prep Questions and Answers.

Other Application Items

Application Fee

  • To apply, you’ll need to pay the $250 nonrefundable application fee. This is to offset the cost of reviewing applications. Fees are waived for all active duty military applicants and past SVMP participants. If you have financial constraints, HBS offers need-based fee waivers.
  • If you’re applying to the 2+2 Program, the fee is $100.

GMAT/GRE Result Timing

  • Round 1 — Your GMAT or GRE test must fall on or between September 7, 2017 to September 7, 2022
  • Round 2 — Your GMAT or GRE test must fall on or between January 4, 2018 to January 4, 2023
  • 2+2 — Your GMAT or GRE test must fall on or between April 27, 2018 to TBD

Resume

Academic Transcripts

  • Traditional — a U.S. Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited institution is required. Degrees from international universities with three-year baccalaureate degrees are valid equivalents
  • 2+2 — this program is open to graduating seniors earning their Bachelor’s Degree. You must graduate from your program between October 1, 2021, and September 30, 2022. (Candidates in joint Bachelor/Master’s Degree programs are eligible to apply, as are candidates from Master’s Degree programs who 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

Expert MBA Admissions Coaches on Leland

… and many more! Click here for our full roster of world-class MBA admissions coaches.

HBS Program Overview

Year One, Fall

The HBS curriculum is constantly evolving, but it’s designed to touch on broad-based fundamentals, teach candidates how to manage organizations, and set them up to learn throughout life.

HBS 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 program).

HBS operates exclusively on the case method, meaning students will study cases about relevant companies, and prepare class materials related to that company and case. The case method is rigorous and academically demanding.

Subjects:

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

Year One, Spring

The required curriculum and FIELD program continue during the spring semester.

The FIELD curriculum complements case-method learning, featuring smaller hands-on team projects, personal reflection, and immersions. In addition, students also learn standards of communication and collaboration, which helps develop strong and lasting personal and professional relationships.

Subjects:

  • 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, Fall

In their second year, HBS students choose from a wide range of elective courses, which build upon the required curriculum. This enables students to integrate the functional skills learned in 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 programs.

The following are offered as electives:

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

Year Two, Spring

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

Cross-Registration

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).

Joint Degree Programs

JD/MBA — Harvard Law School

The JD / MBA is the oldest MBA joint degree program at Harvard. It is offered by Harvard Law School (HLS) and Harvard Business School (HBS). The joint degree program integrates these two complementary disciplines and is completed in 4 years. It prepares graduates for professional roles that require leadership, legal expertise, and a general management perspective in private enterprise, government, or nonprofit sectors.

MBA/DMD — Harvard School of Medicine

The mission of this joint program is to develop commendable dentist leaders who are skilled in both dentistry and management. Graduates are meant to contribute to the health and wellbeing of individuals and of society more broadly.

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

The HBS/HKS joint degree programs have made it their mission to develop skilled leaders in management who also know how to shape innovative public policy. This dual degree program sends graduates to influential positions in business, government, and nonprofit organizations so that they can contribute significantly to a well-informed, civically engaged society.

MD/MBA — Harvard Medical School

This program's mission is to develop outstanding physician leaders, skilled in both medicine and management, to take positions of influence through which they will contribute substantially to the health and wellbeing of individuals and society.

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

The MS/MBA: Engineering Sciences double degree program exists to train entrepreneurs and innovators with a deep understanding of technology and management. This program builds upon existing technical knowledge and skills and prepares students for leadership and founder roles in technology ventures.

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

This joint degree program builds on the existing biotech and life sciences knowledge of its students. It equips them with the latest business and scientific knowledge, after which they’re empowered to lead organizations that will advance new drug discoveries and therapeutics.

HBS Experience

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

See below for more information about sections and student life at HBS.

Section Life at HBS

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

HBS 2+2 Program

  • The 2+2 program is HBS’s deferred MBA program. Once you’re admitted you will spend at least two years working professionally before enrolling at Harvard. It’s a great way for young, 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.


HBS FAQs

Who is HBS looking for?

HBS 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 HBS?

  • 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.

How will my application to HBS be evaluated?

  • Your application will be reviewed in depth by the Admissions Board, which puts an emphasis on a habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship.

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. HBS puts an emphasis on diversity, and therefore considers individuals from a wide spectrum of academic and work experiences.

When I print the application in PDF format, parts of the application appear truncated, unclear and/or do not appear at all. Are these parts seen by the Admissions Board?

  • Once submitted, the Admission Office receives your entire application in the appropriate format. The application you see is an unformatted version of the final document.

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. As of July 2021, HBS offers a need-based application fee waiver; if you qualify, you can apply for it.

How many years of work experience is HBS looking for?

  • This depends on each candidate. The HBS MBA program is designed for applicants who have some amount 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. The Admissions Board will look at the nature of an applicant's work experience and their ability to handle the academic rigor of Harvard’s MBA program.

Whom should recommendations come from?

  • If possible, your HBS recommendation should come from a current or recent supervisor. 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. Read more about How to Get the Perfect MBA Letter of Recommendation.

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 MBA Admissions Board. It can take place either in-person interview or via Zoom/videoconference.

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. Read more about How to Ace Your MBA Interview.

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 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 have not worked full-time in between your undergraduate and graduate programs.

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

  • Yes, international students are very much welcome to apply.

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. To read more, check out How to Ace Your HBS 2+2 Interview

How many seats are available in the 2+2 program?

  • The 2+2 cohort size is usually in the 100 to 125 range.

Which standardized tests does the 2+2 Program 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.

Final Note

Leland provides you with the content, community, and coaching that you need to get into your dream MBA program and accomplish other ambitious goals. Sign up today to gain access to additional free resources, community events, small group classes, world-class coaching, and more.