1. Everything you should know before deciding to apply for Harvard MBA Program

1.1. How to get into Harvard Business School?

Unlike some B-schools that organize both 1-year and 2-year MBA, HBS (Harvard Business School) only has one program. However, there are 2 ways to apply for this program:

  • Regular admission process: the main path to enter Harvard MBA program 
  • Via 2+2 program: an opportunity to join HBS on a defer basis. 
  • Joint Degree Program: the program that Harvard collaborates with 6 Harvard Graduation schools. 

Regular admission process

This article will focus on this process as most of the Harvard MBA cohort enters the school via this one. We will mention HBS 2+2 later and there will be an article dedicated for this path. 

Regular process includes 3 major steps:

  • Step 1: Write your application
  • Step 2: Interview with an Admission Board member
  • Step 3: Share your reflection post interview

Of course, to kick-off this process, you must already finished some preparation:

  • GMAT/GRE test result
  • Transcripts
  • Your updated resume
  • Finalize 2 recommenders 


This can be considered the biggest challenge for most MBA candidates, especially for international students. Here are some statistics about GMAT and GRE in the MBA Class of 2022 (matriculating in Fall of 2020)

Source: www.hbs.edu

The median GMAT score of the cohort is 730, meaning that you have to perform better than 94-95% of GMAT test takers around the world in the last 3 years to be worry-free about GMAT in your HBS application. To be more specific, there are around 250.000 GMAT test takers annually, meaning that you should do the test better than the rest 705.000 students. 

Same mechanism applies for GRE: HBS’s median score for Verbal and Quantitative equal to 92% percentile and 85% percentile respectively. 

Getting this score won’t guarantee you a seat in the Harvard MBA cohort. There are students who got 750-780 GMAT but were denied even for an interview with the Harvard Admission Committee. If you achieve 730 GMAT and above, congratulations but don’t sleep on the initial success. There are quite plenty of actions to do next. 


Those English qualifications are required only for students whose undergraduate program was not taught solely in English, and are optional for the rest. Although HBS does not explicitly say that they will reject students with low language test scores, the Admission Board always recommends a candidate to achieve above 109 for TOEFL iBT, more than 7.5 for IELTS or above 75 for PTE to be considered. It is to consider the amount of materials that MBA students have to absorb during the program. 

GPA and Working Experience

GPA should be seriously considered as it demonstrates your academic capability. The average GPA of MBA Class of 2022 is 3.7; therefore, if your GPA is too far behind this threshold, you have to focus more on your GMAT as it somehow could cover for that low GPA.  

I will focus less on years of working experience as it is pretty straight forward. I only emphasize that if you have less than 3 years or more than 8 years of working experience, be careful with your decision as 3 years is quite young for an MBA while 8 years of working experience sounds more suitable for an Executive MBA Program. 

HBS 2+2

HBS 2+2 is a very unique program that the school offers for current students, in either colleges or a full-time master program to join HBS in the future. The admitted students can join the labor force in the next 2-4 years, maximum 4 years, then follow up by a 2 year MBA in HBS. 

To join HBS 2+2, all candidates have to submit GMAT/GRE and also TOEFL iBT, IELTS or PTE to prove his or her English level. This is pretty similar to the Regular Admission Process.  

Joint Degree program

The Joint Degree Program is only available for students from 6 Harvard Graduate Schools, including Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Science, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

1.2. Application timeline

Regular Admission: 

In general, there will be 2 rounds to apply for the Harvard MBA program: the deadline of Round 1 will be around the beginning of September and the deadline of round 2 will be around the beginning of January the year after. I highly recommend you to check the exact date of each round on HBS’s website because there will be some slight changes year over year.


MBA Class of 2023

(matriculating Fall of 2021)

MBA Class of 2022

(matriculating Fall of 2020)

Round 1

September 8, 2020

September 4,  2019

Notification of decision

December 10, 2020

December 10, 2019

Round 2

January 5, 2021

January 6, 2020

Notification of decision

March 30, 2021

March 31, 2020

We mentioned some general difference of Round 1 and Round 2, therefore, please visit that article when we discuss further about MBA Application Timeline

HBS 2+2:

Harvard 2+2 only has one round. All applicants have to submit their applications by the end of April and the decision from the Admission Board will be released around the end of June – beginning of July. You can submit your application form far ahead of deadline but all the application forms will be reviewed at once, not on a rolling basis. 

2. Harvard MBA Application

2.1 List of Harvard MBA Essay questions

There are two questions in the Harvard MBA Questions, including one long and one short essay. 

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? (no word limit)

Briefly tell us more about your career aspirations. (500 characters)

Post interview essay: all candidates are required to submit a not-an-essay but an essay to reflect the whole application. This essay is compulsory only to candidates who are invited to interview.

2.2. How to answer those questions

The long essay question has been in the Harvard application form and hasn’t been changed since 2013-2014. 

This is an open-ending question and without any word limit. That’s why a lot of candidates were so confused about where to start and which direction they should go. Some students even overcook this essay, which makes their candidacy less strong despite plenty of effort in GMAT, resume and letter of recommendation. 

Here is my advice how to tackle this essay

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? (no word limit)

#1 Stick to the traits that HBS is looking for

HBS always communicates that they are finding students with a habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship. Hence, your essay should focus on those 3 values, especially leadership. 

#2 “What more” do you want to tell about yourself?

In this question, it is about “what more”; therefore, don’t use those precious spaces to repeat your resume, your LOR or your career goal. Here you should layout both professional and personal stories  that portrait further your leadership, your capability and your contribution. 

Think about it carefully and strategically!

#3 Do not try to compose a too-long essay

Every year, Harvard Business School receives around 9.000-10.000 applications and the Admission Board has to read through every one of them; therefore, if only you have a very special story to tell, don’t compose a lengthy essay up to 2000 words. The recommended word count is around 1.000 – 1.200 only. 

The 2nd question in the application form is quite straightforward:

Here you should write about your short term and long term career goal, as specific as possible, and why you want to follow that path. In this question, make sure that the goal is aspirational enough but not too unrealistic. Furthermore, you must ensure that the short term career is an excellent stepping stone to the long term career. 

Briefly tell us more about your career aspirations. (500 characters)

Even some companies’ names that you aim to land a job post MBA can be listed down here. It is to prove that you are serious with your short term and long term career and you spent time to study about them both. 

Post interview essay: 

This essay must be submitted within 24 hours after the interview. In my opinion, this essay is similar to the closing in a big essay. GMAT, English certificate, GPA are the opening, all the essays are the 1st paragraph of the body, the interview will be the 2nd paragraph and this post-interview reflection is the closing one. 

Thus, you can discuss some topics as below in this essay:

  • What you did not have an opportunity to discuss during the application form and interview?
  • What do you want to emphasize? 
  • Was there any mistake you made and you would like to explain?

The Admission Board announced that they are generous to typos and grammar in this essay and do not expect the candidate to write this essay before the interview. Any indication of composition prior the interview will raise a flag for them. Hence, any candidate can write some notes right after the interview so that you will have some materials for your writing. And don’t forget the deadline! The essay should be submitted within 24 hours after the interview ends. 

3. Harvard MBA interview questions

3.1. Prepare for the interview

We should discuss a bit how to prepare for a Harvard interview before going into details about how the interview will look like.

Understand yourself inside out

You can expect plenty of questions about your resume, your career move (1st job after college, 2nd job, etc), your promotion, your achievement and your failure throughout the interview. My recommendation is to write all of them down and review each story in different aspect:

  • Able to summarize everything in 1-2 mins, then expand them to a full conversation. 
  • Why do you make that move/action (join a project or a company, switch workplace, etc)?
  • What did you learn from that story
  • What do you want to do differently and Why?
  • What is your future goal and how do you evaluate the gap between your status quo and that goal?
  • Your strength and weakness and why?: Each prepare at least 3
Understand what you are doing

There were decent questions related to your industry. Those questions are to test how you will explain about your industry to other MBA students and maintain that conversation.

  • Able to summarize about your industry and your job in 1-2 sentences and could expand them to a full conversation
  • What is the biggest news of your industry at the moment and why? 
  • What was the environment of the industry when you got promoted/started project ABC?

There can be some questions about other industries that are pronounced in the news at the moment, although those questions are quite rare. For example: people were asked about the M & A situation during the pandemic or what is the highlight of the newspaper at the moment. 

Understand the school, student life and how the school will help you in your career

There are several varieties in this session. The interviewers can ask what you learned about HBS and how you did that, any specific activities in the school that you want to do and why, etc. Those questions are to show your interest to the school and how you plan your year ahead if you are admitted. 

3.2. Interview format

Harvard conducts only 1 interview that will last 30 minutes. However, be prepared that the session could last longer and the duration will not impact on your result. There will be 2 interviewers and they are members of the Admission Board. One will ask while the other will only observe the candidate and take note. 

It will not be a blind interview: the interviewers have to read your application in depth before the session.

HBS interview is extremely fast and high paced. Therefore, do not be so surprised if the questions are all over the plate and do not really follow any order. It is to show off how agile you are if you get admitted when discussing with other classmates. Thus, be nice and calm, smile and speak to the interviewers as you are talking to your friends but in a proper way. 

Final words

Harvard Business School is one of the most competitive programs all over the world. Every year, they receive around 9000-10000 application forms but only invite around 1000 students to join the MBA program. If you are invited to the interview, it is already a big accomplishment in the MBA journey and you can be proud of yourself about that. If you are admitted, congratulations and the Harvard MBA will become an unforgettable experience in your whole life. 

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