Applying for a Harvard MBA? Here are the Basics

This page covers everything you need to know about how to get into the Harvard Business School MBA Program.

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School (HBS) is widely considered to be the #1 global business school. Its high admissions standards, excellent job placement into top firms in PE, VC, management consulting, technology, healthcare and other sectors, incredible roster of alumni in powerful positions, and outstanding teaching quality are a few of the reasons that HBS is the leading business school. Not to mention the endowment ($3,800,000,000 and growing), which helps to fund a continuous stream of improvements to the program.

It is therefore no surprise that it is incredibly difficult to win admission to HBS. Having “good” work experience, GMAT scores and application materials is unlikely to result in admission to HBS, who has their pick of many outstanding applicants. In fact, the opposite is true — many incredible applicants will be rejected from HBS each year even though they are fully qualified to attend the program.

Even with the impressive resources of the HBS program, one of our favorite HBS students explained the limitations of the program when she said that “HBS is not a magic pill,” by which she meant that career outcomes are still constrained by your skills and experiences, and the effort you put into the process. Even at HBS, which can do a huge amount to boost your career, alumni career coaches warn students that they should not expect to land a top VC or PE job without relevant prior experience.

This profile lays out the basic facts about HBS and the resources you’ll need to further research the program.

Harvard Business School MBA Class Profile

Acceptance rate  12%
GMAT Median: 730
Range : 620-790
GRE Quant:163
Verbal: 163
Reporting GRE: 22%
GPA Average: 3.7
Range: Does not disclose
Age/Experience Age: Does not disclose
Work Experience (years): 4.7
Diversity Women: Does not disclose
International: Does not disclose
Pre-MBA Industries
Venture Capital / Private Equity: 16%
Consulting: 15%
Technology: 13%
Financial Services: 11%
Manufacturing / Industrial / Energy: 11%
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Consumer Products / Retail / E-Commerce: 9%
Health Care / Biotech: 7%
Nonprofit / Government / Education: 6%
Media / Entertainment / Travel: 5%
Military: 5%
Services: 2%
Undergraduate Majors
Engineering/Math/Physical Science: 41%
Business/Commerce/Economics: 41%
Social Science/ Arts/Humanities: 18%

The data* above is from 2020 and represents the HBS MBA class of 2022. (Note: Acceptance rate is an estimate.)
See the full report here: HBS MBA Class Profile

Student Experiences

Harvard Business School MBA Employment Report & Careers

Offers & Compensation
Median Salary + Signing bonus: $178,750
% Offers upon Graduation:   Does not disclose
% Offers at 3 months: 94%
Post-MBA Industries
Consulting: 21%
Financial Services: 29%
Investment Banking / Sales & Trading: 3%
Investment Management / Hedge Fund: 4%
Venture Capital / Private Equity / LBO: 20%
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Other Financial Services: 1%
Technology: 20%
Consumer Electronics: 1%
E-Commerce: 2%
Equipment / Hardware / Networking: <1%
Internet Services: 5%
Software: 8%
Other Technology: 4%
Health Care: 7%
Biomed / Pharmaceutical: 2%
Health-Related Services: 4%
Manufacturing: 7%
Aero / Auto / Transport Equipment: 2%
Nonprofit / Government: 5%
Government: 2%
Nonprofit: 2%
Retail / Trading: 3%
Services: 3%
Real Estate: 2%
Consumer Products: 3%
Entertainment / Media: 3%
Energy / Extractive Minerals: 2%
Highly Diversified: 2%
Other Manufacturing: <1%
Post-MBA Locations
United States: 86%
Mid-Atlantic: 4%
Midwest: 7%
Northeast: 40%
South: 3%
Southwest: 7%
West: 26%
Non-US: 14%
Post-MBA Companies

HBS Hiring Organisations List

Career Development Resources

HBS Career Resources

The data above is from 2019 and represents the career statistics for the HBS MBA class of 2019.*
See the full report here: Harvard Business School MBA Employment Report

Harvard Business School MBA Academic Programs 

MBA Curriculum

The HBS MBA Curriculum is separated into four semesters: fall and spring of year one, and fall and spring of year two. The HBS Required Curriculum spans over the first two terms and includes foundational courses that all HBS MBA students take, as well as enrollment in the FIELD Global Immersion course. There is also the chance to explore other classes through the Elective Curriculum. Harvard MBA offers 120 courses in various subject areas. Students can choose up to five electives per semester, and can take any combination of classes.

See the full offering of courses: HBS MBA Course Catalog

Majors

Although HBS does not offer distinctive majors, during the second-year, students choose their electives from ten different subject areas: 

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

Experiential Learning Programs

The Field Method is the (required) hands-on learning program which complements HBS’s infamous in-class Case Method. 

Research Centers

HBS has established a strong network of several cities around the world, connected by ten Global Research Centers, allowing professionals from business, government and academia to analyze business challenges. 

The Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, led by Professors Tom Eisenmann and Shikhar Ghosh, helps students approach and achieve their startup goals. 

MBA International Study Programs

All first-year (“RC”) students will go through leadership training in FIELD Foundations, and then at the end of the spring term, go on a FIELD Global Immersion to develop a new product or service for a global partner company.  Many second-year students choose to follow this up with an Immersive Field Course (IFC) which gives them a chance to apply theory learned from the HBS curriculum to real-life problems in companies around the world. “Over the last nine years, MBA students have participated in 41 IFC courses and traveled to 15 countries.”

Video Resources on HBS Academics

Harvard Business School MBA Application

Harvard now offers an application checklist in the form of an HBS MBA Application Guide. Prospective applicants can request to download the guide and begin preparing their HBS admissions journey.

Essays

For years, HBS has used the same essay question:

  • 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?

The key point of this is “what more,” which is a clear signal that HBS does not want you using the essay to rehash things that are already covered by your resume, career goals statement, professional recommendations or application form.

Although it is easy to list the topics you should NOT write about, the best topic for each applicant is an individual matter, and we cannot make a blanket recommendation that applies across all applicants. But if you are looking for more guidance, check out our article on The HBS Essay.

Letters of Recommendation 

The formal HBS recommendation asks the recommender to give a brief description of his or her interaction with the applicant, and rate them on various metrics such as “humility” and “self-confidence”. Additionally, the form asks how many applicants the recommender is recommending to HBS.

The extended-response recommender questions in the 2020-2021 HBS Application are as follows:

  • How do the applicant’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (Recommended: 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. (Recommended: 250 words)

Video Resources on HBS Admissions

Harvard Business School MBA Admissions Interviews

The HBS interview is a 30-minute session with an admissions committee member (and maybe an observer, too) in which you will be asked a large number of questions related to the content of your application materials, which the interviewer will have reviewed thoroughly before conducting the interview. Stylistically, it is fast-moving and you should expect to be interrupted with a large number of clarifying questions that redirect you onto different topics.

Some of the most common questions will ask you about:

  • Key choices in your career, like your undergraduate institution, your major there, and your post-college employers
  • Your firm and its strategy (including the competition it faces)
  • Current events in your industry
  • The culture of the different institutions you’ve been affiliated with
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • Your extracurricular activities

The nature of the interview is that you cannot expect to prepare in advance for every question. Given the case method and the demands it places on students, HBS wants to see that you are capable to speak extemporaneously, and to explain things in simple ways that could be understood by classmates from different backgrounds.

Although HBS interviewers do ask curveball questions, the vast majority of interviews do NOT focus on random questions such as “Why is a manhole cover round?” or “How many piano tuners are there in NYC?”

Even though one of our applicants was asked “How does the Home Depot ship porcelain toilets without breaking them?”, your time preparing for the HBS interview is better spent preparing to answer questions related to your education, professional career, future goals and extracurricular activities, and just preparing to have a smooth conversation with an intelligent stranger about a wide variety of topics.

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What Makes Harvard Business School Unique?

The HBS Case Method: The entire HBS curriculum is case-based and you can expect to read 500+ cases during your time as an HBS student.  Not only will you get to discuss the cases with your classmates, you can expect some of the protagonists in the cases–often CEOs of major companies–to be present in the classroom to discuss their own experiences.

The Section Experience: Sections of just over 90 people will go through the Required Curriculum together as a group in the first year.

Rock Center for Entrepreneurship: There is a multitude of programs and resources at HBS for students interested in entrepreneurship, and the Arthur Rock Center helps individuals take advantage of all the school has to offer, including leveraging the curriculum for future business ownership.

Joint Degree Programs: Harvard offers joint programs, connecting five of the University’s graduate schools. The joint degrees offered are:

*All data retrieved from the Harvard Business School MBA Program webpages, unless otherwise stated.