01 Oct 1996
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The Right Stuff: Getting the Word from MBA Admissions


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The Bulletin recently asked Jill H. Fadule, director of MBA Admissions, and Professor Steven C. Wheelwright, senior associate dean and MBA Program chair, to discuss some of the criteria the School uses in considering applications to the MBA Program.

Bulletin: What qualities are you currently looking for in applicants?

Wheelwright: The vision of the MBA Program is to develop outstanding business leaders who contribute to the well-being of society. With this overriding goal in mind, we seek individuals who maintain high standards of intellect and achievement and who work successfully with people who are different from themselves. Examples might include a production supervisor who can rally everyone in an organization, from frontline employees to union leaders to CEOs; or a platoon leader who works with people from a range of academic, economic, and racial backgrounds; or a consultant who leads client teams in the effective delivery of solid, useful information and analysis.

We also look for a record of leadership or, in the absence of concrete experience, leadership potential as indicated by certain personal qualities. These include a willingness to bear responsibility and exercise authority and an openness to learning, sharing, and teaching as well as to complexity, ambiguity, and risk-taking. Confidence, decisiveness, self-esteem, creativity, maturity, and integrity are other important personal traits we look for.

"We are interested in candidates of all backgrounds and ages, particularly women. Our research suggests that many women don't think they meet our criteria, when in fact they do."

"We are interested in candidates of all backgrounds and ages, particularly women. Our research suggests that many women don't think they meet our criteria, when in fact they do."

Bulletin: Is it difficult to find such outstanding people, given that so many other institutions and programs are competing for topflight candidates?

Fadule: Harvard Business School received a record number of applications for the Class of 1998 -- 8,050, up from last year's total of 6,970. Nonetheless, we need to be proactive in seeking out the types of potential students Steve just described. We are interested in candidates of all backgrounds and ages, particularly women. Our research suggests that many women don't think they meet our criteria, when in fact they do. We would like more women to apply so that more will be admitted, above the 25 to 30 percent that typically are found in an entering MBA class.

Bulletin: Besides women, who else would you encourage to apply to HBS?

Fadule: Put simply, we want smart people with the potential to lead and run diverse organizations. That includes men and women of all ages and experience levels. People don't need four or five years of post-college job experience on their résumés. That's an average amount for our students, but it's an average, not a minimum. That amount of work experience is not a requirement.

Bulletin: How can alumni help?

Fadule: Alumni can be on the lookout for people who meet our criteria and encourage them to apply. If you've worked with a candidate and know him or her well, you might write a recommendation to be included in his or her application.

Bulletin: What other sorts of outreach do you do, and for whom?

Wheelwright: We're planning to produce a publication over the next year targeted to HBS alumni, college advisors, and college students. It will outline the types of curriculum decisions that can help undergraduates build the subject mastery and commitment to excellence necessary for success at HBS. It will also explain the range of responsibilities and qualities advisors can look for in identifying potentialcandidates.

Bulletin: The School has reintroduced the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) as an element of the admissions process, beginning with September 1997's matriculants. What does that mean for prospective applicants?

Wheelwright: With a record number of applicants of increasing diversity, the GMAT is extremely helpful in providing an important standardized piece of data for evaluation purposes. The test is much improved over past years and is more widely available than ever before, which makes it more convenient for applicants. We're also working with the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which designs the GMAT, to further enhance the test with qualitative measures of the personal qualities I mentioned earlier. It will help us, and applicants to HBS, make more informed decisions.

Bulletin: Where can people find more information about MBA admissions?

Fadule: They can visit the HBS Web site at to learn more about the School and the MBA Program or to download or request an application. Applications may also be requested by e-mail at admissions@hbs.edu or by telephone at 617-495-6127.

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