Harvard MBA

There are hundreds of MBA schools.  What should be my school selection criteria and how many schools should I apply to?  Once you have chosen a MBA Program Type you can determine a set of schools to target using the following criteria.  This criteria should be weighted depending on the particular candidate.

MBA School Selection Criteria

  • Location

If you are choosing a Part-Time MBA or Executive MBA program, then you will be working while attending school, so your school section will most likely be constrained to a specific region.  For example, if you work in Chicago you might choose between Chicago Booth’s Evening MBA and Kellogg’s Part-Time MBA Program.

If you are choosing a Full-Time MBA program and wish to enter Media & Entertainment you might choose schools in New York or Los Angeles which are the meccas for this field.

  • Reputation

Reputation can be determined by looking at MBA school rankings, reading publications, asking business professionals, etc.  Rankings can be by MBA Program Type, specialization, region, etc. Reputation is important when wishing to enter highly selective fields like private equity, management consulting or investment banking.

  • Specialization 

Do you wish to go to a general management school like Harvard’s MBA Program or a school that specializes in a certain subject, like Babson’s Entrepreneurship Program?

Or specialization might be one factor.  One way to determine if a school has a strength in a specialization is to see if the program has a center which would conduct research, design curriculums, write cases, arrange for experiential programs, etc.  These specializations could be focused on functional areas, industry sectors, business types, etc.

Here are some examples:

Family Business – Kellogg Center for Family Business

Human Resources – Wharton Center for Human Resources

Energy – Energy Institute at Haas

  • Career Placement 

What is the likelihood a program will place you in your desired field and at the right level?  Certain schools have better career placement programs.  If you wish to go into investment banking following school, know which program have better placement rates such as Columbia, Wharton, and Chicago.  You can research this by looking at the career employment reports for each program.

  • Joint Degrees 

Do you wish to pursue a joint degree?  As discussed in MBA Program Types certain schools offer students the ability to complete combined degrees in multiple management fields.  For instance, dual MBA degrees encompass:


Certain schools offer integrated programs which are synergistic towards both degrees.  For example, integrated JD/MBA’s include Wharton’s JD/MBA, Yale’s Integrated JD/MBA, and Kellogg’s JD/MBA.

Other schools offer joint MBA degrees with international partners like the Stern-HEC Dual Degree Program.

  • Environment / Student Body

What type of environment do you prefer?  Some schools like Darden are known as boot camps while others like Wharton is known to be more competitive, and Tuck is to be more cooperative and supportive.  So know yourself to see where you would best thrive.

  • Pedagogy 

How do you best learn?  Is the school known as a teaching institution or a research institution?  Do you feel learning by case study is superior to lecture and would prefer a school like HBS or Darden that teaches exclusively by case study.

  • Alumni

Certain schools have more powerful alumni bases.  If you are an international applicant check the strength of that particular alumni group in your country.

  • Return on Investment 

Some schools are more expensive than others while other schools will help you land jobs with higher salaries.  Factored together, you can determine which programs offer you a better ROI return on investment.  The availability of MBA scholarships, merit aid, grants, etc. could influence your choice.


These are some of the factors you should weigh when determining which schools you will target.  You must also do a realistic assessment of your competitiveness as a candidate and choose stretch, target, and safety schools.  Very roughly speaking, a stretch school is a school where your GPA and GMAT are below the school’s average; a target school is where these scores are in line with the school’s average; and a safety school is where your GPA and GMAT are above the school’s average.  But these academic and test scores only tell part of the story.  MBAPrepAdvantage offers a free initial assessment to help you determine your MBA admissions chances by weighing stretch, target, and safety schools along with the strength of your candidacy.  Email MBAPrepAdvantage a brief description of your goals in addition to your resume, GPA, and GMAT score at info@mbaprepadvantage.com

So you have decided to apply to MBA school because you feel the value of the degree and the doors that will open for you are worth the expense and effort involved. But what are the types of programs available to you and which program best suits your background and interests?

The program types are full-time MBA, part-time MBA, executive MBA, Masters of Management, and non-MBA degrees. Click here for MBA Rankings for these different program types.

Full-Time MBA

Most people apply to full-time MBA programs in which the MBA curriculum  is completed in two years.  The summer between the two academic years is spent in a summer internship where you can expect to gain skills in your chosen functional area or industry vertical and often times receive mentorship and guidance, such as in Google’s MBA internship.

Joint Degree Programs 

The MBA degree can be combined with other graduate degrees in which elective coursework from each degree qualifies for completion of the other advanced degree thereby allowing the students to complete both degrees on time or in some cases in an accelerated fashion.  Examples of combined MBA degrees include MBA/JD (combined with Law), MBA/MD (combined with Medicine), MBA/MEng (combined with Engineering), MBA/DDS (combined with Dental), MBA/MIA (combined with Public Affairs), MBA/MPH (combined with Public Health), MBA/MPS (combined with Real Estate), MBA/MILR (combined with Industrial and Labor Relations), and MBA/MS (combined with Urban Planning, Applied Science, Journalism, Nursing, Social Work or whatever the MS is in). 

Accelerated Programs

Certain schools have accelerated programs in which the MBA curriculum  is completed in completed in less than the standard two years.  Accelerated business school programs, like Kellogg’s One Year Program, Columbia’s Accelerated Option and Emory’s One-Year MBA are for those MBA applicants with an undergraduate business degree or at least having completed a certain minimum number of courses in accounting, statistics, finance, economics, marketing and operations.  Other programs like Cornell’s Accelerated Program look for applicants with advanced degrees.  The one year program is also very popular in Europe with INSEAD’S program being the most well-known.

Future Leaders Programs (No Prior Experience) 

Certain business schools offer specialized programs for applicants directly applying out of college.  The schools are looking for future leaders who have strong grades, test scores, and undergraduate leadership and impact whether in extracurricular activities, athletics, arts or other fields.  Students within HBS’ 2+2 Program are granted deferred admission; they spend two years working in a company or nonprofit organization prior to attending HBS for two years.  Students in Yale’s Silver Scholars Program graduate in three years, attending class for the first and third years while spending the middle year in a full-time internship.  Stanford GSB offers deferred admission to college seniors of one to three years.

Part Time MBA

The part-time MBA is for those MBA applicants who wish to work while attending school. Students typically take two classes per term and complete the MBA curriculum graduate in three years, but often have the option of taking more classes to graduate early. Classes are taught in the evenings and weekends to accommodate work schedules.

Advantages of part-time programs over full-time programs is that employers are more likely to pay a portion of the tuition, the ability to remain employed, not having to relocate, applying MBA studies to your job and vice versa. Also, these programs are often less selective than their full-time MBA counterparts so certain marginal candidates can gain access to a prestigious MBA school by successfully applying to their part-time program.

The disadvantages are that you are might not have full access to bidding for the most popular on-campus job interviews (e.g. consulting, investment banking, etc.), more limited financial aid/merit scholarships available, and a hard time transferring from the part-time program to the full-time program because MBA Admissions Committees do not want to have a back door.

Executive MBA (or EMBA Program)

Executive MBA’s are also for those MBA applicants who wish to work while attending school.  Applicants are often sponsored by their companies.  This sponsorship entails both financial commitments and time off to take classes as the program structures are usually Friday and Saturday classes every two weeks.  Some schools like Columbia offer a Saturday-only option that meets weekly.

This sponsorship is favorably factored into the MBA Admissions Committees Evaluation Criteria.

EMBA students are usually older than part-time MBA students bringing a minimum of 8 years management experience.  But for those MBA schools without part-time programs, like Wharton, the average is lower than at business schools offering both part-time and executive MBA degrees.

Schools are branching out with their Executive MBA programs offering them in other regions, like Kellogg’s Miami Executive MBA program and other countries like Chicago GSB’s Executive MBA which is offered in London and Hong Kong in addition to Chicago.  Other schools partner up to offer a Global Executive EMBA like Columbia, London Business School and HKU Business School in their EMBA-Global Asia program.

Non-MBA degrees

When evaluating non-MBA degree program it is important to weigh more heavily career placement following your program as part of your MBA School Selection criteria.  These degree programs often do not have the flexibility of the MBA to facilitate career transitions immediately after school or later in your career or might not give you the salary boost if you do not have sufficient experience prior to entering into the program. 

Masters of Management

The Masters of Management degree is geared towards students with typically one or two years worth of experience.  In addition to the MBA curriculum more basic classes are taught on different financial tools, career development, etc.  London Business School’s Programme is considered one of the best.  When evaluating Masters of Management programs assess employability by reading career reports as part of your MBA research.  You will have less experience so you will be even more dependent on the school’s career services.

Financial Engineering Programs (or Quantitative Finance)

Financial Engineering programs use quantitative methods and tools to solve finance-related programs.  Schools will want applicants to have a strong mathematics background, computer programming experience, familiarity with statistics and econometrics tools, etc.  Graduates of these programs work in risk management firms, hedge funds, etc.  One drawback of the degree, though, is the limited flexibility to switch into non-quantitative roles given the MFE is less known than the MBA.  Haas’ Master of Financial Engineering Program is excellent.  You can find out more about these degrees including a comparison of programs at the IAFE Guide to Financial Engineering Programs.

Executive Education

Executive Education consists of classes on a whole host of business-related topics that often mirror courses taught in the MBA school.  The difference is that students do not receive a degree but sometimes are granted a certificate upon completing a certain number of classes in a specific functional area, industry concentration, etc.  These concentrations also mirror majors and specializations offered by the MBA school but with usually less classes.  Harvard Business School Executive Education is one of the most well-known.

HBS released its Class of 2015 MBA Class Profile.

MBA Class of 2015 Profile*


Class Composition

WOMEN 386 41%


United States 616 65%
ASIA 147 16%
EUROPE 80 9%
AFRICA 13 1%

Educational Background

STEM 366 39%

Pre-MBA Industry


MBA Application Deadlines

Round One Deadline: September 16, 2013
Round Two Deadline: January 6, 2014
Round Three Deadline: April 7, 2014

MBA Essay Question

You’re applying to Harvard Business School.  We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.  What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? (No Word Limit)

MBA Recommendation Questions

Recommendations must be completed online. The recommendation form includes the following questions, along with other types of 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)

All HBS interview invites have been now given out so if you have not been invited you have been released (their terminology).

From HBS Interview Blog:

Greetings from snowy Boston. Here’s what is going to happen tomorrow.

At (hopefully) noon, Boston time, we will send out the first wave of invitations to interview in Round 2.

You’ll get an email from HBS MBA Admissions, which will give detailed instructions on the sign-up process.

As stated before, we’ll be interviewing on campus and in the following hub locations: London, Paris, Shanghai, Dubai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Palo Alto and NYC.

Heads up to 2+2 candidates: All interview invitations to this group will be sent in the second wave on February 6 (Note: I posted earlier that this would be February 7 – we’ve moved it up to February 6).

Another heads up to those on the waitlist from Round 1 who have not interviewed yet: You will be included in one of the two waves if being invited to interview this round – if you are not invited to interview, you will be released on February 6.

Remember, this is just the first of two invitation waves. In Round 1, we sent about 800 invitations in Wave 1 and about 100 in Wave 2.

PLEASE don’t send any additional material or letters of support to the Admissions Board – or me or the Dean’s Office or anyone else. We will only consider material sent at the time of application submission and that means 3 recommendations for everyone (or 2 if you are a 2+2 applicant), not more. We do everything we can to keep this process fair and equitable – we hope and expect that you will support this effort.

HBS has opened up registration for September/Early October class visits.  Note that the classes are 2nd year classes.  Registration for first year class visits will be open later towards the end of September.

HBS also holds information sessions and conducts campus tours (both staff-led and audio-walking).  IN addition there is a lunch program in which 1st year students have casual lunch with prospective applicants.  You can learn more about these programs at http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/visit.html.

MBA Application Deadlines

Round One Deadline: September 24, 2012
Round Two Deadline: January 7, 2013
Round Three Deadline: April 8, 2013

MBA Essay Questions

1. Tell us about something you did well. (400-word limit)
2. Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400-word limit)
3. (Online Application after selecting a target post-MBA industry and function) How does pursuing an MBA support your choices above? (500-word limit)
4. (Applicants invited to interview will be asked to submit a written reflection 24 hours after completing their interview) You’ve just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. How well did we get to know you?

From HBS MBA Program Blog:

Round 2 Interview Invitations – A Little More Information

Well, I dealt with the aftermath of the transparency about interview invitation numbers in Round 1 today. Someone called and asked directly why we couldn’t send out all the invitations on one day. Good question. Here’s the answer:

We could..but it would be February 13, not January 31. Maybe that would be better…a later date, but just one date. The way we’ve structured it now – 3 waves – is to accommodate the reality of a (human) Admissions Board trying to give thoughtful attention to a lot of applications. And each application needs to be reviewed twice. So we have to have a little bit of flex in terms of the notification dates. The senior team in Dillon does (a lot of) other things besides reading applications. Board member X may be pulled into an IT crisis. Board member Y needs to pull together the budget for the next fiscal year. I went to NYC last week to do an admit event for Round 1 admits. All these things can throw off an application-reading timetable, so we build in those extra two weeks (two waves) to make sure we’ve got bandwidth to make careful decisions. We’re not doing this by machine. It’s just us.

As always, hope this helps.

From HBS Events page:

As part of our commitment to a truly diverse, international student body, we bring a sample of the Harvard Business School experience to locations throughout the world. At these outreach events, you will have the opportunity to meet representatives from the HBS community and learn more about the MBA Program and its application process. In addition, we host a variety of campus events throughout the year.

If you’d like to participate, complete the Introduce Yourself form so that we can give you event, application, and HBS news and information specifically suited to your interests.

Click on the location of an event to register for that event. If neither the event title nor the location is linked, registration is not yet open for the event.

All dates are tentative and subject to change.

Registration will open approximately 2-3 weeks prior to the date for general outreach events.

Registration will open approximately 2-3 weeks prior to the date for on campus events.


From HBS MBA Program Blog:

I realized that I had promised some news about this on January 15 and didn’t want you to have to wait over the long weekend to hear this (Note: We are closed on Monday, January 16 in observance of Martin Luther King Day).

Here’s the story:

Round 2 interviews will be conducted between February 15 and March 9. We will be in London, Paris, Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and New York in addition to the HBS campus. Skype interviews may also be an option for candidates located outside the United States who are unable to travel. Full details will be available in the interview invitations.

This is our plan for timing:

We will send out email invitations on the following 3 Tuesdays – January 31, February 7, and February 14. On February 14, all candidates not invited to interview will be notified of their “release.”

Now, please pay attention – this is a new level of transparency that I hope is helpful, but I need you to understand that I am talking about what happened in Round 1 vs. telling you exactly what will happen in Round 2 (which we obviously DON’T KNOW now).

The pattern of interview invitation volume in Round 1 was:

  • Week 1 (first wave of invitations): 750 invitations sent
  • Week 2 (second wave): 80 invitations sent
  • Week 3 (third/final wave): 25 invitations sent

Round 2 won’t be identical, but I think it will be directionally similar. Please hear me when I say that the timing of the interview invitation is NOT a signal of the strength of a candidate. The only thing that it maps to is the ability of our Admissions Board to move through their (large) reading allocations.

I hope this is clear and helpful – if it’s not, call me at 617-496-6835 and tell me so.