If you are a college student with dreams of one day attending HBS, you should definitely be thinking about the unique 2+2 program the school offers. And with the Summer Deadline in the not-so-distant future, we seem to be talking to many candidates who are doing just that. What are we telling them? Obviously, a huge part of any consultation or client engagement comes down to specifics particular to that individual. However, there are other broader things that we seem to be covering with everyone and that seemed worthy of sharing:
1. You are not applying for a merit award, so factor in the appropriateness and not just the worthiness of your pursuit. The mistake that many college seniors make (and this is true of medical school as well) is they incorrectly assume they are applying for a spot in the HBS graduating Class of 2016 based purely on merit. You are NOT. Yes, merit plays a role – a big one. There are grades, test scores, experiences, and the like, all of which feed into the idea of earning or deserving an admit letter. However, another huge component of this process is whether or not the degree is APPROPRIATE for you. Appropriateness is critical in all MBA applications, but it is especially relevant here, as HBS is going to ask of each and every applicant: “Why not just apply in 2+ years like everyone else?” So you have to spend a lot of time thinking about WHY THIS AVENUE. Why do you need HBS to play a role in your life right now? Why not just wait? We have some excellent methods for dealing with this question, but we like to hear from the client first.
2. HBS won’t spoon feed you, so you have to build something from nothing. Sticking with the theme above, HBS has set the application process in such a way that forces candidates to showcase maturity and readiness. There are no canned questions like “why are you seeking deferred admission?” Instead, you have to find ways within the essay set to speak to the timing, the way the program fits your goals, and also your ability to contribute to the class. There’s no easy way to do this as it requires working off your strongest themes in such a way that not only defines them, but also uses them to propel your “Why 2+2” argument. Know this though: if you review your essays and you DON’T see a strong statement of “why this specific path” embedded in your answers, then you are in trouble. Likewise, if your essays feel like they are for a generic award program, you are in big trouble.
3. Don’t give a “non answer” for Essay 2 unless you want to be convicted “guilty” of being a Millennial. We say this to all HBS applicants, but do not duck question #2 about setbacks. If you are a college senior applying for 2+2, you are naturally going to be young and you will bear the burden of proof that you can act older than your years. Furthermore, you will have to prove that you are an exception to the rule (fair or not) that your generation lacks social intelligence. HBS wants to see you dig deep here. They want you to be honest and introspective and own up to real setbacks and mistakes and then talk about real lessons learned. You simply can’t afford to skim the surface of this exercise. Think of it like an interview when someone asks you what your biggest weakness is. If you say “my biggest weakness is that I suffer from addiction to those tasks which are urgent rather than those that are important,” you will have someone taking you seriously. If you say “my biggest weakness is that I care too much,” you will have someone rolling his eyes. For Essay #2, find the tone of the first example, not the second.
4. “Shape” your accomplishments so that you forward a thesis about who you are, not just a litany of things you’ve done. Don’t simply list off three accomplishments on Essay #1. You can get by doing it that way, but you don’t form a thesis doing that. Instead, build toward something. Work chronologically or in any other order that allows you to weave them together and reach a conclusion. “First, I did this within my community, where I was comfortable and took a chance on leading. Then, I went to college and did this, stepping out and pushing my abilities. Then, confident I could lead in any environment, I led a team to Bosnia to do X, Y, and Z.” You want all your accomplishments to highlight leadership and highlight making an impact, but you also want to show that they were part of the building and defining of the essay’s subject: YOU.
There is plenty more worthy of discussing, but those seems like a good place to start.
Note: at AACG, we are aware that not all applicants are created equal – including their bank accounts. If you are a college student interested in our services but can’t afford our standard prices, we will consider emails to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting discounted services.
Finally, make sure to download our free How to Apply to HBS guide.