How to Enter Harvard Even if You are Just Average
By Ismael D. Tabije
Only about 10% of all applicants get accepted to Harvard Business School. And until recently all but the top 20% of those accepted got in without an interview.
However, this average guy with a very average background got in, and got in without an interview.
It's a story about how a former UPS package handler with mediocre grades and an average background used to get into Harvard Business School...shocking his friends in the process.
This applicant did not go to an Ivy League school. He did not work for a major investment bank. He did not work for a major consulting firm.
He had a 2.9 GPA when he attended Idaho State University and started off his career as a $8/hour UPS package handler. Just an average guy by most definitions.
At the time, this applicant was not very familiar with Harvard Business School.
Yet, by sheer dumb luck he ended up following the same proven principles and strategies used by hundreds of other successful Harvard Business School applicants...
One of the fundamental flaws this applicant made early on was he focused on his weaknesses - instead of his strengths. Like all of us, he had some self-doubt. He kept thinking to himself, "Maybe I'm not Harvard Business School material ."
Fortunately, he shifted his mindset away from why he didn't belong at Harvard Business School... and focused on why he did ... and more importantly he communicated this in his application.
So instead of getting hung up on the fact that he started his career as a UPS package handler, he talked about how within months he ended up leading a team of 50 package handlers.
He explained how the 50 people he inherited were constantly bickering and fighting amongst each other. He discussed how he figured out the cause of the real problem, what he thought to himself at the time, and what he did about it.
Finally, he talked about the results he achieved... how within 90 days it was one of the best running teams in the sorting facility. He did all this when he was only 22 years old.
To his friends at the time, he was the "UPS Guy." They would have never suspected he would be Harvard Business School material because they could not hear what was going on in this leader's head.
But, Harvard Business School did - through his application. They probably thought, "How many people in the world could have done that? And this applicant did it when he was 22.
This applicant told them exactly what he did next. He told them how later in his life he lived in the inner city of Chicago while working for a well-known company. He shared how as a tall "white" guy he mentored dozens of African-American teenagers that lived on his block.
He talked about how he was a role model, a leader really, that helped the kids on his block steer their lives away from drugs and violence. He showed Harvard Business School how he did all this even after working all day at his "day job".
He discussed what happened to the neighborhood kids when he moved out of Chicago. These teenagers had become leaders themselves. These teenagers took over where this person left off... by getting their friends to stay away from drugs and violence.
This applicant demonstrated his success in one of the toughest leadership challenges -- creating leaders.
This applicant showed Harvard Business School how he was a leader, how he is a leader, and how he will continue to be a leader. He showed Harvard Business School how he had a great leadership trajectory - the key to getting into Harvard Business School.
Harvard Business School saw in his application someone who was going to be a leader in whatever he did in his life. Despite his weaknesses, they saw his potential... his trajectory... and they wanted him as an alumnus.
How badly did they want him?
He got in without an interview. In his year, Harvard Business School accepted around 10% of all applicants and interviewed all but the top 20% of those admitted. He was in the top 2% of all applicants.
Pretty impressive for someone who was just a "UPS Guy" and didn't think he was Harvard Business School material.
The moral of the story? The best way to convince people (Harvard evaluators are people, too, you know) of your leadership potential is knowing how to write all the little leadership experiences you have had when you were still a student, a fresh graduate, a rookie employee, a junior executive, and so on..
About the Author
The Harvard Business School Toolkit--Discover what HBS really looks for and what to do about it. Discover the first thing you must do before you start your application. How to avoid the #1 thing unsuccessful HBS applicants inadvertently do. The secret to picking the right experiences to discuss in your essays! Learn what you must say in your application to compel them to admit you…
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