Harvard MBA FAQ

· Q and A,Harvard

Thanks for sharing your interest in a Harvard MBA. Here is the set of materials for your review that will allow you to better understand this career and the needed preparation.

What is an MBA? What value does an MBA add? Is it worth it?

I want an MBA, especially from Harvard! How do I get in?

Tell me more about your experiences!

What was your journey like?

  • Terrible grades for Junior College due to a personal loss

  • Went off to serve the Singapore Army - Studied SATs and GMAT in the jungle by torchlight, evenings and days off. Cut up my SAT prep books and placed into ziploc bags for waterproofing.

  • Applied to prove to universities that I was stronger academically, got into Berkeley

  • Did social impact consulting and thus management consulting

  • In senior year, realised that my GMAT score was very decent and thus applied to HBS early

  • Got my HBS offer in late 2011

How did you prepare?

Please note that this was years ago!

  • In 2007 while in the army, I studied the GMAT Prep Book by Princeton Review (paperback) and did 2 online free tests in the evenings and weekends. I got a decent score with this method, your experience may vary.

  • In 2011, I bought this book to understand the process. It was amazing for me.

  • I also referred to these articles - Application Checklist , Tips for College Applicants and Applicant Profiles

Do you think the case method is effective?

  • Current: updated by industries and geographies annually

  • e.g. Ebay, Tom Brady, digital cameras

  • Includes social entrepreneurship cases

  • hospital, create light bulbs, how to market a disruptive product

How to get the most out of the core curriculum?

  • industry orientation:

  • case studies cover a breadth of functional skills and strategies in different geographies and situations so you learn the basic principals

  • leadership can be geographical/industry-specific

  • come in with some bounded exploration; not company specific but industry-specific so you can apply these skills and strategies through an industry sense

  • role orientation:

  • point of view from a role that ranges from management to CEO where you are expected to make decisions and run teams

  • entrepreneur: founding vs. scaling vs. maintening

  • training for series B managers

  • many opportunities to join series A companies

  • many resources for the founding

  • so think about what you mean by “entrepreneurial” because resources differ

Do you get to design your FIELD experiences?

  • FIELD 2: I was assigned a project to redesign the customer experience at a “Pottery Barn/ Bed Bath & Beyond” in Turkey

  • teaches design thinking

  • most classmates not super enthusiastic/passionate because of many commitments and other opportunities

  • Large Class size

What opportunities do you have for meeting other people? Have you joined clubs or associations?

  • section, clubs, parties

  • joined health care club, social enterprise club

  • to be integrated in clubs, it is better to be in leadership team

  • clubs are mostly for educational purposes instead of community

  • Career: Are you able to access career resources?

  • Focus on health: Medicare event, Entrepreneurship panel, met up with professor

Is HBS a hard place for an introvert?

  • There is a high level of extroversion

  • a huge spike in the beginning

  • general attribute of students - select more extroverts

  • leadership behaviors - display extrovert behaviors when necessary

  • each class forced to debate, may have to be confrontational

  • trains introverts in public speaking

Is HBS a stressful place?

  • there are mandatory and opt in opportunities so manage your time and the number of activities you participate in

  • people who overexert themselves usually don’t know what to focus on so they do everything and then get burned out

personal reflection: what’s important to you? What metrics could you use to evaluate opportunities?

  • take the time out to review, to integrate the lessons

  • don’t need to be top 10%

  • quality conversations

  • industrial role or geography focus

General Advice before coming in

  • Take time to reflect before b-school begins

  • HBS will teach you how to get to where you want to be but it will not tell you WHO to be, nor who you want to be

  • Write down who you want to be

  • Write down the jobs you don’t want to do - e.g. banker, bain consultant

  • Reflect with friends and mentors

  • e.g. what should I not learn at HBS

  • Write a personal mission statement, while understanding that how you execute might change and you can still refresh the mission statement along the way

There are a few risky startup opportunities I am exploring, which deviate from my original 2+2 application's job plan. Would HBS have an issue with this?

The 2+2 is meant to retain people who might not have otherwise considered the MBA. No matter what you do, be able to give a good explanation about what you are doing, the opportunities you saw and why you made that choice. The 2+2 program is an opportunity to take risks, and you can use it to your advantage to build businesses that grow fast. Just don't waste your 2 years on a trip to Bali.

This question is on the possibility of 2+2s being denied admission pre-matriculation. Is this possible?

Yes. Make sure that you are focused on learning, growing and positioning yourself as someone who will add value to your MBA class. Note that you should get your extension application in early as some time may pass before HBS responds. You should also be aware of the signals you give out to people if you talk about your 2+2 and extensions, as people may plan around you with the knowledge that you may leave in a few years or months time.

This question is on things you would have done differently during your 2+2 working years. Having just graduated from HBS, is there any tips on looking at the 2+2 working years?

You have to be intentional. One of the most important thing is not believing that HBS will automatically let you find yourself. HBS is a tool, which you have to put in effort to use to wherever you want. It’s like a boat with a great engine. Some are going to park it to a dock. Some are going to where they want to be. Others are going to use it as their ticket to wealth.

This emphasis on being intentional is important. It is easy to accidentally end up in a place where you don’t want to be. This is particularly true for HBS, since people can afford to fool around because its prestigious by default.

Figure out what you want to learn so you can know what you want to learn in HBS. Identify the events, people, and knowledge you want to gain and meet. Along the way, there’s a lot of FOMO that you have to learn to ignore. Carl Icahn may swing by the campus one day, Gwyneth Paltrow may be sharing how she built her brand the next day. Whatever you choose, you have to choose not to pursue something else. That’s hard.

How did you think about your time in HBS?

I came up with a list of simple rules:

Figure out your weak spots and what strengths you want to maximise. I wanted to be a great founder and a great CEO. I attended classes to learn how to hit the next level of scaling a company. I focused on learning about organisational restructuring, entrepreneurial finance, and entrepreneurial planning.

Meet a new person everyday. I couldn’t go to every single networking event so knowing one person every day allowed me to connect and follow up with people in a more manageable way. I did not know everyone in my HBS class of 900, but I worked to have a genuine connection with those that I knew. I schedule catch-ups and have a deep conversation with old friends regularly. I make it a point to call my old co-founder once a month.

Join something you really care about or create it. I explored different courses, hackathons, and talked to various startups. When I walked out of HBS, I had got what I wanted. Although I missed out on 99% of the parties, drinks and trips, I did what I wanted to do. The worst possibility is doing a bit of everything and not following through with any deeply enough.

You mentioned taking time to reflect before business school on who you want to be and writing a personal mission statement. Did you know you wanted to start a company at HBS?

  • Took time before HBS (silent retreat, hiking) to reflect on who he was thankful for, and what he had learned
  • HBS wasn’t a new chapter by itself — it was the beginning of a new chapter
  • Didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do, but he knew what he didn’t want to do
  • FOMO only exists if you don’t know what you care about
  • What was important:
  • Becoming a great CEO (had already been a founder before)
  • Scope and responsibilities change as company grows
  • Took courses on entrepreneurial finance, negotiations, sales. Many of the entrepreneurial courses were around scaling, not necessarily founding / design-thinking
  • Some things you can learn, some things you just have to do
  • Fools learn from experience, wise men and women learn from fools; learned fundamentals from others
  • Met hundreds of startups virtually
  • Meet a new person every day
  • if he was busy throughout the day and hadn’t gotten a chance to meet anyone yet, he would purposefully seek out an event to meet someone
  • Join or create something he cared about
  • interested in health care startup space, making decisions, social impact, creating things
  • He had a strong inkling that he would start a company or be a part of an early stage company. He had a thesis that healthcare was a vertical he was interested in.
  • Started meeting people through hackathons, tech club,  e-club
  • Was working on MindBamboo a year or two before HBS, but started testing it out further at HBS, as soon as the first semester


CozyKin was award 2nd Prize at the HBS New Venture Competition, funded at the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund, and winner of the top award at MassChallenge. How did you decide which competitions / resources to pursue?

  • Determine first what you need
  • Co-working space
  • physical space to work
  • Incubators
  • like the iLab
  • Work and hang out with other founders
  • More startup oriented vs. co-working space
  • Accelerators
  • They take a % of company, but get community, PR, cash
  • If looking for an idea, hang out with entrepreneurs, go to hackathons, and brainstorm
  • Getting into these competitions is relatively easy. Winning only comes if you have traction: good idea and team --> product market fit --> traction


What did you do between your RC and EC year?

  • Worked on startup
  • Did Rock Summer Fellowship

Thanks for your time. Is there anything I can help you with?

Pay it forward. Help others out and give advice to those who can benefit from it.