MBA News: HBS Recommendations

Dee Leopold, Managing Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School, recently wrote a long post on recommendations and their role in the HBS admissions process. What we found most striking about her post was her approach: “Candidates simply must use common sense and trust that we on the Admissions Board are reasonable and understanding.” In many ways, her quote can be the appropriate answer to many candidate questions. Because the admissions process can seem so opaque at times and because the opportunities for negative judgments have such obvious detrimental consequences, many candidates fear that the Admissions  Boards are seeking reasons to “eliminate” them for the most minor deviation from the “right” path. Of course, this is not true and MBA programs are at pains to dispel this myth. At the recent AIGAC Conference, more than one Admissions Officers made statements like, “We are not looking for reasons to reject candidates. We are looking for reasons to accept them.”


So, Ms. Leopold should be taken at her word and, when it comes to recommendations, HBS applicants should:

  1. Focus on selecting a recommender with whom they share a profound relationship

  2. Encourage recommenders to be thoughtful and honest

  3. Discourage recommenders from offering empty praise and turning negatives into positives

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