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How to get into Harvard Business School from India

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Harvard Business School

Many applicants ask us – ‘How hard is it to get into Harvard Business School MBA from India?‘, ‘What does Harvard look for?‘, ‘What are my chances of getting admission into HBS?‘ and several such questions.

Many have written about it from a general perspective. On our site, we’ve tried to answer the question from an Indian applicant’s viewpoint. Why single out Harvard Business School when we’ve already written a post on what top business schools look for in applications?

The simple answer is – because it is Harvard!

Harvard does not depend on MBA rankings for credibility. In fact, it’s the other way around. Any business school ranking that doesn’t have Harvard MBA among the top, loses its credibility.

Among the most popular articles on our website is this one about an Indian who got into Harvard Business School and rejected it.

However, the article didn’t get into the nitty gritties of what it takes to crack into HBS. That’s what we focus on in this blog post. Before moving on to the how-to part, let’s tackle some of the pre-application questions about HBS.

How hard is it to get into the Harvard MBA program?

The short answer is – very hard. Here’s why.

Though technically Harvard University wasn’t the first to set up a business school (that distinction goes to Wharton), its century-long existence gave it a huge first mover advantage (to use the term loosely). Over the years, as a large number of universities followed suit, Harvard ensured that it stayed in the driver’s seat when it came to innovation and setting the bar for management education.

Armed with an endowment that’s among the biggest in the education sector, it can tap into resources that few other universities can. With its publication (HBS Publishing) and research ventures (Harvard Business Review) it has built a self-sustaining ecosystem that pulls and pushes ideas across academia and industry to stay relevant.

The HBS brand is super-strong not just in the education space, but in the industry as well – in almost all fields of specialisation. Harvard MBA students have gone on to achieve tremendous success in the industry as well as in the entrepreneurship space. That pretty much covers the entire spectrum of post MBA opportunities.

This means that the alumni network (one of the key takeaways of an MBA) is entrenched in the higher echelons of power in all business (and non-business streams like politics) fields that you may be remotely interested in.

All this attracts the best and the brightest MBA applicants from across the world hoping to bag a seat at their dream school.

So, yes, it’s pretty darn hard to get into Harvard Business School.

Which is probably why a lot of applicants want to know the answer to the next question.

What are my chances of getting into Harvard Business School?

Unlike the earlier question, this one can actually be answered with statistics published by Harvard.

The selectivity rate for the Harvard MBA is 12%.

For the class of 2016, HBS received 9,543 applications. Considering the yield of 89% (i.e. the percentage of admitted students who actually joined), 1,859 joined the program.

The statistics may vary from year to year, and if you look at the trend, it has become tougher to get into HBS over the years. That should give you a general idea about your chances of getting into the Harvard MBA.

But as with all statistics, be aware of what these numbers don’t tell you. If you blindly assume that your chances of getting into HBS are 12%, that would be incorrect.

There are many other factors at play that aren’t captured by these statistics. The big one being the self-filtering that happens in the applicant pool even before the application is submitted.

As a hypothetical example, there may be 1000 aspirants out there who are crazy about getting into Harvard. But only 100 may actually apply.

The remaining 900 may have reasons not to jump on to the bandwagon. Some may believe that their application fee would be better spent on other programs where the chances of getting accepted are better than Harvard. Others may believe they can wait for a year or two to strengthen their profile.

Out of those 100, 12 will get an offer. It’s a simplistic example to prove a point. Despite the selectivity numbers, your chances of entering Harvard are not 12%. They may be better, or (most likely) worse – depending on your overall profile (industry, nationality, GMAT score, leadership experience) and more importantly – your potential as perceived by the Harvard MBA Admissions team.

Alright, with the basic queries addressed, we’re ready to move on to the main one.

How to get into the Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA program

If you are applying this year, some of these suggestions (like being able to influence the undergrad GPA, industry/role) won’t be relevant. Pick what you think is useful and create your own Harvard application strategy.

1. Understand what makes Harvard what it is

This is an important step to understand ‘fit’ with HBS. While you may not find a specific ‘Why Harvard’ essay, Harvard Admission Officers will sniff out the pseudo-fans who have nothing more to justify the choice apart from Harvard being a top name.

With other business schools, if your other profile contours are favourable (e.g. a very high GMAT score) you just might get away by minor tweaks on your MBA application essays. Don’t even think about that strategy with Harvard, even if you are hard-pressed for time.

Spend plenty of time trying to get a handle on the ‘average Harvard student’ statistics. Even better if you can spend time searching for Indians who’ve attended Harvard (LinkedIn is a good source).

If you aren’t coming close to them, there may be a message for you – to re-focus your energies on other bschools and not be devastated when you hear back from the Harvard admissions team.

Try to visualise yourself as a Harvard student and what you’d be expected to go through in those 2 gruelling years.

For instance, consider the primary weapon in their academic arsenal – the Case Study. Read more about how Harvard Business School uses the case study method.

Also, be aware of the grading practices at HBS. It’s a bell-curve rating where you’ll be pitched opposite your peers. Class participation could influence half those grades.

So if you are an introvert, either you’ll come out majorly transformed (if you can adapt to the environment) or completely crushed.

After you’ve done the data collation, research and the visualisation, ask yourself – “Is it a pretty sight or scary?”

2. Ensure you have stellar academic statistics

The world believes Harvard is a machine that churns out leaders who are highly technical as well. While HBS probably enjoys hearing that, the truth is an MBA degree can’t do what an undergrad degree like MS / B.E. / B.Tech can i.e. improve the technical skills of its students.

So, Harvard relies on a filter system that squeezes out the best technical brains in the applicant pool and trains them on business. If you notice, a large number of Harvard students have a technical / engineering undergraduate background.

From an Indian angle this means, many have an engineering degree (being an IIT graduate doesn’t hurt). And then adding some icing on the cake – think about all the leadership positions you held on campus. And then put a cherry on top of it – like a high GPA / CGPA or gold/silver medal.

Don’t be fooled by stories of low GMAT scorers (580) getting into Harvard. That generally does not happen with Indian applicants.

MBA Crystal Ball helped someone with a ‘500 something’ GMAT scorer get into a top ranking school in Europe with full scholarship. But here’s the catch. He wasn’t Indian and had a profile that was very unique.

Harvard’s median GMAT score is 730. The range of GMAT scores is 580 – 790.

With its huge batch size, HBS relies on Indians (and other high scoring demographic pools) with high scores to offset their decision of taking in low scorers.

3. Get into the right industry and role before applying

Being a branding success story, HBS knows the value of how brands work. One in four students at Harvard has been a consultant at top management consulting firm (think – McKinsey, Bain, BCG).

What if it’s too late for that? What if you are not in the consulting industry?

You still have those 3 seats (out of 4) to compete for. But the primary rationale doesn’t change. Take any other field and find out the market leaders who are known for their stringent employee selection process.

Google in technology, Goldman Sachs in investment banking, Carlyle in private equity are good examples.

In certain industries, the milestones are pretty fixed. For example, if you join a consulting firm as an analyst immediately after your engineering degree (lucky you!), you’d be expected to move out for an MBA after a few years.

For other industries where this is not the norm, show your role progression and increasing quantum and complexity of the responsibilities you’ve handled.

Show the admissions officer that the Harvard application is not your first trial by fire.

4. Present yourself as a Leader

Remember the earlier point about, HBS (like most other business schools) not being able to do much about churning out technical wizkids, seems like there’s not much that they can do about creating leaders magically in 2 years either (hmm, just like other bschools).

But the impression that Harvard graduates are highly-skilled leaders still sounds good. So, they extend the filtering to include those who are already leaders.

In that’s so, why would those who are technically savvy and also born leaders try so hard to attend Harvard? Because the doors that can open for them after graduation can be bigger, grander and more lucrative. Who wouldn’t want that?

Show them that you not only have the achievements of a leader but you can communicate as a leader too.

5. Apply in your mid-twenties

From the previous point on leaders having a better shot at a HBS seat, it may seem as if the folks with all those achievements might be close to retirement. From the statistics on the Harvard MBA admissions page, seems like that’s not true.

HBS students are actually younger than the students at the other Top 10 MBA colleges. The sweet-spot for applying is when you have around 3 years of experience after graduating. The more experience you have, the lesser the chances of getting in.

There may be exceptions to the rule, like MBA applicants from the army / military or you have a strong masters or doctoral degree that skewed your experience-to-age ratio.

If you are thinking, “All this is fine, but it can’t be an all-encompassing formula” then you are right. These tips are purely based on the typical profiles that you see getting into Harvard.

If you do a comprehensive analysis of Indian students (let us know where you found that data) or Chinese / African / American students for that matter who’ve attended Harvard Business School, you’ll find many who don’t have a top degree from IIT or any well-known college, who aren’t from consulting and who don’t have a high GMAT score.

Try to analyse what it was about those profiles that may have got them a seat at HBS.
After all has been said and done, keep in mind that Harvard isn’t the (only) good business school out there for you.

In fact, when it comes to ‘value’ there are other MBA programs that are better than Harvard.

In a few years, you may realise you were chasing it only because of the brand. MBA graduates of other programs are equally capable of changing the business world too.

Related links,
What to expect as a Harvard MBA student
Post MBA career growth of Harvard Business School graduates
16 things every Harvard Business School MBA student should know
Harvard Business School interview questions and answer tips
Harvard Advanced Management Program (AMP) Review
Harvard MBA vs Stanford MBA vs Wharton MBA
Q&A with Assistant Professor of Finance at Harvard Business School
Harvard HBX CORe Indian Student’s Experience Blog
Harvard online certificate courses are not just for MBA degree aspirants
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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

33 thoughts on “How to get into Harvard Business School from India”

  1. Hi sir,

    My name is Akshay Rajput i am completed B.E(CSE) in 2014 .But I have no work experience till now i am query is that without working experience it is easy or tough to apply to harvard.

  2. It seems, Indian IT male is a taboo in MBA world. That’s too bad to hear, just because the number is high doesn’t mean that IT guys are not talented. IT is the biggest employer in India so off-course the number will be high. 30 years ago, the number of Govt. employees was high. Maybe after 30 years people working in manufacturing will be high.

  3. Hello Samir

    I was just going through your blog need some suggestion for my career.Like I have to total experience of 7+ years in teaching computer Science in reputed University.Currently I am working as Assistant Professor in Computer Science ,where I am teaching IBM specialization subjects.My question is I want a career shift.So should I go for some degree abroad like MIS or MBA in US/CANADA ?I am mainly focussing on some programs in abroad.Please suggest what will be the right path.


  4. @Akshay: The average work experience for Harvard MBA is over 4 years. Without experience, it will be very tough to get in. It’s best to be patient and spend the time gaining some rich and varied experience before thinking of applying to Harvard, or any other good business school.

    @Vikrant: When it comes to bschool admissions, apart from talent, it’s also about statistics. With so many (very similar looking) profiles from India to evaluate, it gets very difficult for Admission officers to dig out the real talent from the me-too applicants.

    @Anonymous: I’ve already addressed this on another forum where you posted, but for the benefit of others with a similar profile (academic role), I’ll mention that employers will look for your pre-MBA background too, and not just the MBA degree. Career changes are relatively easier when you can show an overlap between what you have done and what you want to do.

    • Sammer What parameters you said are all true But you missed on a big factor that is Gender Diversity . In US it plays a game changer for B schools BUT not an MS in Comp science at Harvard . But For Harvard B school beinfg Female there are many things what you said are Over looked . Like your Undergrad GP . Your Exta Curricular . Ypour Leadership Qualities . Infact I can say You as an Accenture Guy in US we have to send a a Gender Diversity report every Year on how many Females are at Each level in Our Organisation . If the ratio is less than One third then there is an instruction to promote girls to make the ratio back to One third . The same way in HBS / STANFORD/Wharton . Girls are a different bucket while Admissions and while recruiting as well. One third ratio is maintained every where and at every level. there applications are dealt completely separate than Male applicants .

  5. Hi Sir
    I have a BTech from IIT Delhi with 6.26 cgpa. I also have 1.5 years of experience in IT consulting in a MNC. Additionally, I am pursuing CFA and am currently a candidate of level 2. I am planning to get 2.5 more years of experience before going for a MBA. Will it be wise to target MBA from a Canadian B-School?

    • NO, forget about that. You know US schools don’t have reservation systems through which you were handed IIT Delhi. Reservation cannot save you there.

  6. hi sameer,

    i have done computer science and engineer with 70%. now i am planning to do MBA in top B-schools at abroad. Would you suggest me , what are steps i need to follow. i dont know , which entrance exam i need to attend.
    prem kumar

    • My queries are similar to yours Prem Kumar!!! I’ll complete my B.Tech in mechanical this year….kindly let me know what you figured out to help me.

  7. Hi

    I am currently a third year engineering student and want to pursue MBA from harvard, stanford or haas.

    1) Is work experience is compulsory needed.Freshers can’t apply?
    2) How to get a scholarship? I mean they will give scholarship on the basis of your GMAT score or you have to do it via some other procedures.

    Thanks & Regards.

  8. @Saurav: Yes, wait for a couple of years would be a good idea as you’ll get closer to the median experience range for Canadian business schools.

    @Prem: You can start off with this article: How to get into the top business schools.

    @Harsh: Work experience is an important component of the overall profile, not just for admissions but also for scholarship decisions. I’d suggest waiting for a few years before applying.

  9. Hi,
    I am IITM alumnus with 5+ years in Energy sector, 1 year international exp and want to move to general management or consulting or technology in US. By the time i get admit i will have 7 yrs wrk exp. What are the pros and cons of applying for MBA with such work exp?

  10. Hello Sir,

    I am pursuing from University of Delhi along with CMA(Cost and Management Accountancy-Inter level 2). I wish to pursue MBA from Harvard Business School or Stanford, but i do not have much knowledge about the entire procedure (including scholarship) for application. Please provide the relevant information.

  11. @Old Guy: 7 years would be higher than the median for most American 2 year programs. Balance out your school selection across the top 10 / 20. Apart from the IIT brand and good experience, give them something else to be happy about – like a strong GMAT score, clear post-MBA goals and anything else that’ll lessen the impact of the age.

    @Prabhu. Check out the admissions page on the official Harvard MBA and Stanford site. You’ll find the details there. As a student, it’ll be too early for you to think about an international MBA.

  12. Hello sir

    Sir I am a commerce student and I am planning to do my BCom Hons from BHU and I will pursue my CA course along with it. Sir what should my strategy to get into Harvard or Stanford for MBA and how can I manage to get a 100% scholarship for the same.

  13. Sir,
    I have just completed my masters in science. I want to do an MBA in a prestigious MBA college abroad. I have a good academic record and has been active in my school and college life in extra-curricular activities as well. I am pretty sure of bagging a good GMAT score as well this year. The problem is I do not have a work experience. So I am confused whether or not I would be selected if I apply for colleges like LBS, Harvard or Stanford.
    Please advise.

  14. @Sage: Don’t think about too many things all at once. Focus on completing the CA first. Then work for a few years. Then bring the MBA on the table if it still fits your career goals.

    @Amit: Yes, it will be considered.

    @Vishal: Don’t pile on the degrees just for the sake of it. Make use of your current Masters degree in the right industry/role for at least 3 years.

  15. Sir,
    I have just completed with CA this year and my CS result is still awaited. I want to do MBA in finance from a prestigious MBA college abroad,Can you suggest me the best suitable college or what else is best suited for me to pursue forward .

  16. Hi,
    Can you please look at my below profile and advise me if I can try for Stanford/Harvard MBA with Scholarship?
    I have got 88.0,81.2,77.4 in my 10th,12th and BTech(IT) from a private college.After that I joined a start up and got good grasp on technology and product development.I am working here for last 3yrs,within 2 years I made a good impact on the company and promoted as Technical Lead of the team.I am good in Aptitude,analytics and problem solving but week in English,I am trying to improve it.In future I want to be an entrepreneur in software industry. Presently I am planing to switch my company and join a service based company so that I can prepare for GMAT and etc.Am I sounds logical or it is very tough for me to get it?


  17. Hello sir
    I am a 2nd Year, ECE undergraduate at NIT ,Nagpur . What kind of projects and training should I indulge myself in ,that would build my profile good enough to apply for such institute . I have a decent grades in my academics.

  18. Hello,
    I would like to request you to help me with some current students and or some alumni with whom I should get an idea on how to go about with my essay.
    Also, request you to help me with a minimum score required in GMAT which will help in admission to one who has good GPA, good at extracurricular and with a 2+ year experience with Tata Steel as manager (engineering background). What are the scholarships that Indian students should try for?

  19. Hello Sir,
    I am Bhairav and want to study at Stanford and pursue my Mba. I have just given my std.10 exams. I am very confused what to do next. Should I do Engineering and then do my Mba studies or take a Commerce stream?

  20. Do you provide any guidance for Medical schools admissions in UK and USA for and Indian student in CBSE system? What is the age criteria for applying??

  21. Hey Sameer,

    I am currently enrolled in Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women (not that badass but still a Delhi Govt. Univ) and it so turns out that the industry isn’t very receptive of ECE grads, so there goes my work ex. Now I have a pretty okay percentage (75% above) in my grad studies so would this percentage and dearth of a good job pose major problems in my application for HBS like five years down the lane? I want to start planning the best I can do to increase my chances of getting selected and the earlier I know, the better.

    All suggestions welcome.

  22. Hi Sameer,

    I am asking you this question on behalf of my friend.

    He plans on getting into HBS by 2018, by which he will be having a work experience of 3.5+years after CA. Currently, he is working in BMR Advisors, a leading firm in India. He cleared his CA and CS in Nov 2015, and currently pursuing CFA level 2, which he hopes he will clear all the three levels by 2017. He even gave CAT in 2009, scoring 99.57, therefore, i can say that scoring the cut off score could be achieved.

    I want to ask you what are the chances of him converting, coz we mostly see IIT paasouts getting in, but haven’t heard of CA’s getting into HBS or other top B-Schools.


  23. sameer sir, i have passed my 12th(pcm) this year with an aggregate of 81% . I have an inclination towards business administrations . so, can you please let me know when should i start studying for GMAT and what score is required to get a scholarship at top b-schools like the Harvard .I belong to a middle class family and cannot spend more than 25 lakhs on MBA abroad. i need your guidance sir. please help me sir.

  24. Hi,

    Very useful article. Thanks.
    I have a question, will the work experience of working in Investment banking firm like Goldman Sachs as an Associate but in Software Developer role, going to be of significant use when applying for Harvard or Wharton MBA?

    What exactly you mean in point, ‘3. Get into the right industry and role before applying’ ?
    I am from Engineering background, and aspiring for MBA from Harvard or Wharton.. what exactly should be my focus industry to build up a good profile. Will getting into Google will be good or Goldman Sachs in Investment banking, since I have offer from Goldman.

    Thanks in advance.

  25. Hi! This article is great! What should be the marks in Class 10 and 12 for getting into Harvard? How much job experience should a person have?

  26. Hi sir ,
    I want to ask that is CA degree be considered instead of bcom for admission in MBA program in any ivy league ? I have not done my bcom but I have a CA degree .


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