I’m in High School/College…What Should I Do To Get Into Business School?

I am in grade 10 right now and I want to know what grades I must get in high school, And what courses should I be taking to get an MBA?

–Brandon

I am a sophomore in college, and I want to get a MBA in the future. I was wondering – what steps can I take right now to make sure that I am a strong applicant in the future?

–Jennifer

The Harvard MBA says:

First of all, let me commend you on thinking ahead.  I never even thought about getting an MBA until well after I had graduated from college.  Before then, if I ever thought about MBAs, it was to curse the business school teams who dominated Stanford’s intramural sports league.

(I have a distinct memory from my freshman year, when I was the IM rep for my dorm, attending the kickoff meeting for the basketball season and hearing the IM officials say, “And remember, there’s a limit of two former Division 1 players on any IM team.  This means you, business school!”  It was at that point that I realized our freshman dorm’s basketball team wasn’t going to do so well, considering our starting point guard was a 4’11” 17-year-old girl.)

Let’s start with the basics.  The first two things any MBA school will look at will be your college grades and your GMAT score.  These are necessary but insufficient; a 4.0 and a perfect GMAT won’t necessarily get you into HBS, but a 2.0 and a crappy GMAT will prevent you from getting in.

Brandon, your high school grades won’t matter, but they will affect which colleges will admit you.  For now, focus on getting the best possible grades, and make sure that you develop your analytical skills in math and science–more on that later on.  You can also take certain steps to improve your chances of getting into the right college.

Jennifer, now that you’re in college, your focus should be slightly different.  While you still need to get strong grades, your focus should be on demonstrating leadership and initiative.  Very few of my classmates had a perfect 4.0.  A lot of my classmates did extraordinary things during their college careers.  For more on this, I highly recommend my friend Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks.  I heartily endorse his approach of focusing on a few activities for which you’re passionate, versus the overloaded shotgun approach many college students fall into.

Some would argue that it’s easier to get into business school from McKinsey or Goldman Sachs, and that may be true, but I think it’s best if you find a job that you love, which lets you learn a lot, and which helps you discover what it is you want to do with your life.  HBS is a lot more impressed with folks who have an original plan than those who simply follow the path of least risk from college to McKinsey to HBS.  This isn’t because HBS is being generous; the school realizes that true originals are more likely to become enormous successes and thus enhance the brand of the school (and the size of its endowment).

Just as important, start developing mentor relationships, especially with MBA alumni.  Their recommendations will be crucial to your application, and the words, “Jennifer will be a credit to Harvard Business School” carry more weight coming from an HBS alum.

Of course, bear in mind that HBS is itself not an end, but a start.  Getting in is just the beginning!

One Comment

  1. marilyn
    Posted December 9, 2008 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    I had the same question as you. I have no idea how to get into college… at least not yet.. :[

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