Sandy’s Harvard Crimson Guide to HBS admissions


Published, THE HARVARD CRIMSON, On 4/20/2008

Sanford Kreisberg is the founder of, a business school admissions consultancy. He has advised scores of Harvard graduates about applying to HBS over the past 20 years . . . .

1. Try to have a high GPA and do not fall for the canard that the admissions committee is aware of hard courses, and will give you a break. They are aware of A, B, and C. They have no idea if Post-Modern Feminist Approaches to Derivative Trading is a hard course or a gut. Take a lot of guts, and use the extra time to explore extra activities. Do not innocently engage in learning for ‘learning sake’ –although certainly say you do. Do not take introductory Arabic or Chinese because they sound contemporary and important, especially when most kids in those classes will be native speakers looking for guts. Do not take some super-duper math course because it sounds ‘interesting.’

2. Try to have a high GMAT, but HBS is not obsessed with this; they are more concerned with your GPA, and will not get too shook up with a 680 or even a 660 GMAT if they ‘otherwise love you’ and that can apply to even non-minorities. A 720 GMAT is normative, a 750 won’t help you as much as you think, and a jumbo 770+ is a nice touch, especially if a keystone of your application is that you are smart or quanty.

3. Be strategic about extracurriculars: try to be a leader. Try to find an issue where you can lead based on interests or identity politics. Think about Miss America, where each finalist has some ‘signature’ issue like overcoming learning disabilities or improving inner-city education. Get a signature issue of your own. Leading a club based on your ethnicity, personal concerns, diseases, or political ideas is good. Try to be innovative and expand the organization’s programs and membership.

4. Be a work in progress. HBS is obsessed with ‘transforming’ its students, so the persona you should present in your application is someone who is both focused and accomplished, yet open to change. You don’t need to be overly interested in business per se; rather, you need to be interested in the intersection of your personal passion, signature issue, or academic interest with the potential social impact. Thus, if you have a passion for biology, you would do better presenting yourself as someone interested in how biology can cure disease among groups a, b, or c, rather than someone obsessed with Biotech companies and their relative stock values. HBS will “transform” you into the latter.

5. For the “2+2” program, which is new, it is better to pretend to be ‘out of it’ about business than someone who has been obsessed with business ever since your grandfather gave you 100 shares of General Electric for your 10th birthday. HBS is looking for science and artsy kids who otherwise, without HBS’s wonderful “2+2” program, never would have thought about business, and would have gone to (gasp) law school. So, be a techie who was happy being a nerd until, poof, “2+2” came along, and then you discovered you could be a business nerd. Think transformation.

6. In your essays, show what makes you tick; the essays are not brag sheets. Don’t list what you did so much as account for how you were effective getting others, like professors and other students, to help you. Think Tom Sawyer. Get the others to help you paint the fence. Don’t brag about raising money for charity, but explain how you convinced 20 other kids to help you raise money for charity.