How to succeed in the HBS/HKS Joint Degree Program

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Commonly known as “Jointees,” the students in the joint degree programs at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business school are united in their desire to affect change in both business and in government. Their experience moving between two Harvard schools presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges, and each year the third year jointees pass on their wisdom to the classes below them. Some of the piece of advice agree, others conflict, but they are all born out of three years of lived experience.

Work on improving your influence – The “core curriculum” at HKS and the “Required Curriculum” at HBS both help you understand and analyze problems on the firm, industry, and systemic level. However, you be successful, you still need to convince others how to change, the benefits of change, and the imperative to change. Use your time outside of class to grow in this area.

Speak to the unconverted – once you have learned how to solve global challenges and have developed the tools to be convincing, make sure to break out of the echo chamber and speak to those who do not agree with you. That’s the only way to make change.

Take "fierce control" over your education – You only have three years to explore two schools in which someone could spend a lifetime. Don’t count on the distribution requirements to show you everything worth exploring. If you find yourself over committed, talk to HKS professors about not submitting assignments. After all, grades here really don’t matter.

Invest in people – People are what will make your educational experience and people are what you’ll take away from the school after you graduate. Determine who you want to stay friends with in 10 years, and spend time with them!

Don’t be a bleeding heart – The rest of HBS will expect you, as a jointee, to be a bleeding heart, always reflexively advocating for government regulation and against business enterprise. Don’t fall into that trap. As soon as you do, people will anticipate your opinions, see your views as biased, and stop listening to them. By instead trusting that others will fill those roles early in the term, you can save your credibly (and that of all jointees) to advance social arguments later on when the lines are blurrier and the stakes are higher.

(or) Be a bleeding heart! – Someone has to do it.

Be proud of your story – Own it and learn to tell it well.

Make special time for other jointees – they will be your best partners, champions, friends, and resources.

Save your ammo for the last third of class – some of your peers at HKS will villainize the private sector and some at HBS believe that government is unnecessary. Jointees know that the public and private sectors need to work together (and with the non-profit sector) to tackle the “great challenges” in the world. You usually only get to make one comment per class session, so save your airtime for the end so you can correct your peers when they say otherwise.

Pick your PAE client carefully – As a Master in Public Policy (MPP)* candidate you’ll have to complete HKS’s thesis-like Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) in which you will work with a client to deliver a policy deliverable. Pick someone who communicates clearly, understands your limitations, and will value your work. If the work is interesting, the client relates to your post-graduation goals, and the experience broadens your personal network, that’s a plus.

Pick your PAE partner carefully – You can only use this trick to do half the work if your partner is reliable.

*Note: joint degree candidates between HKS and Tuck, Wharton, Stanford GSB, and MIT Sloan can transfer to the MPP to the Master in Public Administration degree, which does not have a PAE requirement

Be open to random talks and new experiences – there are so many of them at Harvard. Say yes to a few of them each week – especially those at other schools you wouldn’t otherwise explore.

Advice for HBS from the graduating class

The HBS experience is brought to a close at the end of the second year with an event called “Bridges.” Students return to their original classroom to the seat where they sat on the first day, to reconvene as a section and reflect on the journey they all have just completed. The time leading up to bridges also affords second-year “ECs” to pass along wisdom to rising first-year “RCs.” Here is a collection of some of the best advice we came across:

Ditch imposter syndrome – many people at Harvard suffer from imposter syndrome; they worry that they were admissions mistakes. The truth is that life is too short for such self-doubt and that no one really “deserves” the benefits of the program. Instead of worrying about cosmic fairness in your admission, focus instead of living your life so that you are worthy of the gifts you are give.

Whiteboard your priorities – The currents at HBS are strong. Career events are geared to push you towards consulting and investment banking, the social hierarchy pushes you to rack up large bills drinking and traveling, and the curriculum implicitly pushes you to value higher paying jobs. If you don’t set your heading before you embark on your HBS journey, they will take you out to sea. To keep yourself on track, purchase a white board and stick somewhere in your apartment where you will see it every day. On the whiteboard, write down your 1-3 priorities for the coming year. As you consider whether to attend a lecture, social event, or weekend trip, check the opportunity against your criteria. If it doesn’t match, then decline with confidence.

Timebox your activities – If you plan on spending one hour on a case, pull out a stop watch and set it for 60 minutes. When it goes off, wherever you are in your reading or analysis, stop! There is always more work to do, more things to read. If you don’t put open-ended tasks into boxes they will eat up all the time you’re saving for other valuable activities.

Don’t put anything off – Your calendar next week may look more open now but it will become just as busy as your calendar this week. If you can avoid it, don’t push that coffee chat or phone call into the deceptively open future in order to buy time now. If it’s not worth doing now, instead ask if it is ever worth doing at all.

Roll over your IRA into a Roth – this is perhaps the most valuable advice you will get while you’re in graduate school!

Embrace unlearning – we all come with prejudices and misconceptions. Lean into experiences where you find your view challenged and when you find that they are wrong, change them!

Remember: companies exist for more than “shareholder value” – It's fashionable to advance Milton Friedman’s “property view” of corporations: that they exist solely for the enrichment of the owners, and that management should prioritize that objective above all others. Some of your classmates will believe that this opinion is accepted fact. This is not true! While management has a duty to maximize shareholder value in the event of a sale (in which case no “long term” interest can credibly exist), they have broad legal berth to exercise their own judgement in determining and attaining the objectives of a company. Furthermore, investors agree. On average, holding times for stocks are about two years, and the price tracks to earnings over 10 years, evidencing compelling market long-termism. In fact, if you analyze earning calls, short-term concerns are almost always brought up by the management, not the investors. Don’t let this myth perpetuate in class... or in the boardroom!

Hack your calendar in Year 2 – While you don’t get to choose any of your classes in Year 1, you have total flexibility in Year 2. The administration will say that it is not possible to get all your classes on either Monday/Tuesday (“X” Days) or Thursday/Friday (“Y” Days”) in the second year, but it is! Just look for International Field Courses between terms and Independent Projects.

Don’t let Harvard define you – You are so many more things. Harvard should just let you become more potent expressions of them. Plus, it’s always refreshing to read a speaker’s biography where HBS is mentioned only in passing at the very end.

Is the Case Method right for me?

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Business schools can be separated academically into two separate categories: majority case-method programs and non-case-method programs. In the former category are schools like Darden, INSEAD, Berkeley Haas, UNC Kenan-Flagler and, of course, Harvard Business School, which pioneered the case method of MBA instruction by borrowing the Socratic dialogues used to teach at Harvard Law School. Schools that are non-majority-case-method incorporate more traditional lectures, team-based projects, and experiential learning, in addition to case-method classes. The average MBA program teaches 30% of its classes in the case method.

Case method courses are very different than traditional lecture-based classes. To prepare for a case method class, students are given a bound document (a “case”) presenting a roughly 10-page overview of a business problem faced by a team, firm, or industry followed by a series of quantitative and qualitative exhibits that an MBA might need to analyze the problem and find a solution. The goal of the case is to simulate as accurately as possible what it would feel like for the student to experience the business problem themselves, by placing the student in the role of the “case protagonist” from whose vantage point the story is told. The day of the class discussion, students normally meet with discussion groups to go over the study questions and try to anticipate where they believe the case conversation will go.

The actual class is a real pressure-cooker. The professor usually leads off by “cold-calling” (i.e. involuntarily selecting without prior warning) one student, often one specifically chosen for their relevant prior professional experience, and grilling them on what they would do in that situation. Other students are brought in to reveal different facts, challenge different perspectives, offer analysis, and argue out the correct course of action. Students need to be ready at a moment’s notice to agree or disagree with the other voices, forcing everyone sit on their edge of their seats, paying close attention.

Sometimes professors will reveal incremental data on what intermediate steps the actual case protagonist took and what results they achieved. The professor will then ask individuals whether this new information changes their perspectives and how.

Very often the case protagonist him or herself will sit in on the class (they find the conversations useful too!) and use the last part of the session to describe what happened, respond to individual students, and take questions. The result is a thrilling class experience where students develop intuition for handling emerging business problems, practice communicating their ideas articulately, and get comfortable leading through uncertainty.

The question is, is a case method program right for you?

Test Yourself

Below I’ve posed a dozen statements. If you disagree with the statement, give yourself 1 point, if you’re neutral 2 points, and if you agree 3 points. At the end, tally your score.

  1. I want to develop my public speaking skills
  2. I think reasonably quickly on my feet
  3. I want to be a general manager or CEO one day
  4. I am confident that I can teach myself finance out of a text book
  5. I have a “big personality”
  6. I prefer short stories to long technical readings
  7. I came to business school to learn
  8. I want to really get to know my peers
  9. I think diverse perspectives lead to better answers
  10. I not that excited to hear about faculty research
  11. The best way to learn something is to do it
  12. I want my peers to take class seriously

12-18 Points: Avoid the case method. Apply to schools that are majority lecture based like Carnegie Mellon Tepper, USC Marshall, UCLA Anderson, Vanderbilt Owen, Michigan Ross, and Oxford Said.

19-23 Points: Choose a program with a mix of teaching styles, including team and experiential-based learning. Examples for this category include Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Duke Fuqua, Georgia Tech, SMU Cox, NYU Stern, and Georgetown McDonough. If you're still curious about case method classes, you consider trying out HBX CORe, which does a decent job at simulating the section experience.

24-30 Points: Apply to programs with a moderate mix (but not a majority) of case-method classes. Examples include Dartmouth Tuck, Stanford GSB, Columbia Business School, UPenn Wharton, and Yale SOM. If you're worried about case-method classes, you can dip your toe into subjects like leadership, ethics, and marketing, where the case method is easier to grasp, while sticking to traditional methods for learning finance and accounting.  

30+ Points: Definitely apply to majority-case-method program. These include schools like HBS, UVA Darden, INSEAD, Berkeley Haas, IESE, University of Western Ontario Ivey, and UNC Kenan-Flagler. Here is where you will really thrive.

The Eisenhower Matrix: A Five-Star General’s Application Strategy

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Want to apply to business school like a master strategist? How about like a five-star general?

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, led the allies to victory in World War II not necessarily through the innovative tactics of Omar Bradley nor the personal ferocity of George Patton, but rather through superior planning. By staying focused on the most important tasks on his plate, keeping track of other tasks on the back burner, and removing unnecessary distractions, he developed what we know today as the Eisenhower Matrix.

On one axis, the question is asked whether a task is important – as in "how essential is this task to mission victory?" On the other axis, the question is asked if the task is urgent – "is this task time sensitive and does it have a deadline coming up soon?" Tasks are arrayed on this matrix according to the answers to these two questions.

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Eisenhower would start with tasks in the top left box and accomplish them immediately. His goal was always to keep his top left box as clear as possible. He would then move to the bottom left box and quickly delegate those tasks to his subordinates. These were tasks that needed to be done, just not necessarily by the General. His key contribution here is picking the right person to accomplish the task, and following up to make sure it is completed. He then moved onto the top right box and decided when in his schedule he would get to these important, non-urgent tasks. If he didn’t plan them correctly, these tasks could quickly become urgent and fill up his “Do” box. Finally, if any tasks fell into the bottom right, he would simply cut them out of his calendar completely. His time was simply too important to be spent on things that did not add value.

We recommend building two Eisenhower Matrices during your application process. The first is for your GMAT study regimen. While your GMAT score is just a single data point in the over-all application, it is a necessary component and in part determines the strata of schools where your application will be competitive.

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The second is for your MBA application process itself. Applying for your MBA is a marathon, and if you don’t sequence your priorities correctly it is highly likely that you will not sequence your work correctly. For example, filling out your application forms and asking for letters of recommendation before developing a narrative almost guarantees that whatever you produce will lack the thematic clarity and focus of a good application. It’s the equivalent of filming a movie without first writing the script. Another pitfall is to do the same before you decide whether to hire an admissions consultant and which one. Starting on applications before finalizing both decisions can lead to a lot of wasted effort before the consultant can find and fix the flaws in your story, and refocus you on higher-value parts of the story.

HBS 2+2 Deadline is April 10

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Harvard Business School is the most prestigious business school in the world and its MBA is the golden credential of the working world. And there is no better way to get admitted than through its 2+2 program!

The 2+2 program allows students to get a delayed offer of admission, which they can use after going out and working full time for at least two years. Since most HBS students come in with 4-5 years of work experience, this program allows you to get a jump-start on your career, or to have the best fallback option of all time should you decide to take some early career risks.

The 2+2 admissions process is truly unique. We have a ton of experience helping college seniors prepare for this exciting opportunity. Let us help you!

Should I Write Waitlist Letters?

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Many candidates on the waitlist wonder if they should write letters to the Admissions Committee or if they should stay quiet. Essentially they are asking if they should take an active or a passive approach to the waitlist experience. Our advice at Ivy Admissions Group is emphatically to take an active approach by sending in letters to the Admissions Committee; here is why:

1. There is no downside

Even if the Adcom truly doesn't want to hear from you in any capacity, there is no chance that they would penalize you for thoughtful, respectful, and infrequent update letters informing them of important updates and affirming your commitment to staying under further consideration. If such a strategy can only be helpful or neutral, you have an opportunity for upside with no downside and should absolutely take it. People would wait years and spend tens of thousands of dollars to be accepted to a top MBA program -- on the other hand, the investment it takes to write these update letters is quite small.

2. Prevent your application from becoming stale

Your application will be reviewed in comparison to the submissions in subsequent rounds against applicants who will all have three additional months to grow in achievements and qualifications -- becoming, in essence, three months more qualified and impressive than you. The Adcom has already read your application and taken a pass on you, so it's likely that when it comes to filling interview slots (for those waitlisted pre-interview) or spots in the class (for those waitlisted post-interview) they will almost entirely draw from the fresh candidates. You are competing for fewer spots than you think and need to stand out. 

3. Stay ahead of the competition

Many of the deferred and waitlisted candidates will be mounting influence campaigns by writing update letters and having mentors contact the admissions deans (many of whom their mentors will know personally). Silence in this environment is a huge comparative disadvantage.

4. This has worked in the past

We've seen empirically that those who use their time on the waitlist to examine, correct, and redeploy their narrative using the techniques we discuss on this website have a far higher acceptance rate than those who refrain from sending in email updates.   

5. This strategy is in-line with the words of the letter

Some schools state explicitly or implicitly that no further materials will be added to your file as you wait on the waitlist. Usually Adcoms say this because if they didn't, they would be flooded with low-quality material from desperate candidates, making their job unmanageable. When we work with waitlisted candidates, we always develop personal improvement plans that figure out what you will want to tell the Adcom has improved about your candidacy in a few months time, and then work backwards to find the steps you need to take in your personal and professional lives to make that happen. Even in the unlikely case that the Adcom won't consider important new facts about your application, waitlist letters will still keep your name on the top of the waitlist manager's mind so that when the Admissions Committee turns to her for help in filling the last few interview invites, she will propose your name.

Conclusion: A low cost investment, if you know what to say!

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Ultimately, the call is yours. The base-level odds of getting into an MBA program off the waitlist is pretty comparable to the program's acceptance rate overall -- which is to say, pretty low. By putting you on the waitlist, the admissions committee is telling you that you are "good enough" to be admitted, but that there was something off in your narrative that made them hesitate. Writing (high quality) waitlist letters is a relatively small time investment to make that can have big effects on your candidacy. The key is to identify what was wrong with your narrative the first time around, develop content that actually fixes those shortcomings in your storytelling, and improve the facts of your candidacy along the dimensions where the Admissions Committee found were weak. Getting help on these last three dimensions is where admissions consultants can be quite helpful.

Reminder: Last Chance to Apply to Stanford GSB in 1 Week!

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Stanford Graduate School of Business - "GSB." With a mind-blowingly low 6.1% acceptance rate, GSB is the most uber-exclusive MBA program and one of the most exclusive degree programs in the world. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, its graduates are famous for pursuing careers in  entrepreneurship and technology, and its program is famous for its emphasis on soft skills in classes such as "Touchy Feely" and student-led programs such as "TALK."

What does it take to get into GSB? In short, something beyond the sterling credentials required of HBS and Wharton: a compelling personal inspiration story (ideally one in which you can be vulnerable) and a strong personal narrative explaining what change you want to make in the world. This is why the Essay at GSB is so critical to scoring an interview and getting an offer of admission. Let us help you with yours! We know what it takes -- not only do we help people get into GSB annually, we got in ourselves!

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HBS Round 3 Closes in 7 Days!

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Harvard Business School is the most prestigious business school in the world and its MBA is the golden credential of the working world. The student body at HBS is the largest -- about 935 per class -- giving students access to an incredible diversity of peers and ensuring that every professional interest group has a critical mass to organize. HBS is also able to create intimate experiences by organizing students into  ~90-person sections in which all classes are taken in the first year. HBS is also the leading practitioner of the rigorous Case Method of instruction, and its cases are standard fodder at business schools around the world.

The admissions committee is looking for students who will live up to its lofty mission of "educating leaders who will make a difference in the world." Despite its large size, only 11% make the cut. If you want to be among them when HBS closes its Round 3 Application in 7 days -- reach out to us to make sure that you are doing everything in your application to maximize your chance of admission!