Waitlist Success Stories, Part 1: Dreams came true at HBS

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Harvard Business School Admit

“Nate's help was critical! He identified the weaknesses in my essays and narrative and he helped me reposition my narrative in a much more compelling way. I highly recommend him for help with storytelling and narrative building!

- Entrepreneur, White, Male, Engineer

Purchased: Conquer the Waitlist


Harvard Business School Admit

“Finding out I was on the waitlist was really tough for me. I felt like I was so close to something I really wanted but didn't know how to get there. The waitlist is a complete gray area. I didn't know what steps to take to strengthen my application and beyond that, I didn't want to take any steps to weaken my application. Ivy Admissions was critical in helping me to evaluate my application and then draft two letters to improve my narrative and reiterate my interest in HBS. I ended up getting in and am so thankful I used this team! “

- Oil & Gas, Private Equity, Female, White

Purchased: Conquer the Waitlist

Round 2/3 Testimonials, Part 2: Another Dual GSB-HBS Admit

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HBS, GSB, Wharton & Booth Admit

“Ivy Admissions was my true partner in my MBA application journey from start to finish. Their insight into each school’s values, personality and tradition really made a difference when helping me craft and present my unique and personal narrative throughout all aspects of my application. Their coaching and guidance was always on point, particularly with their tailored and detail-oriented mock interviews. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what I have without their valuable insight and advice, born of their intimate understanding and relationships with their clients and their target schools. Thank you, Ivy Admissions!”

- Public Finance investment banking, public university, male, multiracial

Purchased: Complete School Package


Wharton Admit

“The advice and support provide by Lisa and Ivy Admissions Group was a huge factor in my successful application to Wharton. They helped me craft my narrative in a compelling and coherent manner that ultimately proved effective.“

- Marine Special Operations Veteran

Purchased: Complete School Package


Darden Admit

“Ivy Admissions Group was critical to my success in the business school application process. When I started, I had a jumbled story about why I needed an MBA and Ivy Admission Group worked with me to create a cohesive narrative about my work experience and how an MBA would help me advance in my career. Throughout the entire process, they were professional, responsive, and committed to my success. Without their guidance, I probably would have been a reapplicant.“

- Government Staffer

Purchased: Complete School Package

Takeaways from HBS's first year without Round 3, and what is to come

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HBS’s admissions director Chad Losee announced HBS’s 2019-2020 application due dates, keeping the same essay prompt: “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?”. He also announced that HBS would continue to only have two admissions rounds, instead of the usual three - the last one it dropped this past year.

Many applicants have asked us what the loss of Round 3 would mean for their applications. Now that we have seen what Year 1 looked like, we feel that we are able to provide the following answers:

1. If you can, apply early!

If you are a traditional applicant (consulting, finance, fortune 500), the unspoken rule is that you need to apply in Round 1. That is when HBS is expecting you to apply and so that is when it is going to give away almost all of the admissions spots for your industry.

Even if you are not a traditional candidate, it is always a good idea to apply early. While HBS offers only need-based financial aid, other schools use merit-based aid to woo desirable candidates (check out our testimonials section to see just how much money some of these schools shell out). Almost all of that money is issued to those admitted in Round 1, so if you feel like saving upwards of $100,000 on your MBA, apply early so you can get it.

2. HBS waitlist decisions are made quickly, so engage early

Normally we see HBS accumulate candidates with great stats but only okay narratives on its waitlist, culling them in Round 3 and keeping a small, chosen few on through the “summer melt” phase where they admit students only to replace another admit who had to decline for one reason or another. This year, we saw HBS give definitive yes-or-no decisions earlier in the process, coinciding with the Round 2 notification date. Whereas in the past, a significant number of our clients would be kept on the waitlist until June, this year only a couple were. Everyone else was either admitted (most of them) or rejected.

What this means for you is that if you apply in Round 1 and are placed on the waitlist, you cannot afford to wait or be silent. You need to engage with the admissions committee right away as you have a much shorter timeline to plead your case. Put another way, as soon as you see that you’re on the waitlist, get in touch with us.

3. Other schools will wait-and-see (ride the waitlist!)

HBS enjoys something of a prime mover advantage. Because it and GSB are pretty much every applicant’s top 1 and 2 choice (not necessarily in that order), they can be reasonably sure that whoever they admit will accept their place and therefore the only students who drop from the class are the ones that are forced to for reasons beyond their control (military deployment, death in the family, illness, etc). That gives those two schools much more certainty in shaping their class and allows them to carry far fewer students on their waitlist.

In contrast, the rest of the M7 can never been too sure of their class composition because they are constantly losing admits to HBS and GSB when they get in off the waitlist or apply in subsequent rounds. This forces those other M7 schools to carry many more students on their waitlists, as well as admit many students from those waitlists.

The net effect is that if you are waitlisted at such a school, it is much more important for you to grit your teeth and ride the waitlist as there is a better chance of success than in years past.

4. Expect other schools to follow

HBS sets a lot of trends in MBA admissions, from making application dates earlier to streamlining the applications. While there are no immediate indications that other schools are going to follow HBS’s lead this year, it would be a safe assumption that some others will follow in the years to come. After all, Round 3 is traditionally a very small round at any school, comprising only around 10% of the admits in a given class.

If you are a few years away from applying, count on not having the Round 3 option available to you. Instead, reexamine your timeline and account for the fact that you will likely need to accelerate your applications to apply in Round 2 or delay them to apply in Round 1 of the following year.

Praise for Ivy Admissions Group

There is nothing more satisfying for us than to see a client we spend months and months working with finally get into their dream school. Below are the testimonials that have been collected in our evaluation forms; we’ll keep updating them as more people submit. Congratulations to all the Ivy Admissions Group clients admitted in Round 1 and best of luck to all those working with us on Round 2!

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Harvard Business School and Wharton Admit

“Initially, I was a bit skeptical of paying thousands of dollars for a consulting service, but I'm glad I did. The Ivy Admissions team really took the time to understand who I am and what I want to get out of business school. I felt supported 100% of the way and I know his feedback contributed both to my acceptance at HBS and my 110k merit scholarship at Wharton.”

- Military, Public university, Male, White

Purchased: Complete School Package

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Wharton School Admit

“If you are reading this, do yourself a favor and go with IAG. You will save time, $, and emotional struggles from this one heck of a competitive admissions cycle.”

- Consulting, State School, Female, Asian

Purchased: Complete School Package + Extra Interview


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Wharton School and Duke Fuqua Admit

“My admissions consultants provided prompt, high-quality input to my application materials that I believe increased my odds of acceptance. My consultants were professional, easy to work with, and most importantly, clearly cared about me and my application process. I have no doubts that my applications were made stronger through using the services of Ivy Admissions Group, and they were critical to gaining acceptance at my top-choice school.“

- Consulting, Military, White, Male

Purchased: Complete School Package

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Harvard Business School Admit

“Nate and Anna were consummate professionals from start to finish. The unique process at Ivy Admission Group helped me crystallize my narrative - not just for business school, but also for myself. Thank you!”

- Non-Profit, White Male

Purchased: Complete School Package

How to become a Baker Scholar

George Fisher Baker (1840-1931), the first major benefactor of Harvard Business School and namesake of the Baker Scholars

George Fisher Baker (1840-1931), the first major benefactor of Harvard Business School and namesake of the Baker Scholars

Case method classes in business school are unlike any other academic environment one will encounter. They require diligent preparation, excellent communication skills, and the ability to quickly analyze an evolving business problem in front of your peers. Class participation at many case method schools account for half of one’s grade. That’s the situation at Harvard Business School, where even though there is an official policy of grade non-disclosure, there is stiff competition for top marks.

At the conclusion of each course, students are assigned one of four grades designated as Category I, II, III, and IV.

Category I - given to the top 15-25% of students

Category II - given to the next 65-75% in a section. The actual number of Category II grades is subject to the number of Category I grades assigned.

Category III - given to the lowest-performing 10% of students in an elective curriculum course section.

Category IV - seldom assigned; designates failure of achievement and/or commitment and, therefore, failure to meet minimum standards of the course. If Category IV is used in a course, the combined number of students who receive Categories III and IV must equal the lowest 10% of the elective course section.

Those whose accumulation of “Net Category I” grades (i.e. the sum of their “I”s minus the sum of their “III”s and "IV"s) puts them in the top 5% of their class (over both years) earn the distinction of “Baker Scholar,” an honor named in memory of George F. Baker the "Dean of American Banking" who literally built HBS. Those who receive 5 or more “IIIs” face suspension from the program pending a review by the academic board (something called “hitting the screen”).

What steps can you take to make Baker Scholar and avoid hitting the screen?

1. Invest in your team.

Case method schools often assign students to discussion groups to analyze the case before the class. See our article on how to get the most of your Discussion Group here. These people are not there to merely suck up an hour of time you might otherwise spend sleeping – they are there to make you look good by challenging your understanding, assumptions, and analysis private before your classmates will attack them in public. This really only works if you foster trust, cooperation, and reciprocity among your discussion group, so before you get to work, get to know them first and foster the comradery you would want in a high-performing team.

2. Work smarter with “Case Captains”.

Read our article on that system here. Until you get really good at preparing cases they take 2-3 hours each to read, analyze, and write-up. That means that you’ll need to prepare 6-9 hours in advance of a three-case, easily sucking up any time that you might otherwise spend on other productive activities such as networking and recruiting. By using Case Captains, you can free up time on nights when you’re not on duty to attend social events to keep you sane, and recruiting events to keep you employed. Plus, if something happens and you’re not able to read the case, the Case Captain system throws you a lifeline to see participate in class.

3. Enlist a feedback buddy.

It’s really hard to be on the dance floor and to visualize yourself from the balcony at the same time. Likewise, it’s very difficult to accurately assess how you come across with your comments in class and what you need to improve. That’s why you should enlist a feedback buddy to keep special notes on the things you say. Things to have them look for include (1) the logical flow of your comment (was it easy to follow?), (2) your volume (could you be heard?), (3) its relevancy (did it fit in with the flow of the conversation or did it take the class on a tangent?), (4) the reaction of the professor and the class (positive or negative?), (5) any public speaking ticks to correct (you’re practicing a skill when you speak in public, practice it correctly!)

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4. Keep a comment log.

Related to the above. Note on a I-III scale how well you think you did with your comment. This will give you a sense of how well you think you should be doing going into mid-term feedback and will help you understand where you need to invest your time to improve your grades. Noting when you speak in class will also tell you when you are due for a comment. When you’re overdue (i.e. it’s been more than three classes since your last one) you might want to start expecting a cold call. Having air-tight analysis pre-prepared in such a situation will make you look like a rockstar, but you’ll probably only be able to do that when you know the cold call is coming!

5. No case-facts or chip-shots

Every comment you make in class is graded. Each one is assigned a potential maximum value based on its level of difficulty (think of the way gymnastics and diving are scored by “degree of difficulty” in the Olympics). Questions where the answer is a case fact are by their nature incredibly easy. The best you can score by answering such a "chip-shot" flawlessly is a low “II.” If you mess it up, you’re in for a low “III”. Professors specifically ask these questions for students who are extremely nervous or under-prepared so that they can get their participation grade and get back out of the conversation. If you’re hoping to do anything more than not fail out of the school, you should avoid these questions at all costs.

6. Don’t speak in the first 30 minutes of class.

Related to the above. This is where all the case-fact questions are asked. The questions with a level of difficulty in the “I” range come usually at the two-thirds or three-quarters mark.

7. Quantity has a quality.

Every professor will say that the quality of your comments matter more than the quantity. However, after a certain point, quantity achieves a quality all its own. This happens for a couple reasons. First, faculty work to balance the airtime between students, so if you’re always speaking, the professor won’t want to waste a (dreaded) cold call, when they can use that to instead draw quieter students into the conversation. Second, and related, if you know that you won’t be cold called, you won’t have to play defense by answering chip-shots and case-fact questions. This gives you the freedom to only raise your hand to speak when you have a truly great comment. Last, while faculty say that quality is much more important than quantity, quantity is much easier to measure and consequently has greater weight for grading purposes.

8. Dig past the obvious answer

Most cases are meant to teach an incremental topic or framework. You know that the finance class on using comparable companies to calculate the WACC will involve calculations of comparable companies’ Beta. Don’t be content just calculating the other Betas; chances are all of the other smart kids calculated it too. Instead, ask one question deeper. Something like, are these even the right comparables? What do their Betas tell me about the strength of their firms? What does this WACC tell me I should invest in?  

9. Make one point and make it well.

Comments with one thesis are easier to execute and easier for the class to follow. Complex comments referencing five points made over the past 30 minutes disrupt the flow and won’t be appreciated.

10. Erect signposts.

"Signposting" is the act of providing meta-structure to your comment in order to aid in its understanding. Example, “I disagree that the CEO should fire her CFO for three reasons. The first reason is that…”. This will help the class understand the journey that your comment is going to take them on, as well as then they can expect it to be over.

11. Let overripe comments go

Every comment has a moment in the case conversation. When the moment for your comment comes and goes, let it pass. Saying it anyway will disrupt the flow of the conversation and make it look like you were not listening to your classmates (i.e. being disrespectful). There is nothing more self-denying and zen than sitting on a comment you were sure would score a home run after your team has taken the field again.

12. Visit office hours.

Professors are people too and they appreciate getting to know you outside of class. Making one or two appearances shows your interest in their subject, and can provide great opportunities to ask questions that you never got to in class. Plus, professors can be valuable assets after graduation and visiting with them can really boost your professional network.

See related articles:

How to read and prepare an HBS-style MBA Case

HBS is among the most prolific producers of Business School case studies

HBS is among the most prolific producers of Business School case studies

MBA classrooms all over the world use cases to teach. Each case tells the story of a business problem from the point-of-view of a “case protagonist.” Cases ground a future conversation about what the protagonist should do, and the goal of that conversation is to arrive at some insight that students can use when facing similar business challenges in the future.

While many business schools write cases for use in their classrooms as well as others, all cases generally follow the same format: a page setting up the situation, followed by some pages of background historical information, a longer narrative of the problem, the decision to be made, and concluding with numerous pages of data and exhibits. The cases are short, but are meant to be comprehensive for the following case conversation. This makes the case conversation more realistic as business leaders often have to lead their firms through uncertainty and with limited information.

Sounds simple, right?

In fact, it’s deceptively simple. Cases end up being remarkably dense, making them much harder and slower to read than a Wall Street Journal article. Their stories open up a million doors, making it difficult to tell where the case conversation might actually go. Their data can be analyzed in a million different ways, each taking up valuable time that could be spent preparing for other classes or recruiting interviews. So how can you work smarter and prepare the case properly?

1. Know where the case fits into the curriculum

The first case in a class is a special introductory case meant to include and highlight all of the topics you’ll cover over the course. The last case is a capstone summarizing all of the concepts previously covered. Usually one or both of the two were previously used as the basis for a final exam. All the other cases in the sequence (except those meant to accommodate the personal schedules of visiting case protagonists) are meant to illustrate an incremental concept within a module. Look at the syllabus for clues as to what those concepts might be so that you can run the analysis before class. Examples might include calculating the appropriate WACC in finance or analyzing the 4 P’s in marketing.

2. Before you start reading, set a timer

Parkinson's Law states that work will expand to consume all the resources available to it. The same goes for cases. There is always another analysis to run; always more investopedia articles to read. Rather than allow the case to eat up your schedule, set a timer and “time box” your analysis. When the timer goes off, stop working on that case and move onto the next one.

Shoot to get your reading and analysis down to an hour or less per case by the end of first year. At the start, you’ll probably need to give yourself something closer to 90-120 minutes.

3. Get your bearings

Before you read the case cover to cover, skim it to get your bearings. First, read the entire first page, then the first line of each paragraph, and then all of the exhibits to orient yourself. Understand that cases are each meant to stand alone as a document, and so they include a lot of extra detail that anyone with Google can just look up for themselves. By skimming you can avoid the red herrings and focus on the details that matter. Ask: what is the decision that has to be made? What are the immediate causes of the central problem? And who are the stakeholders?

4. Skip historical background section

This is usually on pages 2-4. You can read it if you're personally interested, but it is almost never relevant.

After extensive testing, these Pilot Dr. Grip 4+1 pens are way better than the traditional  Bic 4-Color  pens

After extensive testing, these Pilot Dr. Grip 4+1 pens are way better than the traditional Bic 4-Color pens

5. Develop a note taking system.

I’m a fan of 4-color pens. Here is my system: black is for all primary notes; blue is for organizing primary notes, taking secondary notes, and making revisions; red is for all names and contact information; green is for all to-dos and follow-ups.

As I read a case, I box all stakeholders and circle all numbers in red. I take notes to answer discussion questions in black. I note all questions I want to look-up or ask my discussion group in green. I save blue to write a summary of the case discussion and the major takeaways at the top of the first page of the case when there is only 5-10 min left in class.

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6. Apply any frameworks you have been given

Frameworks that get introduced in one class tend to make repeat appearances in the following classes. Most first-year classes spend the first half of each session drawing out these frameworks on the blackboard and then filling them in, fact by fact. If you’re just looking to make a quick "chip shot" comment in class, offering a piece of analysis to fill these frameworks can be a great way to do that. To calm your nerves and give yourself a lifeline in case of a cold call, fill in the full framework in advance so you won’t be caught off guard in the moment. If you’re gunning for a good grade and a next-level comment, don’t use the frameworks to answer "case fact questions" – instead use them to see further faster. Use them to see what the analytical conclusion will be and then be ready to make sense of it once it is revealed.

For example, in marketing class I just took the summary slides that the professor showed us with the frameworks on them, deleted the text, printed them out, and took notes on that sheet. Because I did that, I would often understand earlier than my peers which channels were most profitable for a company to use, which price points to target, or which product lines to discontinue.

7. Only conduct hypothesis-based analysis

Even a short case has too much data to run all the numbers. Plus “boiling the ocean” is not how business leaders make decisions anyway. Instead develop 1-2 theories as to why the the business is facing the problem that it is and then run the numbers to see if you’re right. Or, if you think you know what the key takeaway from the case will be -- such as calculating beta for comparable financial analysis (see #1 in this list) -- run just that analysis.

8. Ask if you have any relevant experience worth sharing

Those comments tend to be memorable, bring the section closer together, and yield better grades.

9. Limit your notes to 1-2 pages, print single sided

They’ll need to be short enough to reference in the heat of the moment. You won’t want to be flipping pages back and forth either.

10. Remember that preparation does not end when class starts

Keep taking notes as the class goes on, either in a notebook or in the case. I print out my case notes in black and take notes by hand in blue. By taking notes, I can often anticipate where the class is going to go and cut it off at the pass with a great comment.

11. When there are 5 minutes left, begin taking summary notes

In blue, if you're using my method. See #5 in this list. That way you won't forget the lesson, either for the final exam or for use beyond.

12. Evaluate yourself

Ask how well you did at (1) finding the “big question” of the case, (2) identifying the key data, (3) analyzing that data correctly, (4) using that data to arrive at the right decision, and (5) communicating that decision logically and persuasively in class.

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.

List of Best Joint/Dual/Concurrent Degree MBA Programs

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While a 2-year MBA program is the desire and envy of many a business school applicant, an increasing number of MBA students are now completing their studies as part of a "joint" or "dual" degree program. As far as semantics go, "joint" programs integrate two different degrees into a unified course of study, often housed within the same university, while "dual" degrees often span two different universities and are pieced together by the student.

Kellogg at Northwestern is pretty restrictive, offering only a 2-year dual masters program in Design Innovation, and its 3-year JD/MBA with their Law School. HBS is more open but still pretty restrictive, offering only joint degrees and only with Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical/Dental School, and (most recently)  Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences. Stanford GSB is more open, offering concurrent degree options with Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Princeton Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Yale Law School, Yale Medical School, and any of Stanford's other graduate programs from Education to Electrical Engineering.

Top Concurrent MBA Degree Programs