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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Ted Eytan.

One down, two dozen to go.  HBS, almost always the first mover in the b-school world, set a brutally early deadline this year, and it became a race to the finish for the strong round one applicants eager for a seat.  Having seen them come and go, we feel like a few remarks are in order as people prepare for their other round one deadlines, or in some cases, for round two.  Here are our biggest takeaways and what to do about them.

  1. Deadlines moved up … and people freaked out.  This year marked a dramatic shift nearly across the board when it came to deadlines.  Everything was happening sooner than expected, which made it difficult for some people to get ready in time for the Round 1 deadline – particularly people who were struggling to bring up a low GMAT.  This may mean that Round 1 is less competitive than in previous years, which might give an advantage to early movers – assuming they were fully prepared.
  2. The new HBS prompt is trickier than it looks.  At a recent Forster-Thomas ‘bull session’, where we sit around and debate the various essays we’re receiving and reviewing, we found that a lot of people were struggling with the new HBS prompt.  The emphasis on personality and informality really threw a lot of B-school writers for a loop.  Many applicants were also trying to tell too many stories – they had ‘completeness’ syndrome, the feeling that if they didn’t include everything cool they’ve done, the admissions committee would ‘miss out’.  Ironing out these issues took time, which meant that those who were prepared early once again got a slight advantage.
  3. Some people were thrown by the lack of a pull-down menu in the application to choose your round.  This is, I think, simply the schools realizing that the designation was redundant.  When you apply automatically determines which round you’re applying in, so why have a menu?  Still, it made some applicants very nervous.
  4. Keep your enemies close … and your recommenders closer.  Although we didn’t see any disasters, we did have a few last-minute scares this year with recommenders caught unawares by the changes in deadlines, rec formatting (it’s all online now!) and the slight variations in questions asked by the schools.  The candidates who fared best were in steady (but not overwhelming) contact with their recommenders and were extremely clear with their requests, both in writing and in person.

Although we're sure there will be new questions and issues that arise in round two, we're equally sure that being ahead of deadlines, in communication with recommenders and patient with the essays will produce stronger and more successful applications.  Good luck in HBS Round Two!