The #1 Thing Harvard Business School, Stanford, and Wharton Look For

By Tyler Cormney and Christopher Aitken of MBA Prep School

In 2010, the Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton received close to 23,000 applications; about 1 in 10 were accepted. So what distinguishes the one candidate who was accepted by Harvard, Stanford, and/or Wharton from the nine who were not. What are the Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Wharton really looking for? Now in my sixth year as an MBA admissions consultant, I have thought a great deal about this question, and I have a theory to share with you based on my experience.

My theory is this: the applicants who receive acceptance letters to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton demonstrate tremendous leadership potential in their business school applications.

Perhaps, you are thinking, “Duh, everyone knows that Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton are looking for future leaders.”

Duh, indeed. The problem is that although everyone is aware that these top-ranked MBA programs are looking for future leaders, few MBA applicants know how to craft an application that persuades the admissions officers that they should be among the chosen few. The applicants who succeed do a fantastic job of convincing admissions committees of their potential for making a positive difference in the world.How do you create an MBA application that proves you have unmatched leadership potential? I have carefully studied the applications of my most successful clients over the years – the applicants who received multiple admits to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. My search revealed three common denominators both in their make-up and, it follows, their applications: they all had talent, passion, and purpose.

Harvard Business School

To paraphrase the book, Now Discover Your Strengths, talents are “abilities and qualities that enable consistent, near perfect performance in a particular activity.” All of my superstar clients had impressive talents in one or more areas.

Passion has to do with the emotional energy that you direct toward your life pursuits, whether they be personal or professional. As a Harvard Business School admission director once said, “leaders leave footprints in their areas of passion.” My clients that earned acceptance letters from the “big three” were passionate people and you could see “footprints” in their areas of passion in their resume, essays, reference letters, and interview responses.

Purpose, or a sense of purpose, has to do with what you want to achieve in the world in a larger sense. Candidates who are accepted by Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton generally have a strong sense of purpose. They were driven to shake up an industry, or help people in need, or dedicate their lives to a cause that they cared deeply about. Typically, they had already taken small, or even big steps, toward fulfilling their sense of purpose.

Stanford Graduate School of Business


How to Get Into Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton
HBS, Stanford GSB, and Wharton are looking for leadership potential and the candidates who are accepted clearly demonstrate exceptional talents fueled by passion and directed by purpose.

If you are applying to the top-ranked business schools, a clear understanding of those three elements of leadership potential—talent, passion, and purpose—and how they work together in your case is the starting point for a successful application.

Ask yourself:
-What are my most impressive talents?
-What am I truly passionate about?
-What fills me with a sense of purpose?

Find the intersection of your talents, passion, and purpose in order to derive a unique expression of your own unique leadership potential.

University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School

Final Thoughts
Admission officers at the top-ranked business schools, such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, admit MBA applicants who they believe have exceptional leadership potential. They do so because they understand what an MBA can actually provide. An MBA can supply knowledge, skills, relationships, and many new opportunities but it cannot provide talent, passion, and purpose. The students who are accepted already possess the potential to do great things on the day that their MBA classes begin.


To learn more about what you can do to strengthen your candidacy and increase your chances of earning an acceptance letter from a top business school, please visit MBA Prep School. MBA Prep School has a suite of powerful on-demand videos and web-based tools that will help you build an outstanding application and realize your dream of attending one of the top business schools. Save $50 at MBA Prep School, Coupon Code: MBAPodcasterFriends.

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