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Since I found out I'd been admitted to HBS in R1, others have asked me how I did it, how I got in. Usually, I say I hit refresh on my application status every 3 seconds until it changed to "admitted". I hesitate to answer seriously because I don't want anyone to follow my path as a blueprint for admission.

My story started during my junior year at a service academy. I was taking my first classes as an econ major and went on a field trip to HBS where we did a mock case with HBS faculty. I still remember the case - a comparison of Coach K and Bobby Knight's leadership styles. That's what sparked my interest.

I'd always been pretty good academically, but the prospect of business school gave me even more reason to focus on my academics. I barricaded myself in my room the rest of junior and senior year, ultimately graduating with a 3.9.

For the next five years, business school had to wait - I owed the army five years for my free education. It didn't take long to decide that I didn't want to make the army a career - having little say in assignments or locations, seeing incompetent officers given less work/responsibility while earning the same pay and same promotions, seeing high-performing officers given crushing workloads with no reward or prospect of early advancement, etc.

So, like anyone with a good deal of time on his hands, I prepared. I read everything I could about business school - books, forums, consultant blogs, school guides. And then I studied for three solid months. It paid off - 750 GMAT and I held a celebratory GMAT study guide bonfire in my backyard. (See my gmat post here)

I'd gotten myself solid numbers, but that alone wasn't going to get me into schools. I needed more. I volunteered at an animal shelter but it didn't feel right; it was contrived. After struggling with the issue for several months, I resolved to do sincere service only, and I eventually found myself teaching my soldiers personal finance in the natural course of my job. I kept that up.

As application season drew near, I knew essays were my chance to give color to my story. I'm not a writer, but I'd jotted leadership stories in a journal that fellow vets encouraged me to keep. Picking ones that fit the various prompts, I went through 6-8 drafts of each essay to make sure the real me showed through, not some black and white, standards-loving army guy.

Lastly, I freaked out about - ahem - my lack of alumni recommenders. I was delusional. Having the support of my supervisors - who could detail everything I'd done over the past year - was better than a superficial rec from an alum I spoke with once for 15 minutes. Still, it took me a while to realize that. There was also the matter of getting recommenders to put pen to paper. Knowing they'd procrastinate, and fearing my apps would get bumped a round for late recommendations, I told my recommenders my drop-dead submission date (a week ahead of the real deadline). They cut it close, but in reality, my apps were ready a week early.

Having done everything I could, I submitted my applications, and then it was time to wait again. No big deal. What was another few months in a five year journey?

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Comments (25)

  • SirTradesaLot's picture

    ^^obviously someone gives a shit or nobody would have asked him. The guy above is obviously jelly. Carry on.

    adapt or die:
    What would P.T. Barnum say about you?

    MY BLOG

  • Soul_Reaper's picture

    ^^what's with the hostility bro?

    "Do whatever it takes to keep the legend of Wall Street as it was truly intended live on. When you think back on investment banking of the early 21st century, remember the heat--remember the passion. But mostly, remember the titans. " - LSO

  • reformed's picture

    Have you decided where you're going to bschool yet or are you still waiting to hear back from other places?

  • nixtrix's picture

    Way to go bro. WSO's representing this year!

  • In reply to reformed
    cinnamontoastcrunch's picture

    reformed:
    Have you decided where you're going to bschool yet or are you still waiting to hear back from other places?

    HBS was my #1 choice from the start, so that's where I'm headed. I also applied to Wharton and Stanford. Got in to Wharton but dinged at Stanford after interviews.

    If there's interest, I may do a future post on the interviews. Strangely, I met all three schools' admissions directors during the course of applying - one was my interviewer, one caught me soaking wet without an umbrella on interview day, and I ran into the last one on a trip to southwest Asia.

  • In reply to cinnamontoastcrunch
    Soul_Reaper's picture

    cinnamontoastcrunch:
    reformed:
    Have you decided where you're going to bschool yet or are you still waiting to hear back from other places?

    HBS was my #1 choice from the start, so that's where I'm headed. I also applied to Wharton and Stanford. Got in to Wharton but dinged at Stanford after interviews.

    If there's interest, I may do a future post on the interviews. Strangely, I met all three schools' admissions directors during the course of applying - one was my interviewer, one caught me soaking wet without an umbrella on interview day, and I ran into the last one on a trip to southwest Asia.

    As if there was a choice someone would actually turned down HBS, I think not. And Congrats

    "Do whatever it takes to keep the legend of Wall Street as it was truly intended live on. When you think back on investment banking of the early 21st century, remember the heat--remember the passion. But mostly, remember the titans. " - LSO

  • mongoose's picture

    You don't mention anything about what you did as an officer in the Army.

    I mean there is a ton of difference between an Air Force Officer who sits on a base and does contract management vs. the Army Infantry Officer who lead his soldiers through a year of Taleban ambushes in Helmand province. (I'm sure someone will immediately point out that it does not matter to B-Schools whether you are the former or the latter, but personally I would give that Infantry Officer a lot more respect. FYI, I want to be the former, but I respect Combat Arms guys more)

    OP, I am going to send you a PM asking for advice on my own situation and if you don't want to mention what you did in the Army, that's fine as well.

  • In reply to mongoose
    cinnamontoastcrunch's picture

    mongoose:
    You don't mention anything about what you did as an officer in the Army.

    I mean there is a ton of difference between an Air Force Officer who sits on a base and does contract management vs. the Army Infantry Officer who lead his soldiers through a year of Taleban ambushes in Helmand province. (I'm sure someone will immediately point out that it does not matter to B-Schools whether you are the former or the latter, but personally I would give that Infantry Officer a lot more respect. FYI, I want to be the former, but I respect Combat Arms guys more)

    OP, I am going to send you a PM asking for advice on my own situation and if you don't want to mention what you did in the Army, that's fine as well.

    Mongoose, you hit the nail on the head that there's a lot of difference in the roles and responsibilities of officers in the various branches, but there are also quite a few similarities. Yes, infantry, armor, and the other combat arms guys do the "sexy" stuff, and arguably, they have tighter bonds in their units than say a transportation unit. But both will spend an inordinate amount of time working on administrative and punitive actions as well.

    I submit to you that the commonality of officers (and non-commissioned officers) of all branches is leadership and direct responsibility for subordinates. That's an experience that few business school peers are likely to have at such a young age, and that's what admissions committees value in vets.

    Without getting into it too much, I had enough exposure during my summer experiences to many of the combat arms to know that, yes, I could do them, but I also knew that I would be miserable if I freely chose that for myself for five years. And it's a little cheesy, but I believe all soldiers deserve good leadership, whether human resources clerks, IT geeks, chaplains' assistants, etc.

  • Ketelwon's picture

    Congratulations Cinnamontoastcrunch. Appreciate your sharing. Also looking to apply, as a junior, entertaining the idea of the 2+2 option or waiting it out and working first. You mentioned doing a case there during UG, any advice on how to cultivate a relationship with HBS similarly before applying?

    "On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
    - Zerohedge.com

  • SECfinance's picture

    Congrats on admission. I did that Coach K/Bobby Knight case last year, it's a great one IMO.

  • In reply to Ketelwon
    cinnamontoastcrunch's picture

    Ketelwon:
    Congratulations Cinnamontoastcrunch. Appreciate your sharing. Also looking to apply, as a junior, entertaining the idea of the 2+2 option or waiting it out and working first. You mentioned doing a case there during UG, any advice on how to cultivate a relationship with HBS similarly before applying?

    Thanks, Ketelwon. If your college is in the northeast and you're actively involved in some sort of club, you could organize a club trip to HBS. For instance, the investment club at my school took a trip to HBS every fall. You could link up with the leadership of a student club at HBS and make that happen.

    An alternative would be to find an alum from your school, or a successful 2+2 applicant, and to tag along to a class or two with them. Either way, it'll give you some exposure to the school and more information to make a decision on whether and when you want to apply.

  • UFOinsider's picture

    Way to go, I wish you the best

    ...in other news, Brady is having a conniption?

    Get busy living

  • kraziazi's picture

    Congratulations on your acceptance! (Hopefully) right behind you, man.

    This could be it, sweetheart.

  • Ketelwon's picture

    That's worth a silver banana for you. I happen to be President of an Investment Club here at Cornell. So now that you mention it I think I will pursue just that. Coincidentally, we happen to maintain a relationship with Harvard College's undergraduate business club as well.

    And another plus, I happen to be friends with a 2+2 applicant. He had a policy background which gave him an edge. Do you think it's a disadvantage for a 2+2 applicant to be in an undergraduate business program applying? (I'm in Dyson).

    "On a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
    - Zerohedge.com

  • In reply to UFOinsider
    cinnamontoastcrunch's picture

    UFOinsider:
    Way to go, I wish you the best

    ...in other news, Brady is having a conniption?

    If I'd turned down admission, Brady's head might explode.

    Since I've accepted, I'll make sure to report if "people are hooking up like rabbits". For science. (Reference here)

  • dwight schrute's picture

    Every time I read or hear something about HBS I instinctively think back to Brady and reminisce, classics like this or this.
    It has even gotten to the point where if someone talks up HBS in front of me I'll involuntarily chuckle and draw confused looks.

    Congrats btw op.

    Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art - Andy Warhol

  • In reply to cinnamontoastcrunch
    UFOinsider's picture

    cinnamontoastcrunch:
    UFOinsider:
    Way to go, I wish you the best

    ...in other news, Brady is having a conniption?

    If I'd turned down admission, Brady's head might explode.

    Since I've accepted, I'll make sure to report if "people are hooking up like rabbits". For science. (Reference here)


    Ah cool, keep us posted, inquiring minds want to know

    Get busy living

  • In reply to dwight schrute
    mongoose's picture

    dwight schrute:
    Every time I read or hear something about HBS I instinctively think back to Brady and reminisce, classics like this or this.
    It has even gotten to the point where if someone talks up HBS in front of me I'll involuntarily chuckle and draw confused looks.

    Congrats btw op.

    That is so true. Every time HBS comes up, I think about Brady and "slaying chicks."

  • In reply to Ketelwon
    Angus Macgyver's picture

    Cinnamon: How old are you?

    Ketelwon:
    Do you think it's a disadvantage for a 2+2 applicant to be in an undergraduate business program applying? (I'm in Dyson).

    As far as I can tell... absolutely.

  • KKS's picture

    Nice post and congratulations. When I say you post in that thread about business school acceptances, I was hoping you would make one.

    How much do you think your military experience played into your admissions? Do you feel like that was the cornerstone of your application?

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