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 here)and I held a celebratory study guide bonfire in my backyard. (See my gmat post
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?