Harvard MBA Student Tells You How To Get Accepted

Perri Smith swapped a job in healthcare at Accenture for an MBA at Harvard. She explains how best to apply to top-tier business schools

The MBA application process is daunting for most no matter how you swing it, but it can be especially intimidating for applicants with their hearts set on a top-ranked program.

Perri Smith earned a BA in Human Biology at Stanford University. As part of the internship requirement, she worked at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation to understand how the healthcare system could provide better care to patients from diverse backgrounds, and to raise overall patient satisfaction for all patients.

There, she learned that as much as healthcare is about caring for people, it’s also a business. Now, she’s a current MBA student in Harvard Business School’s class of 2020.

BusinessBecause caught up with Perri to find out more about her applicant journey and how best to apply to top-tier business schools.

What was your work experience before applying to the Harvard MBA?

After undergrad and my internship, I worked with Accenture. It was perfect timing because they had just won the Affordable Care Act contract, which I was hoping to engage. I focused on healthcare technology, which entailed working with electronic health records and patient-generated health data.

The aim was to capitalize on new technologies—the increasing availability of internet and Wi-Fi, and how data can be shared over those systems. It was a great opportunity to understand the government side of healthcare and the role of technology. It seemed as though government was often looking to industry—healthcare providers—to understand best practices and where healthcare should head in the future.

So, I chose business school as a pivot into that industry, to be able to work in innovation and strategy, and to design the future of healthcare.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA over other courses of study?

I had experience in the healthcare field, so I wanted to focus on understanding the fundamentals of business. Also, with business school I’m able to pull best practices from other industries and see how they apply to healthcare. And, if for some reason I find that healthcare isn’t the industry I want to be in, the MBA offers me the opportunity to move into a different industry more easily than, for example, a Masters in Public Health would.

In addition to HBS, where did you apply? And what was the biggest challenge you faced in the application process?

I was looking at schools that had a strong healthcare focus, so I applied to Wharton, Northwestern Kellogg, and Chicago Booth.

There are many challenges when applying. I struggled to understand what my brand is and how I wanted to be remembered by the admissions committee. I had to take all of my experiences and summarize them in a way that someone who hasn’t lived my life can really understand who I am and what I want to do in the future.

What tips would you offer someone gearing up to apply to top-tier MBAs?

First, get your testing out of the way as early as possible. It’s just easier to focus on your application when you don’t have the test looming over you. Second, think about your application holistically. If you just focus all your energy on getting the highest GMAT or GRE score, for example, that might take away your ability to write strong essays.

Each part of your application says something different about you. Your GMAT, GPA, and course schedule might demonstrate one thing; your recommenders might offer a different perspective; and your essays could offer another. And you don’t necessarily want your essay to repeat what’s in your resume.

Look at your application as a whole package to see what each element can contribute to the admissions committee’s understanding of who you are and what value you would bring to the program.

I was part of an organization called Management Leadership for Tomorrow, which works to create a pipeline of diverse leaders into the business and corporate world. It was a great program for me to participate in as I figured out the best strategy for applying. And it gave me a network and group of peers, which made the process a lot easier.

Do you have any advice on interviewing?

The best piece of advice—while it may sound cliché—is just be yourself. Speak about your experiences and show your passion. The Harvard interview is different from the other schools. At HBS, they had read my application front-to-back and knew the intimate details, so my interview was very personalized.

The other schools had more standard behavioral questions which could be prepared for in advance. There were definitely a few curveballs at Harvard, but if you’re speaking from the heart and staying true to who you are, then it shouldn’t be difficult.


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