How I got selected for a PhD at Harvard Business School

(This article is on getting into the HBS PhD program, we have also written extensively about getting into the HBS MBA program.)

I had completed my MBA, specializing in finance from a top-tier European B-School and had a job lined up. It was in a bulge-bracket investment bank and I was raring to go – not much of a surprise. That was when I first heard about the HBS PhD/Doctorate program in management. Of course I had heard of HBS like any student, and had even unsuccessfully applied to the HBS MBA a couple of years before.

I did have a couple of research papers published in top-tier journals, think (Journal of Financial Economic and Journal of Monetary Economics). This was extremely rare for a MBA student, at least in Europe. I think this was adequate to show my commitment as well as aptitude for management research. These papers really made the difference for me. Here’s a short description of my profile:

-GMAT: 730
-UG GPA: 4.0/4.0 (Converted on a US Scale)
-MBA GPA: 3.8/4.0 (Converted on a US Scale)
-Reasonable extra-curriculars
-Work Experience of 4 years at a top Audit firm before MBA

phd finance harvard business school
A view of Harvard Business School. Most PhD candidates at HBS author cutting-edge management research that is published in the well-known Harvard Business Review.

From my profile, one thing is clear: its not an extraordinary profile. What then made such a big difference and helped me secure a PhD admit at HBS? I think the main reason is my publication in academia. The journal articles I published didn’t go on to receive a large number of citations or widespread research spotlight, but I believe the very act of publishing in renowned authority journals got me in.

Most important advise to HBS PhD applicants

I think there can’t be any particular advise as far as the HBS PhD program is concerned. The diversity of the class is tremendous, some of my PhD colleagues completed degrees in STEM, so there’s no set-in-stone success formula. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things which are of critical importance:

  1. Analytical skills must be easily attested in your profile. The jobs you took, the degrees you completed and your competitive exam scores must all attest and reflect your analytical skills.
  2. You should show genuine interest for joining business academia. This is one of the more subtle and often neglected requirement that gets applicants at the HBS PhD program rejected. One of my friends who applied with me said that her goal after a PhD was to join MBB consulting. She never heard back from HBS! There could be other reasons but I strongly suspect that her post-PhD goals were not in line with what HBS expects and was therefore rejected.
PhD Specializations at HBS

Presently there are 8 PhD specializations offered by HBS. These include:

Accounting and Management (DBA)
Management (DBA)
Marketing (DBA)
Strategy (DBA)
Technology and Operations Management (DBA)

Business Economics (PhD)
Organizational Behavior (PhD)
Health Policy (Management) (PhD)

I chose business economics and specialized in corporate finance. Note that this is similar to a ‘PhD in Finance’. Harvard doesn’t offer a PhD in Finance explicitly, but assigns a very generic choice such as Business Economics, you are free to choose any sub-field to specialize in. While finance has always been a hot management category, particular fields of interest are digital strategy and digital marketing (eg. CRM). Of course both these fields are a rich synergy of management and technology.

(Opinions/advise above are as expressed by the interviewed candidate. They do not under any circumstance reflect the opinions of engineeringmba.com. For any queries please contact admin@engineeringmba.com. The author has requested anonymity, however we can pass on questions that readers might have to the author.)

Author: Homer

Homer has an MBA from a top-three US B-School. An Indian engineering graduate from a non-IIT (IITs are Indian equivalents of our tech schools such as Caltech and MIT), Homer is hope for all non-IITians looking to get into Harvard/Wharton/Stan. Homer has a BE degree in mechanical engineering from a college in the south Indian city of Bangalore. Homer says that he was never a great student in his earlier days or at engineering school. What then worked in his favor? Well he founded a mechanical engineering startup after working for a couple of years at a renowned German automobile company. Homer has the longest pre-MBA work experience in our family - 4 yrs at his first job in a no-name mechanical engineering firm + 2 yrs at the German automobile maker + 3 yrs at his startup. Homer sold his startup back to his former employer and is now a top consultant (MBB consulting). Watch out for posts by Homer (to avoid them, of course!).

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