Admissions 101: You Don’t Go Into the Interview with a Blank Slate

Today we introduce a new series on the Veritas Prep Blog: Admissions 101. From time to time we’ll dig into various basis strategies for getting into the world’s top graduate schools, blowing up some dangerous myths along the way.

Today’s piece was inspired by the wave of HBS 2+2 Program interview invitations that were sent out yesterday. (Congrats to all of our clients who were invited! There are only about 200 of you!) Soon after learning he had been invited, one of our clients said, “I’m halfway through the door. As long as I don’t screw up the interview, I should be in.”

Well, that’s not exactly how it works.

It’s easy for an applicant to look at last year’s HBS 2+2 Program admissions statistics and think, “Wow, if they invited around 200 people and last year they admitted more than 100, all I have to do is be in the top half of interviewees and I’m in!” That line of thinking assumes that the admissions process is a perfectly linear one in which the committee cuts down the applicant pool and then starts fresh with the remaining applicants, forgetting everything they already know about them as they go into the interview. This sort of “admissions amnesia” just doesn’t happen.

In reality, the admissions office right away knows that it won’t admit a large number of applicants (for whatever reason: lack of fit with the program, underwhelming grades, no evidence of leadership potential, etc.), so it makes sense for them to just cut those applicants out of the process right away, since interviewing everyone just isn’t practical. (When you go on a first date with someone and just know right off the bat that it won’t work out, you don’t keep seeing them for a while.) So, they cut down the pool to a more manageable number before sending out invites.

But, as interview invites go out, they already have well-formed opinions about the remaining applicants: “John has terrific leadership experience but we wonder about his quant skills… Mary has very interesting career goals but we’re just not sure if an MBA is right for her… Tony brings it all to the table and looks like a very promising candidate.” They go into the interview with these opinions and questions, and in large part the purpose of the interview is to help them confirm what they know and find out what they don’t know.

(We should note here that HBS is somewhat unique in this regard. Many top schools conduct interviews blind, meaning that the interviewer hasn’t extensively reviewed you application. And other schools allow everyone to interview, rather than conducting them by invite only. However, this “the process isn’t perfectly linear” point still applies. It all gets fed into the final decision.)

Then — and here’s the important thing to remember — they then feed that information back into your entire candidacy, and they then decide on what to do with you. You could walk into the interview with them already loving you, and do just okay in the interview, and still get in. You could go into the interview with the admissions committee having lots of questions about your fit with the school, and you could earn rave reviews from your interviewer, but ultimately be rejected because of those questions that were raised before you ever walked in the door.

Both types of examples are very common among applicants. Every year we hear from applicants who say, “I thought I bombed the interview, but I still got in!” and “I was AMAZING in the interview, and my interviewer even said so. So why did I get dinged?” It’s because the interview is just one part of the process, and it’s compared against everything else in your application before a decision is made. Every part of your application matters right up until the moment when a decision is rendered.

What does this mean for you? For those HBS 2+2 Program applicants, it means that some are already well on their way to being admitted, although they don’t know it yet. For others, it means that their odds aren’t great, but at least HBS saw enough in them to give them an interview, so they’re still very much in the game. For that latter group, the interview will obviously matter more. Since you don’t know which camp you’re in, you need to prepare for the interview like it matters a ton. But know that everything in your application — your GMAT score, your essays, your letters of recommendation, your undergraduate work, and your work history — will still matter a lot.

To learn more about the HBS 2+2 Program and what they look for in college undergrads, call us at 800-925-7737. And, as always, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!