5 Worries I Had About Applying to HBS

by on December 16th, 2017

It’s been a busy week at Harvard Business School (HBS), with Round 1 decisions rolling out from Dillon House on Tuesday. Whether you got good news or bad, we’d wager that most of you can relate to some of the worries this week’s Fridays from the Frontline contributor had when he applied. And if you’re working hard now on your Round 2 app, his encouragement comes at just the right time. Read on to learn what Nigerian native Bankole Makanju stressed about most in the application process—and why maybe you can stress about other things instead. Our thanks to HBS for granting us permission to share Makanju’s perspective with the Clear Admit audience.

The following post has been republished in its entirety from its original source, “MBA Voices,” the HBS student blog.

5 Worries I Had About Applying to HBS

By Bankole Makanju.

The first time I thought seriously about the Harvard MBA was after work colleagues suggested I apply. It sounded daunting, but I like challenges and I had little to lose. I wanted to test myself at this new level, get an international world-class education, and explore other professional interests.

I started to learn about the application process, the school, and my chances of getting in. I had a number of anxieties about applying to HBS, and at times I considered not applying at all. I’m so happy I worked through those concerns and applied. The Harvard MBA is an amazing experience. If you’re considering getting an MBA and worried about similar issues, I hope you will find this post helpful.

Here were my major concerns:

  • #1. I wasn’t interesting enough

I studied electrical engineering at the University of Lagos, then spent three years in management consulting working with businesses across Africa.

I was worried HBS would not accept students from my background. I hadn’t studied outside Nigeria and most of my work experience was local. Were the things I had done “impressive” enough? I felt like all I did was go to work, do a good job, and go home every day without a compelling “here’s how I saved the world” story.

However, as I went through the process, I realized I had a story to tell. I learned that the best thing I could present was myself and not a perceived image of what I thought the good people at HBS Admissions wanted to see. It worked!

My advice? Be yourself. Spend time reflecting on the things and experiences that make you unique. Ignore the voice in your head saying you are not impressive enough to apply. Resist the urge to embellish. Put your best foot forward in the application. That way it’s easier to live with the results, whether you get in or not.

  • #2. I wouldn’t be able to afford an MBA

How would I pay for the MBA? What would I do about fees and living expenses? I learned more about financial aid at HBS and realized it’s hard to find anyone who gets in and doesn’t attend because they cannot afford it. HBS offers very generous need-based scholarships and about half of the students here get tens of thousands of dollars in aid each year.

Worry more about getting in. HBS, through fellowships and other aid sources, will help you figure out how to make the numbers work. There are also external fellowships available that you can explore.

  • #3. It would be difficult to learn business concepts through the case method

I like intellectual discussions but I was skeptical about the potential for real learning through the case method. All I had done up till my MBA were class lectures.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I found that learning concepts rooted in real-life examples solidified my understanding. It is one thing to listen to a professor explain the intricacies of, say, deferred tax assets, but it stays with you longer when you learn it in the context of a real-life business decision and speak to the case protagonist.

It’s true the case method can seem like it requires more work than a traditional lecture, but you get more out of it.

  • #4. I wouldn’t fit into the community at HBS 

Having lived in Nigeria all my life, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t fit in. I assumed I wouldn’t get all the American references in conversation and I’d be an outsider, only hanging out with other international students. Not true.

There are people here from all over the world, and they are different and unique beyond their background or what they did before their MBA. I found it easy to connect with people on many different levels … be it through my section, industry interest groups like the Venture Capital and Private Equity Club, or on travel during FIELD Global Immersions. There are many opportunities to connect and build deep friendships with your classmates. And I have been fortunate to make friends for life at HBS.

  • #5. I would struggle to make a career transition

I came to HBS to explore new industries and I was concerned my experience put me in a “business analysis” box. However, HBS has a strong brand, vast alumni network, and a tireless career services team that I relied on to get interviews for and ultimately secure a private equity internship over the summer.


There’s no doubt that applying to HBS was intimidating. I’m grateful to the community of people who helped me overcome my insecurities and recognize that I had a perspective worth sharing. I can’t imagine not being here on campus today.

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