TheEngineerMBA: My experience interviewing at HBS, and briefly visiting MIT

Alright, Boston/MIT visit and HBS interview debrief time.

Arriving in Boston
I arrived in Boston for the first time in my life this past Saturday night at around 11:30 PM and didn’t get to my AirBnb rented room in Cambridge until about 1 AM. Protip: Cambridge is expensive and AirBnb was probably the cheapest way for me to stay within walking distance of both the MIT and Harvard campuses without spending a ton of time on public transportation or an exorbitant amount of money (ain’t nobody got time for that).

 SnowHow I felt exploring MIT and avoiding frostbite.

Exploring Boston & MIT
I spent Sunday exploring the MIT campus and downtown Boston as best as I could, with the intent of preparing for the interview in the evening. I say exploring as best as I could, because the city was hit with its first ‘snow” storm that day. Like seriously I had no idea where to point the umbrella, because it was impossible to predict the direction and angle of attack of the sleet/snow/freezing rain mixture. My iPhone 6’s motion coprocessor was working overtime that day, because by the end of it all I had supposedly walked the equivalent of 7.5 miles and climbed 29 stories. In that weather. Yea, not doing that again.

If I move to Boston, the inside of a gym and classrooms are going to be my best friends during the winter.

MIT’s campus was interesting, and I actually was roaming somewhat aimlessly and stumbled upon the main Sloan building by accident. I was walking along the Memorial Drive with a scenic view of Boston in the distance, dodging crazy runners, trying my best to defend against the onslaught of sleet and I just happened on the building. Turns out, the front doors are closed on Sundays, and the students on the other side of the windows just acted like I didn’t exist, so I had to make my way around to the back. Once inside, I roamed around and appreciated the architecture, checked out a few classrooms, read some propaganda, and looked in to some interview rooms for Deloitte and McKinsey that were going on.

While my half-assed self-guided tour gave me a bit of a feel for the campus, it really is a pity that I visited on a Sunday with terrible weather. I would have loved to engage some current students, but the place was largely desolate. I finished off by going to the main part of campus, and walked around a few principal buildings and it felt very engineering-y. A lot of labs, posters describing transforms, properties, and fluctuations – you get the idea. I felt like I was back at my old institution in the engineering department. All in all what I expected from an institute of technology, but I’m not sure that’s what I really want. I really wish I could have engaged students/faculty/somebody from Sloan to get a feel for their individual culture more.

BeerMy interview preparation.

Prepping for my HBS Interview
After a brief romp around Boston struggling not to freeze my extremities, I retreated back to my AirBnB room to begin preparing for my interview early the next morning. I opened my laptop, and began doing some searches about the case method and preparing for typical HBS interviews in general. I watched some case method videos on HBS’ page, but then found that through my research that I wouldn’t need to prepare at all (in my opinion).

My hypothesis was that HBS was really interested in finding out whether I was the person in my application and assessing my fit, nothing more nothing less.

Perhaps it was because I was already exhausted from the whole process and realized I had waited until too late to really affect anything through preparation anyway – but I honestly thought that I was right.

I packed up my laptop, headed to the closest Mexican restaurant that was rated higher than 3 stars on Yelp, and proceeded to down some enchiladas and a few beers to relax myself. If correct, relaxing was as good a preparation as I could ever do, if I was wrong, I would pay for it the following morning.


HBS Party Time
I woke up early and quickly got ready out of eagerness to head to campus and get the party started. In my infinite wisdom I decided to walk the 1.3 miles to HBS because it was a nice morning… in a full suit, jacket, and dragging a rollercase. Rookie mistake – I arrived a bit sweaty, even in windy 37 degree weather. But I at least got some nice shots of New England in the fall.

HBS admission took up shop in the Spangler building and had an area to hold our coats and luggage, which was fantastic. I arrived around 8:30 and had an hour to enjoy a complimentary breakfast and mingle with other students. I found there to be a good number of finance/consultant-types from Boston/NYC which is cool but I found the other career-switchers to be way more interesting. There were some guys and gals from the military, real estate, and other non-traditional backgrounds from around the country which had cool stories and paths to HBS.

I think that while certainly impressive, many people romanticize the types of people that get in to these top schools. I did not meet anyone that made my jaw drop to the floor, yet I am very excited at the potential of calling some of them my cohorts.   I initially saw who I would get along with very well, as well as who I could learn a lot from.

I had the first interview slot, and upon walking in to the room was greeted by two adcom members – one who was intimately familiar with my application and another who only knew me though my resume.

The former would be my actual interviewer, the latter was more of a scribe and I suspect there largely for a more unbiased opinion of how I communicate. I found the interview to be highly conversational, and largely followed my path to HBS chronologically with detailed questions from my interviewer. I can tell that they were very prepared for certain trigger words that I was going to say. They were very focused on the ‘why’ for nearly all of my responses – why my college, why my education, why MBA, why Harvard, etc. There was one exchange where they challenged me to hypothesize on why my company’s current model for a certain market may be flawed, and what I would do to change a former employer’s endemic workforce problems. There were no off-the-wall erratic questions meant to trip me up. At the end of it, I felt I left saying everything I wanted to say – similar to my Duke interview in fact.

After my interview I had a tour of the Harvard i-lab, faculty-led lunch, student-run campus tour, and finally a coffee chat with current students. I will say that the i-lab was really cool, and though I have seen other implementations done at various institutions and cities, this one was unique. They had a current student get up and share their start-up experience leveraging the vast resources of the university to accelerate the product from idea to true viability while in school.

If admitted I can see myself becoming immersed in that environment.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, but had a fantastic idea of what HBS was about. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sure what the people would be like at an Ivy league – much less the preeminent business school in the world. I was however happy to find that the students and faculty were warm, very intelligent, but ultimately normal people who share a common drive to learn through each other. In my application process I kind of only applied to HBS because of the brand-name, but I can definitely say I am sold on the idea of attending. I can truly see myself at this institution come next fall. In fact, I really want to be there. I just need to invest in better winter clothing.

Back to work, and waiting for this week’s Sloan marketing email heartattack.



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3 Responses to “TheEngineerMBA: My experience interviewing at HBS, and briefly visiting MIT”

  1. Ergen

    So now we know that they are also normal people))) Nice article. I felt like myself in the Boston.


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