By my second year of business school at Harvard, I was broke and decided to take a job with the Admissions Department. My role was to meet with potential MBA candidates for an “informational interview” to help them understand the business school experience.
I was not supposed to give advice, except around process and due dates, which made me uniquely unable to answer the one question every potential candidate wanted to know: How do I get in?
The fact is, I didn’t have a clue. I had stats about the age, education, and work experience of the incoming class. Otherwise, I knew that I had been accepted through some administrative bungle, so couldn’t be counted on much to guide a stranger.
Every so often I would be asked to interview a student in high school, always accompanied by his parents. Inevitably, the father wanted to know: What should his child be doing now to improve his chances of getting into HBS?
Really? I knew not to roll my eyes, and I also knew to ask the student what he liked to do. Inevitably, whatever he said—baseball, playing in a rock band, computers—would be exactly the right thing to do to get into Harvard. It was my sole revenge on a father who would probably be drilling his high school sophomore over dinner that evening about the role of tariffs in the nineteenth-century global economy.
The smidgen of info that I did know was that HBS could build three complete, equally competitive and promising classes of 800 students from the applications it received each year. In other words, even the blessed had a two-in-three chance of failing.
In other words, nobody knows anything.