50 Things I Wish I'd Known when I Applied

Given that it is admit weekend this weekend, and the lovely people at the admissions office are at full capacity churning through applications, interviews and offers, I’ve found my mind turning back to his time last year, when as a relatively disorganised second round applicant I was preparing for my interview and starting to believe that spending the next two years in Boston (or San Francisco) was a genuine possibility. This was at once both gratifying, overwhelming and mystifying. Despite all the people I’d spoken to, I really didn’t have much concept of what going to B-School would really be like.

Here is the list I am planning to send back in time to myself at that point, as soon as those folks over at MIT have got around the whole pesky paradox issue and built a flux capacitor.

1. It is impossible to answer the question “Wow, you got into Harvard, does that mean you are really smart?” without appearing either arrogant or moronic.
2. You will never show your friends at HBS your admissions essays.
3. You will cringe whenever you re-read your own applications essays.
4. You will borrow liberally from your applications essays for the LEAD reflective Best Self exercise.
5. No-one ever really believes they will do what they said they did in their essays.
6. Some people do actually go on to do what they said they did.
7. You do not yet understand the concept of “busy.”
8. You do not yet understand the concept of “time management.”
9. You do not yet understand that the CEO of Microsoft or the former U.S. Vice President may be speaking in a room less than 5 minutes walk from your dorm, and you can still decide it’s not worth the effort.
10. You will not drink a Scorpion bowl after the first two weeks of your first semester.
11. Even if you work in consulting, you will be stunned at the sheer amount of acronyms and random jargon you pick up at HBS.
12. The letters BGIE are pronounced Big-E and mean “macroeconomics and politics.”
13. The phrase “building on” will become intensely irritating.
14. You will see nothing strange in the phrase “I agree completely with your comment, but you are wrong.”
15. You will come to know the entire careers, family history and political beliefs of 90 people that you have not met yet.
16. Somehow, you just know which professors you can call by their first name and which you can’t.
17. People in your section will know more than your professors on various subjects.
18. People in your section will not feel comfortable openly disagreeing with your professors until at least week 3.
19. By the second semester, people will feel comfortable disagreeing with professors, making jokes about cases they have written, and swearing in class.
20. A retreat is not something people do when they need to meditate, it is in fact possibly the most fun you can have in Vermont.
21. You will play the drinking game “I have never.” Possibly in a hot tub.
22. When there is a state-of-the-art gym within 200 yards of your room, and you have at least four hours of spare time each day, even a die-hard couch potato will start exercising.
23. You will wish you had done analytics.
24. You will build up an astonishingly large collection of free t-shirts.
25. You will wear t-shirts displaying the names of companies you have never heard of, especially just before laundry day.
26. You will stop wearing make-up to class after week 5.
27. You will convince yourself that getting up at 5:30am to read your cases is a sensible plan.
28. You never actually will get up at 5:30am to read your cases.
29. There is always someone who knows more Excel shortcuts than you.
30. You will eat at least one meal from the same place every day for three weeks, and not find this unusual.
31. You will eat a lot of clam chowder.
32. You will come to hate clam chowder.
33. Boston is colder than you expect.
34. No, even colder than that.
35. You will buy some trendy fur-topped boots.
36. You will discard your soggy, useless fur-topped boots and buy some seriously rugged, fur-lined, waterproof ones.
37. You won’t go skiing as much as you intend to.
38. You will go to Vegas more than you intend to.
39. You will go out during the week a lot more than you intend to.
40. There will be whole weeks where you don’t go into Boston.
41. If you live in dorms and the weather is really bad, you may actually spend entire weeks without leaving the tunnel system.
42. If you live in dorms and the weather is really bad, you can really annoy people who live off-campus by going to class in shorts and flip-flops.
43. Sometimes, one of the doors in the tunnels is unexpectedly locked and you have to go outside when you didn’t expect to.
44. Walking in four inches of snow in flip-flops is not pleasant.
45. There is a reason for the nickname “Harvard Breakup School.”
46. There is no foundation for the “MBA = Married But Available” joke.
47. There is a good reason it is referred to as a “Transformational Experience,” but maybe not in the way you expect.
48. You will clap a lot. Every day.
49. By the second semester, your section in-jokes will be so ingrained that the entire section will laugh and clap for five minutes when a particular person uses the phrase “in my country” (Section J know what I mean).
50. You will wish you had taken more pictures.