The student: Ross Galloway, 28
Hometown: Mission Viejo, California
The school: Harvard Business School (HBS) 2018
Undergraduate: California Polytechnic State University, 2011; majored in finance and minored in Spanish
Work experience: Deloitte consulting; ESPN
His best admissions advice: “Understand what pool of applicants you are likely to be in and distinguish yourself amongst that pool.”
To sports fans everywhere, ESPN’s iconic SportsCenter theme song, which welcomes in the daily sports news program, is a highly recognizable melody. But the theme song, and sports highlight program, usually has little to do with the high-stakes admissions process at top business schools.
Enter 28-year-old, Ross Galloway, who decided to answer Harvard Business School’s (HBS) sole essay question in the voice of an ESPN anchor on SportsCenter.
“I took a swing for the fences approach with my essay,” Galloway told Business Insider. “The prompt was: ‘Introduce yourself to your section mates,'” so I wrote my essay as if it was the script,” he continued. “I tried to create this picture for readers.”
That picture looked something like this, Galloway explained:
*Turns on SportsCenter theme music from his phone.*
“Hello and welcome to SportsCenter! On today’s special edition of our program we will be providing you the top 3 highlights of Ross Galloway’s life.”
He had some doubts about this approach, especially as he received some advice to stick to a more traditional response to the question. But he wanted to remain authentic to himself. “I knew that I was going to be me,” he said. That bet paid off. Galloway finished his first year at HBS in May.
“Fortune favors the bold,” he said.
Galloway’s path to HBS wasn’t always so certain. Growing up a surfer in Mission Viejo, California, Galloway was crushed by college rejections from The University of California, Berkeley and The University of California, Los Angeles. He ended up getting into what he thought was his safety school: California Polytechnic State University.
He used that perceived slight as both a wake-up call and a motivating factor. He took and passed the notoriously hard Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) level 1 exam while still in college, studying early mornings while other friends were at the beach. He became accustomed to falling asleep at night with headphones on to block out the noise of others partying around him.
After graduation from Cal Poly in 2011, he started at Deloitte, working in technology consulting. Business school was heavily on his mind. “I wanted to prove to people that I was smart … business school would prove that,” he said.
His next move was part good fortune, and part a personality trait that has allowed success to come easily to Galloway. On a six hour flight from from New York to San Francisco Galloway was seated next to a woman who was working on a financial model in Excel. When he struck up a conversation with her she told him she worked at ESPN.
“I’d love to work for ESPN,” he recounted saying, without any hesitation. A phone interview and four in-person interviews later, he was offered that job despite being up against more qualified candidates. He attributes that to both the passion he held for working at a “dream company” like ESPN, and work ethic he was able to communicate to interviewers.
Galloway ended up working in distribution strategy, figuring out how to convince households to pay for cable TV amidst a world where Netflix, Hulu, YouTube are all becoming stronger competitors for people’s time, he explained.
And despite the fact that he was in his so-called dream job, the wheels of how to get into a top business school never stopped turning for Galloway.
During his time at ESPN he took and passed level 2 of CFA, and took the GMAT. He was disappointed with his initial score GMAT score — a 710 out of 800. But after two more tries, he ended up getting a 770, a feat that places him in the 99th percentile of people taking the exam.
All during that time he also said he “telegraphed” to managers that business school was a desire. Having a running dialog about future goals made conversations with senior managers easier when he eventually required their help with recommendation letters.
It’s another skill that he employs while at work. He tries to connect with managers, or even more senior members of a company, every few months, even if there is no immediate agenda, having face-to-face conversations about work and goals.
Eventually, when there is the need to communicate components to emphasize in a recommendation letter, the conversation is much more fluid because it isn’t a surprise.
Galloway finished his applications at the end of 2015, and got interviews at Columbia, Kellogg, Wharton, and HBS. He gained acceptances to all but Columbia.
Now, as he finishes up his first year at HBS, he has already experienced first-hand the benefit of on-campus recruiting at a place like Harvard. He had final round interviews for summer internships with Netflix, Facebook, Apple, Under Armour, and Nike. This summer he’ll be working in global strategy at Nike in Portland, Oregon.
Despite having the grades, scores, and work experience that seemingly made Galloway a competitive applicant at HBS, he believes the most important thing he did was to distinguish himself from similar applicants.
“White, male, unremarkable undergrad, consultant,” he listed out unforgivingly. “How do I make it so that those things are not top of list for the reader of my application?” he continued. “Understand who you’re probably competing against, and do whatever you can to distinguish yourself in a way that is truly you.”
Are you a current student in business school? Do you think you have a unique perspective to add about your experience or struggles to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.