Tuesday Tips – Harvard Business School Essay Questions

The essay questions for Harvard Business School’s class of 2013 are now posted online along with the questions for recommenders.

Harvard Business School has remained fairly consistent this year. Most of the standard Harvard Business School questions are repeated, with a few new choices for the final two essays. Whereas last year’s questions asked about a difficult decision or writing a cover letter, you are asked about a frustration and how you would introduce yourself to your classmates this in this set of essay questions.

Set your strategy before you approach any set of MBA essays. For Harvard Business School, this is especially important because you have a choice of several questions to illustrate your candidacy. If you are working with a consultant, it’s a great idea to brainstorm about the best stories you have to demonstrate your important leadership, management, academic and personal qualities.

Harvard Business School is interested in knowing how you work as a person, how you think, and what kind of leader you are. Community involvement and a broad international perspective are certainly valued, as you can see by the topics. Most importantly, specific and concise examples are the best way to demonstrate who you are. Without specifics, a claim to be a leader is empty. Also make sure to answer the question completely, but do not add extra information if it is not relevant. For example, Harvard Business School’s career vision essay does not ask you why you need to go to Harvard Business School to accomplish your vision. No need to add information that is not requested unless it ties in cleanly with the overall essay.

The limited word count for Harvard Business School essays forces applicants to be focused and concise. When you answer a question, think about a discrete example that can be efficiently described, leaving you room to discuss lessons learned. When choosing Harvard Business School topics, start with the two required questions and then work through the topics for the remaining two questions by referring back to your application strategy and the attributes and experiences you want to highlight.

Essay 1 (required ”“ 600 word limit): What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such?

This is a great question to highlight a few important areas of your life, and the accomplishments should draw from your well-rounded life rather than just work. Try approaching this question from the “why do you view them as such?” and then working back to the accomplishment. While an incredibly impressive accomplishment is exciting, it’s most important to show the moments where you grew, changed or realized something crucial about yourself. If you were an Olympic gold medalist and didn’t explain why this accomplishment was meaningful, the question was not fully answered. Even a seemingly humble accomplishment can be illuminated with your own reflection. That being said, this is also an opportunity to share your own key achievements. Make sure you provide detailed information about your contribution to the achievement to highlight your ability to lead and achieve through your direct efforts.

Essay 2 (required ”“ 400 word limit): What have you learned from a mistake?

Don’t be afraid to admit you make mistakes because the key part of this question is describing what you learned. The mistake itself is less important, though choosing a real mistake that is honest in nature (not morally ambiguous) is preferable. When thinking about a mistake you might discuss, refer back to your strategic plan and the key information you want to communicate to the admissions committee. Is there a learning that has impacted your life or carried a thread through your character, goals or accomplishments?

Essays 3 and 4: Choose two of the four following questions (400 word limit each)

1. What would you like the Harvard Business School Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

If you are younger applicant or had a particularly strong academic experience, this may be a smart choice for one of the two remaining essays. When choosing a topic, think about an academic experience that may have shaped your future career plans, or solidified a personal passion. If you studied a topic in college that relates closely to your long-term goals it may be a great way to discuss your plans in a different light than the career vision essay would allow. Make sure your focus is academic in nature, this question specifically asks about your academic experience while in undergrad, not sports or social activities.

2. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

It is telling that Harvard Business School does not require an answer to this question. While Harvard Business School is less focused on hearing about your goals and aspirations for a career after business school than other programs, this is a great essay to discuss what your dreams are. If you are a non-traditional or career changing applicant this would be a good choice as one of your optional essays, as you will be able to lay out your vision for a career if it is less than obvious from your prior experience. Pay close attention to the “career vision” part of the question ”“ this indicates a long term passion in the career realm, not a goal to become a McKinsey consultant right after graduation. Also do not neglect the discussion of why this career vision is meaningful to you. This could include past experiences, your background, or personal history.

3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed.

Similar to the mistake essay, this is an opportunity to show how you handle challenging situations. Everyone faces frustrations and challenges at work, it is how you decide to react that creates learning and growth. Revealing your emotions and thought process in this essay will provide a window into how you process difficult experiences and emerge from them with a new direction.

When brainstorming for this essay think first about what you learned from the situation, and then work backwards to describe the circumstances and the initial frustration, that will help you see the whole situation from a more optimistic viewpoint.

4. When you join the Harvard Business School Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

This is a great essay in which to demonstrate a personal side to your application. Think about the aspects of your life that will be of interest to your peers. Interesting hobbies, international travel, your cooking skills or wine knowledge are all great topics to use to show how you will fit in with the class of 2013.
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Click for more posts containing Application Advice for the Harvard Business School.
To see our Harvard Business School Essay Guide for MBA Applications, click here.
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