Harvard Business School Essay Change Stresses Applicants

HBS essay and deadlines

On Thursday, Harvard Business School announced major changes to its admissions requirements for the upcoming season that include posing applicants a single, optional, MBA essay question with no word count limit.

From Bloomberg Businessweek to the  Financial Times to Poets & Quants, media reports covering the change note that initial applicant reaction has ranged from confusion to outright panic. Even so, most industry insiders agree that this change in direction will likely result in a significant increase in application volume for the school.

Based on the reactions I am already receiving from clients, I think they are going to benefit from plenty of guidance on this one: How do they want to present themselves, what aspects still need to be revealed and how to very thoughtfully tell this story.

I don’t see this as a ‘no essay.’ I see it as a very important exercise in presenting oneself, knowing what needs to be told and what can be left out. Personally, when I learned of the change my immediate reaction was, “I love it!”. Harvard wants students who are future leaders – those who can act quickly and decisively, with little to no direction, under stressful circumstances.

Top leaders don’t need to be told exactly what to do and they go far beyond filling in required boxes.  This essay exercise gets to the heart of this.  HBS knows what they are looking for, and if an applicant does their research they know what HBS is looking for as well.  So now, Harvard is saying to applicants:  ‘Based on what you know of how we compose our class, you tell us what we need to know. We aren’t going to force you into a specific box.’

I would be really interested to know what our blog readers think of this move by Harvard Business School. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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