This year Harvard Business School has streamlined the essay process even further by limiting the usual batch of essays to one question. While one question for HBS makes coming up with topics somewhat easier (in prior years Harvard often asked applicants for three accomplishments) the open ended nature of the question and the no-limit word count will make this one question potentially quite challenging.
There is one question for the Class of 2016:
You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?
HBS adds this tip to the essay prompt:
There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.
The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two to demonstrate your fit for the school. Your first task should be to evaluate all of the other aspects of your candidacy – what is the story your resume tells? What do you think recommenders will say? How does your transcript communicate your skills, accomplishments and interests? Then you need to evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.
While comparisons with Stanford’s “What Matters Most” open-ended question may come immediately to mind, HBS is very different and it will be important to know the program.
As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and wants to accept candidates who have a track record of leadership impact and a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential. Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays, and outlining one or two leadership oriented accomplishments as examples of who you are would likely be a strong approach. Other ideas are to reflect upon your future goals, explain an important formative experience, and reflect upon your growth as you enter an MBA program.
We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. This has never been part of an HBS application essay question and we don’t recommend including that sort of angle here. HBS is quite clear on why applicants are interested in the school, and they would rather see you use the space to provide more information about yourself and your candidacy.
A note on word count: HBS traditionally has limited essays to around 400 words each. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay this year, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay to 600 words or less.