Tuesday Tips: Harvard Business School Essay Questions

The essay questions for the Harvard Business School class of 2012 are posted, along with the questions for your recommenders.

Harvard Business School has remained fairly consistent this year. Most of the questions from the previous year’s application are repeated again, with a few differences in the choices for the final two essays. Whereas last year’s essay questions had the option to choose a part of the world you were curious about, this year’s questions added two additional options, describing a difficult decision or writing a cover letter.

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 pick 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 Harvard Business School 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.

Essay 2 (required ”“ 400 word limit): What have you learned from a mistake?
For this Harvard Business School essay question, 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 MBA 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 essay 5 would suggest. Make sure your focus is academic in nature, this question does not ask about sports or community service activities, which would be more appropriate for question 2.

2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.

The topic of this question is fairly open ”“ the community could be either work or extracurricular in nature. Think about the areas of your life you have covered well in previous essays and choose a different angle for this one. As you write this Harvard Business School essay focus on what you did to engage with the community or organization and what the results were. This is an opportunity to demonstrate clear leadership or teamwork through a specific example.

3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
This question is new to the Harvard Business School application this year. The topic is open ended and will allow you to take an example from your career, your extracurricular activities or your personal life. Ideally the decision was a turning point in your life that reveals how you determine life choices and your world-view.

4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
This is a new question for the Harvard Business School application, though a standard question from the MIT Sloan application. Overall, it’s an opportunity to highlight your key selling points for entry into the MBA class. Similar to a job hunting cover letter, focus the letter on your fit with the MBA program, what you bring to the class, and what the MBA will help you achieve in the next stage of your life.

5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
Though this question appears to be a standard career goals question, it is more long-term in nature. When writing this essay, focus on the big picture vision of your future career. What do you want to be doing in twenty or thirty years? Why does this vision appeal to you, and what led you to decide it was your goal? Introspection about your life goals and purpose will go a long way in this essay.


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.
To see our Harvard Business School Interview Guide, click here.

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