Tuesday Tips: Harvard MBA Essay Advice for 2020-2021

Harvard MBA essay

Harvard Business School has confirmed that the Harvard MBA essay question for the class of 2023 remains unchanged. According to MBA Admissions Director Chad Losee, “Amidst all the uncertainty globally, we plan to minimize changes in our application process this year.”  The admissions committee understands that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted plans, employment, and personal lives.

The Harvard MBA essay is challenging because it is open-ended. Therefore, you must remain disciplined while writing this essay. You will feel tempted to write a laundry list of everything interesting or impressive you have ever done with unlimited space. That urge could backfire. The admissions committee uses the essay to weed out those who aren’t a fit for HBS. On the other hand, a persuasive essay can move you into the interview round for a closer look.

First, think about who Harvard is looking for. The admissions committee writes that “Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship” are the common characteristics of a successful applicant.

One of the former HBS Admissions Officers on the SBC team shared, “The essay really is make or break for HBS – so many applications have acceptable credentials up to that point of the application and it is the essay that sets the overall application apart and earns it the interview.”

Class of 2023 Harvard MBA essay question:

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program? (no word count limit)

 A note on word count: HBS values brevity in essays. Don’t go overboard with a 2,000-word essay. Instead, focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping it in the ~1,000-word range. Our clients have successfully composed essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words. If you find yourself on the upper end of that range, review and cut any unnecessary words.

Because there is no stated word count for the Harvard MBA essay, you have the flexibility to take extra space if you are telling a compelling story that needs it.

The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two. Your task is to demonstrate your fit with Harvard Business School. First, 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, evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.

“At the end of the essay, the reader should feel so moved they want to meet you immediately – can’t wait to get to know you better, hear more of the story, ask you specific questions to learn more, be inspired, etc,” shared one of the former HBS Admissions Officers on the SBC team.

Learn more about current HBS students

Check out the incoming class profile for some idea of the “typical” HBS student. Keep in mind that both personal and career-oriented topics can work for this essay. In fact, most candidates tell more than one story in the essay. In the past, we have seen successful HBS essays demonstrate a core driving passion. HBS students are ambitious, motivated, and never dull.

Choose stories that show your management potential. HBS has always focused on leadership and loves candidates with a track record of leadership impact and future potential. Your goal is to demonstrate a success trajectory to indicate upper management potential. And, your path should show a passion for impact in both business and society.

In past years, Harvard MBA essay questions focused on accomplishments. Therefore, consider telling an accomplishment story in this essay. If your key achievements are not evident in your resume or transcripts, you can use this essay to explain them.

That said, this essay aims to discover who you are. “Be genuine,” advises the HBS admissions blog, and continues: “Yes, we want you to put your best foot forward, but be careful not to be so ‘polished’ that we can’t get to know the real you.” Especially at this time of global hardship, your story doesn’t need to be perfect. Embrace the challenges that you have overcome and tell your story. Remember that focusing on the lessons in your setbacks can be inspiring and revealing.

A note on what not to do

Many applicants feel compelled to include “why HBS” type information in the Harvard MBA essay. Unlike most MBA programs, HBS has never asked “why HBS” in an application essay question. If you feel strongly that you want to explain why Harvard is the right fit, focus on tangible differences like the Case Method learning style.

However, avoid lengthy explanations about how HBS is your top choice. Instead, use the space to provide detailed information about you and your strong candidacy.

Contact us to learn more about how Stacy Blackman Consulting can help you with your Harvard MBA application.

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Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

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One Response to Tuesday Tips: Harvard MBA Essay Advice for 2020-2021

  1. Pingback: Tuesday Tips: Harvard MBA Essay Advice for 2020-2021 | The GMAT Club

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