Harvard Business School Essay Tips 2008

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.

Many applicants are intimidated by the extremely limited word count of the Harvard Business School essays. Rather than worrying about the word limits early in the process, it’s best to focus on telling the story you need to, and then cut extra words in later drafts. You will be surprised how easy it is to cut the excess and how impactful your final essays are.

Harvard Business School 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 opportunity to highlight accomplishments you are particularly proud of. When choosing topics, think about the many areas of your life that are important to you, and vary the areas you focus on. For example, three work accomplishments that use similar skills and traits will not have the same impact as showing examples from your personal life, community involvement and work that will illustrate your personal and leadership qualities in a variety of circumstances. Do not neglect the second part of the question, “why do you view them as such?” this is an important way to understand how you think, what is important to you, and your priorities. As with almost all essay the “why” is as or more important than the “what”.

Harvard Business School Essay 2 (required ”“ 400 word limit): What have you learned from a mistake?
One of the most feared questions by MBA applicants everywhere; this is actually a great opportunity to show your introspection, dedication and ability to handle setbacks. In choosing a mistake to discuss, make sure it is a real mistake (NOT: “I made the mistake of working too hard.”) and that you have a meaningful lesson that you took from the mistake. Many MBA applicants cannot think of a huge, life changing mistake, which is fine. The most important part of this question is learning and introspection that resulted from the mistake. If you can provide specific examples of how your approach has changed since the mistake, that is a great way to wrap up the essay. See last week’s post on questions about failure for further inspiration.

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

a. What would you like the Harvard Business School Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
In this essay it’s best to be positive about your academic experience. Make sure that the focus is on your intellectual development, contribution to the school, or leadership as a student in the academic realm in this essay. While it may be tempting to explain a less than stellar GPA or extracurricular activities, the question is specifically asking about your academic experience and you will want to focus the majority of the essay on that area. Also, don’t stray too much from the academic focus here. An essay about your undergraduate experience that discussed athletics and clubs but skips on academics is simply not answering the question.

b. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
The operative word in this question is “how” ”“ make sure you are quite specific about what you did and how you were engaged with the community or organization you choose. Try to highlight a leadership role or actions as part of a team rather than a simple membership role.

c. What area of the world are you most curious about and why?
This is a great open ended question that will allow you to demonstrate your global perspective, even if you don’t have global experience. You will want to cite specific examples to illustrate both your curiosity about the area and why. Is there a theme across your background in community involvement and work that naturally leads to an interest in one particular region? Try to delve deeper than an interest in China because of the economic opportunities, and delve into the aspects of the area that are particularly meaningful in your life.

d. 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.


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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