Tuesday Tips: Harvard Business School Fall 2019 MBA Essay Tips

HBS essay tipsHarvard Business School has confirmed that the essay question for the class of 2021 remains unchanged from last year.

The most challenging part of the HBS essay is remaining disciplined. With unlimited space to make your case, you may be tempted to compose a laundry list of everything interesting or impressive you have ever done.

That urge could backfire, as the essay is used to determine who isn’t a fit for HBS as much as those who will move into the interview round for a closer look.  Who is Harvard 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.

Class of 2021 admissions 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. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay in the ~1,000 word range. Our clients have successfully composed essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words, though you should take a pass through your essay to cut any unnecessary words if you find yourself on the upper end of that range.

Because there is no stated word count you do 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 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.

Check out the incoming class profile for some idea of what a “typical” HBS student is like. We have found that both personal and career-oriented topics can work, and most candidates tell more than one story in the essay. In the past, we have observed that successful HBS essays often demonstrate a core driving passion. HBS students are ambitious, motivated, and never boring.

As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and really loves candidates with a track record of leadership impact and future potential. If you can demonstrate a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential and a passion for impact in both business and society, use that material.

Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays. If you have an interesting and revealing accomplishments story it may be a good topic for part of this essay, particularly if your key accomplishments are not obvious when reading your resume or transcripts.

All of that being said, the goal of this essay is to understand 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.” Setbacks and lessons learned can be just as informative as success stories if the stories reveal more about what motivates and inspires you.

A note on what not to do: We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. Unlike most MBA programs, HBS has never asked “why HBS” in an application essay question. Explaining why the case method, specifically, is a good fit for you and your learning style may be appropriate.

However, avoid lengthy explanations about how HBS is your top choice. Due to the level of competition for Harvard Business School, we believe it’s more effective for you to use the space to provide detailed information about you and your strong candidacy.

Looking for guidance on your HBS application? Contact us to learn more about Stacy Blackman Consulting.

Image credit: Chris Han (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
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