Tuesday Tips: Harvard MBA Essay Advice for 2021-2022

Harvard MBA essayHarvard Business School has confirmed that the Harvard MBA essay question for the class of 2024 remains the same.  While the COVID-19 pandemic changed education for this year, there is hope that next year could mean a return to largely in-person instruction.

Harvard Business School has not announced that vaccinations will be required, but is monitoring the vaccination rate of the community. Masks are still required on campus in the meantime. The class of 2023 went through virtual interviewing and recruiting, and it remains to be seen if that will continue this fall.

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. Meanwhile, a persuasive essay can move you into the interview round for a closer look.

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.”

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.

Harvard MBA essay

Harvard MBA Essay for 2021-2022

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 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.

Chad Losee, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School, provides several tips in this video. As Losee advises, a key part of the question is “what more”? The HBS admissions committee wants you to use this essay to communicate information that adds to the rest of your application. Also, give yourself “the time and space to really reflect.”

“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. Losee also suggests that you read the essay over and make sure it can’t describe someone else. It should be personal and describe how you are unique.

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.

The SBC team wishes you much luck with your HBS application and interview and would love to support your efforts. See here for NEW 2021 HBS interview advice, including format, evaluation criteria, and sample questions. Contact one of our SBC Principals to request availability for HBS interview preparation by emailing hbs@stacyblackman.com asap. Here’s the overview of SBC’s interview prep services.

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