Tuesday Tips: Harvard MBA Essay Advice for 2019-2020

Harvard MBA Essay

SBC’s updated tips for the 2020-2021 Harvard MBA essay are here!

Harvard Business School has confirmed that the essay question for the class of 2022 remains unchanged from last year. The most challenging part of the Harvard MBA 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. The admissions committee uses the essay to weed out those who aren’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.

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 2022 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. 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. If you find yourself on the upper end of that range, review your essay to cut any unnecessary words.

Because there is no stated word count for the Harvard MBA essay, 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.

“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 what a “typical” HBS student is like. We have found that both personal and career-oriented topics can work. In fact, 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 Harvard MBA essays. An interesting and revealing accomplishments story would work well for part of this essay. This holds true 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 the Harvard MBA essay. Unlike most MBA programs, HBS has never asked “why HBS” in an application essay question. You might explain why you prefer the Case Method learning style, if appropriate.

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.

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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SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
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.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

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