Skip to content

Harvard Mba Essay Tips 2010

2017-2018 Harvard HBS This years application see the comeback of the essay questions from past years. This year's question is not optional. We suggest you make the best use of this opportunity!

Essay

“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 and no right answers. It’s all yours.

Essay Tips

Infinite possibilities! Endless freedom! Immeasurable terror?

While the free-fall without guidelines regarding length or topic might be discomfiting, grab this opportunity to write absolutely ANYTHING you want the Harvard admissions committee to know about your candidacy. Use this terrific opportunity to traverse into an area of your personality or life or dreams that has not been adequately covered in the rest of the application.

Since your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and recommendations have already been disclosed, identify the areas that might need to be uncovered and the picture that needs to be drawn. Explaining your goals and your vision, displaying strategic thinking and showcasing passion and intelligence are good options to consider. Your view of life and work might be another. How and why Harvard and you make a great fit - and how it is mutually beneficial might be another.

HBS may already know a lot of facts about you. It has sufficient information regarding the 'whats' about you, but it still doesn’t know all the 'hows' and 'whys' of your achievements, struggles, and visions. So utilize this opportunity is to talk about the reasons behind your choices. You could build a story and show one or more themes running through your life-events. This will help the Adcom understand the person behind the numbers they see in your application and get a true glimpse of you. BUT remember that the intended audience for your essay is your 'section' and you can't assume they have looked at your resume and application. So it would be advisable to include high-level details about your career path. Think about presenting a holistic picture of your candidature including your career progression, your personal achievements/interests, your expectations from Harvard and reasons why you "fit" with HBS.

Another approach could be to reveal who you are by showing with examples what you value, what your passions are, and what all you care about. Work is (possibly) one big part of your life, so while there should be obvious connect with what you aspire to do professionally, an approach that shows more of your personal side will help make a more memorable impression. Your view of life and work, how and why Harvard MBA will work for you, and how you plan to contribute to the Harvard MBA class could be other options.

While no essay length is prescribed, we recommend that you should aim for roughly 600-750 words, keeping in mind the given the word limits of previous HBS essays.

   

, Kellogg Northwestern

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2016-2017

Essay: “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 and no right answers. It’s all yours.

Essay Tips. Infinite possibilities! Endless freedom! Immeasurable terror?

While the free-fall without guidelines regarding length or topic might be discomfiting, grab this opportunity to write absolutely ANYTHING you want the Harvard admissions committee to know about your candidacy. Use this terrific opportunity to traverse into an area of your personality or life or dreams that has not been adequately covered in the rest of the application.

Since your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and recommendations have already been disclosed, identify the areas that might need to be uncovered and the picture that needs to be drawn. Explaining your goals and your vision, displaying strategic thinking and showcasing passion and intelligence are good options to consider. Your view of life and work might be another. How and why Harvard and you make a great fit - and how it is mutually beneficial might be another.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2015-2016

Essay: There is one question for the Class of 2018. It's the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your "section." This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.

Introduce yourself.

Essay Tips. HBS already knows a lot of facts about you, the 'Whats' about you, but its still doesn’t know the 'Hows' and 'Whys' of your achievements, your struggles, your visions. So one way to utilize this opportunity is to talk about the reasons behind your choices. You could build a story and show one or more themes running through your life-events. This will help the Adcom understand the person behind the numbers they see in your application and get a true glimpse of you.

Another approach could be to showcase a few of your key strengths and accomplishments you are proud of. Through them show with examples what you value, what your passions are, what you care about. Work is one big part of your life, so while there should be obvious connect with what you aspire to do professionally, an approach that shows more of your personal side will give HBS exactly what they want to know.

Explaining and fleshing out your goals and your vision, displaying strategic thinking, passion and intelligence is another definite option to consider. Your view of life and work, how and why Harvard MBA will work for you and how you make a great fit - might be other options.

Some Harvard essays from previous years could help you identify these options:

2010-2011: What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

2010-2011: When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

2009-2010 Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.

2011-2012: Tell us about three of your accomplishments.

OR if you feel you have covered all the usual bases, then maybe some of the following archived Harvard essays will help. "Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed." "What area of the world are you most curious about and why?" "Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization." "Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision."

Length: While no essay length is prescribed, around 600-750 words might be what we should target, given the word limits of previous HBS essays.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2014-2015

Essay. You're applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? Use your judgment as to how much to tell us. We don't have a "right answer" or "correct length" in mind. We review all the elements of your written application to decide who moves forward to the interview stage.

Harvard Essay Tips. Although the essay is optional, we strongly recommend you to write it. This is one more opportunity for you to showcase your strength and personality and enhance chances of your admission- so don't let it go!

So what all you could write?

HBS already knows a lot of facts about you, the 'Whats' about you, but its still doesn’t know the 'Hows' and 'Whys' of your achievements, your struggles, your visions. So one way to utilize this opportunity is to talk about the reasons behind your choices. You could build a story and show one or more themes running through your life-events. This will help the Adcom understand the person behind the numbers they see in your application and get a true glimpse of you.

Another approach could be to showcase a few of your key strengths and accomplishments you are proud of. Through them show with examples what you value, what your passions are, what you care about. Work is one big part of your life, so while there should be obvious connect with what you aspire to do professionally, an approach that shows more of your personal side will give HBS exactly what they want to know.

Explaining and fleshing out your goals and your vision, displaying strategic thinking, passion and intelligence is another definite option to consider. Your view of life and work, how and why Harvard MBA will work for you and how you make a great fit - might be other options.

Some Harvard essays from previous years could help you identify these options:

2010-2011: What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

2010-2011: When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

2009-2010 Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.

2011-2012: Tell us about three of your accomplishments.

OR if you feel you have covered all the usual bases, then maybe some of the following archived Harvard essays will help. "Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed." "What area of the world are you most curious about and why?" "Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization." "Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision."

Length: While no essay length is prescribed, around 600-750 words might be what we should target, given the word limits of previous HBS essays.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2013-2014

Essay. You're applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? There is no word limit for this question. Don't overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don't know your world can understand.

Essay Tips. Infinite possibilities!

Endless freedom!

Immeasurable terror?

While the freefall without guidance on length or topic might be discomfiting, grab this opportunity to write absolutely ANYTHING you want the Harvard admissions committee to know about your candidacy. Use this mouth watering opportunity to traverse an area in your personality or life or dreams that has not been adequately covered in the rest of the application.

Since your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and recommendations have been read, identify the areas that might need to be uncovered and the picture that needs to be drawn. Perhaps instead of a few select aspects you would choose to paint an overall picture of you or your goals or why Harvard is the best option for you.

Explaining and fleshing out your goals and your vision, displaying strategic thinking, passion and intelligence is one definite option to consider. Your view of life and work might be another. How and why Harvard and you make a great fit - and how it is mutually beneficial might be another. Some Harvard essays from previous years could help you identify these options: 2010-2011: What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? 2010-2011: When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates? 2009-2010 Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board. 2011-2012: Tell us about three of your accomplishments.

OR if you feel you have covered all the usual bases, then maybe some of the following archived Harvard essays will help. "Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed." "What area of the world are you most curious about and why?" "Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization." "Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision."

Feel free to be inspired by essay prompts of other b-schools as well. Peruse the hundreds of MBA essays and tips at the Vibranture MBA essays archive for inspiration.

Length: While no essay length is prescribed, around 600-750 words might be what we should target, given the word limits of previous HBS essays.

Go for it!

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2011-2012

Essay 1. Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

Essay 1 Tips. A straightforward question from Harvard where you detail three of your achievements. The 2010-2011 question "What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such?" might serve as a better guide.

Start off by forming a list of 5-6 key achievements from your professional, personal or academic life. Having done that, look at the Harvard MBA application essay package as a whole and then revisit the list. Since you might later write essays highlighting aspects of your leadership, learning, worldview or career vision, ensuring that abilities/skills already highlighted aren't repeated. The rider to that is that since this is Harvard and since this is an MBA application, there is an exception to that rule - leadership. A generous sprinkling of leadership instances across the entire package is fully acceptable and this first essay may be the place for at least one.

The final choice can now be made based on the general importance of the achievements, the extent of your contribution to it's success and what the stories tell about you. Choose the qualities that the accomplishments highlight and decide if those are the traits that you want the Harvard admissions committee to remember about you. While "why do you view them as such" is absent in the question an implicit mention of that will be welcome.

Go for it!

Essay 2. Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)

Essay 2 Tips. You might find this new Harvard question demanding since it asks for not one but three separate failures, setbacks or challenging situations.

Though this seems to be a failures/setbacks essay it is learning that should be the key aspect of the essay. The 2010-2011 essay "What have you learned from a mistake?" points you in the right direction. After all an ability to fail does not qualify you for a Harvard pass; but willingness to try, ability to evaluate failures/setbacks/challenges, capacity to learn from mistakes, facility in conquering obstacles and a knack for bouncing back, might be exactly what the admissions committee might appreciate.

Identify situations and stories where you faced obstacles and emerged either victorious and/or a better person. If the setback created a significant difference in your thought process, leadership style, behavior or value system and was a substantial learning, you can go to the printers with the stories.

Go for it!

Essay 3. Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)

Essay 3 Tips. This a goals essay that asks you why you want the Harvard MBA and also possibly gives scope for answering the 2010-2011 prompt "What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?". How much of the essay you want to devote to the goals and how much to Harvard depends entirely on you.

Some lucid thinking and creativity will go a long way in transforming this from a well-disguised sleeping pill to the high point of your Harvard application. With the loose structure of the question Harvard gives you greater scope than in a usual "career goals" question.

This essay implicitly tests you on how serious are you about seeking admission to Harvard. How specific and convincing you can be about Harvard's contribution to your further growth will decide the fate of this essay. After defining your goals and explaining your vision, move on to why the Harvard MBA makes most sense for you. Try to establish a perfect fit between your goals and Harvard. Think about why you are taking all this trouble applying to Harvard in the first place. Detail what skills, knowledge, relations, thoughts or anything else you expect to gain from HBS that will aid you in pursuing your goals. Take steps to learn as much as possible about Harvard using online and offline modes - websites, current Harvard students, alumni, Harvard fairs/receptions. The objective is to implicitly or explicitly demonstrate that your application is a reflection of your serious and specific interest in Harvard.

Do bear in mind that the theme you choose for the fourth essay can impact this essay, especially if you want to focus on your goals in the next essay (e.g. "What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?").

Do your best!

Essay 4. Answer a question you wish we'd asked. (400 words)

Essay 4 Tips. Infinite possibilities! You have the freedom to write on absolutely ANYTHING you want to tell the Harvard admissions committee. Use this mouth watering opportunity to traverse an area in your personality or life that has not been covered in the other essays.

Some essay options from previous years will help you identify options: "What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?" "What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?" "Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed." "When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?" "What area of the world are you most curious about and why?" "Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization." "Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision."

Feel free to choose from essays of other b-schools as well.

Have fun!

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2010-2011

Essay 1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

Essay 1 Tips. Straightforward question from Harvard. So start off by forming a straightforward note that lists the 5-6 key achievements from your professional, personal or academic life. Having done that, look at the Harvard MBA application essay package as a whole and then revisit the list. Since you might later write essays highlighting aspects of your leadership, undergraduate days, worldview or career vision, ensuring that abilities/skills already highlighted aren't repeated. The rider to that is that since this is Harvard and since this is an MBA application, there is an exception to that rule - leadership. A generous sprinkling of leadership instances across the entire package might be acceptable and this first essay may be the place for at least one.

The final choice can now be made based on the general importance of the achievements, the extent of your contribution to it's success and what the stories tell about you. Choose the qualities that the accomplishments highlight and decide if those are the traits that you want the Harvard admissions committee to remember about you.

Of course the second part of the question "why do you view them as such" is truly where you must start from: clarify your position on the "why" and you will almost automatically arrive at the answer to the first part.

Go for it!

Essay 2. What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

Essay 2 Tips. This is a straightforward failure essay - the express focus on the learning.

Learning is the key aspect of the essay, not the failure as such. Think about why you are writing this Harvard essay and find a situation that has created a difference in your thought process, leadership style, behavior or value system. Once you get a substantial "learning" you can go to the printers with the story.

This year the choice of examples and incidents for the Harvard application essays will be extremely difficult as you are presented with a rich collection of choices. Your choice in Essay 2 depends on your preferred essay questions in question 3.

Go for it!

Essay 3. Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each)

Essay 3.1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

Essay 3.1 Tips. As an academic experience preceding the Harvard MBA, your undergraduate performance might be a good guide to what you are capable of at HBS. This Harvard essay should speak of that formative phase in your life that has now made you the irresistible applicant/scholar that you are today!

Write about all that you found interesting, influential and character-shaping during your undergraduate academic experience. And talk about what YOU helped shape during those years. While "academic" might seem a little limiting, please do not restrict yourself to classroom activities: examples of your initiatives, creativity or leadership in the academic sphere (inside and outside the classroom) could top the list of what may put in. Your choice of electives/program, your suggestions for course/class/program/college improvement, your paper presentation/original research are some possibilities apart from simple recounting of academic brilliance.

The little problem with the question is that after a substantial work experience period (4-5+) or following a post graduate academic experience you might find it a little tough to backtrack and look into your undergraduate phase. Also you might feel that the "academic" aspects of your undergraduate days were not exactly electrifying. In which case simply overlook this one and select another essay to write - unlike two years back this is not a mandatory essay!

Essay 3.2. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

Essay 3.2 Tips. A leading MBA essayist recently told me that she felt dizzy every time she tried to imagine the number of applicants who want to graduate from a leading Ivy League B School, join McKinsey (or another leading Management Consultancy) and then found their own company. If you imagine the career track in your Harvard essay to be similar to that, perhaps you should think again. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with the idea (or with McKinsey or with entrepreneurship) but that is certainly not a differentiating or different answer. Some lucid thinking and creativity will go a long way in transforming this from a well-disguised sleeping pill to the high point of your Harvard application. Harvard gives you greater scope than in a usual "what is your career goal" question. Define the goal and explain your vision. Show how it makes sense for you and for HBS. Strategic thinking, passion and intelligence: show these in the essay and you'll have my vote.

Essay 3.3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed.

Essay 3.3 Tips. Select a specific situation across your career wherein you faced disappointment, disenchantment or frustration. Be very careful to ensure that this essay focuses, not on your distress, frustrations or disappointments within the selected story, but on your attitude, approach and actions that made you overcome the painful episode.

Having given the context, ensure that you move on to positive actions and results; always minimize the negativity in your essays. Your reasoning process, decision making skills, maturity, ability to overcome hurdles, people skills, proficiency in handling setbacks, strength of purpose and moral rectitude could be just a few of the possible critical factors that can be highlighted in this essay. How you make your judgments about events/circumstances, the methods you adopt to understand varied aspects of a situation and how you use innovation, a balanced mind and/or strength of spirit to make positive change could be further areas of focus.

It is (almost) essential that this ultimately be a "success" story where you changed the situation for the better and everyone lives happily ever after!

Go for it!

Essay 3.4. When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

Essay 3.4 Tips. Somewhat similar to last year's prompt (Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board), this essay requires you to present yourself to the Harvard class, underlining your main qualifications to be a part of the Harvard Business School. Compellingly state why you should be admitted to Harvard and mentions why you are interested in HBS. And yes, this will also act as your "goals essay", unless you plan to use essay 3.2 to that end. Since the audience is the Harvard class, displaying some knowledge about the Harvard class profile might be in order.

Since this is an all-purpose essay a holistic picture of your candidature needs to be presented, including your career progression, your personal achievements/interests, your expectations from Harvard and your "fit" with HBS. How you contribute to the Harvard MBA class would be an underlying overt or subliminal theme.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2009-2010

Essay 1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

Essay 1 Tips. Straightforward question from Harvard. So start off by forming a straightforward note that lists the 5-6 key achievements from your professional, personal or academic life. Having done that, look at the Harvard MBA application essay package as a whole and then revisit the list. Since you might later write essays highlighting aspects of your leadership, undergraduate days, worldview or career vision, ensuring that abilities/skills already highlighted aren't repeated. The rider to that is that since this is Harvard and since this is an MBA application, there is an exception to that rule - leadership. A generous sprinkling of leadership instances across the entire package might be acceptable and this first essay may be the place for at least one.

The final choice can now be made based on the general importance of the achievements, the extent of your contribution to it's success and what the stories tell about you. Choose the qualities that the accomplishments highlight and decide if those are the traits that you want the Harvard admissions committee to remember about you.

Of course the second part of the question "why do you view them as such" is truly where you must start from: clarify your position on the "why" and you will almost automatically arrive at the answer to the first part.

Go for it!

Essay 2. What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

Essay 2 Tips. This is a straight failure essay.

Learning is however the key aspect of the essay, not the failure as such. Think about why you are writing this Harvard essay and find a situation that has created a difference in your thought process, leadership style, behavior or value system. Once you get a substantial "learning" you can go to the printers with the story.

This year the choice of examples and incidents for the Harvard application essays will be extremely difficult as you are presented with a rich collection of choices. Your choice in Essay 2 depends on your preferred essay questions in question 3.

Go for it!

Essay 3. Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each)

Essay 3.1. 1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

Essay 3.1 Tips. As an academic experience preceding the Harvard MBA, your undergraduate performance might be a good guide to what you are capable of at HBS. This Harvard essay should speak of that formative phase in your life that has now made you the irresistible applicant/scholar that you are today!

Write about all that you found interesting, influential and character-shaping during your undergraduate academic experience. And talk about what YOU helped shape during those years. While "academic" might seem a little limiting, please do not restrict yourself to classroom activities: examples of your initiatives, creativity or leadership in the academic sphere (inside and outside the classroom) could top the list of what may put in. Your choice of electives/program, your suggestions for course/class/program/college improvement, your paper presentation/original research are some possibilities apart from simple recounting of academic brilliance.

The little problem with the question is that after a substantial work experience period (4-5+) or following a post graduate academic experience you might find it a little tough to backtrack and look into your undergraduate phase. Also you might feel that the "academic" aspects of your undergraduate days were not exactly electrifying. In which case simply overlook this one and select another essay to write - unlike two years back this is not a mandatory essay!

Essay 3.2. 2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.

Essay 3.2 Tips. Have you led or been an important component of an organization or community activity? Do you have significant volunteer activity in your resume? In dealing with a community (in which you might have worked or lived or not) have you exhibited praiseworthy skills and/or attitude that would make the HBS adcom misty-eyed with admiration?

Communication, relationship building, leadership, networking, inclusive world view - any or all of these qualities you possess could be covered to best advantage in this essay.

Essay 3.3. 3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.

Essay 3.3 Tips. Select a specific situation wherein your decision was difficult - either because it was unpopular or because you stood to lose materially or emotionally. The motivations and reasons that support your decision will be the foundation of this essay.

Recount a dilemma you faced in choosing between diverging options. Your reasoning process, decision making skills, strength of purpose and moral rectitude are some of the possible critical factors that can be highlighted in this essay.

How you make your judgments about events and people, the methods you adopt to understand varied situations and how you balance the various options to make your decision could be your main areas of focus.

Though it is not essential that this be a "success" story where ultimately everyone lives happily ever after, it would be nice to know that your decision ultimately paid off for everyone involved. A display of your strength of character, robust value system and/or intellectual courage might be adequate to polish off the essay.

Go for it!

Essay 3.4. 4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.

Essay 3.4 Tips. Write an essay in cover letter format which highlights your main qualifications to be part of Harvard Business School and explains why you should be admitted to Harvard and mentions why you are interested in HBS. And yes, this will also act as your "goals essay", unless you plan to use essay 3.5 to that end.

Since this is an all-purpose essay (oops.. cover letter) a holistic picture of your candidature needs to be presented, including your career progression, your personal achievements/interests, your expectations from Harvard and your "fit" with HBS. How you contribute to the Harvard MBA class would be an underlying overt or subliminal theme.

Essay 3.5. 5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

Essay 3.5 Tips. A leading MBA essayist recently told me that she felt dizzy every time she tried to imagine the number of applicants who want to graduate from a leading Ivy League B School, join McKinsey (or another leading Management Consultancy) and then found their own company. If you imagine the career track in your Harvard essay to be similar to that, perhaps you should think again. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with the idea (or with McKinsey or with entrepreneurship) but that is certainly not a differentiating or different answer. Some lucid thinking and creativity will go a long way in transforming this from a well-disguised sleeping pill to the high point of your Harvard application. Harvard gives you greater scope than in a usual "what is your career goal" question. Define the goal and explain your vision. Show how it makes sense for you and for HBS. Strategic thinking, passion and intelligence: show these in the essay and you'll have my vote.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2008-2009

Essay 1. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

Essay 1 Tips. Straightforward question from Harvard. So start off by forming a straightforward note that lists the 5-6 key achievements from your professional, personal or academic life. Having done that, look at the Harvard MBA application essay package as a whole and then revisit the list. Since you might later write essays highlighting aspects of your leadership, undergraduate days, worldview or career vision, ensuring that abilities/skills already highlighted aren't repeated. The rider to that is that since this is Harvard and since this is an MBA application, there is an exception to that rule - leadership. A generous sprinkling of leadership instances across the entire package might be acceptable and this first essay may be the place for at least one.

The final choice can now be made based on the general importance of the achievements, the extent of your contribution to it's success and what the stories tell about you. Choose the qualities that the accomplishments highlight and decide if those are the traits that you want the Harvard admissions committee to remember about you.

Of course the second part of the question "why do you view them as such" is truly where you must start from: clarify your position on the "why" and you will almost automatically arrive at the answer to the first part.

Go for it!

Essay 2. What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

Essay 2 Tips. This is a straight failure essay.

Learning is however the key aspect of the essay, not the failure as such. Think about why you are writing this Harvard essay and find a situation that has created a difference in your thought process, leadership style, behavior or value system. Once you get a substantial "learning" you can go to the printers with the story.

This year the choice of examples and incidents for the Harvard application essays will be extremely difficult as you are presented with a rich collection of choices. Your choice in Essay 2 depends on your preferred essay questions in question 3.

Go for it!

Essay 3. Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each)

Essay 3.1 Tips. 1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

As an academic experience preceding the Harvard MBA, your undergraduate academic experience might be a good guide to what you are capable of at HBS. This Harvard essay should speak of that formative phase in your life that has now made you the irresistible applicant-scholar that you are today! Talk about all that you found interesting, influential and character-shaping during your undergraduate academic experience. And talk about what YOU helped shape during those years. Examples of your initiatives, creativity or leadership in the academic sphere could top the list of what may put in; but remember that we are just at the beginning of a long Harvard essay package and you really don't have to oversell yourself before the audience has settled into their seats.

The little problem with the question is that after a substantial work experience period (5+) or following a post graduate academic experience you might find it a little tough to backtrack and look into your undergraduate phase. OK so who said you HAD to write this essay?!

Essay 3.2 Tips. 2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.

Have you led or been an important component of an organization or community activity? Do you have significant volunteer activity in your resume? In dealing with a community (in which you might have worked or lived or not) have you exhibited praiseworthy skills and/or attitude that would make the HBS adcom misty-eyed with admiration?

Communication, relationship building, leadership, networking, inclusive world view - any or all of these qualities you possess could be covered to best advantage in this essay.

Essay 3.3 Tips. 3. What area of the world are you most curious about and why?

Looks tough initially but a fairly simple question actually.

Choose a spot on the globe. Then show a personal, non-trivial connection to the place through your past actions, present ideas or future dreams. Does the place resonate with a discovery, invention or development that is of great interest to you? Has the place witnessed a horror or beauty that you feel strongly about?

This question lays out a canvas for you to explore and showcase your best.

Go for it!

Essay 3.4 Tips. 4. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

A leading MBA essayist recently told me that she felt dizzy every time she tried to imagine the number of applicants who want to graduate from a leading Ivy League B School, join McKinsey (or another leading Management Consultancy) and then found their own company. If you imagine the career track in your Harvard essay to be similar to that, perhaps you should think again. Not that there anything intrinsically wrong with the idea (or with McKinsey or with entrepreneurship) but that is certainly not a differentiating or different answer. Some lucid thinking and creativity will go a long way in transforming this from a well-disguised sleeping pill to the high point of your Harvard application. Harvard gives you greater scope than in a usual "what is your career goal" question. Define the goal and explain your vision. Show how it makes sense for you and for HBS. Strategic thinking, passion and intelligence: show these in the essay and you'll have my vote.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2007-2008

Essay 1 Tips. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

Straightforward question from Harvard. So start off by forming a straightforward note that lists the 5-6 key achievements from your professional, personal or academic life.

Having done that, look at the Harvard MBA application essay package as a whole and then revisit the list. For example you might later write essays highlighting aspects of your leadership, undergraduate days, worldview or career vision. So no point reiterating a point unless you have a good story that is not repeated. The rider to that is that since this is Harvard and since this is an MBA application, there is an exception to that rule - leadership. A generous sprinkling of leadership instances across the entire package might be acceptable and this first essay be may be the place for at least one.

The final choice can now be made based on the general importance of the achievements, the extent of your contribution to it's success and what the stories tell about you. Choose the qualities that the accomplishments highlight and decide if those are the traits that you want the Harvard admissions committee to remember about you.

Of course the second part of the question "why do you view them as such" is truly where you must start from: clarify your position on the "why" and you will almost automatically arrive at the answer to the first part.

Go for it!

Essay 2 Tips. What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

This is a straight failure essay.

Learning is however the key aspect of the essay, not the failure as such. Think about why you are writing this Harvard essay and find a situation that has created a difference in your thought process, leadership style, behavior or value system. Once you get a substantial "learning" you can go to the printers with the story.

This year the choice of examples and incidents for the Harvard application essays will be extremely difficult as you are presented with a rich collection of choices. Your choice in Essay 2 depends on your preferred essay questions in question 3.

Go for it!

Essay 3 Tips. Please respond to three of the following (400-word limit each)

a. Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development. How did this experience highlight your strengths and weaknesses?

Hey, leadership is very important to HBS. Harvard mentions it wherever and whenever they can. So you will do well to assume that this essay is important. Write about an experience where you were in a leadership position, preferably one that helped define what kind of a leader you are today. Choose an experience that had it's successes but was certainly improvable - so that you can include your leadership strengths and weaknesses. The story can go back in time since the focus is on a developing leader (but let's skip the story about your leadership experience in the first grade classroom!). The leadership development, after the mentioned experience, can actually form the central focus of the essay if that is what you want.

b. How have you experienced culture shock?

How do you complement the international flavor and global outlook of the most famous business school in the world? What is your attitude to an international mix of colleagues (or classmates)? How you have dealt with these in the past might give clues to how you approach them in the future (at Harvard and later). This essay is a great platform to show your global viewpoint, international exposure and maturity in cross-cultural interactions. Typically, "culture shocks" also make for great stories.

c. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

Write about what you found interesting, influential and character-shaping during your undergraduate academic experience. If you possess substantial work experience or find it tough to backtrack and look into your undergraduate phase, please attempt another essay.

d. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

A leading MBA essayist recently told me that she felt dizzy every time she tried to imagine the number of applicants who want to graduate from a leading Ivy League B School, join McKinsey (or another leading Management Consultancy) and then found their own company. If you imagine the career track in your Harvard essay to be similar to that, perhaps you should think again. Not that there anything intrinsically wrong with the idea (or with McKinsey or with entrepreneurship) but that is certainly not a differentiating or different answer. Some lucid thinking and creativity will go a long way in transforming this from a well-disguised sleeping pill to the high point of your Harvard application. Harvard gives you greater scope than in a usual "what is your career goal" question. Define the goal and explain your vision. Show how it makes sense for you and for HBS. Strategic thinking, passion and intelligence: show these in the essay and you'll have my vote.

e. What global issue is most important to you and why?

This is an essay explicitly targeted at gauging your worldview, maturity and aptitude for analyzing and communicating great issues. The choice obviously should have universal ramifications and should also (hopefully) find at least a local and partial solution through you. The latter is not explicitly stated in the question, but is implicit - after all this is not just an essay writing competition!

f. What else would you like the MBA Admissions Board to understand about you?

Do you know why, in most places, we advise against attempting an optional essay? Because the temptation to use 400 words worth of admission committee time to repeat points, contradict the other essays or otherwise simply bore them into a blank stupor, is for some unimaginable reason too sweet to resist. Here when you have the choice of making it a mandatory essay, take that option only if you feel you can convey greater meaning with greater power than in any of the other five essay choices. If you can, please go ahead. If not, please DO NOT.

Harvard HBS Essay Tips 2006-2007

Essay 1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

Essay 1 Tips. As an academic experience preceding the Harvard MBA, your undergraduate academic experience might be a good guide to what you are capable of at HBS. This HBS essay should speak of that formative phase in your life that has now made you the irresistible scholar-applicant that you are today!

The little problem with the question is that after a substantial work experience period (5+) or following a post graduate academic experience you might find it a little tough to backtrack and look into your undergraduate phase. So who said everything was perfect?!

Essay 2. What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

Essay 2 Tips. Straightforward question from Harvard. So start off by forming a straightforward answer that lists not 3 but 6-10 key achievements from your professional, personal or academic life.

Having done that, look at the Harvard essay package as a whole and then revisit the list. For example you might notice that there are separate leadership, ethics and academics related questions. So no point reiterating a point unless you have a good story that is not repeated. The rider to that is that since this is Harvard and since this is an MBA application, there is an exception to that rule - leadership. 4-5 sprinklings of leadership instances across the entire package might be just right and this might be the place for at least one.

The final choice can now be made based on the general importance of the achievements, the extent of your contribution to it's success and what the stories tell about you. Choose the qualities that the accomplishments highlight and decide if those are the traits that you want the Harvard admissions committee to remember about you.

Of course the second part of the question "why do you view them as such" is truly where you must start from: clarify your position on the "why" and you will almost automatically arrive at the answer to the first part.

Essay 3. Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development. How did this experience highlight your strengths and weaknesses as a leader? (400-word limit)

Essay 3 Tips. Hey, leadership is very important to Harvard. Harvard mentions it wherever and whenever they can. So you will do well to assume that this essay is important.

Write about an experience where you were in a leadership position, preferably one that helped define what kind of a leader you are today. Choose an experience that had it's successes but was certainly improvable - so that you can include your leadership strengths and weaknesses. Simple?

The story can go back in time since the focus is on a developing leader (but let's skip the story about your leadership experience in the first grade classroom!). The leadership development, after the mentioned experience, can actually form the central focus of the essay if that is what you want.

Essay 4. In your career, you will have to deal with many ethical issues. What are likely to be the most challenging and what is your plan for developing the competencies you will need to handle these issues effectively? (400-word limit)

Essay 4 Tips. It is so very easy to write a bad essay here, even after some hard work.

That last statement is actually designed to make you smile with anticipated pleasure. Did you?

If not, maybe the next paragraph will make you feel better.

There are very few questions in any essay package that most applicants will get almost completely wrong. Each such question gives you the opportunity to create a well-defined advantage for yourself. This Harvard essay is undeniably one such. Unless you you are determined to do it wrong smile you must!

Apart from your own attitude towards ethics, and your past experiences where your value system may have been challenged, you will probably do well to talk to a few people in your chosen industry and supplement it with online research to uncover specific (or even unique?) ethical challenges that you will face in your chosen sphere of activity.

Essay 5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? (400-word limit)

Essay 5 Tips. A leading MBA essayist recently told me that she felt dizzy every time she tried to imagine the number of applicants who want to graduate from a leading Ivy League B School, join McKinsey (or another leading Management Consultancy) and then found their own company. If you imagine the career track in your Harvard essay to be similar to that, perhaps you should think again. Not that there anything intrinsically wrong with the idea (or with McKinsey or with entrepreneurship) but that is certainly not a differentiating or different answer. Some lucid thinking and creativity will go a long way in transforming this from a well-disguised sleeping pill to the high point of your Harvard application.

Harvard gives you greater scope than in a usual "what is your career goal" question. Define the goal and explain your vision. Show how it makes sense for you and for HBS.

Strategic thinking, passion and intelligence: show these in the essay and you'll have my vote.

Essay 6. What other information do you believe would be helpful to the Board in understanding you better and in considering your application? (400-word limit)

Essay 6 Tips. Here we have a Harvard style optional essay - no option!

Point 1: Let us not stare a gift horse wherever.. grab the chance to write on any aspect of your life, career, value system, thought process or whatever else you feel will advance the quality of your Harvard application. This is 400 words worth of free airtime for brand YOU. Broadcast!

Point 2: Do you know why, in most places, we advise against attempting an optional essay? Because the temptation to use 400 words worth of admission committee time to repeat points, contradict the other essays or otherwise simply bore them into a blank stupor, is for some unimaginable reason too sweet to resist. Here you have no choice - write you must. So please resist the urge!

Go for it!


Harvard Business School Essay Analysis, 2017-2018

by mbaMission

How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough analysis, our friends atmbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.


Last year (after just one season), Harvard Business School (HBS) did away with its incredibly broad “introduce yourself” essay prompt in favor of one that at first glance seemed to have almost no parameters at all—and, interestingly, was more or less the same as the one from 2013–2014, when Dee Leopold was running the show. Now with a full year under his belt as HBS’s director of admissions, Chad Losee must feel that the essay question was effective in eliciting the kind of information the admissions committee finds valuable in evaluating the program’s potential students, because it remains exactly the same this year. Read on for our Harvard Business School essay analysis for the program’s 2017-2018 prompt and advice on the best way to approach it…

“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)

Take special note of the word “more” in this straightforward question. With it, the admissions committee is subtly acknowledging that it already has a lot of information about you that it can and will use to get to know you better, including your resume, extracurricular activities, recommendations, short-answer question responses, academic transcripts, and GMAT/GRE score. You should therefore think first about what these portions of your application convey about who you are as an individual and candidate, so you can determine which parts of your profile still need presenting or could benefit from more detail. Now, some applicants may fret that this means they absolutely cannot touch on anything mentioned elsewhere in their application, for fear that the admissions committee will become annoyed and reject them. However, Harvard Business School is not asking only for fresh information—it is asking for more, and specifically, whatever “more” you believe the committee needs to evaluate you thoroughly and fairly. So, even though a bullet on your resume may inform the school of a certain fact, if a profoundly important story lurks behind that fact that you feel effectively expresses a key part of your personality or skill set, you should not feel hesitant to share that story. That said, we are not advocating for you to explore your resume in depth, just trying to convey that “more” here does not mean strictly “thus far unmentioned.”

Before we discuss a few approaches you might take in framing this essay, we must note that your goal in writing it is sincerity. The Harvard Business School admissions committee is not staffed by robots, seeking to detect a certain “type” of applicant. These are human beings who are trying to get to know you and really want to end up liking you! With this essay, you essentially want to forge a meaningful connection with a complete stranger, and if you try to present yourself as something or someone you are not, you will fail.

You, like many other applicants, may worry that your sincere stories will sound clichéd. For example, if you want to write about making a difference, you may wince simply thinking those words: “making a difference.” But the power of your story does not lie in the theme you choose (if you choose to write thematically, that is), but in the manner in which you reveal your actions. If you have truly made a significant difference in the lives of others and can own that angle by offering powerful anecdotes and demonstrating a deep emotional connection to others and profound purpose in your acts, you can write on this topic. Although more than a few candidates will undoubtedly submit clichéd pieces on making a difference, if you can capture your Harvard Business School admissions reader’s attention fully and make a strong enough impression, the cliché aspect will disappear, and he or she will be impressed by your actions and character.

So, what approach might you take to this essay? The prompt is so open-ended that we cannot possibly capture all possible options, but here are a few:

  • Thematic approach: You could write about a characteristic or attribute that has woven its way throughout your life or that you have woven into your life. Do some self-exploration and see if you can identify a thread that is common to your greatest achievements, thereby illustrating its importance in bringing you to where you are today. Simply stating that theme is not enough—you need to really guide your reader through the illustrative events in your life to show how and why this theme manifests. In the end, your values are what need to come to the fore in this essay, rather than just a series of discrete episodes. (Note that highlighting your values is necessary with any approach you take to your Harvard Business School essay.)
  • Inflection points: Maybe the key events and aspects of your life cannot be neatly captured or categorized within a neat and tidy theme. People are complex, meaning that many are not able to identify a singular “force” that unifies their life experience. If this is you, do not worry—instead, consider discussing a few inflection points that were instrumental in shaping the individual you are today. This does not mean writing a very linear biography or regurgitating your resume in detail. The Harvard Business School admissions committee does not need or want such a summary and is instead interested in your ability to reflect on the catalysts in and challenges to your world view and the manifestations thereof. Likewise, you do not need to offer a family history or an overarching explanation of your existence. Simply start with the first significant incident that shaped who you are as an adult, and again, ensure that your essay ultimately reveals your values.
  • Singular anecdote: Although this is rare, you may have had a single standout experience that could serve as a microcosm of who you are and what you stand for. If this experience or moment truly defines you and strikes at the essence of your being, you can discuss it and it alone. You do not need to worry that offering just one anecdote will make your essay seem “skimpy” or present you as one-dimensional, as long as the story has inherent strength and power. You will need to delve into the narrative and let the story tell itself; if you are choosing to write a singular anecdote, the story should be sufficiently compelling on its own, without a lot of explanation.

You may have read through these three options and thought, “What about a fourth option, in which I discuss my goals and why Harvard Business School? Certainly they want to know about that!” The HBS admissions committee is a straight-shooting group—if the school wanted candidates to write about their goals and why HBS, or wanted them not to, the prompt would come right out and say so. The reality is that most people should not use this essay to discuss their career ambitions and interest in Harvard Business School, because doing so will not reveal that much “more” about them. For example, if you are a consultant who plans to return to consulting after graduation, we cannot imagine a scenario in which addressing your goals and why an HBS MBA is critical would constitute an effective use of this essay. However, if you are a medic at a bush hospital in Uganda and are applying to HBS with the goal of commercializing low-cost technologies to fight infectious diseases, this may well be a fitting topic for your essay, as you seek to connect the dots between your unusual (in a positive sense) career path and your aspirations. In short, for most candidates, we would suggest eschewing a “Why MBA? Why HBS?” approach, but in a few rare cases, it may be appropriate and compelling.

Finally, let us talk about word limits! Harvard Business School has not stipulated any particular parameters, but keep in mind that with each word, you are making a claim on someone else’s time—so you better make sure that what you have written is worth that additional time and effort. We expect that most of our clients will use between 750 and 1,000 words, with some using as few as 600 and a small minority using as many as 1,250. We have difficulty imagining a scenario in which an applicant would truly need more than 1,250, but we certainly know of candidates who were accepted with essays that exceeded that high target. In short, take the space you need to tell your story properly and showcase your personality and experience, and then work to reduce your essay to its lowest possible word count, without sacrificing any impact or effectiveness.

Have the Last Word: The Post-Interview Reflection (conditional on being interviewed)

From the admissions committee: “Following the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection using our online application system. This must be submitted within 24 hours following the completion of the interview. Detailed instructions will be provided to those applicants who are invited to the interview process.”

For the fourth consecutive year, Harvard Business School asks candidates who are granted an interview to complete one more written task. Within 24 hours of interviewing, you must submit some final words of reflection, addressing the question “How well did we get to know you?” As with the application essay, this post-interview reflection is open-ended; you can structure it however you wish and write about whatever you want to tell the committee. HBS urges interviewed applicants not to approach this reflection as a formal essay but instead “as an email you might write to a colleague or supervisor after a meeting.”

Some candidates may find this additional submission intimidating, but we encourage you to view it as an opportunity to reveal new aspects of your profile to the admissions committee. Because your Harvard Business School interviewer will have read your entire application before your meeting, you will likely discuss information from your resume, essays, recommendations, etc., during your interview. This post-interview reflection, then, could provide an opening for you to integrate new and different elements of your profile, thereby adding depth to your candidacy. For example, if you could not find a way to include the story of a key life experience of yours into your essays, but your interviewer touches on a similar story or something connected with this experience in your meeting, you would now have license to share that anecdote.

As soon as your interview is over, jot down all the topics covered and stories you discussed. If you interview on campus, note also any observations about your time there. For example, sitting in on a class might have reminded you of a compelling past experience, or participating in the case method may have provided insight into an approach you could use in some way in the future. Maybe the people you met or a building you saw made a meaningful impression on you. Whatever these elements are, tie them to aspects of your background and profile while adding some new thoughts and information about yourself. This last part is key—simply describing your visit will not teach the admissions committee anything about you, and a flat statement like “I loved the case method” will not make you stand out. Similarly, offering a summary of everything the admissions committee already knows about you will not advance your candidacy and would constitute a lost opportunity to keep the committee learning about who you are.

Harvard Business School offers some additional advice on the post-interview reflection that we strongly urge you to take seriously and follow:

  • We will be much more generous in our reaction to typos and grammatical errors than we will be with pre-packaged responses. Emails that give any indication that they were produced BEFORE you had the interview will raise a flag for us.
  • We do not expect you to solicit or receive any outside assistance with this exercise.

As for how long this essay should be, HBS again does not offer a word limit. We have seen successful submissions ranging from 400 words to more than 1,000. We recommend aiming for approximately 500, but adjust as appropriate to thoroughly tell the admissions committee what you feel is important, while striving to be succinct.

For a thorough exploration of Harvard Business School’s academic offerings, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, community/environment, and other key facets of the program, please download your free copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Harvard Business School.

The Next Step—Mastering Your HBS Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. Download your complimentary copy of the Harvard Business School Interview Primer today, and be sure to also check out our tailored HBS Mock Interview and Post-Interview Reflection Support. 📝


mbaMission is the leader in MBA admissions consulting with a full-time and comprehensively trained staff of consultants, all with profound communications and MBA experience. mbaMission has helped thousands of candidates fulfill their dream of attending prominent MBA programs around the world. Take your first step toward a more successful MBA application experience with a free 30-minute consultation with one of mbaMission’s senior consultants. Sign up today at www.mbamission.com/manhattangmat.