A soldier who served on the front lines in Afghanistan. A process engineer challenged by a long series of early failures. And a female consultant whose passion became healthcare.
Three MBA applicants to Harvard Business School last year. Three students in the newest crop of MBA students at Harvard this fall. All of them answered the question now being asked of 2017-2018 applicants to Harvard: 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?
The school provides minimal guidance for applicants trying to make an impression. “There is no word limit for this question,” advises HBS admissions. “We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t over think, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”
Each of the three applicants above wrote a clear and compelling essay in their applications, essays that Poets&Quants is reprinting with permission from the MBA Essay Guide Summer 2017 Edition recently published by The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard Business School. The guide contains 39 essays written by successful candidates who are now starting the MBA program at HBS. Proceeds from the sale of the guidebook go to benefit the non-profit foundation that supports The Harbus.
With application deadlines rapidly approaching at Harvard Business School and many other prestige MBA programs, these successful essays will, no doubt, give current candidates a bit of guidance. More importantly, the essays that follow are most likely to provide comfort, that there is no formula or singular way to craft a successful answer.
THREE SUCCESSFUL ESSAYS. THREE VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES.
The latest edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus costs $61.49
In his 1,130-word essay, the U.S. Army applicant ties together his experiences of leading soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan together with staff postings in Army operations and logistics to paint a portrait of a dedicated and people-oriented leader.
Inspired by a selfless act from her nine-year-old mentee, this management consultant decided to challenge herself to make an impact in healthcare. In a 937-word essay, she uses a particularly difficult turnaround situation which she was put in charge of as exemplifying her strongest skills: building relationships and uniting people around a common goal.
In a 1,358-essay, a process engineer opens up to a long series of failures in his early life. By showing both vulnerability and honesty, he is able to transform this list of fruitless endeavors into a credible “badge of honor,” evidence of his resilience, determination and strength of character. It quickly becomes apparent that what appeared to be failures in the first half, actually proved to be successes or openings for new opportunities, given enough time and perseverance.
ONE APPLICANT DID 25 DRAFTS BEFORE COMING UP WITH ONE SHE LIKED ENOUGH TO SUBMIT
Behind every MBA application is a person and a story, and in this trio of representative essays the approaches taken by each candidate is as different as the essays they submitted to the admissions committee at HBS.
The engineer went through took eight drafts over two months. “I thought about what personal traits I wanted to share with the ADCOM and identified stories from my past that identified those traits,” he explains. “After two or three drafts, I’d figured out the right narrative and kept refining it, taking as much as a week to finalize each draft. My best advice is to be honest, start early, and have someone who knows what the ADCOMS are looking for to read through a couple of your drafts and give you pointers.”
The consultant estimates that she went through 25 drafts to get to her final version. “I think the most important thing with the essay is to iterate,” she advises. “Because the question is so open-ended, it is important to reflect as much as possible and give yourself the time (in my case two months) to go on the journey necessary to realize what you care most about communicating and how to do so in the most effective way. I also cannot overstate the importance of finding someone who will give you honest feedback.
(See on the following pages the complete and full MBA essays submitted to Harvard Business School)
Business school admissions committees care about more than (just) your GMAT scores and GPA —they want to know who you are and why you belong in their program .
Your MBA essays are your best chance to sell the person behind the résumé. They should tie all the pieces of your business school application together and create a comprehensive picture of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.
Here's a roundup of our best MBA essay tips to keep in mind as you begin to write.
How to Write an Unforgettable B-School Essay
1. Communicate that you are a proactive, can-do sort of person.
Business schools want leaders, not applicants content with following the herd.
2. Put yourself on ego-alert.
Stress what makes you unique, not what makes you number one.
3. Communicate specific reasons why you're great fit for each school.
Simply stating "I am the ideal candidate for your program" won't convince the admission committee to push you into the admit pile.
4. Bring passion to your writing.
Admissions officers want to know what excites you. And if you'll bring a similar enthusiasm to the classroom.
5. Break the mold.
Challenge perceptions with unexpected essays that say, "There's more to me than you think."
6. If you've taken an unorthodox path to business school, play it up.
Admissions officers appreciate risk-takers.
7. Talk about your gender, ethnicity, minority status or foreign background....
But only if it has affected your outlook or experiences.
8. Fill your essays with plenty of real-life examples.
Specific anecdotes and vivid details make a much greater impact than general claims and broad summaries.
9. Demonstrate a sense of humor or vulnerability.
You're a real person, and it's okay to show it!
BONUS: Don't Make These MBA Essay Mistakes
1. Write about your high school glory days.
Admissions committees don't care if you were editor of the yearbook or captain of the varsity team. They expect their candidates to have moved onto more current, professional achievements.
2. Submit essays that don't answer the questions.
An off-topic essay, or one that merely restates your résumé, will frustrate and bore the admissions committee. More importantly, it won't lead to any new insight about you.
3. Fill essays with industry jargon.
Construct your essays with only enough detail about your job to frame your story and make your point.
4. Reveal half-baked reasons for wanting the MBA.
Admissions officers favor applicants who have well-defined goals. However unsure you are about your future, it's critical that you demonstrate that you have a plan.
5. Exceed the recommended word limits.
This suggests you don't know how to follow directions, operate within constraints or organize your thoughts.
6. Submit an application full of typos and grammatical errors.
A sloppy application suggests a sloppy attitude.
7. Send one school an essay intended for another—or forget to change the school name when using the same essay for several applications.
Admissions committees are (understandably) insulted when they see another school's name or forms.
8. Make excuses.
If your undergraduate experience was one long party, be honest. Discuss how you've matured, both personally and professionally.
9. Be impersonal in the personal statement.
Many applicants avoid the personal like the plague. Instead of talking about how putting themselves through school lowered their GPA, they talk about the rising cost of tuition in America. Admissions officers want to know about YOU.
10. Make too many generalizations.
An essay full of generalizations is a giveaway that you don't have anything to say.
11. Write in a vacuum.
Make sure that each of your essays reinforce and build on the others to present a consistent and compelling representation of who you are, what you've done, and what you bring to the table.
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