Sitting down at a blank computer screen and figuring out how to write a compelling essay is one of the most challenges parts of an MBA applicant’s journey to business school. There are any number of essay services and admission consultants willing to help with the process.
But now a group of six Harvard Business School MBA students are launching a business that allows applicants a peek at actual essays written by recently successful candidates. Their goal is to create a database of successful essay sets and then allow potential applicants to buy them based on key criteria such as career experience, age, and whether international or domestic applicants wrote the essays.
The startup, called MBA Bee, comes out of Harvard’s newly revised MBA curriculum in which student teams are given seed money by the school and then required to create a new product or service development project. The goal is to create a business model from concept to launch, though the venture’s business is not endorsed by Harvard.
CLASSMATES HAVE HANDED OVER THEIR ESSAYS SETS FOR FREE
The students have persuaded their classmates to cough up the actual essays they wrote to get admitted to Harvard for free, though they are open to a possible revenue-share agreement to help them build out the business and expand to other top business schools. To protect the confidentiality of the students who hand over their essay sets, MBA Bee deletes certain identifying details from the documents.
The idea came out of a brainstorming session during which the students recognized that access to information among applicants varies widely, says May Lam, 27, a first year student who had worked in private equity before going to Harvard. Applicants from consulting and financial backgrounds tend far greater access to colleagues who have already been through the process and may be willing to share their application essays and offer other advice.
International, military and other non-traditional applicants are far less likely to have access to friends or colleagues who are MBA graduates willing to allow them a peek at their essay sets. “You can find piece meal single essays and you can also go to admissions consultants to get help,” says Lam. “But we felt there is a big need in the market for essay sets so applicants can see how successful applicants told their stories from start to finish.”
‘SPREADING THE POLLEN OF KNOWLEDGE’ TO NON-TRADITIONAL APPLICANTS
The group decided to call their business MBA Bee because the name conveys the notion of “spreading the pollen of knowledge” to all business school applicants, says Lam. “We want to lower the barrier between the people who have the knowledge and the people who desire it. For them, it’s a lot more like shooting in the dark. Once you see a couple of essay sets you will see some underlying themes that will help you present your best candidacy.”
And sometimes, adds May, applicants from industries that typically feed the application pipeline come up short, too. “What’s interesting is that people assume that if you come from one of these traditional feeder industries you have a lot of access,” she says. “Even then, it’s not the easiest. You have to be relatively close to people because you are asking people for their personal lives on paper.”
The group has some competition. Since 2004, the editors of The Harbus, the business school’s student newspaper, have put together “65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays.” The second and most recent edition of the book was published three years ago and reproduces essays from successful applicants to Harvard.
HOW THE SERVICE WILL DIFFER FROM THE COMPETITION
But Lam and her teammates figure they have a leg up on the book because they’re reproducing essays in a more timely fashion online and they’re also packaging them in full sets largely for non-traditional MBA students who are less likely to have access to essays. “What you’re getting (in the book) is one essay somebody wrote and you don’t see how they fit into their entire set of four,” says Lam. “There is a great value add in seeing how someone can tell their story across four essays. Quite frankly, when we looked out at the marketplace we didn’t see any other businesses offering what we plan to offer.”
There also are a few other websites that sell essays, including EssayMatch.com founded by two Wharton MBAs, but they are often peddle documents that are many years old and sometimes address essay questions that are no longer used by the top business schools.