Harvard MBAs Selling Complete Essay Sets

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.


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.”


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.


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.

  • rainman

    This exceptionally unimaginative idea. With the resources and smart they guys would have, they need to rethink how to deal with obviously ethical boundaries. 
    People who use such services to get to a big branded school face difficulty in coping up especially in recruitment. As much as schools add value to you, consider what you bring to the school as well.

  • Nuclearoption

    May Lam is scrumptious. I would forgive her anything.

  • guest

    I have to agree with guest above. The most disappointing aspect in all of this is that both the school and students at the most recognizable, brand-name MBA program in the world consider this entrepreneurial venture novel. The school sponsoring it blows my mind the most. wow…

  • HarvardUndergradWhartonMBA

    what do you get when you put 6 HBS in one room? A really shitty business idea.

  • sux

  • The system is already being gamed, as the article pointed out, by consultants and bankers. This group is just leveling the playing field. There are consultants, bankers, and just plain old rich folk that have access to such essays. Then they are people who have almost no expenses, don’t need to support anybody, and make good $$ who can easily afford the thousands that admissions consultants demand. Then there are those that have good merit, but may know exactly what “clicks” with these “gameable” admissions committees. For those, there’s this service.

  • Matt C

    This is essentially the same service you’d get from high price admission consultants so if anything I hope this brings their fees down.  As a matter of ethics, clearly adcoms are going to scan these essays and have an idea whether or not someone blatantly copied, or slightly modified, them — the downside is that people who may have coincidentally similar backgrounds/stories and write their essays on their own (there’s a finite number of careers/experiences for the majority of bschool applicants) may get second guessed. 

  • miss60

    I will say, as an international applicant, I had no idea where to start with this process, despite a background in BD and marketing that should lend itself to “selling” myself. 

    In my home country, university entrance is done on test scores alone, and I was far from savvy about the US admissions process and how to navigate it successfully. I read a lot of old essays in a couple of books by admissions consultants, and they really helped me understand the way the essays should be used and the role that they played in the application. While nobody can tell your story except you, it’s really helpful to see what successful essays did on a broader scale (e.g. filling in blanks, addressing weaknesses, showing your personality and leadership style, helping an outsider to your industry understand exactly what your experiences were and meant). I was lucky enough to be admitted to HBS in round two this year, and would definitely consider sharing my essays if I felt that it would benefit someone else who, like me, was new to the US admissions process and needed help understanding it.

  • Guest

    Here’s my take.  I think this article should pose some interesting discussion.

    First, the MBA application process is intended to be an individual journey with your destination awarded based upon merit.  The saturation of “consultants,” and “essay books” such as these only strips out the competitive nature and mitigates the intention of steadfast selection criteria.  Now, for the right price, some HBS kids will sell me their essays so I can “learn” (i.e. game) the process and go to HBS.

    Ironically, this devalues the very brand of the HBS MBA.  First, the fact that they couldn’t come up with a better venture concept is disappointing.  Second, by selling their entrance essays and those of their classmates, it’s going to allow those that couldn’t earn it on their own merit for the right price.  Is this the state of American academics?  Third, this is an excellent example of group think failing to recognize poor ethics. 

    If I sell my essays I took in undergraduate, I am cheating…not “enabling students to learn from my mistakes.”  If I sell customer information, I am breaking company policies and the law.  If I sell my entrance essays, I am…..

    Bravo to the gent that pointed out they were copying an already existing unethical business model.  So, it’s not even creative.

    Very sad.

  • guest

    whats the big deal!! Wharton alums are already running a business on the same lines at essaymatch dot com for several years now