Samples Of Successful Harvard Business School Essays


The Swimmer


Author’s Background: Consulting & Consumer Product

Analysis: This essay begins with the author sharing a long-standing love for swimming and how this passion was abruptly taken from her at a young age, having all odds stacked against her. This quickly becomes a story of perseverance, triumph and tremendous accomplishments. The author also makes sure to expand on this innate characteristic of determination and how it has meaningfully translated across her extracurricular and professional pursuits. The reader walks away from essay this knowing that this is someone unafraid to take on challenges and break down barriers in all facets of her life, regardless of the circumstances.

I love swimming. Even now, I swim with recreational adult teams and on my own as I train for triathlons. I started competing as a five year old, soothed by the repetitive motion during practice and thriving off the competition. By the time I was twelve, I had achieved all top-eight finishes at the state championship. A month later, though, my world changed. I collapsed in my school’s hallway, going into shock as my intestines became strangulated—a one-in-a-million probability. Paramedics took me to the hospital, where I underwent emergency, life-saving surgery and had the bulk of my intestines removed. I woke up in the ICU unable to move, staring at a beeping heart monitor. Then the doctors broke the news: It would be physically impossible for me to ever be an elite swimmer.

Disappointment and sadness washed over me, then slowly crystallized into cold determination. I met with nutritionists to restructure my diet, consulted with doctors to find effective medications, and stood my ground against overzealous coaches who tried to push my body past its limits. At sixteen, I won [U.S. State]’s state swim meet, then attained a top twenty-four finish at Junior Nationals, and ultimately placed fifth at Ivies as a member of [U.S. Ivy League University (Ivy)]’s swim team. My determination and refusal to fold propelled me forward, allowing me to achieve my goal of being an elite athlete. Since that moment, I have strived to live my life under that same principle. I am constantly setting new goals, reaching for higher impact, and striving to bring others along with me.

After college, I joined the [Ivy] Club in DC, serving as the chair of Young Alums. The club had declining admissions, so I galvanized support by changing its mission and expanding its demographics. Moving away from lectures, expensive dinners, and high membership fees, I created free social, athletic, and volunteer events. I also developed partnerships with the other Ivy clubs to integrate the social experience for recent graduates, negotiating with bars for free, private space in exchange for attracting 300–500 attendees. I interviewed prospective students, recruited grads to attend admitted-students events, and built large turnouts to [Ivy] football and lacrosse games at Georgetown.

At the same time, I applied my determination to my professional life. At [Large U.S. Economic Consulting Firm (Econ)], I noticed that male analysts worked data-heavy finance cases while women were assigned ones that primarily entailed legal document review. To position myself on more challenging quantitative cases, I taught myself statistical programming, earning respect and shifting my workload to 80% quantitative. Then, to elevate my colleagues’ skillset and improve the office’s gender balance, I created lessons in SAS and Stata, assigned “homework,” hosted office hours, reviewed all statistical casework, and encouraged managers to select female analysts to lead programming cases. Afterward, half of the office’s female analysts transitioned into more quantitative roles. My determination and mentoring helped our office address its implicit bias, pushing everyone to reach their potential in statistical analysis and improving the office’s overall performance.

Still, I craved more impact and contribution to a company’s success, as well as hands-on experience at a start-up, so I left my lucrative role at a prestigious consulting company for a lower-paying position on the merchandising team at [E-Commerce Company (ECC)], a then relatively unknown e-commerce company. Since my arrival there, I’ve set out to fix problem-areas, recognizing systemic challenges in [ECC]’s decision-making paradigm. Historically, the company has based its business strategies on subjective instincts rather than hard data. Brand managers curated beauty boxes according to their intuition about customers’ preferences, but I applied statistical models to uncover which sample pairings actually improved subscriber retention. My results upset upper management, disrupted planned promotions, and had the potential to rattle vendor relationships. But my experience at [Econ] and my conviction in my findings told me the company had to change its company created a new role for me on the data science team.

In both of my jobs, I have seized opportunities to raise the bar for myself, my colleagues, and my companies. Constantly looking for areas of improvement, I work to bridge the gap between potential and reality, with an eye toward paying forward the lesson of perseverance I learned at an early age. I achieved my goals in swimming because I stayed focused, set specific goals, then figured out how to attain them. Now I thrive on helping other people and organizations do the same: identify problems, then clarify and meet their goals. This mindset has steered me through life and helped shape the companies I’ve worked for. My mission is to one day apply this ethos to my own start-up.

Time & Effort: “I feel like it was around 15 drafts and countless hours. It was like 6 hours on the first 8 drafts, then probably just 1 hour of tweaking on each of the next 7 drafts. So 50ish hours?”

Word Count: 703

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