Harvard’s New Essay For MBA Applicants

Harvard Business School on a beautiful spring day in 2016

Harvard Business School on a beautiful spring day in 2016

In a swan song of sorts to Harvard Business School MBA applicants, Dee Leopold released her final essay prompt and deadlines for the 2016-2017 application season. The managing director of admissions and financial aid changed it up again, with a new essay question with no word limit.

The new prompt: “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 round one deadline was set for Sept. 7, the earliest deadline ever and two days earlier than last year’s cutoff date, as well as well before the Sept. 21st round one deadline at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. HBS’ round two deadline is Jan. 4, while the round three and final deadline date is set for April 3.


The immediate reaction to the new essay from MBA admission consultants was mixed. “It’s not as interesting as the one HBS had been using for the last several years,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com. “Last year’s essay, ’Introduce yourself to your classmates,’ is more of an invite to be friendly and down to earth. But the same rules apply. And being friendly and down to earth are two good pieces of advice to start with.”

Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, views the new question as a bit of non-news. “Looks like for now, there are no real changes,” she says. “It was probably a good idea to get rid of the “introduce yourself” idea. It just added to, rather than reduced, the stress. This prompt that should be a relief to all those who have been worrying about what to tell the HBS admissions committee for entry into the class of 2019.”

Chioma Isiadinso, founder of EXPARTUS and a former HBS admissions committee member, thinks the new question gives applicants a bit more latitude to write what they want. “While I really liked the “Introduce Yourself Essay” last year I think it had limitations,” says Isiadinso. “There were applicants who needed more flexibility to share aspects of their story such as their career plans that the previous essay didn’t accommodate. The wording of this essay plus the unlimited word count empowers applicants to share what is most important to them. This is a much better strategic essay for applicants.”

Leopold, who will soon be succeeded by Bain consultant & HBS alum ’13 Chad Losee, said the new HBS application will go live in early June when Losee comes aboard. In addition, HBS said that applicants under its 2+2 admissions policy—for college seniors and master’s degree students without full-time work experience—will now have only one deadline—April 3—with one decision notification in mid-May.


As director of admissions at HBS since May of 2006, Leopold has led major changes in the field, causing many other schools to add admission interviews and reduce the number of essays required to apply. Leopold will remain at HBS as director for the 2+2 admissions program, for which she announced significant changes.

“That means no more picking rounds for college seniors,” wrote Leopold in a blog post. “No more worry about ‘which round is best?’ You will all be reviewed together in April. Why? This way we get to see fall term grades and activities. And we can review the entire pool at once – a luxury we don’t have in the (much larger) work-experienced pool.”

The 2+2 applicants who want to submit before the April deadline are invited to do so, but HBS said it will not treat those applications on a rolling basis so they won’t be considered until the April deadline.

“The positive outcome for a 2+2 applicant is a guaranteed spot in a future class contingent upon gaining employment for at least two years before matriculation,” explained Leopold. “Many participants elect to work for three years and some for four. You’ve heard us say this before and we’ll say it again: 2+2 probably should be re-named “Flex+2”.  Maybe we’ll do that. Your plans for employment need to be approved by us but we encourage a wide range of career exploration.”

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