Ben Fouch, an aspiring member of the MBA Class of 2021, will be documenting his journey as an applicant every other week in his “Diaries of a Darkhorse” column. He works on the corporate development team at Booz Allen Hamilton on the sourcing, valuing, and structuring of potential M&A deals., Among his target schools is Harvard Business School. He was also a 2017 Best & Brightest business major with Poets&Quants.
A snarky fortune cookie once told me, “Your greatest enemy is yourself”. If the author’s fortune writing career didn’t work out, I’ll bet this person would’ve made a great M.B.A. admissions consultant. When it comes to this year’s Harvard Business School prompt, my challenge for has not been answering a trick question. Instead, the struggle is not overengineering it and tricking myself into answering what I think I should.
This year’s prompt is the following:
“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?”
Seems easy enough. They’re not asking any funky technical questions like, ‘How many golf balls could fit into a Boeing 747.’ There’s no zany prompt that demands a clever answer like “Find x”. It’s a question with no boundaries. That makes it ambiguous in how you should answer. In the face of that kind of ambiguity, I’ve found the biggest obstacle to answering the question is myself.
Any successful application needs to tell a good story. We all know what a good story is like. It’s coherent, logical, engaging, and, (most importantly) resonates. Being able to articulate how I went from living next to horses and cows to working in finance and startups is a complicated story – just like the countless other unique stories applicants are bringing with them. Starting out, I wasn’t sure how to explain it all without leaving the reader with their eyes crossed and steam coming out of their ears from the effort to keep track.
Making sense of it all was a process of trial-and-error, and that was just the first step. It seems like admissions cares about our experiences, Even more important, they are concerned with our values we display through those experiences. So after months of thinking about it, I’d grown a solid handle on how I wanted to share my story. Now the hard part is finding how to squeeze all that thinking into an essay of a few hundred words in a way that shows those values.
Twelve drafts later, I was short on paper, shorter on patience, and shortest of all on ideas. I had a grasp of what I wanted to say, but not how to put it on the page. With a prompt so vague, I felt a pressure to come up with something unique, engaging, and eye-catching. From one-off stories to hook the admissions team to heartfelt descriptions of my passions, my attempts ran the whole gamut. I found I was fighting my voice and trying to create something that I thought they wanted.
What all of this writing has pounded into my head is that it isn’t about picking the perfect topic. It’s about honesty and clarity. If we speak honestly about our experiences, and we convey them in a clear way, our natural voice is going to shine through. There may not be fireworks, but they will get the essence of what we are about.
My mistake during the process was fixating on a word I used earlier; I was wondering how an applicant should answer. I’ve come to realize that there is no normative guide. Each applicant can use a different approach, and it doesn’t have to be rhetorical fireworks. Sharing what I’ve done, why I did it, and how I’ve grown from it into a viable applicant are the building blocks of any successful essay. If those blocks are sound, then how you put them together (within reason) becomes an exercise in creativity, rather than an attempt to conform to a standard.
Originally from Indiana, Ben graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Finance and Political Science. While at Notre Dame he co-founded Dark Horse Sports Recruiting, an undergraduate academic and athletic admissions consulting service. He enjoys baking, dad jokes, alternative history novels, and obstacle course races.