Writing the MBA application essay for Harvard Business School can be a grueling experience. Just ask applicants who have successfully crafted an essay that helped them gain admission to the school’s prestigious MBA program.
One of the reasons why many struggle with the assignment has to do with the fact that Harvard, unlike many other business schools, poses a fairly vague and open-ended question to applicants: “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?”
With permission from The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper, Poets&Quants has again acquired the rights to reprint three of the 22 essays in its new $64.99 2020 summer edition MBA Essay Guide, each one accompanied by commentary from the essay writer as well as an analysis by current HBS students. For each essay, The Harbus editors have chosen to anonymize identities, cities, countries and institutions to protect the identity of the authors.
EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL MBA ESSAYS WRITTEN BY HBS APPLICANTS-TURNED-STUDENTS
Our earlier examples of HBS essays, if anything, show that you don’t have to write the kind of narrative that might find its way into The New Yorker or The New York Times. Some applicants are simply gifted writers, but most are not and make their case with simple, clear prose.
One thing seems certain: Few candidates dash off an essay in a leisurely afternoon. Many of the authors of the essays in The Harbus guide say they spent months brainstorming ideas and writing multiple drafts that had the benefit of numerous critiques from other readers. A former banker who had also worked in the non-profit space said that it took her a week to write the essay, not including the planning process which began a month or two earlier. The extra time proved valuable. “Despite all the planning, I ultimately scrapped my original draft, and rewrote about 70% of what I had after a candid conversation with a good friend and mentor,” wrote the HBS student.
“She exclaimed ‘surprise’ after reading my essay – signaling that perhaps I was not being as authentic and as genuine and I had hoped,” the student adds. “I would urge prospective students to get someone who knows you to read your essay – not just yourself or a consultant – but someone who can help reflect your unique voice. At the end of the day, most everyone has done the research, visited campus, sat in on a class, spoke to alumni/current students – so the most unique thing left is your unique story and where you want it to go. That should be emphatically clear throughout the essay and application as a whole.”
READ ESSAYS BY THREE WOMEN: A FORMER CONSULTANT, AN INVESTOR & CHIEF-OF-STAFF TO A CEO
This time, we’ve chosen statements crafted by successful women candidates: a former consultant, an investor in a private equity firm and former i-banker, and a former chief-of-staff to the CEO of a global healthcare company. Each woman takes a very different approach to the HBS essay (see Harvard MBA Essay Examples and Samples of Successful Harvard Business School Essays.
The consultant began work early, some three months before the deadline, by laying out potential themes and stories. She ultimately came up with her core message after having two to three close friends read multiple drafts. She ultimately settled on an approach that demonstrated vulnerability yet strength. Her opening sentence is compelling: “I have cried exactly four times at work.”
The investor racked up many hours brainstorming ideas, even writing an essay that she did not submit. As the application deadline approached, she kept recalling a conversation with alums who stressed that Harvard is looking to admit people who know themselves. Down to the final week, she came upon the idea that would work during a yoga class. “I realized how central my appreciation for beauty is to my life,” she explains. “I decided to change the essay and asked my parents and boyfriend to review it. We all agreed that the essay captured my essence. My advice would be to write about something that matters to you. When you read your essay, your reaction should be “wow I never would have thought of this before, but it is so uniquely me’.”
And finally, the chief of staff to the healthcare CEO spent nearly a month working on her HBS essay. She started the process by reflecting on the critical milestones in her life. She plotted out a “life map” of the key turning points in her personal journey. The result: An essay that explored the three values that HBS says it is looking for – leadership, academic excellence, and impact.
(See the following pages for the actual essays)