Personal MBA Coach’s Tips For Mastering The HBS Essay

Tips to Tackle the HBS Essay

Once again, Harvard Business School was the first to kick off the official business school application season, sharing deadlines and details for class of 2023 hopefuls.

While the application itself officially opens in June, Personal MBA Coach recommends that you get started now with your essay. Personal MBA Coach expects the 2020-2021 application cycle to be particularly competitive, though it has been reported that HBS may increase its program size in the coming years.

The Harvard Business School 2020-2021 deadlines are as follows:

Round 1: September 8, 2020

Round 2: January 5, 2021

HBS Admissions Director Chad Losee recognizes the uncertainty candidates are facing during these challenging times and shared Harvard Business School’s plan to consider unique circumstances while reviewing applications:

“We understand that these are difficult times globally and that many of you have been affected personally by the pandemic. Please know that we always review applications holistically and understand that many plans, employment opportunities, and personal situations have been disrupted by COVID-19. Of course we will take this most unusual of times into account as we evaluate your application.”

As Personal MBA Coach predicted in our blog: What to Expect from the 2020 – 2021 MBA Application Essays, HBS is minimizing changes this year and keeping the one and only essay question the same. Other top US business schools expected to keep some or all of their essay questions the same include: Columbia Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Wharton and MIT Sloan.

Harvard’s question again is: “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?”

Many business school hopefuls find HBS’s essay to be one of the most difficult to tackle, given its open-ended nature.

This essay is an open invitation to show Harvard Business School admissions directors what is truly interesting about your profile. This question allows you to focus and elaborate on what is important to you. Think about this essay as your chance to let them “meet” the real you—the authentic person behind the resume and application questions. Personal MBA Coach’s boutique approach focuses on helping candidates to tell their personal stories. Our advice for HBS centers around this principle.

As business school applicants are likely well aware, HBS educates and admits leaders. It goes without saying that whatever story or stories you choose should show your leadership and demonstrate how you have excelled across disciplines. HBS students will emerge as leaders in the areas they are most passionate about. They will drive change. They are not afraid to stand up for their beliefs. They show courage. You want the admissions committee to see and understand how you personify these traits.

Personal MBA Coach advises applicants to watch this video on the HBS case method to re-enforce how critical leadership and diversity of thought are to HBS. Keep this in mind, along with Harvard’s other stated values of analytics and community, as you craft your essays.

While we recommend that most applicants show their professional accomplishments, make sure to share enough anecdotally so that the admissions committee can learn more about you on a personal level.

Successful essays have included some sort of personal anecdote at a minimum and often a much more detailed personal story, which is often tied to a recurring theme throughout your essay.

Think about what makes you unique and why you made the choices that you did. The most accomplished individuals follow their passions, and these are usually shaped by particular experiences or personality traits. Consider what has had the greatest impact on your choices, who you are today or who you want to be. This will likely give you some areas to expand upon.

But do not just tell this story; try to help the reader live it.

Finally, mention your future ambitions and how HBS will fit. This is NOT a why HBS or career goals essay, but most Personal MBA Coach clients will give the admissions committee a brief glimpse of where you are headed (which should naturally flow from the rest of the essay), and how HBS is uniquely suited to help you on this path.

Key Takeaways:

  • Make your essay interesting to read. Each year the admissions team receives ~10,000 applications.
  • Differentiate yourself – particularly if you come from an overrepresented industry, such as consulting or banking, or an overrepresented demographic pool. HBS looks to select a well-rounded class, and it will be crucial to show how you will add unique value.
  • Consider this essay a starting point for an interview conversation. HBS has very detailed interviews that are planned in advance for each applicant and will dive into at least one aspect of your application. Be ready to talk in great detail during the interview about anything you submit as part of your application.
  • Show rather than tell. Essays are much more impactful when they describe something about you, showing it in action instead of just stating the facts. Give details. Add names. Describe your setting. Tell the reader how you felt.
  • This essay will be VERY different for everyone. Do not fall into the trap of trying to write an essay like one you have read in the past or like your friend is writing. There will be a wide range of successful essays this year, and proper execution will be the key rather than simply the content alone.
  • Most essays that work will fall somewhere between 700-1,000 words. However, absolutely consider quality over quantity. If you can write a solid 600-word essay that is powerful and moving, do not feel the need to lengthen it. I have helped many applicants write successful essays on the shorter side.

Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate and founded Personal MBA Coach 13 years ago with the goal of providing customized one-on-one support. Scott also serves on the Board of Directors for AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants and is invited to speak at MBA Admissions events globally. Our clients have been accepted to all top schools globally with a 96% success rate. They received $4.5M in total scholarships last year.

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