MBA candidates from India make up the most oversubscribed part of the applicant at Harvard Business School. The odds of acceptance for an Indian applicant are considerably lower than the overall admit rate estimated at 9%. In fact, it is believed, based on research, that the acceptance rate for U.S. citizens is four to five times higher than the rate of acceptance for Indian applicants.
So how do successful candidates from India push through the clutter of applications? The answer is the MBA admissions essay that allows an applicant to differentiate him or herself from the crowd of similar candidates. The newest collection of admission essays written by successful applicants to HBS was published last week by the editors of The Harbus, the school’s MBA student newspaper. Among the 32 essays–10 more than last year’s guide–are seven from current HBS students from India. With permission from The Harbus, Poets&Quants has selected five of these statements to provide guidance not only to the applicants who face the toughest odds of admission but to all potential candidates who hope to gain a seat in an elite MBA classroom.
Unlike earlier guides put out by The Harbus, this one is unique in one important way: The editors asked for and publish the standardized test scores, undergraduate grade point averages and extracurricular involvement of every student who shared their essays with the newspaper’s editors. The additional data points provide much needed context to an applicant’s full profile, allowing readers to more thoughtfully assess how their written words combine with their stats to make their applications stand out.
HAVING TEST SCORES & GPAS IS ‘A GAME CHANGER BECAUSE IT PROVIDES THE WHOLE PICTURE’
Israt Tarin, CEO of The Harbus and an MBA student in the Harvard Business School’s Class of 2022, considers it a big improvement. “It is a game changer because it provides that whole picture,” she says. “Even for me when I was applying I was encouraged when I read that somebody from the same background had gotten in. Just reading the essays then I knew I had it in me to make it. Having the standardized test score and GPA makes it more real. It is something to connect to. Otherwise you don’t know exactly what happened to get them through. Having all the data points gives you a better understanding of the person.”
In the past, The Harbus would ask for those data points but rarely get them. “All the information we get from students is voluntary,” notes Tarin, who has a chemical engineering degree from the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in Pilani, India. “We would request it in the past but would not get them. This year, and kudos to the students, we asked and they provided it, and we had a lot of interest from the RCs (required curriculum students) this year. This year, they just kept pouring in. People are more willing to share their essays. That’s why we have 32 essays, more than last year, and a lot more context behind them. ”
The summer 2021 edition of the MBA Essay Guide sells for $64.99 and can be instantly downloaded from the newspaper’s website (you can read five of the essays from Indian applicants reprinted with permission from The Harbus in this article exclusively from Poets&Quants). Funds raised from the sale of the guides go to the non-profit Harbus which distributes its surplus to a charity at the end of the academic year. The essays in the updated guide all address the school’s current lone essay 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?”
ONLY TWO ESSAY CONTRIBUTORS HAVE GMAT SCORES BELOW 700
While it is always difficult to draw conclusions from a sample, it’s noteworthy that only two of the 32 MBA students who agreed to turn over their essays to The Harbus scored under 700 on the GMAT. The two exceptions both applied with a 680 and one was from South Africa and raised by a single mother, while the other was from Mexico who overcame coming of age in one of the poorest states in America and one of the world’s most dangerous cities. While the applicant from Mexico had a 3.75 GPA to offset her GMAT score, the candidate from South Africa had to surmount both a low standardized test score and low grades with a 2.94.
The collection represents the full gambit of candidates who apply to Harvard, from all different kinds of work backgrounds and geographies. They worked in automotive firms and healthcare companies, consulting and banking, technology and consumer products, venture capital and private equity, nonprofits and the military. Besides the U.S. students who share their essays, there are those from Brazil, China, Singapore, Spain, the Philippines, and the Ukraine. The median GMAT score among those who did not get into Harvard with a GRE is 740, 10 points above the class median. Five of the essay contributors scored 770 on the GMAT, while seven topped out at 760. Somewhat telling is that all of the seven successful applicants from India scored at the class median of 730 or above, with scores of 770, a trio of 760s, a 740 and a pair of 730s.
As in the past, each essay in the guide also includes commentary by essay contributors and individual analyses from the newspaper’s editorial staff. A sample from a 28-year-old U.S. candidate who worked in technology as a strategy consultant who applied with a 3.75 GPA in Economics & Psychology and six years of work experience: “My essay writing process was very iterative. I revised my essay 13 times, so I recommend leaving ample time for the creative process. It helped me to take a break from reviewing and editing and come back with a fresh set of eyes.”
‘A GREAT RESOURCE TO HELP YOU FIGURE OUT HOW YOU WANT TO WRITE YOUR STORY’
The Harbus editors hope the guide jumpstarts the process of brainstorming to help candidates write an essay that would enhance their change of admission. “This book is great resource to help you figure out how you want to write your story in a way that is personal, and gives the reader a glimpse into your world,” according to The Harbus. “Reading the enclosed essays will show you how the admitted students approached the question in creative ways.”
More than that baseline advantage, the collection shows that you don’t need the skills of a New Yorker writer to craft an effective essay. Any applicant who buys and reads the guide would likely feel a sense of liberation in approaching their essays. At the very least, the collection should relieve some candidate’s anxiety over facing a blank screen on a computer. Some of the essays are informal; others are little more than talking resumes. They are generally free of grammatical errors and typos, though many are not as clear nor concise as they could be.
As in the past, certain details in each essay are anonymized, including mentions of a candidate’s identity, city, country and employer and undergraduate college. The reason: To protect the identity of the authors who have contributed their essays for the benefit of other applicants.
A BOLD ESSAY OPENING: ‘I HAVE LITTLE REGARD FOR THE WAY THINGS HAVE BEEN OR HOW THINGS ARE DONE’
Few of the pieces are especially eloquent, though there are some rather compelling openers.
“I love life,” wrote a 27-year-old American applicant who had been involved in investor relations. “I love living and learning; I hate going to sleep but I enjoy dreaming. I find pleasure in watching the world as it flows – gaining perspective on all the different parts of life. I fly planes as a hobby and the view from the pilot’s seat is unlike any other. In one look, I can see the whole world and how it fits together: the untouched (nature), the partially touched (farms), and the fully developed (urban). On every flight, I am in awe of what the world has to offer: beauty, science, and celebration. Moreover, it’s amazing that humans can fly at all – it’s so impossible. The fact that I am doing something that should only exist in dreams inspires me.”
Or how about this bold opening from a 26-year-old who had been the CEO of a tech startup: “I have little regard for the way things have been or how things are done — I only care about how they should be. Our world is rife with outdated solutions to old-world problems, and we cannot simply retrofit new technologies to old systems. We must be ready to question everything. We need the optimism and vision to ask the most important question: If we were to start over today, how would we approach this?”
TWO SMART PIECES OF ADVICE FOR ALL ESSAY WRITING APPLICANTS
The Harbus editors also offer smart advice to would-be applicants. First, begin your writing process with a period of honest reflection about your motivations, goals and choices to date. Secondly, seek out feedback on drafts of your essay from people who know you well. Others can tell you whether your essay is clear, but only people who know you well can tell you whether your essay really brings out YOU.”
Each published essay boasts an often catchy headline written by the editors, including “What Would Dada Do?,” “The Power Of Storytelling,” “Food Is More Than Calories,” and “The Multiple Paths Of Life.”
All in all, the guide is essential reading for all MBA applicants to top business schools, whether you plan on rolling the dice and applying to Harvard or not. The collection proves that there is no cookie-cutting formula for a successful essay. They are of varying lengths, featuring a wide array of topics from very different people with very different experiences. Some essays focus in on specific events of importance, while others follow the authors’ achievements and decisions. As The Harbus editors rightly point out, “We hope that reading these essays brings you closer to writing the essay that best tells your unique story.”