Harvard and Stanford.
Regardless of the results of the latest quirky ranking, everyone pretty much agrees that the MBA programs at these two schools are the best in the world. In a given admissions cycle, it’s estimated that as many as 4,500 candidates apply to both HBS and Stanford.
It’s not merely the difference between the East Coast and the West Coast, or between the Corporate Elite and the Entrepreneurial Elite. Or, for that matter, the large class size at Harvard vs. the smaller class at Stanford. Both schools ask MBA applicants very different essay questions.
Stanford’s prompt asks candidates to respond to this iconic question: “What matters most to you, and why?”
Harvard’s question seems more standard and lacks a word limit but can trip up many: 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?”
HARVARD & STANFORD’S ESSAY QUESTIONS ARE NOTORIOUSLY CHALLENGING
The application essay questions for the world’s two most competitive MBA programs are notoriously challenging. Even if these schools had more generous acceptance rates (currently 10% and 6%, respectively), their essay prompts would still vex candidates with both their simplicity and open-ended nature. How do successful applicants respond to these prompts and, more importantly perhaps, how do they adopt their narratives to fit each school’s requirements?
Anna, currently an MBA student at one of the two schools, agreed to share her two essays with us for What Matters? What More?, a unique collection of 50 successful essays written by applicants to either Harvard, Stanford, or both business schools. Anna’s written work is among 10 “pairs” of essays for HBS and the GSB, showing how the same candidate approached the two schools’ differing essay prompts.
Published by Poets&Quants with mbaMission and Gatehouse Admissions, the guide is instantly downloadable for $60, just a little bit more than $1 an essay. Accompanying each essay is expert commentary from mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald or Gatehouse founder Liza Weale on the strengths and sometimes weaknesses of each one, even including detailed footnotes to highlight key passages in every single essay.
‘A WILLINGNESS TO LAY IT ALL OUT THERE TO BE VULNERABLE AND OPEN ABOUT A PIVOTAL TIME’
In her commentary on Anna’s Harvard submission, Weale notes that “what makes this essay such a standout is Anna’s willingness to ‘lay it all out there’—to be vulnerable and open about a pivotal time in her life. In the essay, she explores two very different yet equally significant experiences that unfold at the same time. Anna leverages switching back and forth between the two narratives as a storytelling device, advancing them in parallel toward their life-changing end points.”
The applicant substantially changed her approach in responding to Stanford’s prompt. “Even though this essay understandably has some things in common with its HBS counterpart,” writes Weale, “it is nevertheless substantially different. As many of the HBS/GSB essay pairs demonstrate, what works for one school might not work for the other. Anna might have been able to successfully use her HBS essay for the GSB, but we are assuming that when she asked herself directly and honestly ‘what matters most’ to her, a different answer bubbled up.”
Anna used 1,023 words to answer Harvard’s prompt and 747 words for Stanford.
(See the following page for her Harvard Business School essay)