Revealed: Harvard Business School’s New MBA Essays For Applicants

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library.

With just 10 weeks before its first application deadline on Sept. 4th, Harvard Business School today (June 25) revealed a newly revised application for MBA candidates, including a new set of three short essays along with a refresh on how it will evaluate applicants for future classes.

The new prompts?

Business-Minded Essay: Please reflect on how your experiences have influenced your career choices and aspirations and the impact you will have on the businesses, organizations, and communities you plan to serve. (up to 300 words)

Leadership-Focused Essay: What experiences have shaped who you are, how you invest in others, and what kind of leader you want to become? (up to 250 words)

Growth-Oriented Essay: Curiosity can be seen in many ways. Please share an example of how you have demonstrated curiosity and how that has influenced your growth. (up to 250 words)


Eagerly awaited by thousands of prospective students and admission consultants, you can bet that the admissions pages of the HBS website were continually refreshed all morning for a glimpse at the new essay. The Harvard Business School essay prompt for the Class of 2027 was posted at 10:30 a.m. with the opening of the 2024-2025 application online.

This year’s change was put through by Rupal Gadhia, who joined the school as managing director of admissions and financial aid last October. A 2004 Harvard MBA, Gadhia came to the school with no previous admissions experience, having been the global head of marketing for SharkNinja robots.

In explaining the change in a blog post, Gadhia noted that “we have refreshed the criteria on which we evaluate candidates. We are looking for applicants who are business-minded, leadership-focused, and growth-oriented…This is your opportunity to discuss meaningful or formative experiences that are important to you that you haven’t had a chance to fully explore elsewhere in your application…Be authentic, be yourself.”


The school added some context to its new criteria for admission, more clearly defining what it means by business-minded, leadership-focused, and growth-oriented.


We are looking for individuals who are passionate about using business as a force for good – who strive to improve and transform companies, industries, and the world. We are seeking those who are eager to solve today’s biggest problems and shape the future through creative and integrated thinking. Being business-minded is about the interest to help organizations succeed, whether in the private, public, or non-profit sector. This business inclination can be found in individuals with a variety of professional and educational experiences, not just those who come from traditional business backgrounds.

In Your Application: We will look for evidence of your interpersonal skills, quantitative abilities, and the ways in which you plan to create impact through business in the future.


We are looking for individuals who aspire to lead others toward making a difference in the world, and those who recognize that to build and sustain successful organizations, they must develop and nurture diverse teams. Leadership takes many forms in many contexts – you do not have to have a formal leadership role to make a difference. We deliberately create a class that includes different kinds of leaders, from the front-line manager to the startup founder to the behind-the-scenes thought leader.

In Your Application: Your leadership impact may be most evident in extracurriculars, community initiatives, or your professional work.


We are looking for individuals who desire to broaden their perspectives through creative problem solving, active listening, and lively discussion. At HBS you will be surrounded by future leaders from around the world who will make you think more expansively about what impact you might have. Our case and field-based learning methods depend on the active participation of curious students who are excited to listen and learn from faculty and classmates, as well as contribute their own ideas and perspectives.

In Your Application: We will look for the ways in which you have grown, developed, and how you engage with the world around you.


The new essay prompts come nearly two months after candidates to the school’s MBA program would more typically know what was expected of them. Some admission consultants say the delay over the prompt’s release, along with nearly a month’s slow down in releasing application deadlines, is “wildly insensitive” to applicants who will have less time than normal to prepare for the round one deadline of Sept. 4th.

That’s especially true because the most successful applicants to HBS have highly demanding jobs that consume the vast majority of their time. Many candidates go through multiple drafts of their essays to get them as close to perfection as humanly possible. MBA admission consultants are expecting a lot of up-to-the-deadline work this year to help prep candidates for Harvard and other top business schools.

The new application still preserves the post-interview reflection for applicants who are invited to a 30-minute admissions interview. Within 24 hours of the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection through the school’s online application system.


Early reaction to the change suggests the likelihood of mixed reviews. “This is an uninspired and odd set of questions,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of and an MBA admissions consultant who closely reads the tea leaves of Harvard’s admissions process. “I don’t know how it’s different from what else do you want us to know about you, frankly,” he adds in a reference to last year’s single essay prompt.

“HBS has certainly moved from the abstract to the concrete,” believes Jeremy Shinewald, founder and CEO of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Some applicants previously felt like they didn’t know where to start and some weren’t sure if they had answered the question, even when they were done. Now, the questions are quite straightforward and all have a cause and effect relationship — one where the applicant discusses the past to reveal the present or future. Smart applicants will understand how to share their experiences and, more importantly, how to relay their values. Some will mistakenly try to whack HBS over the head with stories of their epic feats, but the key isn’t to brag or embellish – the key is to simply create a clear relationship, via narrative, between past experience and true motivations.”

Shinewald found it astonishing that Harvard could not have made the change earlier. “It is, of course, surprising that HBS left applicants on edge until the last minute, all to create very traditional essays,” he adds. “As applicants learn in MBA classrooms, change can be hard and take time. The bottom line here is that these essays are somewhat of an applicant’s dream – they allow the savvy applicant to play to their strengths and draw on their best anecdotes and experiences to create a complete story. Some applicants will lament the absence of a ‘Why HBS?’ prompt, but my guess is that the admissions committee recognized that they would get an almost homogenous collection of essays touting the case method and other well known features. HBS gets some kudos for keeping the focus on the applicant.”

Adds Petia Whitmore of My MBA Path: “I think they reflect one of the traits of this new generation of candidates which is that they don’t handle ambiguity well. So it seems like Harvard had to spell out what they’re looking for way more prescriptively than in the past.”

Some, however, find the new essays a return to the past. “To me, the prompts feel quite regressive, and a return to the more formulaic approach that pervaded MBA applications two decades ago,” believes Justin Marshall, a New York-based MBA admissions consultant.
“Because the previous prompt was so open ended, it forced applicants to be introspective and self-aware. You couldn’t just ramble for 900 words; you had to identify themes in your life to show how your personal experiences shaped your values, your leadership style, and your goals. Comparatively, these new prompts are much more paint-by-numbers. Applicants will likely cover the same ground in terms of topic, but there’s very little room for nuance and self-expression. I think it will be harder for applicants with less conventional backgrounds and experiences to differentiate themselves. I’m sure HBS grew tired of reading so many painfully earnest ‘life story’ essays, but I suspect they’ll soon find themselves yearning for essays that have a heartbeat and personality. 250 words just doesn’t allow for that unless you’re a very crafty writer.”

Whatever the case, getting into Harvard’s MBA program is still a daunting exercise. Last year, 1,076 of the 8,264 candidates who applied for admission to Harvard Business School gained admission, an acceptance rate of 13.2%, making HBS the second most selective prestige MBA program in the country after Stanford Graduate School of Business which had an admit rate of 8.4%. Harvard saw a 15.4% drop in MBA applications from the 9,773 it received a year-earlier.

Joint degree applicants for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School must provide an additional essay: How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (up to 400 words)


Joint degree applicants for the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences must provide an additional essay: The MS/MBA Engineering Sciences program is focused on entrepreneurship, design, and innovation. Describe your past experiences in these areas and your reasons for pursuing a program with this focus. (recommended length: 500 words). Applicants will also be able to respond to an optional essay.

In any case, it’s the biggest change in Harvard Business School’s application in nearly a decade. The last time HBS made a major switch, moving to the essay prompt it just eliminated, was in 2016. That change to just one essay with no word limit and a post-interview reflection was made by then admissions chief Dee Leopold.

When Leopold applied to Harvard as an MBA candidate in 1978, she had to write eight essays. Over her years as managing director of admissions, she first cut the essays down to four and then one, making it optional, and finally the one last prompt with a post-interview reflection, saying that applying to HBS should not be a writing contest.

OUR BUSINESS CASUAL PODCAST: The New HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL MBA Application:  Fortuna Admissions’ Caroline Diarte-Edwards and ApplicantLab’s Maria Wich-Vila join P&Q’s John A. Byrne to offer applicant advice on how to answer the new HBS essay prompts


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