There is only one essay question for the Class of 2019:
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? (There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.)
Such an open-ended question can be problematic. What should you say, and what shouldn’t you? You might be tempted to write a little autobiography, but that would be too general and diffuse to serve your purpose. The real question is, what do you want HBS to know about you? Since each of us is different, the answer to this question also will differ from person to person. As such, we cannot tell you what you should write, but we can share a few guidelines with you.
What Should You Highlight?
Obviously, the unifying theme of your essay, though you need not necessarily state this explicitly, will be your suitability or ‘fit’ for the Harvard program. You will want to write about things that will strengthen your candidacy; and, to do this, you will have to know which qualities HBS most desires in its candidates. If you go through its website carefully, you will find many leads on this matter. Here are some relevant quotes:
“The HBS experience is inherently international. At HBS, MBA students are challenged to think about different countries and different business contexts throughout their two years.”
You will probably have experienced some kind of internationalism, either personally or professionally, or in both ways. If so, this is a matter you could talk about to your advantage. The following passage from an admission essay addresses the issue informally and yet effectively:
On a personal level, I am a very energetic and passionate person and completely addicted to festivals. I have been to world-famous festivals like Venice Carnevale, Oktoberfest, and Coachella. I recruit my friends to join me on these trips. Even if they are skeptical before we leave, they always report that they had an amazing time when we return. And I have met amazing people from around the world, from Italian industrialists to retired German actresses to fellow Turks, whose unusual hobby is raising camels. I know that the ensuing two years of our life will be a roller coaster ride in which we all are going to learn some of the complex theories of management and cutting-edge ideas about leadership. But amidst of all, I am here to make life-long friend.
The writer comes across as a very sociable person who loves doing things in the company of people, and one who is broad-minded and has an insatiable curiosity. There is no dramatic accomplishment that he is trumpeting here, yet this account of an activity he loves to indulge in is, in its own way, memorable, and will set him apart from the other candidates.
Like all other business schools, Harvard respects achievement and innovation. It asks you the question, “What difference will you make in the world?” Here is an account of an applicant who did make a difference in his field of work:
As a consultant for Company XYZ, I was hired to develop an IT system, which I meticulously did. I know this does not make me unique. What however, does, is my attitude to think and innovate beyond what I am paid for. Driven by the spirit of making service desirable, I developed an application to notify patients when their prescription is ready for pick up. I can proudly say that what stated as a lone initiative by me is now implemented across 40 pharmacies in USA.
At all times, you must demonstrate what you claim to be – something this applicant has succeeded in doing. If you go through HBS’s literature, you will find that it is a very environment-conscious institution, and wishes to make the school a model for sustainability practices within Harvard and beyond. Therefore, if you have participated in any activity aimed at improving the environment, it will surely be worth a mention in your essay. Again, it doesn’t necessarily have be to something grand – it could just be that, at the end of March, you gather family, friends, and acquaintances together and observe Earth Day by turning off all non-essential lights for hour, from 8.30 to 9.30 pm. The sheer fact that you do it will reveal a mindset that Harvard’s adcom will appreciate.
Let us take another passage from the HBS website:
The campus is drawn together by its commitment to a set of core values, including integrity, honesty, respect for others, personal accountability, and a dedication to excellence – qualities that play a key role in developing the teamwork and sound judgment that are central to our educational mission.
The sentence lists a whole range of characteristics that HBS prizes. Of course, within a single essay, it would be too much to even try to focus on each of them, but you could choose one or two that you feel are particularly apt in your case, and dwell on them at some length. It makes for much more interesting reading if you can get your point across by telling a story, and if you can tell it through relating the motivations that have driven you, the challenges you have faced, and the obstacles you have overcome. These are the things that grip the reader and make him/her identify with you.
The absence of a word limit should not be used as an excuse to be verbose. Verbosity is never permissible, and there is no substitute for a crisp and concise style.
Founder and Director of MBA Essay Consultant. Author of the best selling books such as “Admission Guide for Indian IT Applicants“, “How to Dazzle Admission Officers in MBA Interview” etc. Guided thousands of applicants globally for Full Time, Executive, Part Time and Online MBA applications.
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