As you’re strategizing on how to get admitted to Harvard Business School, you’ll need to pay special attention to this essay: with limitless space for explaining your story, comes an equal amount of room for making mistakes. Also, keep in mind that not only will this essay impact your chances of entry, but it may also influence your chances of being awarded a Harvard fellowship.
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?
Additional Information: 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.
Let’s tackle the first major hurdle in this essay: HBS essay length. What does Harvard really mean by “no limit?” In concrete terms, for most candidates, that translates to somewhere between 400 and 1500 words, with the extreme ends being rare among submissions. It’s important to understand that HBS desires concision. However, that doesn’t mean that the Harvard admissions committee doesn’t appreciate a colorful essay. For Harvard, there is a large difference between padding a story and making it come alive.
The next obstacle you’ll need to surmount is identifying a theme or themes for the essay. In order to do so, you should take the time to develop a clear understanding of what Harvard is looking for, and what advantages and disadvantages your profile presents. It could be valuable to find ways to either insert your strengths or to identify stories that balance obvious weaknesses.
Another approach you could employ involves pinpointing a passion and utilizing it as the foundation of your writing. Oftentimes, the best HBS applicants are those who demonstrate a drive, whether, in their professional or personal lives, that helps further a deep-seated goal. Though, if you do choose this strategy, you must make sure that you have the necessary examples and proper rationale to demonstrate a commitment to your goal.
In terms of its candidates, Harvard is often searching for those who can show themselves to be accomplished leaders. However, when writing on the topic of leadership, you should employ some caution. HBS asks for “what more” you’re willing to add in its prompt, so simply using examples that appear on your CV or in your recommendation letters may make the range of your experiences seem poor and, worse yet, may make the essay come across as dull.
While there are a large number of ways in which you may approach Harvard’s essay, they should all include an engaging and honest portrayal of who you are. If possible, have someone read your draft or, if you don’t have anyone you trust to help you, set your writing aside for several days and reread it yourself; now ask, “Can you clearly imagine the person who wrote this? Can you empathize with what he or she felt? Can you truly envision an individual or do you just see a collection of footnotes?” If the response is negative, it’s better to head back to the drawing board. But don’t feel discouraged if you have to restart writing—many successful Harvard Business School applicants worked through dozens of drafts before they zeroed in on the best possible angle for the essay.
Post-Interview Reflection: You’ve just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. How well did we get to know you?
From the admissions committee: “Following the interview, candidates are required to submit a written reflection using our online application system. This must be submitted within 24 hours following the completion of the interview. Detailed instructions will be provided to those applicants who are invited to the interview process.” (No limit, recommend 400-600 words)
• We will be much more generous in our reaction to typos and grammatical errors than we will be with pre-packaged responses. Emails that give any indication that they were produced BEFORE you had the interview will raise a flag for us.
• We do not expect you to solicit or receive any outside assistance with this exercise.
For many applicants, the HBS interview is already a fearsome enough event without the addition of an essay that needs to be written within just 24 hours of the meeting. Understandably, it seems like a stressful assignment, but this is in fact one of the rare opportunities in the MBA admissions world where you can make up for an important argument that you failed to make during the discussion or demonstrate added value post-interview.
What’s the best way to prepare for this task? In advance, of course. However, that doesn’t mean writing the text ahead of time, as that might lead to your essay seeming unnatural or irrelevant; instead, as you’re preparing for the interview, take note of all the topics that you’d like to or need to discuss. If you end up missing the opportunity to mention or explain something during the talk, it might benefit you to include that in this response.
Once it’s the day of your HBS interview, keep track of everything occurring before, during and after the meeting, especially if your meeting takes place at Harvard. Anything and everything might ultimately be relevant, so don’t hesitate to take a lot of notes. Afterward, you can connect your interview-day experiences with your profile to highlight your benefit to HBS and/or to your future HBS peers.
As a final note, do keep in mind that this is a reflection. You’re not expected to write a perfectly polished essay or to recycle any portions of your application.
For help developing the most attractive Harvard Business School essay, be sure to reach out to our HBS experts.