||October 1, 2009*
||December 15, 2009
||January 19, 2010*
||April 6, 2010
||April 8, 2010*
||May 13, 2010
|* Applications are due by 5:00 PM EST
My comments are in red:
As an opportunity to present your distinctive qualities, your essays are an important part of your MBA application. You will be asked to submit your personal statements online with the balance of your application materials. Essays should be single-spaced. Please limit your response to the length indicated.
All applicants must submit answers to four essay questions. The first two questions are required of all applicants. The remaining two essays should be in response to your choice of the next five sub-questions.
Joint program applicants for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School must provide an additional essay.
Essay 1- What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)
This is practically Harvard's signature question. It has been around for years, and it goes to the heart of Harvard's values. It wants highly accomplished students entering its program. It wants leaders.
At least one and probably two of the three accomplishments should show leadership and/or teamwork with the emphasis being on leadership. I also like to have this essay show some breadth. My ideal would be to have one professional, one community, and one personal accomplishment in this essay, but that breakdown is neither set in stone nor imperative.
Essay 2- What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)
People of initiative err. They must learn from those mistakes to be effective leaders.
A friend went to her daughter's graduation and quoted the valedictory address, "In school you learn lessons and then take tests. In life, you have tests and then learn lessons." If you view your mistakes as experiments, lessons, or tests, you can grow and make sure you don't repeat them. Show HBS through this essay that you are the kind of person who learns from your mistakes.
Again, try to have this question reveal you making your mistake, preferably in a leadership capacity, and applying lessons learned in a sphere of your life not covered by other essays. In the best HBS applications, each essay uncovers a different facet of the applicant and his or her experience. Together they paint a portrait of a dynamic, talented leader with initiative and exceptional ability.
Essay 3-Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):
1- What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
This question was originally mandatory, but has been optional for the last 2 years. When introduced, I thought it was going to produce monotonous, boring essays, but it didn't. To my pleasant surprise, I reviewed several of these essays as part of our quality control program, and they were revealing, excellent essays.
This question reflects Harvard's interest in early career applicants and really gives them a chance to shine. This essay represents HBS' attempt to see patterns over time. What you choose to include here will obviously vary depending on your experience and the rest of your application, but my ideal answer will discuss a leadership experience from your undergrad career to show that you are a natural leader with a history of leadership. Remember: HBS wants to develop leaders, not create them.
2- Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
As you answer this question, once again keep in mind Harvard's single-minded focus on leadership. Did you motivate, inspire, plan, or organize? If you did, what were the results of your actions? Did you increase revenue? membership? communal impact? "Community or organization" is very broad so you could answer this question and relate it to work, but most of you will want to answer this question with non-professional initiatives in your community.
3- Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
New Question. Difficult decisions: Those where all outcomes carry significant negatives. Those with potential major risks and rewards. And above all, those shrouded in uncertainty and ambiguity.
What was your difficult decision? How did you weigh the different factors and come to a conclusions? What were the risks? What were the results?
4- Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
New Question. Like all cover letters, this is a sales document. Make your case for admission highlighting the aspects of your background that show impact and fit with Harvard. How do your talents and accomplishments demonstrate fit with the HBS, the give-and-take of the case method, and its focus on leadership and strategic thinking?
5-What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
Harvard is one of the few top business school that has made the goals question optional. And even this one is a little different than the typical "What do you want to do and why do you want to do it?"The interesting twist to Harvard's question is "career vision." With Harvard's focus on strategy, Harvard is asking you to develop your career strategy and discuss its importance to you. But don't leave your answer on an entirely theoretical plane. Bring it down to earth with your plan for implementing that vision. In other words writing that you seek "a career leading an innovative enterprise, providing work-life balance, and allowing me the opportunity to contribute to my community" sounds great. But it will also sound a lot like other people's visions. You need to have some idea of how to achieve that vision, define it more narrowly, and explain why it resonates with you.
For more on the concept of vision, please see "The Parable of the Three Stone Masons." I believe that HBS is attempting to identify those who are like the third stonemason -- perhaps with less religious fervor but with well... that kind of vision. They are still working hard, with feet on the ground, but they radiate enthusiasm for a distant goal and pride in their ability to contribute to something much larger than themselves.
If you would like help with your Harvard MBA application, please consider Accepted's MBA essay editing and admissions consulting or a Harvard MBA Comprehensive Package, which includes essay editing, interview coaching, consultation, and a resume edit for the Harvard MBA application.
Other resources to help you with your Harvard Business School MBA application:
Final suggestion, actually from Dee Leopold, Director of Harvard's MBA Admissions, watch the video Inside the HBS Case Method.