Harvard Business School 2013 Essay Questions and Tips

By - May 23, 14:28 PM Comments [1]

The 2013 Harvard MBA application questions are now online. And they are entirely new. A few of the more significant changes:

  1. Just two required 400-word essay
  2. An early round 1 deadline (September 24) and decision notification date (Dec. 12)
  3. An entirely new component: A required "written reflection" on the interview for anyone invited to interview to be submitted within 24 hours of the interview. says that this reflective piece also is a maximum 400 words, but I could not find that info on Harvard's web site.

Harvard's instructions and question are in black below; my comments and tips are in blue. Let the 2012-2013 MBA application season begin!

All applicants must submit answers to two essay questions listed below.


1. Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)

First, read "Who Are We Looking For," which clearly lays out Harvard's selection criteria. They are:

  1. Habit of Leadership
  2. Analytical Aptitude and Appetite
  3. Engaged Community Citizenship

Your transcript and test score will either show #2 or not. Allow your essays to reveal as much as possible about #1 and #3.

For essay #1, what do you really want them to know that shows you as a leader and contributor with impact? That's what you want to write about. You do not want to write a treatise on leadership or community citizenship or even ethics and entrepreneurship. You don't want to answer Why MBA or Why Harvard. You do want to tell a short story about something you are truly proud of, preferably something showing you in a leadership role contributing to your community or employer and having a profound impact.

Tell the challenge you faced, your response, and the result of your actions. Briefly reflect on what you learned and why you are so proud of this "something." Be concrete, specific, and vivid.

2. Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)

"Oh no! Do I have to write about a.... a mistake?!?"

Yes. Harvard wants to admit people of strong character who are self-aware, willing to admit to and learn from mistakes, and able to bounce back from setbacks. In a word, Harvard wants people who are resilient. Your response to this question should reveal all those qualities. Again, say what happened, what went wrong, and what you should have done. If you can, discuss another similar situation where you were more successful because you learned your lessons the first time around.And if you just happened to be in a leadership role when you learned this particular lesson, all the better in establishing your habit of leadership.

As always, allow both these essays to show you in different arenas of your life. Perhaps the first can be in a professional setting and the second can show you engaged in community service, an extra-curricular activity, or a hobby.

Post Interview Reflection

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.

It is difficult to provide a tip on this one because your essay will be so dependent on the interview. You will want to think back on the interview and focus on one or two points that you really want to make sure came across and perhaps did not. Your essay or letter should not simply be how much you are dying to go to Harvard; it should supplement the conversation you had during the HBS interview. And, like your required MBA essays, it should be succinct.

Final thoughts

Dr. Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business School's dean, is having a strong impact on the school. I recommend you watch this TED talk that he delivered last year. However, your essays should be about you -- not this video.


HBS Application Deadlines

Round Due Date Notification

Round 1 September 24, 2012 December 12, 2012

Round 2 January 7, 2013 March 27, 2013

Round 3 April 8, 2013 May 15, 2013

*Applications must be submitted online by 12 noon Boston time.

If you would like professional guidance with your Harvard MBA application, please consider Accepted's MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our Harvard Business School MBA Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the HBS MBA application.

By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.

[1] Comment to this Article

  1. Jennifer Millman September 21, 8:16 AM

    Harvard’s essays for the MBA class of 2015 are blissfully straightforward:
    Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
    Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)

    I strongly suggest following their advice: “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.” You shouldn’t choose your loftiest success or your most embarrassing failure. When describing something you did well, there should be a challenge involved and your answer should describe how you overcame it. For example, consider a time when you communicated effectively with a difficult boss/colleague/client. How did you approach the situation and adapt your speaking style and tone? Avoid writing the essay that tells why you earned the big promotion; the focus should be your thoughts and actions, not your accomplishments. Start by asking yourself, “What do I want the admissions committee to know about me?”