Harvard Business School MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines [2020 – 2021]

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Harvard Business School MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines [2020 - 2021]

HBS kicks off the 2020-21 MBA application cycle

As the disrupted, extended, and COVID-affected 2019-20 application cycle slowly comes to a close, Harvard announced last week its application due dates and essay question for 2020-21. In doing so, it became the first top MBA program to provide that information, thus kicking off the 2020-21 application cycle. Go Harvard!

HBS presented little new or changed material from previous cycles. For the third year in a row, it will only have two rounds. In the last couple of years, HBS dropped its third round and set an April deadline exclusively for 2+2, its deferred admission program. Chad Losee, HBS Admissions Director, did not indicate in his announcement when the final 2+2 deadline would be or if there would be an April deadline.

HBS presented little new or changed material from previous cycles. For the third year in a row, it will only have two rounds. In the last couple of years, HBS dropped its third round and set an April deadline exclusively for 2+2, its deferred admission program. Chad Losee, HBS Admissions Director, did not indicate in his announcement when the final 2+2 deadline would be or if there would be an April deadline.

However, that second-place selectivity status is misleading. The Harvard brand is matched perhaps only by Stanford, and the second-place standing is probably accounted for by class size more than anything else. Harvard’s class is more than double Stanford’s, and Harvard simply accepts more people leading to a higher acceptance rate. (Data is from the U.S. News 2021 Rankings for the class that entered in 2019.)

Let’s talk about Harvard’s MBA application

On to the Harvard MBA application and essay question itself: HBS clearly likes the responses it has received to the last several years’ excellent essay question because this year’s question is identical. The essay is again required, and there is NO word limit.

The Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines are only slightly different from last year. The Round 1 deadline is Sept. 8, 2020, four days later than last year. The Round 2 deadline is January 5, 2021, one day earlier than last year.

Harvard Business School MBA essay tips

There is one question for the Class of 2023:

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, or overwrite. Just answer the question clearly, using language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand. 

Before you begin to write I have two suggestions for you:

  1. Review Harvard’s criteria for admission

  2. Watch the embedded video on the case method at HBS. 

My two cents: This is a great essay question. It allows you to choose what you want the school to know about you without having to fit that information into a framework required by a question that doesn’t really align with your story. It also allows you to demonstrate judgment and communication skills, which are critical given Harvard’s residential culture, study groups, and case method. Finally, this essay is a chance for HBS to get to know you beyond your resume and the limited (and limiting) boxes. 

Now THINK. What else – really and truly – do you want Harvard Business School to know about you? The HBS admissions committee has told you what they want to know in the other sections of the application. What do you want the HBS readers to know?

The answer to that question is not something I can give or even suggest to you in a blog post aimed at the many (for individual guidance, please see Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting). It will be different for each of you. Again, refer to the HBS criteria, as you contemplate possible topics, but the options are infinite. A few possibilities:

  • Provide context for events described in the required elements.

  • Delve into your motivations for the decisions or commitments you have made.

  • Discuss experiences that shaped your dreams for the future, which may just benefit enormously from an HBS education (caveat: HBS doesn’t ask why you want to attend Harvard).

  • Examine challenges you have faced. These could be personal challenges, or perhaps interpersonal challenges.

  • Envision something you would like to accomplish at HBS.

  • Provide more depth on an activity or commitment that is particularly important to you.

Please don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. I am offering them to stimulate your creativity, not to shut it down. 

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Since I’ve been in MBA admissions consulting (over 20 years now), HBS has valued concision. And, in today’s tweet- and sound-bite-driven world, it is requiring even shorter responses, at least in the other portions of the application. Don’t take the absence of a word limit on this essay as a license for verbosity. Make every word count, no pun intended. If you must pull a number out of me, keep it under 1200 words, preferably under 1000 words. And if you can say what you need to say in less than 800 words, do so. A few cautions and warnings regarding this essay – it is NOT:

  • Stanford’s “what matters most to you and why?”

  • The kitchen sink in which you throw everything.

  • An autobiography.

  • A resume in prose or a rehash of your transcript and honors.

  • An ode to the awesomeness of Harvard. They don’t need you to tell them they have a great institution that you would be honored to attend. They’ve heard it before.

For expert guidance on your Harvard Business School application, check out Accepted’s MBA Application Packages that include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the HBS application. Looking to score some scholarship money while you’re at it? Accepted’s clients received over $1 million dollars in scholarship offers in the last application cycle. Explore our services for more information on how Accepted can help you get into Harvard.

Harvard Business School 2020-21 Application Deadlines

RoundApplication DeadlineDecisions Released
1September 8, 2020December 10, 2020
2January 5, 2021March 30, 2021

Source: HBS website

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

***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***

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by Linda Abraham, Accepted Founder

By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted. Linda earned her bachelors and MBA at UCLA, and has been advising applicants since 1994 when she founded Accepted. Linda is the co-founder and first president of AIGAC. She has written or co-authored 13 e-books on the admissions process, and has been quoted by The Wall Street JournalU.S. NewsPoets & QuantsBloomberg BusinessweekCBS News, and others. Linda is the host of Admissions Straight Talk, a podcast for graduate school applicants. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

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This article originally appeared on blog.accepted.com.

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