Harvard Business School Essay Advice for 2012-2013: Significance of the Essay Change
This year Harvard made a radical change to their application process. While first time HBS applicants may not find direct relevance in previous years' essays, it is important to understand the significance of the change in order to create a solid essay strategy. This significance and associated advice is the focus of this blog post, which will be followed by a second post related specifically to the essay questions.
The first essay question of any business school application tells a great deal about what the school values most. Aside from the resume, it is typically the first thing that is read. For countless years HBS’s first question asked you for “accomplishments”, which indicates the value they hold in achievements. This year the first question has changed to a more general “What you did well”, and instead of having three achievement essays, there is only one “did well” essay. Does this mean that HBS now cares less about accomplishments? No, most likely the new structure of the essay, with more words (400 vs. 200 each), now allows you to demonstrate more details of your accomplishment and how you achieved it.
The second significant change in the essays is the modification of the “Why MBA” question. At first glance, it appears to have been removed entirely. However buried in the application is more of a “Why MBA” 500 character statement. Although this “concentrated” explanation of “Why MBA” may cause stress to applicants and make expressing career changes difficult, it should not be a big impact to most applications. While we highly discourage applicants to create a single “career goals” essay to copy into multiple applications, most applicants actually do this. The result is often a very undifferentiated essay, which is probably what HBS is trying to avoid.
The third significant change is the fact that there really are only two essays instead of last year’s eight. This will provide less opportunity for the applicant to “round themselves” in their application. While this may cause concern, it should not affect one’s application strategy. It is important to create an application strategy through the eyes of the customer – the admissions committee. If they don’t ask for something, it is not the applicant’s responsibility to provide it. In many cases, efforts to do so only undermine one’s efforts to gain admission. This point is critical as it relates to the other areas of the application and in particular, the interview and “post interview” essay.
This “post interview” essay is the last significant change. For the subset of applicants who are invited to interview (~25%) this essay may create even more stress than the interview itself. One reason for this stress is due to the very general explanation of this essay as “a written reflection”, which allows extreme flexibility in the type of essay requested. HBS can go many ways with this essay- one of which is having candidates express sides of themselves they were unable to do in the limited number of essays. However, given that HBS and many other schools have publically recognized the increased importance of the interview and put processes together to strengthen the evaluation of this component (elimination of alumni interviewers, etc.), we believe HBS will take a different tact. Most likely, they will use this essay to focus even closer on topics in the interview or on a specific “business related theme” they would like the applicant to explore. Obviously only Dee Leopold and her staff know their true thinking, so stay tuned to the season to see if we were right.