Harvard Business School (HBS) Essay Advice for 2012-2013: Specific Essay Questions
This post is the second piece of advice we are providing on this year’s HBS application. While our first focused on the significance of the change in essays, this one goes into the essays specifically.
The first question “something you did well” is more open ended than in previous years. What you did well may also be an accomplishment, but the focus of the question has been shifted away from the actual success. For many individuals who don’t have unique accomplishments, this is a welcome change. We recommend setting your overall goal for this essay to explain “why” you did something well. While the content of a good essay will focus on the “how” you did this thing well, this “how” should pave the path for the admissions committee to understand your strengths and motivations. At the end of the essay the “why” should stand out.
The first essay question still needs to be memorable, which is even more important now that there is only one essay on this topic. HBS makes a lot of effort to “sculpt” their incoming class profile and candidates who are “overrepresented” especially need to show their uniqueness. The memorability of the “how” or the uniqueness of the “why” are areas where candidates who don’t have unique accomplishments can stand out.
When you are brainstorming topics, we recommend picking the strongest thing done well, regardless of its theme. Don’t short change this process and don’t do it alone. If you don’t work with a professional consultant who can provide a structured process and experienced insight, please take a family member or friend who knows you well and can be an objective mirror. If you are stuck between choosing equally strong topics, we recommend first prioritizing a professional achievement, then a non-professional leadership or teamwork example, and lastly a non-professional one that demonstrates personality, a different positive activity, and general self-awareness.
For the “something better” essay we recommend applicants to “Be humble. Be wise”. This is the perfect place to demonstrate maturity and self-awareness, and the foundation for doing so is with the mindset of humbleness. Many applicants become concerned that they can’t reveal any weaknesses to the admissions committee, or they will not be admitted. The truth is that all business schools, even Harvard, want to understand the “true person” behind the application. And all people have flaws. In your essay, it is important to humbly show these flaws but then wisely demonstrate the learning that resulted from what you could have done better. Topic selection and development is even more important in this essay, so make sure you allot sufficient time and identify resources to assist.
By transforming last year’s “Why MBA” essay into this year’s 500-character statement, Harvard continues to indicate that it is not necessary to explain “Why HBS” in your essays. They know why you want to go to HBS- we all do. Similarly, in your “something better” essay, you should not try to paint a HBS MBA as the one saving tool which could have turned your story into a glowing accomplishment.
Many candidates will fret over only having 500-characters to express their career goals and need for an MBA. What it does is force focus and clarity in your goals, which will help candidates who would otherwise use 500 words to go on professional tangents and be less clear. For most business schools the career goals essay is the most important one, and not having clarity will ensure rejection. We help many clients every year ensure this is done correctly, and in many ways, the HBS admissions team is helping you with the structure of this essay.
As we mentioned in our first post, there is not much yet to say about the “Post interview essay”. In Poets and Quants, Dee comments that this will provide candidates “the last word”, which hints at a much less structured essay, similar to last year’s “Answer a question you wish we asked”. We believe this will actually be much more structured and we will provide advice when we learn more.
Good luck with your HBS application!