Essay Question: 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? (no word limit)
Harvard’s essay question remains the same this year. Through working with clients, meeting with the HBS admissions team, and collaborating with other admissions consultants; Inside MBA Admissions has a solid handle on how to approach this question. Here are some key factors to consider before you put pen to paper:
- HBS is asking for what “more” (or what else) would you like us to consider in your candidacy. The admissions committee already has your resume, your academic records, your test scores, your letters of recommendation, and your on-line application. These components paint a very strong picture of your professional accomplishments and ability to handle the rigor of the program. However, you now have the opportunity to use this essay to showcase other aspects of your candidacy. You have an opportunity to provide the admissions committee some “context” about who you are, your personality, what makes you tick, how you think, and/or your personal drivers. When the admissions committee is finished reading your entire application, you want them to have a good sense of your professional and personal accomplishments, your academic achievements, your career progression, AND a sense of who you, and what unique attributes you bring to their class profile.
- Avoid diving into your career goals. Over time HBS has slowly eliminated the career goals question entirely. They used to ask it outright, then they made it optional, and now they have completely eliminated it. In other words, HBS does not think that your career goals are an eminent part of your candidacy. If they did, they would include it as a required essay. Therefore, I strongly urge you not to use this essay to expand upon your career goals or why you need an MBA or why HBS is the right school for you. Of course, there are always circumstances where candidates’ career goals are compelling enough to warrant mentioning them in this essay. However, as a rule of thumb, avoid the urge to dive into your career aspirations. Instead – GET PERSONAL!
- Speaking of getting personal – that is the key to nailing this essay. Please do some serious soul searching and write an essay that is personal, genuine, and real. I recognize it is very hard to do that without touching on some “cliché” responses like, “making a difference in the world,” or “constantly wanting to be challenged” or “spending time with family”. Before settling with a cliche response, I urge you see if you can find a topic that is unique and reveals more about your candidacy.
How do I approach this essay?
I will provide a few ways to approach this essay, but I caution you to not let this “anchor” you. This essay is open-ended and there are many approaches that work if properly planned and executed. See below:
- Choosing an overriding theme: Think about your personal and professional life to date. Start jotting down major events or characteristics that have played a significant role in your life. As you dig deep, see if you can find an “overriding theme” that connects these events/characteristics. If you can successfully choose a theme, then writing the essay with this approach is effective. However, make sure your essay does not just pontificate about your theme. Instead, make sure you provide the reader with examples in your life to illustrate how and why your theme is of importance to you in your life (past and future).
- You can’t find a theme: Not everyone can come up with an overriding theme for this essay. Another way to approach this essay is to start by outlining key events, people, or circumstances that have shaped you into the person you are today. It’s best if you have multiple examples to share with the admissions committee, allowing them to understand the key moments/people in your life. Try to focus on how this has created your value system.
As a final note, I would like to touch on word count. Notice HBS indicates no word limit. This does not mean that you should write a novel! Quite the contrary! HBS expects you to write in an efficient manner, while still conveying your message. Quite frankly, this is a critical writing skill you will need for business school and in your career post-MBA. My guideline is to aim for a word count between 500 – 1000 words. Less is more. If you choose to exceed these guidelines, make sure you are not wasting valuable time of an admissions committee member. Showcase your personality, tell your story, and convey your message in a short and concise manner.