HBS releases their application and we analyze

HBSThat’s right– Harvard Business School’s 2013-2014 essays are out, and it’s not even time to put on shorts, at least where I live (stop bragging, SoCal/Florida).  Thus the trend continues: the season continues to start earlier and earlier.  Soon enough, we’ll be starting essay questions around Valentine’s Day!  Enough admissions banter…on to business.

HBS continues to change the face of its application process.  Last year, they moved to two essays (down from four two years ago) and added an optional reflection essay post-interview.  This year, they’ve gone a step further and are now including one essay for the application and keeping the post-interview reflection essay.   What does that mean for you?  First and foremost, they are both optional, so you may be able to submit your HBS application with no essays!  Not really advisable, but possible.  It also means that the optional essay with no structure and no word count can be a death trap for the unfocused applicant.  Know your MBA brand, what you bring to the table, and craft a well written  set of essays to really drive home why you belong and why you are a good fit for HBS.  Let’s get started!

Essay (no word limit): You’re applying to Harvard Business School.  We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.    What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

Naturally, the first question here is: Should you write this essay? Our answer: Yes.  You have a chance to communicate more about your candidacy to the admissions committee, so take advantage of the opportunity.


The next question is likely: How long should the essay be?  The answer: It depends.  Keep in mind the admissions committee will review thousands of applications, and they don’t want to read 1000+ word essays.  Part of this is an evaluation of your business judgment and your effectiveness in communicating a message.  If you can’t effectively communicate your story, how will you be able to communicate complex business problems and articulate a solution in an email or presentation to your boss, colleagues, and investors?  If you put together a solid outline on what you would like to communicate to the admissions committee and effectively articulate this plan, stop writing!  Don’t feel obligated to fill some preconceived number of words because they give you the ability to do so – as I tell my kids when I send them to the store with money – just because you have it doesn’t mean you need to spend it.  My suggestion is to target somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 words – could certainly be less, but I don’t think it should be considerably more.  If you are interested in writing a two-page essay about your purpose in life, you may want to consider applying to law school.


Finally, you may want some guidance on what to include in the essay.  That answer really depends on the applicant, but we have a few suggestions that you might want to think about.


1)     Think about why are you a good candidate for HBS.  The answer to that is certainly different for every candidate, but it should spur you to do some thinking about how you’ve developed into the person you are (character) and why you are seeking a path to go to business school at HBS (vision).

2)     Think of a few shadow questions that may prompt a narrative for the essay.  For instance, what are your greatest accomplishments/failures?  What were the defining moments in your life?


3)     Use stories.  The one thing that is difficult to gather from looking at the resume, application, transcripts, GMAT and recommendations (less so), are real stories that show who you are through action.  Take advantage of that opportunity to paint a clear picture of the type of person they would get if you were accepted.


Admit Advantage: Think about your MBA brand before you write this essay.  Map out the key leadership traits that you want to get across to the admissions committee.  Next, try to think of stories that highlight these traits and ways to weave them into the essay.  Think of examples in your community, personal experiences, and career that truly speak to who you are.


Admit Advantage: Avoid the trap of focusing too much on your career background.  Candidates may want to use this question as an opportunity to regurgitate their resume.  That would be a huge mistake here.  Use enough background to provide context to discuss how an MBA can help you achieve your future goals.


Admit Advantage: Talk to alumni and look at the online HBS student profiles to get a sense for the types of students that HBS has accepted and what they value.  It may spark some ideas for you to focus on in this essay.  If the admissions committee thought that a profile was compelling enough to highlight on the site, certainly they believe that it is representative of the overall HBS brand.


Joint Degree: How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 words)


This is a pretty straightforward essay, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.  They are really looking for you to address why a joint degree is the right option for you.  This is a good opportunity for you to paint a career picture that is a perfect fit for the skill set provided by the joint academic degree.  Think about the two programs and how they fit together; make sure to be complementary and specific about both.


Admit Advantage: When thinking about personal reasons, “It takes less time” and “I can sign a long-term lease” are not going to wow the admissions committee!  Think about why now is a good time for both, perhaps how you’ve come to realize that a dual degree is worth it, and the personal circumstances that make the joint degree ideal for you. 


Post Interview Question – stayed tuned for the Admit Advantage webinar (www.admitadvantage.com/webinar.aspx) that will go into depth on this topic.


To sign up for a free consultation, visit http://skedge.me/admitadvantage

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