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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

July 16, 2009

HBS: Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.

This post is on the forth of five of the "pick two" questions for the Harvard Business School MBA Application for Fall 2010 Admission. You must answer two questions out of five of these options. All the posts in this series: Overall Strategy, Accomplishments, Mistake, Option 1, Option 2, Option 3, Option 4, and Option 5. My post on HBS interviews can be found here.

Option 4
. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.

When I first saw this question I started to laugh. I had simply never imagined that HBS would copy a standard part of MIT's application:

Cover Letter
Prepare a cover letter (up to 500 words) seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Describe your accomplishments and include an example of how you had an impact on a group or organization. Your letter should conform to standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Director of MBA Admissions.

I imagine that I am not alone in being amused. That said, there are three major differences between what MIT is doing with its cover letter and what HBS is doing. First, the MIT cover letter is mandatory for all applicants, while the HBS cover letter is simply an optional topic. Second, the suggested content for the MIT cover letter is quite specific about what it should contain, while the HBS cover letter is rather general. Third, given the structure of the essay sets, the MIT cover letter is the only place in the set where it is really appropriate to answer the WHY MBA/MIT? question, but in the HBS set, it is possible to do so in other essays.

One thing that both schools have in common is the fact that they call this a "cover letter." Keep in mind that great cover letters result in job interviews. Assume the same about this one: It should result in an interview invitation. How will your cover letter standout? If you don't know how to do a US-style cover letter, you need to learn. Here are two good sites for that purpose:

An effective answer to this question will provide admissions with a clear, albeit limited, image of who you are. Make sure that the focus is on who you are and not just a summary of what you have done. The resume will help them understand what you have done, but what they need in this cover letter is an interpretation of who you are. Bad answers here will consist of summarized resumes. Great answers here will provide admissions with some insight into "your soul."

If you can connect yourself to your career vision and/or reasons for wanting an MBA, this essay can be effective alternative to writing
Option 5. While I suppose it is possible to write Option 4 and Option 5, if you do so, obviously focus on who you are and not the MBA/Career vision aspect in the cover letter.

For those who also apply to Stanford GSB , it is possible that the content you develop for Stanford Essay 1 will work here in a modified form. Just be careful that HBS does not get that impression.

Finally, this cover letter can be great essay topic for those who love to talk about themselves, their values, and their personal histories. If you are not such a person, don't write this one.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. If you are looking for a highly experienced admissions consultant who is passionate about helping his clients succeed, please feel free to contact me at adammarkus@gmail.com to arrange an initial consultation. To learn more about my services, see here. Initial consultations are conducted by Skype or telephone. For clients in Tokyo, a free face-to-face consultation is possible after an initial Skype or telephone consultation. I only work with a limited number of clients per year and believe that an initial consultation is the best way to determine whether there is a good fit. Whether you use my service or another, I suggest making certain that the fit feels right to you.
-Adam Markus
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