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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

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

July 06, 2010

HBS MBA Questions for Fall 2011 Admission

This post is focused on overall strategy for HBS MBA Questions for Fall 2011 Admission. 
All the posts in this series: Overall Strategy, Accomplishments, Mistake, Option 1, Option 2, Option 3, and Option 4.  My post on HBS interviews can be found here. My post on HBS recommendation questions can be found here.


Two Required:

-What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

-What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):

1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

2. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed.

4. When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

Here I will provide some overall strategic advice regarding applying to HBS.

Please keep in mind that additional strategy and tactics will be covered in the six other posts in this series. I suggest reading in the entire series of posts, even for the optional topics that you do not intend to write on.

The two required questions are the same and so are two (Options 1 and 2) out of the four questions that applicants will get to choose from.  HBS dropped three option questions and added two new options (3 and 4).

First Round versus Second Round versus Third Round
Well, I would not advise applying in the Third Round. That said, I have had a client admitted in the Third Round in recent years. My client who was admitted for fall 2009 was admitted in the Second Round. I had two clients who were interviewed, but not admitted in Round Two for fall 2010.   In general, those who are truly ready for first round would be well served to do so.  Second Round is fine otherwise, but Third round is for those who can't get it done sooner, have a very positive "freak-factor" going for them, and/or enjoy taking extreme risks. The HBS line on this is always that applicants should apply when they are ready, but that Third Round is not generally recommended.

The structure of the application is such that one does not have to write a "Why MBA? What are you Goals? Why HBS?" essay.  Essay Option 2 is  clearly designed for that purpose, but it is optional. That said, you really do want to fully account for the above questions in your own head, at least, because it is an important strategic consideration. Furthermore, you can assume that if you have an interview you will be asked about your educational and professional objectives (see my analysis of HBS interviews).

I think it is possible to actually use any of the questions except Option Four, to explain why you are applying to HBS and what your career vision is, BUT it is obviously rather easy to use Option 2 for that purpose.  Clearly each applicant will have to figure out what works best for them.  When I advise my clients on this, we deeply consider what topics will make for the best possible presentation.  Thinking through alternatives is always a good idea.

I think this is an obvious point, but I will make it anyway: I suggest you take a look at my posts on school selection as they will help you to analyze why HBS is right or wrong for you.  Especially see one of my posts on someone who greatly benefited from being dinged by HBS.  I think actually it is not right for everybody, so look at HBS closely to see if it right for you. Your age is certainly a consideration. In addition to what it is stated in this post, I suggest you review the entire series of posts even for questions you are not planning to write on because I have provided links to various things about HBS.

HBS is very open about who they take.  They even indicate what undergraduate institutions those admitted attended.  See here.

Not everyone should apply or go to HBS.  For a happy story of HBS rejection, see here.


While Harvard Business School is most known for its use of the case method (80%), other top programs use it typically 30%-50% of the time with the remainder consisting of lecture, experiential learning, simulations, and other methods. By the way, if you want to know what HBS students read in addition to case studies, see http://www.computersexy.com/blog/2008/02/03/hbs/what-do-hbs-students-read/.

If you are thinking about applying to HBS, you should learn about the case method/view. One of the clearest explanations for the case method is, not surprisingly, the HBS website. Every MBA applicant could benefit from watching the case study video which will provide you with a clear 13 minute and 25 second image of what case study is about. You should most certainly look at videos found at the HBS' YouTube channel.

Want to read some case studies?

One great resource for cases studies is caseplace.org, where you can read cases written by and for top business schools. Many were published by Harvard Business School through Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, and Harvard Business School Publishing. Sources for other cases include Stanford Social Innovation Review, Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

Sponsored by the Aspen Institute, "CasePlace.org is a practical and dynamic resource for up-to-date case studies, syllabi and innovative MBA teaching materials on business and sustainability— from corporate governance to sustainable development." Given the sources and purpose of the site, this is a wonderful opportunity to read cases on a diverse range of subjects. If caseplace.org is not enough for you then you can also purchase case studies directly from HBS and other schools.

Please keep in mind that the objective is to get enough background to make good decisions about your applications, so don't feel obligated to spend so much time reading cases. Just spend enough time to know what the case method is and how it will impact your application decisions and admissions strategy.

The important thing is to select the topics that will best represent you. Focus first on what you really want to say about yourself and then decide which questions will be best to answer. As I will discuss, Option 2 has the advantage of being really useful for a number purposes. Also, for some applicants, Option 1 is really very useful, so don't assume that I am suggesting that it is less worthy of consideration than the other three possibilities. Your objective is to construct the most effective presentation of yourself as possible in order to become part of the Class of 2013. One thing to avoid is an over-marketed set of essays. Instead focus on presenting yourself at your best. See my last post of 2007 on the limits of a marketing based strategy.

Please read my analysis of Essay 1 in which I will discuss leadership at HBS in detail. Given that the Optional Questions don't necessarily focus on leadership, Essays 1 and 2 are the most natural places to demonstrate leadership.  Option 3 would also be a likely possibility.

  • Read my other six forthcoming posts in this series. Even if you are not planning to write on a specific question, you might very well find something that will help you with the questions you are writing on.
  • Learn as much as you can about HBS. If possible, go visit the campus. Visiting HBS, like visiting any business school, is one of the best ways to learn about it.
  • Attend admissions outreach events as these will give you an opportunity to hear from admissions directly and possibly interact with alumni. For a report on the recent Tokyo event, see here.
-Adam Markus
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MBA留学 ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング  ハーバード MBA

Questions? 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.
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