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

May 15, 2015

HBS MBA Admissions Essay for the Class of 2018

NOTE: An updated and expanded version of my analysis of the HBS essay and application for 2016 entry can be found here

While the Harvard Business School application for 2016 entry will not go live until mid-June,  the essay was released today, May 15th.   Until I see the online application form for the Class of 2018, which will be opened in mid-June,  I will have to hold off on commenting on the entire application and recommendation form.  For my analysis of the Class of 2017 application, please see here.  For my posts on recommendation, please see my Key Posts on recommendations.

My comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS for the Classes of  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005. My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with HBS interview preparation.  Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have worked with 27 successful applicants from Canada, Europe, India, the Middle East, Japan, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application. I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS.  For the Class of 2017, I worked with an exceptional group of clients and 10 of them will be going to HBS this fall.  All I can tell you is that HBS takes a truly diverse range of people. Some had high GPAs and great GMAT sc ores, others had GPAs and scores well below the 80% range for HBS, but what they all had in common were strong personal professional backgrounds that came out in their essays.

A NEW QUESTION THIS YEAR! From Direct from the Director

“Class of 2018 – The Essay Question

There is one essay question for the Class of 2018:
It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.
Introduce yourself.
Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.
We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.
Yes, it's "new"…but most of you are embarking on this business school application journey for the first time too!     
Why do we like it?
• It's just about as straightforward and practical as we can make it.   It gives you a chance to tell your story however you choose. Imagine simply saying it out loud. This is what we mean when we've been encouraging you to use your own "voice" when approaching this part of the application.  We have no pre-conceived ideas of what "good" looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.
• It's useful. You will actually be introducing yourself to classmates at HBS. 
Why did we drop the "optional" option?
• We were trying to signal that the essay wasn't The Most Important Element of the application so we thought saying "optional" might accomplish that. But, this season, every applicant submitted a response. We get it. You want to tell us things.
Tell us again what the essay is for?
• For you: an opportunity to pause and reflect. Business school is a big experience –  it's exciting, it's an unknown,it's a beginning, it's an investment in your future. Stopping to reflect and gather your thoughts in writing is a useful exercise. That's not just our opinion –  it's what we hear from students all the time.
• For us: a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations.”
In addition to watching the case video, please refer to my prior post for a full analysis of HBS, the case method, and what admissions looks for.  I will update my whole analysis when the online application is updated. Here I am going to just focus on the new question.

HBS is far from the first school to ask applicants to introduce themselves to classmates.  In this case, the length seems unlimited (See below, I don’t recommend a very long essay)  and the classmates in question are the other 89 students in your section.

You need to think about what you would actually say to your future classmates. Since you will  need to introduce yourself,  think of one core requirement of this essay being how to make an effective introduction to people you are going to be working with for an entire year. First impressions matter a lot. You need to put significant time into thinking about the impression you will make.

Assume that the length is not unlimited even though it appears to be up to you.  How long of an introduction would you make? My suggestion is that whatever length of a text you write, read it out loud and ask yourself, how long you would actually speak. HBS suggests that you “Imagine simply saying it out loud.”  Suggestion: one to three minutes is good, five minutes is probably a max out.

Treat this like a transcription of what you would say.  In other words, this is spoken rather than written text. I know that when I start reviewing my client’s HBS essays for 2016 entry, I will be reading them out loud and testing the way they sound. I will be advising my clients to do that.

Make it easy to understand.  You are introducing yourself to strangers who you want to become your friends and colleagues. They will have very diverse backgrounds. Your job is to make this essay easy to understand. Think big picture, clear stories, and no extreme complications.

Make it believable. This should go without saying, but some applicants have a tendency to overstate their accomplishments.  This is not the place for it.  Be honest and show your authentic self.

Make it interesting. Your objective is to get your classmates to like you and become interested in you. You need to help HBS see why you deserve a shot to be in one of the 90 student sections.  You need to show your selling points and make it clear what differentiates you. Simultaneously, you can’t focus just on accomplishments, instead you want to reveal something positive and personal that will be perceived as attractive and memorable.

While I don’t necessarily suggest writing what you can contribute to your section in this essay, I do think that should be implied. In other words, someone reading this essay should have a clear sense of how you will be a positive addition to the section through the diversity of your experience, values, and or skills.

Also, keep in mind that the essay is not the whole application.   Your resume, application form, and recommendations all have an important role in the application process.  Don’t unnecessarily duplicate information found elsewhere in your application.  This is the place to come to life as an applicant, so that you are perceived as someone who can add value to your section and to HBS as a whole.
If you are trying to understand the diverse range of essays that gets someone admitted to HBS,  I do recommend  The Unofficial Harvard Business School Essay Book.  In fact,  one of my clients admitted to the Class of 2016 contributed his or her essay to it, which made me really happy.  I can’t tell you which one. I do highly recommend reading this book because it will give you a really good idea about the range of possible answers and dispel any myths about needing to submit something that is professionally written. I would also recommend the old book that contained HBS admits essays. That collection is still a good read for understanding how to put together an MBA essay though the specific questions are no longer being as ked by HBS. Combined, both books are really great guides for someone looking to see sample successful MBA essays. Beyond those essay books, a piece of absolutely required reading for HBS admissions is Poets & Quants' John Byrne's interview with Dee Leopold, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School. If you are looking for one article to give you overall insight into how HBS makes admissions decisions, John Byrne has done an exceptional job of asking Dee Leopold the right questions.

I will have more to say about this essay and the whole application next month.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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