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?
Tips from Kaneisha:
Remember that I don’t have any magical insight into this year’s essay questions but I do have years of experience helping people get admitted to HBS and other top schools. I’m using my experience, creativity, and judgment to provide these tips. You can do the same for your own application.
I suggest submitting an essay that is between 500 – 750 words, and I will greenlight essays from my clients that are as short as 400 words and up to 1000 words. Anything outside of that range seems too short or too long to me.
MBA applicants are very good at telling us what they’ve done but they are not very good at telling us who they are. Your resume tells the AdCom what you’ve done, but what kind of person are you? Help the AdCom see that you will be a great asset to the HBS classroom, the HBS student community, and the HBS alumni community. You can use your essay to answer questions like:
- What motivates you?
- What are you like on a team?
- What kind of leader are you?
- How do you respond to failure?
- How do you respond to success?
Then, you can use what I call microstories (stories that are 2-4 sentences long but still have a beginning, middle, and an end) to illustrate those qualities about yourself that you want to make sure the AdCom knows. When I work with my clients, I force them to focus not just on what they did, but on what they thought, felt, said, and did in each experience. This framework of focusing on thought-felt-said-did is something I picked up from the MIT Sloan application. It works really well for developing full-bodied essays sparkling with clarity versus superficial, vague essays wandering in the dark. In short, I suggest using your HBS essay to highlight the qualities about yourself that you want the AdCom to most know you for. In case you are wondering what I mean by “qualities,” here is a list of qualities (edited 7/20/15… the website deleted the link to its qualities page). From that list, I would say I exhibit the following most often, and the ones in bold are the ones that I personally would choose to highlight if I were applying to business school right now again: boldness, creativity, enthusiasm, hospitality, gratefulness, persuasiveness, resourcefulness. In my opinion, no characters are more valuable than others; it’s just about how you use your particular character traits to work for you and those around you.
Making sure it fits with your application:
Have at least three people read your entire application to HBS:
- someone who knows you well professionally
- someone who knows you well personally
- someone who knows you well academically
- someone who went to HBS or another top business school and has a background similar to yours
Ask your readers:
- Does my essay provide more insight to my application than you could get from my resume?
- Does my essay provide some insight into the “whys” of the “whats” on my resume?
- What do you still want to know about this applicant? Is this something you’d want to know enough to invite me for an interview?
- Is there anything confusing or unclear about my application?
- From my application, what do you perceive my strengths to be? Developmental areas?
Depending on your readers answers, you can make small tweaks to your application. However, depending on how close to the deadline you are, you don’t want to make drastic changes to your essay. Sometimes last-minute wholesale changes can be helpful. Often, they happen out of a free-floating sense of anxiety and fear. Focus on showing the AdCom who you are as a person—academically, socially, personally, and professionally—and you will be headed in the right direction of submitting an admissions essay that works.