Our Thoughts on the Harvard Business School Application Essay for 2015-2016

Harvard Business SchoolApplication season at Harvard Business School is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2015-2016 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these new essay prompts.

There is only one essay question for HBS so it is critical that applicants make the most of the limited real estate available here.

Essay 1:

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. (No word limit)

The dreaded open-ended essay prompt has caused many sleepless nights for MBA applicants, couple that with the inherent pressure that results from applying to HBS and this essay may be viewed as one of the more nerve-wracking questions of the application season. Many students struggle with how to tackle this type of essay question and I’m here to tell you to relax and just stay structured.

With seemingly open-ended prompts like this one, the key is to stay structured. Typically, with more detailed essay prompts that have more individualized components within the question the outline of the essay almost writes itself. An open-ended essay like this one requires the applicant to more formally structure the response upfront to ensure the narrative is clear for the AdComm.

However, before diving into the structure, topic selection is critical. This will involve a good deal of introspection both in selecting the anecdotes as well as in the context of your actual writing. Aligning your narrative around a personal or professional passion is a powerful approach to telling your story. The more authentic this passion is the better it will be received by admissions.

Painting a vivid narrative of how the current incarnation of you has manifested will separate the mundane essay from the truly breakthrough essay. It’s about showing and not telling here so highlight the unique experiences that have brought you to this point. With HBS, the pressure to impress tends to be very high but focus less on the outlier stories from your competition (climbed a mountain, sold a start-up, ran a marathon) and focus on letting your own unique personality shine through amidst the anecdotes you share.

This essay honestly at its core is about getting to know you so don’t miss the opportunity by trying to craft the perfect answer for the admissions committee.

These are just a few thoughts on the new essay from HBS. Hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Harvard’s deadlines and essay, check out another post here.

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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here