How Long Should Your Harvard Application Essay Be?

Harvard Business SchoolHarvard Business School has really gone out of its way to present itself in opposition to the stodgy, elitist image it tends to hold in the MBA world. Through the use of its blog and a more simplified application and essay format, HBS has taken a much more casual approach to letting candidates tell their story during this year’s application season.

This approach has primarily manifested itself through the school’s choice to only offer one essay prompt in their application. As opposed to other MBA programs that require applicants to write two, three, and sometimes even four essays, Harvard’s sole essay requirement puts a lot of pressure on applicants to make the most of the limited word count they are given in this one chance to impress the Admissions Committee.

But wait, what word count? The last few years, Harvard has also done away with adding a word count to their essays, putting the decision of length for the school’s only essay in the hands of the applicant. I know this is HBS, and like most applicants you will probably want to share as much of your story in this essay as possible to convince the school of your merits, but this essay is more about how you can effectively communicate a response to an open-ended question in a concise and compelling fashion than it is about cramming every detail of your professional and personal life into one essay.

The best way to do this is to answer the question asked and only the question asked. Harvard is looking to get a response to the question they have asked for a reason – if they wanted additional information from you, they would have asked or will ask in other stages of the application process (through the application form, interview, etc.). As such, you’ll want to keep your response to this essay short.

Avoid responses that stray above 1,000 words and settle into the 500-750 word range, instead. An essay that is 1,000 or more words is almost a whopping 15-minutes when read aloud! Keep in mind the school’s guidance: “don’t overthink, overcraft, and overwrite.” This is literally the approach you should take here. HBS receives almost 9,000 applications every year – that is a lot of reading, so the further you stray over 1,000 words, the more of a disadvantage you put yourself at.

If you are struggling keeping your essay concise, make sure you are avoiding answering traditional MBA essay topics that are not actually being asked in the prompt. Often applicants get nervous if they do not have the opportunity to formally communicate common business school information like “Why HBS?” or “Why MBA?”. Avoid this temptation and respond to the prompt in a concise, authentic, and compelling fashion to give yourself the best chance of success in crafting your Harvard application essay.

For more tips on applying to Harvard Business School, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools.

Applying to Harvard or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

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 articles by him here.

How to Omit Unnecessary Words in Your MBA Application Essays

writing essayThe book Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, has long been known as an excellent source of information about elements of the English language and an overall guide to writing style.

Some of the most practical tips that are discussed in this book will also be useful in writing your MBA application essays:

Respect Space and Attention
Not only are the spaces you are given to write your business school essays constrained by the given word count, but the attention span of the Admissions Committee (who will be reviewing your applications) is also rather short. Using unnecessary words dilutes the impact of the most powerful parts of your essays, the same way adding water to a perfectly blended coffee would dilute the drink.

Being respectful of word limits and the valuable time of the reader should help provide you with some discipline, allowing you to cut down on unrelated tangents and lengthy deliveries as you edit your writing.

Write for a Broad Audience
Taking into account that your reader may be someone who does not hold an MBA himself – and even more likely, holds a background outside your specific field – avoid using industry jargon and company-specific references while writing. These details are needless words that will only bore, and potentially even alienate, your readers. Instead, write with a broader audience in mind, focusing your essays on your impact on people, your company as a whole and events, rather than on finite, technical details of your work and accomplishments.

Focusing on only the style of your writing, especially by showing off an overly-immense vocabulary, can also distract from your message, just like the 2013 movie, The Counselor. (Chances are you haven’t even seen this movie, and that just makes my point!)

With a top-caliber cast and crew, this film disappointed critics and the box-office alike – with names like Brad Pitt, Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz associated with the film, it was a wonder that a movie could fail so badly. However, word-of-mouth from most moviegoers and critics was often unnecessarily long-winded and boring. Thus, the film’s vast talents and materials at its disposal were wasted.

Just as a successful box-office hit will keep a wider audience engaged while still delivering its message powerfully and subtly, your essays should present your personal story well to all readers, and make the Admissions Committee root for your triumph.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! And as always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. You can read more articles by him here

3 Ways to Fit the Most Details Into Your MBA Essays

help - wordsDo you have too many “knick-knacks” and seemingly unrelated, but interesting, details about your MBA candidate profile? Are you unsure of where to use them in your essays, how to fit them into the limited word counts you are given, or if you should even include them in your application at all?

Frequently, I see business school applicants who have accomplishments that they are very proud of – such as winning a competition at their undergraduate university, excelling on a sports team, or holding a long-running passion for performing arts – but that do not seem to fit into the context of their answers to the essay prompts they are given.

Some schools have essays asking applicants to share outside activities or interesting personal facts, but most of the time, you will need to deliberate as to how these attributes will fit in your essays as you address the questions.

Below are three suggestions on how you can find space to share these details in a way that will help make your essays both more personal and powerful:

1) Draw Parallels
As is true in many aspects of life, in your business school essays, showing, instead of simply telling, is often the best way to get your point across.

For example, trying to convince your reader (the Admissions Committee) of your ability to persevere and work hard by mentioning the number of hours you spend at the office may not be all that effective. Instead, you could say how your work habits formed by years of training as a ballerina, and how this experience prepared you to understand the blood, sweat, and tears required to achieve great successes.

Drawing these parallels will put personality into your essay – creating an image for the Admissions Committee, while also reinforcing the character traits you want to highlight by showing how you demonstrate them in another context.

2) Use Your Interests as Examples
Another great way to mention seemingly unrelated, but still impressive, activities is by using them as examples in the context of addressing a question.

For instance, if you are discussing your initiative to improve your time management skills, you may mention that apart from being able to accomplish your responsibilities at work, you have also created time to enrich your life with engaging activities, such as mountain-climbing or performing with a band. This will help show your range of involvement across diverse interests and present you as a multi-faceted character, while still allowing the Admissions Committee to better relate to you.

3) Pivot From a Common Point
In writing your essays, you may also identify a common thread that ties all of your varied interests together. This could be in the form of emphasizing a strength, by giving examples of your involvement in different activities that leverage a particular trait.

For example, you could identify your ability to adapt as a major strength and give examples of your experiences as a student leader working with international students, a volunteer working in the community with refugees, and your current position handling global clients. Relating these activities to each other through a common point will allow you to mention many details without needing to describe them in great detail.

MBA programs want to see applicants who are adaptable, multi-dimensional and interesting. Using your wide array of experiences in the aforementioned ways can help you accomplish this, while also allowing you to express yourself and to submit an application that truly shares your personal stories.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD

How to Stay Under Your Essay Word Limit

SAT WorryOne of the hardest things for many MBA applicants to deal with when it comes to writing their business school essays is to stay under the word limit. You would think crafting a clear, well-written, and compelling essay that fully addressed the prompt is hard enough, but MBA programs make things a bit more difficult with often dauntingly tight word limits.

There are a few things that make staying under essay word limits so tough. First, most candidates are not used to explaining themselves in a limited amount of words. The MBA application is an exercise in saying a lot in a few words, meaning every word has to matter – extra pronouns, articles, and prepositions must be reduced to stay under the given word count. Focusing on being as concise and as direct as possible in your language is a major key to making the most of your word count. A good rule of thumb here is if the word doesn’t drive the essay forward and is not integral to the ultimate message you are trying to convey, then you should strongly consider removing it.

Second, many candidates will ignore one of the golden rules of MBA essay writing: answer the question! With so few words to write your essay, there is little room to answer extraneous questions or include content not directly referenced in the essay prompt. Providing extra, unnecessary information can also be seen by the admissions committee as the sign of a candidate who is repurposing essays from other schools, which is definitely a bad idea. Answering unasked questions will waste your words and reduce the focus of your narrative, so stick with what the prompt gives you.

Third, candidates often make the mistake of spending too much time trying to fit their essays into traditional writing templates with an introduction and conclusion. With so few words, it is often best to skip formalities and dive right into the content. In many instances, if the writing is strong enough, this approach eliminates the need for clunky introductions and conclusions that will most likely end up sounding forced and unnatural anyways.

Finally, don’t forget the outline! Creating an outline before writing really brings a focused edge to the essay writing process. Ensure that your outline fully addresses the essay prompt while still allowing enough real estate to communicate your narrative in a compelling way.

Don’t let tight essay word limits sap all of the life out of your essays; follow the tips above to ensure you are making the most out of this part of the application process.

Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

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.