How to Answer the HBS MBA Admissions Essay Prompt

Valuable advice every Harvard Business School candidate should read to craft a winning essay.

The question HBS poses to its prospective students this year is, on the surface, very simple:

“As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”

How can you narrow down your options considering the breadth of potential essay topics? Having just attended my HBS class reunion and witnessed first-hand the school’s commitment to making an impact, the answer should involve how you will contribute to the HBS mission of seeking to “Educate leaders who make a difference in the world.”

Three potential essay themes to explore are a personal hobby or passion, your unique post-MBA plans, or a weakness in your application. If more than one of these topics applies to you, sketch a brief outline of each one to determine which has the most dynamic content and develop it into the full-fledged essay. An admissions counselor can provide feedback and guide you in this delicate process. Even though there is no suggested word count, keep the reader engaged by limiting yourself to 1000 words – approximately two pages.

The HBS application provides an opportunity to list three extracurricular activities but limits the description to a sentence. If you have exhibited a long-term commitment to a particular interest, preferably one that aligns with a noble goal, it can become the basis for a strong essay. Make sure to demonstrate the reason you’re passionate about your activity, its impact on your community and environment, and how you plan to enhance your contribution post-MBA.

If you professional plans after business school are unique either in their subject matter or in your rationale for pursuing them, the essay is definitely the best place to articulate your vision for your future. For example, you might discuss your short-term desire to pursue an entrepreneurial path or a corporate career directly after school and follow up with a longer-term plan to channel that experience into impact. Consider how you can infuse logic into your prior professional choices and why they have prepared you for success in your intended career.

If you have an obvious Achilles’ heel in your application, such as failing calculus in college or a gap in your employment history, take full advantage of the opportunity to explain extenuating circumstances to the admissions committee. Do not assume admissions will overlook a weakness. Maybe you were taking care of an ill relative, overwhelmed with holding down a job while in school, or facing a personal dilemma. Whatever the reason, a thoughtful essay can help you overcome what would otherwise be a question mark in the eyes of the application reader. Make sure to highlight what you learned from your experience and why it won’t impact your performance at business school.

Finally, some general advice – the HBS essay is not a novel, it’s an autobiography. Use active voice, limit flowery language, and most importantly, be genuine. Demonstrate your interests and vulnerabilities, let your personality shine through, and showcase the diversity of thought that you will bring to the classroom. Good luck!


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