(Updated for 2019-2020)
HBS asks an open-ended question that can be hard to decipher but really, the admissions committee is just looking to learn more about who you are and what drives you. Follow this approach to help put together a strong and compelling HBS essay.
Like last year, the sole essay prompt for HBS is:
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?
You might be thinking, “I would like you to know that – I have no idea how to answer this question!” But don’t fret. If you approach this prompt by illustrating an authentic picture of yourself rather than what you think the admissions committee wants to hear, you will be on the right track.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Draw in some personal elements.
Yes, this is an essay for business school, but HBS wants to learn more about YOU not just what you want to do or what you’ve already done. To that end, try beginning with something you’re passionate about and then tie it into what you want to do after business school. Sometimes this is obvious and sometimes less so. But if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about something, it comes across in your writing and you seem authentic. Ideally, the passion is something that has persisted throughout your life rather than something you just found a few months ago or stopped doing 10 years ago.
Don’t rehash your resume.
Can you imagine how boring it would be to read a 1,000-word essay that discusses what’s already on your resume? Sure, there will be aspects of your past experience that are reflected in the essay. You should try to weave together a story of why you need an MBA from HBS to achieve your short-term and long-term career goals that make sense based on your passion, interests and past experience. But each experience that you include in the essay should introduce a different element or show how it relates to your passion and goals.
So don’t just reiterate that you generated $10 million in revenue by approaching a new market for your company. Explain how that effort was vital to what you learned at your job and how it relates to what you want to do after you graduate.
Keep an eye on word count.
Three of the most dangerous words in an application are “No word limit.” Some applicants see this as license to write a 2,500-word essay because they just couldn’t possibly distill all their experience into a shorter essay. There is no way that admission committee members will be excited to read an essay this long and it will negatively affect their opinion of you.
Instead: shoot for roughly 1,000 words. A little less or more is fine but make sure only the most important examples and experiences are included.
Tie it all together.
If you started the essay about your love of airplanes since childhood and your goal is to become an airline CEO, finish the essay by tying back to your opening paragraph. It then becomes a story, which will help the admissions committee remember you – who you are, what matters to you and why HBS is the place to set you on your path to the future.