Harvard Essay Analysis 2016-17
Last updated on June 15th, 2016
This year, HBS has brought back its question from the 2014-2015 application season. And what a whopper of a question it is!
The world’s most elite B-school presents an essay prompt that is very simple and direct to all appearances. But as you have probably found out, open-ended and vague essay prompts give many MBA aspirants the jitters.
Have you worried yourself to death reading the essay question many times over?
Have you wondered what on earth makes a good answer to this prompt?
Read on..You’ll soon find yourself on solid ground again! 🙂
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?
There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.
As usual, HBS leaves the word limit to your discretion, leaving you with two questions –
1. How much to write?
2. What to write?
How much to write:
Let us start with the easier question of the two. Though HBS does not offer a word-limit, it has long preferred conciseness and clarity over meandering, prolonged narratives – indeed, which B-school wouldn’t prefer it?
Our suggestion is that you write in the range of 650 – 1000 words. There have been winning stories told at well over 1000 words, but most of the effective HBS essays we’ve seen are shorter. If you think your essay is the exception, the rare story that deserves over 1000 words, make sure that you get your essay reviewed by smart friends and/or consultants who can tell you if your essay needs cutting down.
What to write:
The very first thing to remember is that your essay should reveal your personality and your values, not your accomplishments. In short, do not make it a meandering version of your resume. Also, do not pick many accomplishments and try to weave a common theme. It will probably look forced and you could be caught out.
Rather, what you should do is read between the lines of your own profile.
Yes, you led that crazy, messed-up project in your first year at work and knocked the socks off your manager by turning it around..but what gave you the courage to take on such a difficult task in your very first year?
Yes, you were a national-level swimmer all through school and college, and you’d participated in many international events too. But how did being a sportsman positively influence your work and your relationships?
If you’re really struggling with picking a story, we suggest that you begin by compiling a ‘kitchen sink’ document, where you list down your accomplishments, big and small.
Next, in the same document, list your life and career goals.
Next, jot down any positive quality you think you possess – leadership or otherwise.
Add to the mix any significant inflection points in your life – any period of significant personal/professional change. Think about the drivers and influencers of your life at that point in time and note that down too.
Over a few days, keep adding to this list, without judgement and without reserve – until you have a laundry list of your achievements, attributes and aspirations, and the salient points of your personal development.
Now, begin the process of picking a story from all the threads you have put down. You are trying to weave a coherent story, one where your abilities meet your aspirations, and are ably supported by your past accomplishments and choices. Keep this mind as you pick a topic for your essay.
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Here are a few ideas for your story –
• Talk about the impact you hope to make, at HBS and in your life ahead. Support this by looking back and ruminating on the impact you have already made.
• Flesh out a bullet-point in your resume; however, give it context, meaning and soul.
• Write about the challenges you have faced and how they have altered your life-story.
• Talk about what activities/causes are most important to you and what you have done to contribute to these things that you care about ( If you are doing this, make sure that your essay does not sound a rehash of the answer to Stanford GSB’s ‘What matters most to you’ essay prompt.)
As your story begins to take shape, remember that your best bet is in authenticity. However, you also need to be aware of the traits that HBS values highly. The HBS identity has always been tightly coupled with leadership – this is the big one. Quoting from HBS website, they are also looking for high ‘analytical aptitude and appetite’ and ‘engaged community citizenship’
We’re not suggesting that you build your entire story on these qualities and leave out everything else. However, it is essential that you find points of intersection between who you are and what HBS wants – the greater the overlap, the better your chances are.
If you are applying to Harvard this year, there are two things we want you to internalise, before you get off the ground –
1. You should really, really personalize these essays.
HBS hasn’t given you any signposts to tell you if you’re going in the right direction.
This essay prompt does not lend itself to a template, or even to very specific advice about what to write. So, you need to use your intelligence, heart and discretion all the way (possibly throw some timely help from friends/professional consultants into the mix)!
However, we don’t mean to put you into a funk by telling you how tough this is going to be.
In fact, we at CrackVerbal believe that there’s something very beautiful about the HBS essay, something few schools offer ( usually only the elite ones) – You get to tell your story your way!
Leopold, Admissions Director at HBS, has this to say- “We have no pre-conceived ideas of what ‘good’ looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.”
Many of you probably have a gem of a story in your life, something you’re sure makes you a better person and professional – but something that does not fit naturally into the confines of a standard essay question. Well, this essay invites you to lay it out in all its glory.
Dizzying possibilities, to sum it up!
2. You should pull out all the stops!
This essay isn’t for the faint-hearted. Remember, you are trying to make arguably the best B-school in the world want you!
The truth is, the relative importance of your essays in your application, depends on the other pieces of your profile.
If your other stats and your resume are spectacular and they’ve already done most of the talking for you, your essays have a lighter job on their shoulders – they just need to present supporting evidence. You just need to ensure that your essays don’t let you down – that is, that you do not damage your candidacy by coming across as brash, ignorant, or simply annoying.
However, if your stats nearly make the cut, and your admit is in the twilight area between accept and waitlist, or waitlist and reject, that’s where your essays could really bring home the trophy.
If your other data points are simply not up to the mark, even a prize-winning piece of storytelling may not save you.
Of course, since you can never be sure where along the spectrum you lie, the only thing you can do is pull out all the stops to produce the best HBS essay you possibly can!
This kind of involvement means that you’ll probably have to devote a lot of time to drafting and fine-tuning your essays; much more time than you’d need to write a more structured ‘goals’ essay or ‘achievement’ essay. With deadlines looming in September, we recommend that you start thinking about your essays now!
We hope that this take on the HBS essays helps you frame a winning application!
If you have any feedback for us, let us know in the comments section below.
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