HBS Changes Essays for 2013 Applications – Holy Crap?

So… looks like HBS threw us all a curveball this year, eh? Two essays? 400 words each?! B-school applicants around the world are reeling at the news.

“How am I supposed to say everything I have to say in only 800 words?!?!”

Never fear, folks; the rules of the game have NOT changed.

All HBS has REALLY done is eliminated one essay, and pushed the other one forward in time a bit. The logistics and strategy for picking your topics (for all THREE essays) will not change.  Your approach here will be the same it is for every other school you apply to this year. You will still want to find your greatest hits. No matter what the questions are, you’ll ALWAYS stick with your greatest hits.

Tell us something you’ve done well.  This is a gimme, a “slow change up down the middle.”  They may as well have said, “Describe to us the coolest thing you’ve ever done.”  Here is a no brainer. It is your chance to shine.  Your “money shot,” so to speak. CRUSH this one with the best story from your past that you’ve got.

Tell us something you wish you had done better.  Again, an easy question. In fact, it’s very typical by MBA standards.  Essentially, “describe a time you failed.”  You will want to IGNORE this question as best as you can, and simply stick to your greatest hits. Yes, you need to comment on a failure… but that failure needs to ultimately lead to success of some kind. “I really wish I hadn’t done that, but I learned something huge along the way and the next time I was faced with the same problem, I totally nailed it.”

Interview Reflection.  Now, here’s where it gets INTERESTING, folks.  After all, you will perhaps be interviewed by a craaazy alum.  Adcoms know this, and will care less about what the interviewer reports (since it is clearly so subjective). But they WILL look at your essay as it is — an ESSAY.  It must STAND ALONE.  Here is your chance to share some OTHER information that you haven’t touched on elsewhere.  You won’t have much time to do it, but those of us who are being clever will take advantage of this opportunity to share juuust a bit more info with the ADCOM, not simply rehash what you said to the interviewer.  Why?  The interview is DONE, but the adcom will look at this essay.  Approach this essay as an ESSAY, and not some kind of running commentary.  Not some kind of “man, I wish I had said this.”  To simply use this essay as a chance to rehash, or restate pieces from your interview that you wish had gone better would be an epic failure.

When it’s all said and done, the new HBS essay questions do not change the game. They only…tweak it a little. So stick to the plan, folks. Whether you have 800 words or 5,000 words, you’ll always want to consider your GREATEST HITS. Give the HBS adcom the best you’ve got, and it’s all gonna be OK.

Still worried? Check out our HBS 2012-2013 Essay Analysis.

The Tuesday Q&A: Explaining “Fit” in an MBA Application