HBS’s Essay Questions – 2010-11

So many choices!

Harvard’s essay questions mostly resemble previous years’ applications, but there are some rich new additions to the mix.

The questions are:

What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):

1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

2. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed.

4. When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?

[We believe that analysis should always be revisited… while the questions and wording may remain the exact same as in years past, the world around us changes, often times necessitating fresh analysis. So, stay tuned… we will rip into the main questions again and again. For now, however, we wanna crack the code on the new kids on the block and tackle the OPTIONAL stuff.]

As always, you’ll want to choose the stories that will best promote your application and match you up to Harvard Business School’s profile. This can mean different things for different people (hence, the multiple options—the folks at HBS aren’t dummies!).

First, we’ll give some examples of “ideal” situations which could be used to exploit each question to its fullest, and then discuss overall strategy afterwards.

1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience? – Leadership, Leadership, Leadership. Student groups, athletics, organizations, community service… anything that will consistently show you LEADING. Doing. For example someone who was president of his or her Student Government organization, or someone who founded a university non-profit or interest-group would be an ideal choice for this question. Also if you’ve done looooooots of go-getter leadership/organizing stuff, this question can really be ideal for you; the phrasing of this question allows mention of two or even three items of importance.

2. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? – This question is ideal if your career (past and future) is extremely impressive. For example, you’ve worked for three years at McKinsey and are promised a managerial position upon your return? This one’s for you. Have a career vision and proven past in politics? Yep, this Bud’s for you. If you need a lot of space to introduce and SELL your dreams… this may not be the greatest choice because the 400 word restriction can squeeze the life out of it. And force an essay that doesn’t seem as impressive as it might in, say, the Wharton app where you have nearly twice as many words to grab a reader and take them on a journey.

3. Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed – If you choose this question you want to make sure that you aren’t doubling up with a second mistake essay that sounds too much like the other mistake essay. In fact, the two experiences should be completely separate. Good example for this one: the project you are leading (along with its requisite team of men and women) isn’t going as you’d planned. Great place for a very revealing human story (keeping in mind that this IS Harvard, and if you are trying to make the AdCom cry, it’s because you were disappointed your multi-million dollar company launch didn’t go as planned, not because your boss shouted at you). A good choice if you have very impressive results and accomplishments in spite of the frustrations. How you overcame them is the key here.

4. When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates? – You could choose this essay if you have lots of volunteer experience for example, or if you have been a professional sports player, or are an active member of your church/synagogue/mosque. Not really the place to write about your love of snowboarding, and drinking in parks :). This is a fantastic opportunity to cement that idea of “I’m the guy who…” Leave an imprint here. You wouldn’t say “I’m six feet tall, brown hair, brown eyes, and I have a heart that works along with a fully functional skeleton.” You want to be the guy who “invented XXX” or “started YYY foundation” or “spends all of his free time doing ZZZ amazingly cool thing.” While you can certainly use this space to be interesting and endearing and fun… the NET RESULT has to be that we automatically picture you as a DOER, LEADER, FUTURE SUCCESS.

Overall, in all likelihood Questions 2 and 3 will be the simplest to get the most out of: you all have career visions and dreams that you can link to your impressive career past; and for question three, it shouldn’t be too hard to dig up yet another nice achievement (while differentiated from the three accomplishments you have already mentioned).

For those who were real go-getters in their student years, question one is ideal, and question four is probably the hardest to get the most out of, unless you have a story that just KILLS whenever you tell it. A memorable app is almost always a good thing.

Oh No He Ditn’t – Punctuation