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HBS Essay Analysis – Community/Organization

July 07, 2009 :: Admissionado Team

Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization. [400 words]

Seemingly straightforward, but there’s one word in there worth highlighting: ENGAGED.

This question does NOT say “Discuss your community service experience.” That word “engage” has been consciously chosen. Do not just list stuff you did as you would on a resume. When you ENGAGE with something, you are very much an active participant. There is commitment, there’s back and forth, there’s process. We want to hear about HOW that process came into being (i.e., where your passion or interest originated) and then how you acted on that interest and became involved in the activity/project.

Part of it, then, will be to establish why you were involved in the first place. We need context. When you sell us on your interest, your engagement will begin to write itself. If it starts to feel obligatory, we will know it.

Now, for the “engagement” part, focus on action… not so much results. Let me repeat that for emphasis… PROCESS, not RESULTS. (At the end, surely you can discuss any successes, but really, that aspect is not at all front and center here). The piece we’re interested in is how you act upon an interest, with an eye for contributing to something or someone other than you. Harvard is famously big on this. And really, all schools are. The “scalable” element here is the process. Walk us through decisions you made, what your plan was, why you visited so and so in person rather than calling him, why you canvassed THIS building and not THAT one, why it was important to do XX and not YY, etc etc… bring us into the play-by-play. Don’t catalogue it, make us feel like embedded reporters, watching the stuff go down as though we were right next to you.

It’s all about the process. At the end of it, we shouldn’t be stuck remembering that episode you just described, no. We will instead be saying, wow, imagine what this type of kid’s gonna do once he gets to Harvard…