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HBS Three Accomplishments – Again

July 02, 2009 :: Admissionado Team

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

The Harvard App is cool because Harvard knows they’re number 1, and they don’t need applicants to waste their time telling them why they think that. So their essay questions, it stands to reason, are lean. “Impress us, and do it fast.”

The 3 accomplishments question is hard as heck because in most cases, you have roughly 200 words to deal with a single accomplishment. In that space, you have to address not only WHAT the accomplishment was, but also address WHY you just picked it as one of your top 3 of all time. So, 100 words-ish for each piece. [so far, this has been 100 words already.]

So how do you pull this off?

Rhythm and balance can be important here. First off, figure out a way to describe the accomplishment as quickly as you can. It may feel different because whenever you’ve told it before, or written about it elsewhere, you’ve had the luxury of MORE WORDS to set the thing up, and really milk all the details. Well, you DON’T have that luxury here, so retool. Don’t CRAM the 500 word version into 100. It won’t work.

Instead, focus on these aspects:

(1) THE CHALLENGE. present as quickly as you can the reason the task in question might have been difficult to pull off. my job was to XXX and it was going to be a challenge because of YYY. don’t use THAT structure, just consider the logic there and hit those points.

(2) THE ACCOMPLISHMENT. quickly, indicate HOW you were successful. metrics here help. any crisp measure to show us what made it successful.

And that’s it. For the first part. 2 pieces. That should keep you within 100 safely.

Why do you view them as such?

Now, for the second half of a particular accomplishment, you need to REVEAL (not make a case for, but REVEAL) why this was significant to you. PERSONAL STAKES. The accomplishment will only be somewhat cool by itself, but figure that everyone applying to Harvard is doing impressive stuff in their sleep. This is your chance to give the reader insight into what you value and why. In 100 words (or whatever), SHARE… REVEAL… LET US IN ON THE SECRET… as to why you view this is a major accomplishment. DO NOT make an argument for why we SHOULD be impressed. If you’ve done it correctly, you’ve already accomplished that by setting up the challenge clearly, and then telling us how you conquered it.

Most folks make the mistake of trying to INSIST on the reader (possible Family Guy reference?) why their accomplishment was an accomplishment. It should be self-evident in your first 100 words.

As far as picking 3 things, try to cobble together a roster that surprises us as much as impresses us. Don’t write about three things that more or less repeat the same skill or interest, while we may conclude that you are PARTICULARLY badass in field X, we are more likely to wonder if that’s the ONLY field you’re good at. Dimensionality is good. Pick things that are of personal importance to you, that show us multiple sides of who you are.

And do it fast 🙂