Change has once again come to the Harvard Business School MBA application. For the upcoming 2015-16 application cycle, there is now one required essay. For the last two years, it has been optional. Also the prompt has changed.
As it did last year, Harvard does not suggest a word limit. It leaves it to your judgment. The operative word is judgement. Harvard has in the past requested a significant amount of information in the boxes on its application and last year (this year’s app isn’t live yet.) there were significant word and character limits.
Also, HBS has virtually the same deadlines this year as last. Its round 1 deadline is so far the earliest at September 9, 2015.
There is one question for the Harvard MBA Class of 2018. Here it is:
It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.
Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.
We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.
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.
While the advice offered on the site is good, I also want to quote from additional information Dee Leopold gave on her blog as to why they chose this question:
• It’s just about as straightforward and practical as we can make it. It gives you a chance to tell your story however you choose. Imagine simply saying it out loud. This is what we mean when we’ve been encouraging you to use your own “voice” when approaching this part of the application. We have no pre-conceived ideas of what “good” looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.
• It’s useful. You will actually be introducing yourself to classmates at HBS.
Tell us again what the essay is for?
• For you: an opportunity to pause and reflect. Business school is a big experience – it’s exciting, it’s an unknown, it’s a beginning, it’s an investment in your future. Stopping to reflect and gather your thoughts in writing is a useful exercise. That’s not just our opinion – it’s what we hear from students all the time.
• For us: a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations.
I think the last element that I quoted is critical. “The essay is a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations”
That quote reminds me of last year’s optional HBS question:
“We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”
Finally, before you approach the question, watch the video about the HBS case method as recommended by Harvard. We embedded it above.
Note the focus on conversation in both the video and Dee Leopold’s advice. How will you start the conversation with your section mates? What would you want them to know about you? Keep in mind that the admissions committee is listening this time, and its members may want to use what you write as a starting point for the “interview conversation.”
Other important themes in the video: preparation, engagement, imaging yourself as the protagonist — the decision maker. The use of the case method as practice in decision making. If you think other elements of this video are important, please add in the comments box below.
And realize that they want this conversation starter to go beyond what’s in the rest of the application.
So what else – really and truly — do you want both the HBS admissions committee and your future section mates to know about you? What do you want to share that will show you can participate in the conversation that is the HBS classroom? The answer to that question is not something I can give or even suggest to you in a blog post aimed at the many. (For individual advice, please see Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting.) It should be different for each of you. Again, refer to the HBS criteria, as you contemplate possible topics, but the options are infinite. A few possibilities:
• Context for events described in the required elements that may be of interest to your section mates.
• Motivations for the decisions or commitments you have made.
• Challenges you have faced.
• Something you would like to do at HBS.
• More depth on an activity or commitment that is particularly important to you.
• A skill they may be useful to your section
Please don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. I am offering them to stimulate your creativity, not to shut it down.
Since I’ve been in MBA admissions consulting (over 20 years now), HBS has valued concision. And, in today’s tweet- and sound-bite-driven world, it is requiring even shorter responses, at least in the required portion of the application. Don’t take the absence of a word limit on the essay as a license for verbosity. Make every word count. If you must pull a number out of me, don’t go over 800 words. And if you can say what you need to say in less than 800 words, do so. A few caveats and warnings on the essay. It is not:
• Stanford’s “what matters most to you and why?” or Columbia’s #3.
• The kitchen sink in which you throw everything.
• An autobiography.
Post- Interview Reflections
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.