Harvard Business School 2016 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

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Make Every Word Count.

Change has once again come to the Harvard Business School MBA application. For the upcoming 2015-26 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.

Introduce yourself.

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

2016 Application Deadlines:

Application Due    Decisions Released
Round 1     09 Sept 2015  Dec 2015
Round 2 06 Jan 2016  Mar 2016
Round 3 04 Apr 2016  May 2016

Watch the webinar!

Linda Abraham By , 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.

Related Resources:

• What Does Harvard Business School Want?
• Harvard Business School: The Habit of Leadership
Some HBS Stereotypes: An Interview with Ben Faw

  • AnthonyMack22

    Hi Linda,

    I am an African-American male looking to apply this upcoming season with the following profile:

    1) Full-time work experience as a paralegal.
    2) 700 GMAT with 68% Q 90% V 5 AWA 7 IR
    3) Lower Ivy with a 3.0 GPA in Business Administration. My GPA was about a 2.5 my first 2 years and then a 3.5 the last 2.
    4) Significant/consistent involvement in alumni volunteering with my high school and college in the form of participating in recruitment efforts/interviewing applicants and mentoring current students. Significant/consistent involvement in community service via volunteering for one on one mentorship opportunities.
    5) N/A.
    6) My post-MBA goal is consulting.

    I am interested in knowing what schools you think would be reasonable reaches/targets/safeties for me. Thank you.

    • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham

      Hi Anthony,
      You’re welcome.

      Reach: Kellogg, Wharton. Dartmouth
      Competitive: Yale, Duke, Cornell Johnson, Ross, Darden

      I’m not going to list safeties for you because those schools that in my book would be true safeties don’t send that many grads into consulting.

      To address possible concerns about your quant score or lack of quant skills, take classes like economics, accounting 1, and stats for business if you either didn’t have them previously or if you did poorly in them. And obviously aim for A’s.

  • Akinyemi

    1. 1.5 years as a transmission Engineer for
    Huawei (Second largest telecommunication provider ) in Nigeria. 1.5 years as Technical Process & Quality
    Manager at AT&T Wireless in Dallas Tx.

    2. 328 GRE ; Q 168 (95%) V160(84%)

    3. Undergrad at Ladoke Akintola University of
    Tech OYO, Nigeria (3.7/5.0) , Electrical Engineering , Graduate at Texas
    A&M University , Kingsville TX (4.0/4.0) , Electrical Engineering.

    4. Soccer assistant coach for my church team,
    working with Marriot hotel serving food to orphanage organizations around Dallas area and provide web infrastructure to small scale organization in Nigeria.

    5. PMP(project management professional ) , CCNP(Certified Cisco
    Networking Professional )

    6. Management Consulting with focus on Organizational
    Transformation (people, technology & systems)

  • Byron Ransom

    Hey Linda – really awesome that you provide this

    • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham

      Hi Byron,

      Thanks for the feedback!

      That quant score raised my eyebrows. Would you consider a retake?

      Have you led engagements or teams at EY?


  • Charlie


  • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham


    Even with a 750 HBS is a stretch for you.

    I suggest you consider Duke, UNC, Georgetown, UCLA, Yale, and Cornell Johnson.


  • http://www.accepted.com Linda Abraham


    While your GMAT if it comes in as anticiapted is fantastic, I don’t believe you have a competitive profile for HBS.

    I suggest you consider the following schools: Duke, Georgetown, Yale, Cornell Johnson, UNC, and UCLA.


  • Debashree Mishra

    Oh. Thanks linda.
    Please also let me know about any good school there for mba on basis of my profile.
    BTW I belong to rural India. Being the only CA in my family. Thus cost is an issue as well..

  • Ransom

    Hey Linda – really awesome that you provide this insight. Below is my information:

    1) 4.5 years in consulting with Ernst & Young – focus on performance improvement for Wealth & Asset Management firms
    2) GMAT 720 Verbal 99%, Quant 58% AWA 92%, IR 67%
    3) UNC Chapel Hill GPA 3.79 with an undergrad in Business Administration
    4) I do a lot of volunteering at the Hope Haven, which helps individuals in rehab with job applications. I have a lot of leadership in “extra curriculars” at EY if that counts (lead undergrad recruiting for UNC, lead our global knowledge sharing hub team, lead a competitive intelligence report team – all this outside of my client-facing “day job”)
    5) None
    6) I’d like to transition to one of the top three management consulting firms, with a focus on Wealth & Asset Management global growth / integration and new product assessment

    Appreciate any thoughts.
    Warm regards,

  • Charlie

    Thank you! This if for a 2+2 profile.

    1) Teacher for 2 summers. Attended a pre-MBA program at the Tuck School at Dartmouth. Intern this summer at top 5 CPG company.

    2) 327 GRE. 89.5%.
    3) Harvard, 3.69 GPA, History, Class of 2016.
    4) Significant leadership experience. Founded a national magazine to promote intercollegiate dialogue. Spans nearly 20 colleges and readership in hundreds of thousands globally.
    5) N/a
    6) Career in journalism or marketing. Not set in stone.