This HBS MBA Application tip post is one of a series of posts providing MBA application and essay advice for applicants to top MBA programs around the world. Check out the entire 2012 MBA Application Tips series for more valuable MBA essay advice.
The Harvard MBA application is now online. While it still consists of four questions, all are new this year. Furthermore instead of elective questions or choose X from Y, the fourth question is a complete wild card.
Harvard’s instructions and question are in black below; my comments and tips are in blue:
1. Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)
This is a variation on a theme. Harvard’s lead question for years queried: “What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such?”
While the word “substantial” is no longer included, I believe that omission is a nod to brevity. You only want to include substantial accomplishments in your MBA essays; there simply is no good reason to waste valuable essay real estate on the insignificant. I also encourage you to indicate why these accomplishments are important enough to include in your Harvard application. What impact did you have? What did you learn?
Like almost all MBA essays, this essay should include analysis and narrative. If an event is important enough to relate in these 600 words, your reader needs to know why it’s there. Throughout your essays, integrate perceptive insight and revealing description to create a compelling essay.
At least two of the three accomplishments should show leadership and/or teamwork with leadership dominating. I also like to see breadth in this essay. My ideal would be to have one each — personal , professional, and community — accomplishments in this essay, but that distribution isn’t mandatory.
2. Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)
“What?!? I’m an over-achieving super-hero! They want me to talk about set-backs????”
True, but real heroes are resilient. That’s the key quality you want to portray in this essay. True heroes can handle occasional failures and view them as hurdles to overcome, not as personally defining moments or the end of their dreams. Being resilient, they rebound. They learn from mistakes and sometimes even from failures. And they transform those “Oh no’s!” into just a setback, maybe even a minor one, on the road to self-improvement, growth, and achievement.
So in addition to the trio of accomplishments discussed in essay 1, write about a different trio, this time, of setbacks. But remember: “Setback” implies that you rebounded and moved forward. In your essays succinctly convey what went wrong and then portray in more detail what you did on the upswing. Finally, what lessons can you take from the experience?
3. Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)
What motivates you to earn an MBA? What do you want to do that requires an MBA? Include experiences that relate to your MBA goal. Also demonstrate that you need the transformative education provided by Harvard Business School to achieve your goals. Don’t just claim to need it; demonstrate that you need it.
4. Answer a question you wish we’d asked. (400 words)
A joker. A wild card. And entirely new. Use this essay to showcase an experience that didn’t fit into the other essays. Or use it to shine a spotlight on your non-professional side. In either case, keep in mind Harvard’s admissions criteria and the distinctive nature of Harvard’s approach to graduate business education. What about you do you most want them to know and haven’t yet told them?
Round Due Date Notification
Round 1 October 3, 2011 December 19, 2011
Round 2 January 10, 2012 March 29, 2012
Round 3 April 10, 2012 May 17, 2012
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