The Admissions Office at Harvard Business School (HBS) has announced updates for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle. The most important update is that if you plan to apply to HBS and have yet to take an entrance exam, you should take the traditional GMAT test (including the AWA) or the GRE. HBS will not accept the GMAT Focus Edition exam because it will not be available until after the Round 1 deadline. This will eliminate any confusion that might occur across Rounds 1 and 2.
The essay prompt and word limit will remain the same, at a maximum (not necessarily a requirement) of 900 words. The team also indicates that if you can tell your story in 500 words, that’s fine too.
Harvard will continue being one of the few, if not the only, school with just two rounds (September and January). HBS uses an April deadline exclusively for HBS 2+2, its deferred admission program.
Let’s talk about Harvard’s MBA application
On to the Harvard MBA application and essay question itself: HBS clearly likes the responses it has received to the past several years’ excellent essay question because this year’s question is identical. The essay is again required, and there is a 900-word limit
Harvard Business School MBA essay tips
There is one question for the HBS Class of 2026:
As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?
The website provides the following advice as well:
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.
Before you begin to complete your application I have two suggestions for you:
- Review Harvard’s criteria for admission, and its MBA Application Tips: Essay video.
- Watch the embedded video on the case method at HBS.
This is a great essay question. It allows you to choose what you want the school to know about you without having to fit that information into a framework required by a question that doesn’t really align with your story. It also allows you to demonstrate judgment and communication skills, which are critical given Harvard’s residential culture, study groups, and case method. Finally, this essay is a chance for HBS to get to know you beyond your resume and the limited (and limiting) boxes. In fact, as Chad Losee says in his essay tip video, they want to get to know you through your essay. That’s the essay’s purpose.
Now THINK. What else – really and truly – do you want Harvard Business School to know about you? The HBS admissions committee has told you what they want to know in the other sections of the application. “What more” do you want the HBS readers to know?
Please note that your essay has to be additive. “What more” are the key words in the prompt. It shouldn’t be a resume in prose. And it shouldn’t be a series of vague generalities and assertions that would apply to many others. Finally, it can’t be a series of anecdotes with no meaning or significance associated with the experiences. It should reflect at least part of your unique story, the part that you want HBS to know. Finally, your essay should reflect your motivations, values, and dreams.
The answer to HBS’ question is not something I can give or even suggest to you in a blog post aimed at the many (for individual guidance, please see Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting). It must 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:
- Provide context for events described in the required elements.
- Delve into your motivations for the decisions or commitments you have made.
- Discuss experiences that shaped your dreams for the future, which might just benefit enormously from an HBS education (caveat: HBS doesn’t ask why you want to attend Harvard, so don’t make this a central theme of your essay).
- Examine challenges you have faced. These could be personal challenges, or perhaps interpersonal challenges.
- Envision something you would like to accomplish at HBS.
- Provide more detail about an activity or commitment that is particularly important to you.
Please don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. I am offering them to stimulate your creativity, not to shut it down.
If one thing is true, it is that HBS has valued concision. And, in today’s tweet- and sound-bite-driven world, it is requiring short responses in the other portions of the application. Don’t take this essay’s generous word limit as a license for verbosity. Make every word count, no pun intended.
A few cautions and warnings regarding this essay – it is NOT:
- Stanford’s “what matters most to you and why?” essay
- The kitchen sink in which you throw everything
- An autobiography
- A resume in prose or a rehash of your transcript and honors
- An ode to the awesomeness of Harvard (The admissions committee doesn’t need you to tell them they have a great institution that you would be honored to attend. They’ve heard it before.)
For expert guidance on your HBS application, check out Accepted’s MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the HBS application. Looking to score some scholarship money while you’re at it? Accepted’s clients received over $3.5 million dollars in scholarship offers in the most recent application cycle. Explore our services for more information on how Accepted can help you get into HBS.
Harvard Business School 2023-24 application deadlines
|September 6, 2023
|December 6, 2023
|January 3, 2023
|March 27, 2024
* Applications must be submitted online by 12 noon Boston time.
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***
HBS class profile [Class of 2024]
Here’s a look at HBS’s Class of 2024 taken from the Harvard Business School website:
Number of applications: 8264
- United States: 62%
- Asia: 14%
- Europe: 9%
- Mexico, Central & South America: 5%
- Canada: 4%
- Africa: 3%
- Middle East: 3%
- Oceania: 1%
US minorities: 52%
Average GPA: 3.70
Average years work experience: 5.0
Percent of class taking GMAT: 74%
- Verbal range: 29– 51
- Quantitative range: 34 – 51
- Total range: 540–790
- Median verbal: 42
- Median quantitative: 48
- Median total: 730
Percent of class taking GRE: 30%
- Verbal range: 147 – 170
- Quantitative range: 150–170
- Median verbal: 163
- Median quantitative: 163
Breakdown of undergraduate majors (137 domestic universities and 158 international universities)
Breakdown of pre-MBA industries
|Venture Capital/Private Equity
Sample Harvard Business School Essays from Admitted HBS Students
Even after having read hundreds of HBS essays, I still found it worthwhile to read The 2020 Harbus MBA Essay Guide. For applicants who have preconceived notions of what an admissible essay should be, The Essay Guide will open your eyes to 22 successful and different responses. For applicants who are wondering how on earth they should approach their essay, the guide will give them 22 different answers.
For me it reinforced several valuable lessons:
- There really is no template for a successful HBS essay. The diversity of essays that are acceptable — no pun intended, well maybe a little intended — to Harvard Business School is striking.
- The commitment of most of the authors to telling their story is also noteworthy. Several said they asked friends to confirm that the essay really mirrors them. Others wrote that they were determined that the essay present an authentic portrait of them.
- Most of the students wrote the essay over the course of months. Give yourself time to draft a persuasive, introspective, and authentic essay.
Harvard’s question is a fantastic one. It is a probing one. And it requires you to probe yourself so that you can provide a profound reflection of you as you tell the HBS admissions committee what you really want them to know.
A successful Harvard Business School application essay 
This sample essay is from The Harbus MBA Essay Guide and is reprinted with permission from Harbus.
Essay: Vulnerable But Invincible
Home country: USA
Previous industry: Consulting
The author takes a rather bold approach here. She uses the essay to point to the times when she showed vulnerability in the workplace. This essay presents a strong example of how an essay can be used to complement different aspects of your personality – while resume and application can be used to highlight accomplishments, the essay has been intelligently used to show author’s capacity to be strong enough to talk about situations when she broke down in a professional capacity, but took lessons from each of these situations and employed them to her strength.
I have cried exactly four times at work.
The first time was early in my career. It was 2AM and I was lying in bed struggling with an Excel model. An overachiever my whole life, I was wholly unused to the feelings of inadequacy and incompetence bubbling up inside me. After clicking through dozens of Excel forums with still no right answer, I gave up and cried myself to sleep, vowing to never let myself feel so incapable again.
The second time was a year and a half later. I was unsatisfied with my project and role, and questioning my decision to be a consultant. That uncertainty must have been apparent to everyone, because my manager pulled me aside and bluntly told me that my attitude was affecting the entire team. I cried in front of him, devastated that I had let my doubts bleed into my work.
The third time was just a year ago. I was overseeing a process redesign and struggling to balance the many changes needed. The Partner called me into his office to say, “I’m worried our process is not as sound as it needs to be. I need to know that you care about this as much as I do.” I nodded, say that I do, then ran to the bathroom to cry, overwhelmed by how much change I knew was coming.
Each of the first three times was driven by frustration and anger. I had tamped down my emotions to the point where they overwhelmed me. Particularly as a young woman in business, I never wanted to be viewed as a stereotype or incapable. I was ashamed of my tears and terrified at how others would perceive me.
However, each of those experiences proved to be a turning point. My tears motivated me to ask for help when I needed it, pushed me to restructure my mindset and approach, and gave me a moment to breathe, rebalance, and reprioritize. In each case, my work was better for it. I have also used each experience as a learning moment. Each time I asked myself what decisions led me to the point of tears, and what I could have done differently. I could have raised my hand earlier for help, initiated a conversation with my manager about my uncertainty and dissatisfaction, or involved the Partner more actively in the planning and prioritization. While I can’t change the past, I can learn from it, and am more considerate of such outcomes when I make these decisions today.
Emotions are an inevitable part of the human experience, and as such, an inevitable part of the office. Rather than keeping them at bay, I have begun embracing my emotions to be a better manager and leader, and build more authentic connections. As a manager, I understand my team as people, not just colleagues. I have regular conversations with each of my team members to understand their individual goals and motivations, so I can take those into consideration when building the team structure and delegating responsibilities. As a leader, I invest in traditions and events that foster camaraderie and high morale. I am the proud founder of [NAME OF OFFICE PROGRAM] in the office, a beloved tradition that is now an integral part of the office and that I hope will continue even after I leave.
The fourth time I cried was at the rollout of a process redesign I oversaw. This was our first time demo-ing the new process end-to-end for the rest of the team. As the demo progressed, I felt the team’s energy turn from nervous anticipation to dawning excitement, and finally to sheer awe and amazement. As the demo ended, one of my teammates turned to me, and asked in a hushed voice, “Are you crying?” And I was. This time, I cried not with frustration or anger. This time, I cried with joy for our success and with pride for my team. Embracing my emotions allowed me to show that tears are not shameful and don’t need to be hidden in the workplace. I am no longer ashamed of my tears, and I am proud to demonstrate that a strong leader can be pragmatic and emotional all at once.
Word count: 705
“I started early on my essay (~ 3 months before the submission deadline) because it was important to me to iterate and be thoughtful. I started by laying out potential themes and stories for my essay, and while there are a lot of similarities, the core message changed quite a bit. Don’t get too attached to any one story or theme and allow yourself to let go of a draft if it’s not the right one. What I found most helpful was having 2-3 close friends that I trust wholeheartedly review multiple drafts, because they were able to provide continuous feedback and help me combine pieces from multiple drafts. None of them had ever gone to or applied to business school, but were experienced in writing and communication (e.g. one is a screenwriter) which helped me focus on communicating MY story more so than what is the story that HBS Admissions would most like.”
Are you considering applying to business school?
We have the resources to help you navigate the options and make the right choice for you:
- M7 MBA Programs: Everything You Need to Know
- What It Takes to Get Accepted to HBS, Stanford GSB, and Wharton
Is HBS at the top of your wish list?
Get the competitive edge with HBS-specific advice and inside information:
- “I Wish the Admissions Committee Had Asked Me…”: How to answer open-ended MBA essay questions
- What Harvard Business School Is Looking For: Engaged Community Citizenship
- What Harvard Business School Is Looking For: Analytical Aptitude and Appetite
- What Harvard Business School Is Looking For: The Habit of Leadership
- 7 Important Tips for Your HBS Post-Interview Reflection
Hear directly from Harvard alumni in these inspiring blog posts:
- An MBA Success Story Reflects on His HBS Experience, 7 Years Later, podcast Episode 419
- A Harvard MBA’s Experience & Advice on Writing the Perfect Essay, podcast Episode 375
- Entrepreneurship at HBS: How Stride Will Help You Fund Your Future, podcast Episode 341
- How to Leverage an HBS Education: The Story of LeverEdge, podcast Episode 313
- Ida Valentine: Investment Banker, Inspirational Speaker, HBS 2021, podcast Episode 311
- The Journey from India to Harvard MBA, podcast Episode 220
Do you need help gaining admission to HBS or any other top MBA program? That’s what we do! Explore our MBA Admissions Consulting Services and work one-on-one with an experienced admissions advisor who will help you GET ACCEPTED.
As the former executive director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School and assistant dean of admissions at Georgetown’s McDonough School and the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School, Kelly Wilson has 23 years’ experience overseeing admissions committees and has reviewed more than 38,000 applications for the MBA and master’s programs in management of information systems, computational finance, business analytics, and product management. Want Kelly to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!