UPDATE: THE TIPS FOR 2010 HBS 2+2 MBA PROGRAM ARE NOW AVAILABLE. PLEASE POST QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS TO THE NEW POST.
July 1, 2009 (5 p.m. EST)
September 15, 2009
HBS will this year accept either the GMAT or the GRE from 2+2 applicants.
Last year, 2+2 had two required questions and offered a choice of topics for two additional required questions. This year, three questions are required, and HBS offers choice on just one question.
1-What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)
This is practically Harvard‘s signature question. It has been around for years, and it goes to the heart of Harvard’s values. Harvard wants highly accomplished students entering its program. It wants leaders.
At least two of the three accomplishments should show leadership and/or teamwork with the emphasis being on leadership. I also like to have this essay show some breadth. My ideal would be to have one professional/internship, one community, and one personal accomplishment in this essay, but that breakdown is neither set in stone nor imperative.
2-What would you like us to know about your undergraduate academic experience? (400-word limit)
Optional for regular applications, this question is required for 2+2 applicants. When introduced, I thought this query was going to produce monotonous, boring pieces, but it didn’t. To my pleasant surprise, I reviewed several responses as part of our quality control program, and they were revealing, excellent essays. Your topics will clearly vary depending on your experience and the rest of your application, but my ideal answer will discuss a leadership experience from your undergrad career to show that you are a natural leader. Remember: HBS wants to develop leaders, not createthem. It should complement your other essays and reveal another dimension to your personality and experience.
3-What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)
People of initiative err. They must learn from those mistakes to be effective leaders. A friend went to her daughter’s graduation and quoted the valedictory address, “In school you learn lessons and then take tests. In life, you have tests and then learn lessons.” If you view your mistakes as experiments, lessons, or tests, you can grow and make sure you don’t repeat them. Show HBS through this essay that you are the kind of person who learns from your mistakes.
Again, preferably have this essay reveal your mistake in a leadership role, and then applying lessons learned in a sphere of your life not covered by other essays. In the best HBS applications, each essay uncovers a different facet of the applicant and his or her experience. Together they paint a portrait of a dynamic, talented leader with initiative and exceptional ability.
Please also respond to one of the following (400-word limit each):
-Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
New question. Harvard does not just want “engagement.” It desires leadership, impact and initiative. Look to team projects, sports teams, bands, clubs, and other organizational commitments where you have had impact. Discuss your role and the results of your “engagement.”
-What area of the world are you most curious about and why?
New question. The “why” part of this question is far more important than the “what.” In responding avoid boring declarative sentences like “I am most interested in Zimbabwe because…” Perhaps present symbols of the region, something personally meaningful to you that you can explain, or a story illustrating your interest to open your essay.
-What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
Harvard is one of the few, if not the only, top business school that has made the goals question optional. And even this one is a little different than the typical “What do you want to do and why do you want to do it?” The interesting twist to Harvard’s question is “career vision.” With Harvard’s focus on strategy, Harvard is asking you to develop your career strategy and discuss its importance to you. But don’t leave your answer on an entirely theoretical plane. Bring it down to earth with your plan for implementing that vision. In other words writing that you seek “a career leading an innovative enterprise, providing work-life balance, and allowing me the opportunity to contribute to my community” sounds great. But it will also sound a lot like other people’s visions. You need to have some idea of how to achieve that vision, define it more narrowly, and explain why it resonates with you.
For more on the concept of vision, please see “The Parable of the Three Stone Masons.” I believe that HBS is attempting to identify those who are like the third stonemason — perhaps with less religious fervor, but with well… that kind of vision. They are still working hard, with feet on the ground, but they radiate enthusiasm for a distant goal and pride in their ability to contribute to something much larger than themselves.
Other resources to help you with your Harvard Business School MBA application:
- The Consultant`s Guide to MBA Admission, an ebook by Cindy Tokumitsu and me with a focus on Harvard.
- MBA BlastOff: 45 Terrific Tips to Launch Your MBA Application to Acceptance, an ebook by Maxx Duffy and me with tips for H/S/W.