UPDATE: The Tips For Harvard Business School’s 2+2 2009 Application Are Now Online- Please post questions or comments on the new post.
First, compose your responses to the essays in a word processing document. Please abide by the following instructions:
* Limit your responses to the lengths indicated.
* Single-space your essays.
* Please use Times New Roman font type and 12 pt font size.
* Write the question at the top of each essay.
* Refrain from using images and/or any other nonstandard English characters in your essays. They may prevent the system from processing your application.
All applicants must answer questions 1 and 2. For question 3, please answer TWO of the six questions listed below, and upload individually your response to each of the two questions you’ve chosen.
Please note: Do not send an extra copy of your essays to our office, as this will complicate the processing of your application.
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, one community, and one personal accomplishment in this essay, but that breakdown is neither set in stone nor imperative.
2. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience? (600-word limit)
Optional for regular applications, this question is required for 2+2 applicants, plus you get an additional 200 words to write a superb, revealing essay. 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 with a history of leadership. Remember: HBS wants to develop leaders, not create them. It should complement your other essays and reveal another dimension to your personality and experience.
3. Please answer TWO of the six questions below (400-word limit each):
The first issue you must address when looking at #3, is which two do you choose. Answer: the two that, when combined with your required essays, allow you to present the most impressive, textured, and comprehensive picture of you. So if you have lived in Kansas almost all your life and have extensive leadership experience in student government, sports, and your church, perhaps #2 would not be a good question for you, but #1 might be. If you have extensive international travel, but lack a clear idea of what you want to do, then perhaps 2 & 4 are for you, but you want to pass on 3.
1. Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development. How did this experience highlight your strengths and weaknesses?
Anecdotally and briefly describe the leadership experience showing the impact you had as a leader. Explain how it highlights both your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Strive to show how this experience has influenced you in later situations. In those you also want to reveal how you have built on your leadership strengths and mitigated your weakness. That’s a lot to do in a 400-word limit. You must write succinctly.
2. How have you experienced culture shock?
This question reflects the growing importance of international business and the need for HBS students and graduates to have experience working with different cultures. When have you, either outside your home country or in your own country, dealt with someone from a different culture and been surprised by their behavior, but realized that it is perfectly normal for their culture? How did you adapt? How did you bridge the gap and successfully complete whatever you had set out to accomplish? What did you learn?
3. 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.
4. What global issue is most important to you and why?
This broad question is a bit of a trap. If you say that Issue X is the most important issue to you and you have done nothing to advocate your position, you are hurting your chances of admission. You can be for or against a wide variety of global concerns, but you want to portray yourself as a person of action and initiative. If you declare Issue X as the most important one to you, be prepared to discuss what you have done in connection with that issue.
Keep in mind this sentence from HBS’ web site, “While our students’ lives and experiences vary greatly, they all share a demonstrated capacity for leadership and a desire to effect positive change. ” [Emphasis added.] If you declare Issue X to be the most important global issue, how have you demonstrated a desire to effect positive change in regards to Issue X?
5. What else would you like the MBA Admissions Board to understand about you?
This essay is a great place to highlight a side of you or experience not discussed elsewhere in the application. This wild card question is a gift to you from the kindly folks serving on the HBS adcom so you can show another area in which you shine. And yes, if you can demonstrate leadership, do so. Do not waste it on a summary or closing sales pitch.
6. What have you learned from a mistake?
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, try to have this question reveal you making your mistake, preferably in a leadership capacity, and 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.
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.
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