Skip to content

Harvard Application Essays Mba

HBS students at graduation

On March 22, Max Wibaux made a quiet exit from his office in Kansas City just before noon EST. He drove the five minutes to his apartment, rushed to his computer and then sat briefly paralzyed in front of the screen, desperately wanting to know if Harvard Business School would admit him and not so desperately wanting to know if it didn’t.

Wibaux, marketing manager for Russell Stover chocolates, had invested a lot of time and energy in the decision. By his own estimate, the 30-year-old native of France spent nearly 50 hours over two to three months on as many as 30 drafts of his HBS essay. He also wrote essays for Stanford GSB, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and INSEAD.

“I had gone home at lunch time because I knew the posting would go up at noon on the dot,” he recalls. “So I went home, turned on my computer and stared at it for a number of minutes until I watched the clock roll past 12. I was so hesitant to push the button to see what my status was. I finally clicked on it and then jumped up and down.”

THE HARDEST PART OF HIS HBS ADMIT? KEEPING QUIET THAT AFTERNOON IN THE OFFICE

The latest edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus costs $61.49

He spent the next hour at home, relaying the good news of his HBS acceptance to family and friends. The hardest part of the experience was returning to his office that afternoon, with the widest grin he ever wore on his face, and not sharing the news with anyone other than his boss and his second recommender, the only two people at his employer who knew he had applied to Harvard’s MBA program.

Wibaux will start the MBA program on Aug. 28, but since his acceptance into HBS, he has been involved in a rather unique exercise: Reviewing the essays of recently successful applicants to HBS for inclusion in the just published summer 2017 edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard.

At first, Wibaux merely volunteered to share his own essay. But when the newspaper’s leadership team found out that Wibaux boasts nearly 10 years of Brand Management experience working for GlaxoSmithKline, L’Oreal, Reckitt Benckiser, and Lindt & Sprüngli, he was drafted as the new product manager for The Harbus.

29 ESSAYS FROM 29 NEWLY ADMITTED STUDENTS TO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

His conclusion from reading nearly 50 essays, 29 of which are included in the new guidebook?  “It would have taken a lot of the nervousness out of the process to see the wide range of essays out there,” says Wibaux. I was going off the premise that I just wanted to do my own thing. The reason why I went through so many iterations is I didn’t know what I was up against. I think I could have cut by drafts in two.”

The 29 submissions in the new guidebook, available for downloading at just over $60, are just a small fraction of all the 941 essays written by successful candidates who will become students at HBS by months’ end, of course. But they are representative of a wildly diverse student body from all walks of life, all industries, functions and geographies, and all ways of thinking. They come from HBS-bound applicants in Pakistan, India, the Ivory coast, Zimbabwe, and Egypt, among other places. They were written by people who worked in oil and gas, healthcare, nuclear engineering, transportation and community service, not merely consultants and financiers. The stories vary greatly as well, from a student who delivers a first-hand account of how it feels to run a triathlon to another who candidly describes a serious bout of depression that led to suicidal thoughts.

Ultimately, the real benefit of the guide is not that it will teach future applicants how to expertly craft the perfect HBS essay that will gain them an admit. Instead, like Wibaux himself learned, you may not have to be nearly as fussy as you think when answering the HBS prompt “what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”

‘YOU CAN HAVE A KILLER ESSAY BUT GET REJECTED IF YOUR APPLICATION IS WEAK’

Incoming HBS student Max Wibaux

That’s because this inside peek at winning essays will allow you to read well-crafted writing worthy of The New Yorker as well as fairly unremarkable essays that could have been written for a college freshmen intro class. What you can’t know is how important these essays were in Harvard’s admission decisions.

“It has been said over and over again that the essay is just one component,” concedes Wibaux. “So yes you can have a killer essay but if the application is weak, it won’t make a difference. Or conversely you can have a bad essay but still get in. Even so, it’s the only chance for you to get your story across in a way that is not formatted by the admissions committee. It is one of the few pieces in there that is truly in your own voice. It is purely you.”

Some of the successful applicants who forked over their essays to The Harbus make even Wibaux look like a piker for his 25 to 30 drafts. Almost all the essays in the book are the result of days, if not weeks, of work and multiple iterations. One 2+2 candidate from Canada, who had worked as a consultant, claims to have powered through 75 versions of the essay over a period of 50 to 60 solid hours of effort. The French Canadian even consulted a  a psychologist to help him write his 963 words with with deep introspection.

A SUCCESSFUL INDIAN APPLICANT OFFERS SOME KEY TAKEAWAYS

Not surprisingly, many were highly methodical in their approach. A successful round one applicant from India who applied to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Chicago Booth say she started thinking about his esays in June. “I laid out my entire life on a linear storyline and starting hunting for defining moments that I could talk about,” he explains. On Stanford’s iconic “what matters most to you and why” prompt, he invested three to four weeks and did eight to ten iternations. On his HBS essay, he spent four to six weeks, with as many as a dozen drafts.

Starting Harvard’s MBA program later this month, he shares key takeaways:

  • Spend adequate time brainstorming for defining moments and discuss them with someone who knows you really well
  • Adopt a simple writing style, with short sentences and cause-effect relations clearly laid out. Run a grammar/text bloat test towards the end.
  • Don’t read into the feedback you get from your reviewers too much. Often times feedback will be contradictory. Go with what you think is best.
  • Wrap up the essays at least two weeks before submission and lay primary emphasis on other elements of your application – CV, referrals, short responses.
  • Take time to discuss your application with your recommenders and prime them with interesting instances they can talk about while writing you referrals.

Harvard Business School MBA Essay Topic Analysis 2017-2018

As we announced recently, Harvard Business School has released its MBA essay question for the 2017-2018 application season. For the second year running, HBS asks applicants to expand on their overall application. The school is also maintaining its post-interview reflection, which will require those who reach the interview stage to submit a reflection essay within 24 hours following their interviews with the admissions committee.

2017-2018 Harvard Business School Essay Topic Analysis

Let’s take a closer look at the essay question:

Essay 1

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? (No word limit) 
This year’s essay leaves applicants with a completely open field, but you can start by considering who HBS states they are looking for: students with a habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship. The first step is for you to assess how you best embody these qualities, and how you may elaborate on them outside of your other application materials, including your recommendations, test scores and undergraduate records.

Of these three categories, leadership should be a priority focus. When evaluating an applicant’s credentials, HBS has traditionally been very focused on leadership qualities as well as the impact that the applicant has had on a project, group, or company. Thus, as you brainstorm potential topics for this essay, it might be useful to think about any quantifiable positive change you’ve created that is not adequately described in your other materials. You might explain the magnitude of a professional or personal accomplishment noted on your résumé, for instance. You could also choose a particularly meaningful activity or project and share why it is important to you, especially given your personal or professional goals.  Keep in mind, however, the only real directive from the committee: sharing “what more” you want the reader to know about your file. For this reason, applicants could do well to spend extra time fine-tuning their résumés and working with their recommenders in order to ensure that the essay topic does not overlap with anecdotes or qualities already covered in their other materials.

Given the open-ended length, it is possible to cover more than one meaningful activity, project or accomplishment. However, the fact that HBS has been consistently trimming down its essay set in recent years likely indicates that a 1,000-word essay would be unwelcome. Moreover, it may be tempting to draft a lengthy essay on traditional subjects such as your career goals, greatest successes, and interest in the school; however, your need for an MBA or specific career goals may be adequately covered in your other materials. This should help to narrow your focus, select your topic and craft a succinct essay. You should take care to steer clear of simply “recycling” essays from HBS’s peer schools, such as Stanford or Wharton, as the adcom will probably spot such an essay based on the highly unfocused nature of the HBS prompt and will not respond positively.

Post-Interview Reflection

In line with the policy instituted in the 2012-2013 season, applicants who are invited to interview will be asked to write a reflection about their interview experience. This essay must be submitted within 24 hours of completing the interview.  Additional instructions regarding the reflection will be sent to applicants who receive interview invitations.

To help draft this reflection, applicants would be wise to jot down some notes immediately after interviewing so that they can later refer to a clear record of what was discussed as well as what, if anything, they would have liked discuss but did not get a chance to cover. When it comes time to write the essay, applicants should approach their response as if they are crafting a closing argument to their application.

You’ll want to take inventory of the message you’ve conveyed throughout your application materials (essay, résumé, data forms, etc.) and your interview, and then write your reflection with an eye towards emphasizing the key attributes of your candidacy. Lastly, the 24-hour turnaround means that this reflection will require a focused effort from applicants as well as some careful advance planning.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Harvard MBA essay topics. As you work on your Harvard MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s HBS offerings:

Posted in: Admissions Tips, Essay Tips & Advice, Essay Topic Analysis, Essay Topics, Essays

Schools: Harvard Business School

Related