Harvard Business School Admissions Essay 2016

Are you planning to apply for the Class of 2018 at Harvard Business School?


There is only one essay that HBS applicants need to write. On the surface, it looks simple. But with an acceptance rate of 11 per cent, you should already know that your essay will need to stand out for you to be considered for admission at HBS!


The question:


It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.


Introduce yourself.


Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.


We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.




Dee Leopold, Director of Admissions at HBS offered up the following advice on her blog about the question:


Why do we like it?


• It’s just about as straightforward and practical as we can make it. It gives you a chance to tell your story however you choose. Imagine simply saying it out loud. This is what we mean when we’ve been encouraging you to use your own “voice” when approaching this part of the application.  We have no pre-conceived ideas of what “good” looks like. We look forward to lots of variance.


• It’s useful. You will actually be introducing yourself to classmates at HBS. 

Why did we drop the “optional” option?


• We were trying to signal that the essay wasn’t The Most Important Element of the application so we thought saying “optional” might accomplish that. But, this season, every applicant submitted a response. We get it. You want to tell us things.


Tell us again what the essay is for?


• For you: an opportunity to pause and reflect. Business school is a big experience -  it’s exciting, it’s an unknown, it’s a beginning, it’s an investment in your future. Stopping to reflect and gather your thoughts in writing is a useful exercise. That’s not just our opinion -  it’s what we hear from students all the time.


• For us: a chance to get to know you beyond the elements of the application that feel fixed and stationary. Can also be a starting point for interview conversations.




First, a couple of notes on what this essay IS NOT:


  •  A summary of your résumé/professional experience. The admissions officers have already read your résumé, seen your GMAT/TOEFL/IELTS scores, et cetera. You need to offer something new in this essay that will add value to your application.
  • Your life history. The admissions officers don’t want to know that you played baseball for a year in junior high, and then learned to play the trumpet, and then went to university, and then made a lot of friends in university, and then had a part time job in university, and then graduated from university... (you get my point, I hope!). The essay needs to have a clear purpose.


How should you approach this essay question? 


The thing that stands out to me most in the advice above from Ms Leopold are the words “tell a story.” Stories are engaging and memorable, and allow the reader/listener to get to know a few intimate details about you. They spark an emotional reaction within us and stir curiosity. The story you tell is a possible starting point for interview questions if you are considered for admission. Ms Leopold said in her blog: “We look forward to lots of variance.” They want your personal story – something that shows your uniqueness.


So, how can you tell your story?


Although there is no word limit, don't think you need to write a novel. Writing too much may actually be detrimental. You know that friend of yours who takes 10 minutes to tell a story that could have been told in 30 seconds? Don't be that person!


You need to think carefully about the story you want to tell, and write that story succinctly. If it takes you 500 words, great. If it takes you 800 words, no problem. In general, however, it would be wise to keep this essay below 1,500 words.


The following are suggestions about possible starting points for this essay. These are not the only topics you should consider; rather, these are meant to inspire you to think deeply about own personal experiences so that you can choose which of your stories you want to share with the admissions committee at HBS:


·               Personal or professional challenges you have overcome

·               What has motivated you thus far in your career/life

·               Special skills you have that will be of interest to your classmates

·               Your future goal(s)

·               What you hope to do at HBS, and how that relates to your background

·               A transformative experience you had that influenced you/your life



Let's say you decide you want to talk about your future goal. 


Here is an (awful) example of an excerpt of an introduction for an essay that is not engaging at all:


I worked for a non-profit organisation called One Laptop Per Child in Africa for three years. I saw many things that needed improvement. Therefore, I want to study more about management practices so that I can take on more of a leadership role at this organisation in the future... 


Here is that same excerpt example, approached as a story:


While working at the One Laptop Per Child program in Rwanda, I met a young boy named Habimana. He came from a small village of less than 100 people, all of whom had never even heard of the Internet. As a foreigner in Rwanda, it was easy for me to assume that Habimana's life would be greatly improved with this piece of technology on which most of Western society has come to depend. However, through many discussions with Habimana and his family, I have come to realise that my assumption may have been incorrect...

See the difference? This introduction is engaging and makes me want to know more. Why did the writer's experience with Habimana change his views on technology? And how does he expect that his experience at HBS will help him to make changes within his organisation in the future?


In general, be clear, concise, engaging, and show the admissions committee who you are through your unique story.


Best of luck with your writing!




The deadline for round 2 applications for HBS is 6 January, 2016, with results available in March. The deadline for round 3 applications is 4 April, 2016, with results available in May. 



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