Harvard Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2014-2015
As we announced recently, Harvard Business School has released its essay question for the 2014-2015 application season. Unchanged from last year, this prompt asks applicants to write only one essay, with no word limit given. HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold has suggested that some applicants may not even find the essay necessary to include in their files, thereby making this essay technically an optional one. The school has still maintained 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.
With such a broad mandate, applicants will need to be careful when deciding whether to undertake the essay and determining its topic and length. Let’s take a closer look at the essay question:
1. You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? (No word limit)
The school has provided further advice of which applicants should take note, writing, “There is no word limit for this question. 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 the 2013-2014 season, HBS traditionally asked applicants to describe at least one of their accomplishments, yet this year’s essay broadens the range of responses considerably and leaves applicants with a completely open field. Leopold specifically notes that “Maybe there will be admits this year who say we don’t need to know anything else beyond the credentials they have already submitted – for them, the application may be ‘essay-less.’” The first step is for you to assess whether you feel you fit that description, and if you believe you are represented well enough by your other application materials, including your recommendations, test scores and undergraduate records, you may not feel the essay is a necessary component of your self-presentation.
While this may well be the case for some applicants, it will still be advisable for many candidates to take advantage of this prompt. Although the essay is just one component of any application, it is the only opportunity applicants have to speak directly to the adcom in their initial materials and therefore a valuable tool for personalizing your file. If you have an element in your profile that might represent a “red flag,” such as a failed course or a long gap in your work history, it will be especially important for you decide how to make this one essay work in your favor in terms of explaining your situation in a positive light.
Considering that this prompt is the only essay that the adcom will read, it is crucial that you select an approach that allows you to highlight some of the key strengths of your candidacy. Although it may be tempting to draft a lengthy essay on traditional subjects such as your career goals, greatest successes, and interest in the school, 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. Reflecting on whether your need for an MBA or specific career goals are adequately covered in your other materials is a great starting point for narrowing your focus, selecting your topic and crafting 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.
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 else” 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.
If you’re unsure of whether you’re on the right track with your chosen topic, try speaking with a Clear Admit counselor.
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—or, in the words of HBS, “[having] the last word”—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.
Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis
Schools: Harvard Business School
While it's only one part of the application — and a mediocre essay might suffice if you're an otherwise ideal candidate — a superb essay can be the game-changer that pushes you into "yes" territory.
These essays give prospective students an opportunity to show administrators their true motives and personality, thus humanizing the dry facts that come with tests scores and a CV.
To get to know their prospective students, Harvard Business School asked applicants to answer the following question last year:
You're applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? (No word limit)
The Harbus, HBS's student newspaper, recently published a collection of successful answers in "The Essay Book." One of the best examples of a strong essay, "The Giver," is included below:
To understand what makes this such a strong HBS admissions essay, we spoke with Nabil Mohamed, editor-in-chief of The Harbus.
What else would I like you to know?
I am who I am today mostly because of my brother [name]. [name] was born when I was fouryears old, and he had an extremely rare birth defect called Robert's Syndrome. At the time, hewas one of a handful in the world to have it. He was born without arms, couldn't walk or talk,and had many other severe physical and mental defects. It was a complete shock to myparents. He was only expected to live for a day or two, but after a few weeks in the hospital hewas healthy enough to come home with us. I was too young to really understand what wasgoing on; I was just excited to have a brother.
[name] was a full-time job for us. For his entire life he was incapable of doing anything forhimself. My parents and I didn't have much, but we did have an amazing family and group offriends to support us. We couldn't have taken care of [name] without all of them, and seeingthis level of sacrifice from so many people had a huge impact on me. No one ever complained.No one ever hesitated. We just did what we had to, and I saw first-hand at a young age howimportant it is to work together and help those around you. And our family (extendedincluded), became so much closer because of how we came together for [name], and thatcloseness still holds today.
[name] ended up living for about four years, and I'm so grateful for the lessons I learned fromhim. My generosity, kindness, team work, and independence, come directly from him being inmy life. And learning to deal with that level of stress and responsibility made me a much, muchstronger person than I would have been without.
So my family and I have carried [name]'s memory with us since he passed in the form of givingto others. About ten years ago, we started a charity called [institution], whose purpose is tosupply beds and bedding to children in our area who are without. The thought was that [name]spent most of his life in bed, and if we hadn't had a decent one for him his life would have beenso uncomfortable. As of this year, we have supplied almost [number] kids with mattresses,blankets, and stuffed animals, and each year we are able to help more and more children.
This mentality of service has been a big part of my life since we started [institution], and as Igot older I wanted to start branching out to new service opportunities. And let me tell you,[city] has been a great place to start. This city has made a serious impression on me. Anyonewho's from here either loves it or hates it, but either way, [city] is the kind of place that definesa person. [city] is the underdog, full of unrealized potential. Living in a place like this hasopened my eyes to the heartache of missed opportunities (not even mentioning our sportsteams…), and it's because of this that I've become so involved in the community. I've been ableto work with so many very smart, driven people, and together we've done a lot to make apositive impact. My work with the [institution] has allowed me to help raise over [number] for small, local NFPs, and my work with the [institution] has complemented that with a morehands-on, service based focus. And being a Big Brother through [institution] has allowed me tomake a lasting, consistent impact in a more focused way.
All of these, together with working for a commercial bank, have given me a very satisfying lifebalance. I'm able to do so many things, and able to make a tangible impact in each of them. Butsometimes I do so much that I don't take the time to stop and look around - to process what'shappening. This was missing in my life. I know that the path I'd been taking was the right onefor me, I'd just never truly felt ready to move on to the next phase.
This changed this past summer when I did my first [event]. If you're not familiar with this, it's a[number] mile swim followed by a [number] mile bike and then a [number] mile run. Still seems nuts to me. I'd never done a triathlon of any kind before I signed up for this, but was sooverwhelmed by watching my friend compete in the same one the year before. I'll never forgetthe moment: I was watching a quadriplegic go up the final - and largest - hill in his wheelchair,sweating, grunting, and crying. And finishing. I'm pretty sure everyone watching that wascrying; it was one of the most moving things I'd ever seen. So I signed up.
Training for this requires a serious amount of time, most of which you're alone with yourthoughts (no music allowed during the race, so you train without). Eight hours biking, fiverunning, and two swimming, each week for seven months, is so mentally taxing, and your mindgoes to some new places. I started reflecting a lot, and really began to understand the choicesI've made and the impact they've had. I thought a lot about where I was in life, why I was there,and what I would have done differently along the way. I thought about what I wanted for myfuture, not just career-wise, but in order to be happy. And it's not so much that my viewschanged from this experience, but I feel like I've gained a new level of clarity. I'm much moreconfident in my life goals, and can pursue them with pride and conviction.
I'm now ready to move on to the next phase of my life, and am very excited to do so.
"It's just an incredibly powerful account of how someone's entire life trajectory was changed by the birth of their sibling, and how the entire community came together in a way he had never seen before," he says. "It changed [the author's] priorities. It's almost a gene-altering experience. Even if he was born a driven guy who just wanted to take care of himself, something like that is powerful enough to even change that and completely alter his priorities to dedicate his life toward helping other people. That's what I thought was powerful about the essay. It changed his nature as a person, his priorities, and his belief in the reason why he exists."
Though not all essays need to delve into such a deeply personal event as this one, it provides a shining example of what every powerful essay should aim to do: show who you are beyond your resume.
As Mohamed points out, instead of saying, "I am my achievements" or, "I am my situation," this essays says, "I am a loving brother." It adds personality to the author's application, showing who he is on a deeper level than merely where he has worked or what his undergrad GPA was.
"At the end of the day, anybody can study hard, get a couple of recommendations, do well at a company, and then submit their application," Mohamed says. "But they want to get a sense of what your priorities are, what you want to do in life, what brought you here, why you want to do this now."
The essay offers HBS applicants an opportunity to unveil their true personalities. And with no word limit, it is up to each applicant to take their own route in doing so. In fact, Mohamed points out that every essay The Harbus published was starkly different, telling each individual's story in a clear, understandable way.
Administrators already know where you went to school, what clubs you were in, and where your career has taken you so far, but they don't know how these experiences have shaped who you are today and influenced your goals and priorities. That's where the essay comes in.