Sample Hbs Application Essays For Harvard

 

Good luck to all those who submitted to HBS in Round 2! The final wave of interview invites (and the dreaded “release”) happens on Jan. 30. If you were given a Further Consideration in Round 1 then you’re likely to hear something on the final-wave day. Read up on the interview process at HBS here.

 

The Harvard MBA application guide to the Class of 2020 Harvard essay and app will help you understand what needs to be in a successful pitch. Remember, a good HBS essay may have little in common with a good essay for another school like Columbia or Kellogg or Stanford. And OMG, apps were up 6% at HBS last year?!??


 

 

Harvard 2017 MBA Essay & Recommendations – Class of 2020

The Harvard essay question will be the same this year:

“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?”

This is deceptively simple. You need to know what you bring to the table — and who you are — before you can even begin to craft a response.

This is also one of the easiest essays to unintentionally come across as disingenuous and fake. We began a series of posts on The Strategy of Authenticity which is designed to help you build an awareness for what is, and isn’t, authentic, so you can present yourself truthfully, sincerely, and with impact in your MBA apps.

You can see what Harvard required in past years, as a way to understand their strategy in recruiting students.

Harvard’s Can we just say “OUCH”??  Class of 2019 profile is INSANE. They got over 10,000 applications (which hasn’t happened since 2001) — 10,351 to be precise. That’s a 6.1% increase over their prior year. And that prior year was almost 1% more than the year before, which was 1.5% more than the year before THAT, which was 2.4%… You get the point. Hopefully you can see what you’re up against: Average GPA of 3.71, which in case you didn’t read that right is three point seven. 80% GMAT range of 700 to 770. DID YOU SEE THAT? 80% RANGE STARTS AT 700?!?? Yield is back up to 91%. Given these daunting figures, maybe you’d like to get EssaySnark’s opinion on your Harvard essay?

 

HBS 2017 MBA Dates and Deadlines

HBS MBA Admissions Deadlines

  • Interview invites will come in two batches in the first week of October (October 2nd and October 5th, to be specific). If you aren’t invited in the final batch, you’ll be “released” (that is, if they’re not going to keep you on the further-consideration list; see this post for an explanation).
  • ; interview invites will likely be issued in two waves, with the bulk of them coming on Jan. 25 and the remaining one-third of invitations to come Jan. 30; if you aren’t going to get invited, then you’ll be hearing that on the second batch release day. Those offered a deferred consideration in Round 1 should also hear something on the second-wave day.

Yes, we do recommend a Round 1 application to Harvard. Definitely. It’s still possible to make it in during Round 2 but you have a LOT more competition against you then.

Got that Harvard essay ready? See if it’s REALLY ready with our Harvard Essay Decimator!

 

Harvard MBA Recommendations

Harvard is again using semi-standardized recommender questions in 2017 — however if other schools will also stay “standardized” remains to be seen!
  • Two recommendations
  • Two questions for them to answer

We explain the concept of “standardized” recommender questions and offer an important resource for you to give to your recommenders, to make their job easier. In 2016, there was a small group including Harvard that used one version of “standardized” questions, and there was a larger group of schools using a different set of NEWLY standardized questions. (are you confused yet? yeah). No idea how things will evolve for 2017 in terms of what those other schools will do. We can say that Harvard is sticking to what it’s done for the last several years, so there’s consistency on their side.

The first issue of course is, who do you choose to write for you? We have a number of posts about recommenders here on the blahg (on the first page of the site, use the dropdown menu in the righthand panel to choose Recommendations to get a list of all of them). If you want more help, our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator walks through the specifics and lets you submit your recommenders’ strategy for feedback from EssaySnark.
 


 
 

Interview Invitations at HBS

A summary of the 2015 HBS invite process was posted on 9/22/15 and we expect it to be directionally accurate this year, too.

HBS works like this: You submit your app, the Admissions Board reads all of them (in no particular order – it doesn’t matter what time you submitted or if it went in earlier or later than someone else’s, or what geography or career you’re in), then about a month-ish later, they will issue interview invites.

When they implemented this process originally, those invites came out in three waves over the course of two weeks (three Wednesdays in a row), then it went down to two; for Rd 1 2015 it was three waves of invitations scattered over only about a week. Round 2 in January 2017 is now confirmed as two Wednesdays in a row, so just one week total.

The first wave has tended to be significantly bigger than the second one (the bulk of the invites will go out on that first day). The day of the last wave of invites is when everyone not being invited to interview is told that they didn’t make it; they call that the “release.” Instead of getting an invite or release on that final day, it’s also possible to be put in the “further consideration” bucket, which is sort of like a waitlist but you’re not accepted, you’re just someone they’re hanging onto because they’re still interested in you.

The invitations are issued in batch mode, all at once, at noon Eastern time on the scheduled day. If they want to meet you, you’ll get an email which says to check your app for status. If you don’t get an email on either of the first two days, you didn’t get an interview (yet – but it could still come on the last day). Everyone who wasn’t already invited to interview gets an email on the last day of the sequence. If you haven’t received any email by, say, 12:05pm Eastern time then it’s not gonna come that day.

In 2013, HBS invited 1,887 people to interview across the whole season. That’s 20% of the 9,543 applications they received. (We don’t recall seeing this data from HBS for 2014 but it’s comparable, they tend to invite similar numbers every year regardless of app volumes.) Generally speaking they invite more of their applicants in Round 1 – something like 1,000 – yet most schools including Harvard tend to get more applications submitted in Round 2 – so right there tells you that Round 1 is an advantage. It appears that in Round 1 2015 HBS got enough apps that they decided to issue interviews to ~50 more candidates. Here’s more details on the data as of the 2012-’13 season if you want to see how it broke down in past years.

Remember that getting invited to interview in one wave versus another within the invite-day sequence means nothing in terms of the strength of your candidacy. Dee Leopold says this every year. We did a post on the blahg about it on 10/9/13 (but nobody seems to believe us… so we wrote another post on 10/11/13 to explain it all again). HOWEVER: There are greater chances that you’ll be invited in the first wave, if you’re going to be invited at all, simply because in past years, they have invited the bulk of applicants in the first chunk.

If you’re placed on the pre-interview waitlist in Round 1 – what they call “Further Consideration” (other schools just call it a “waitlist”) – then you’ll either get invited to interview, or released, on the Round 2 interview dates, usually in the first wave. If you’re on the post-interview Round 1 waitlist, you’ll probably get the final answer (admit or deny) on the Round 2 decision date.

If you get an invite, you need to be prepared to travel, since these are adcom-interviews conducted in hub cities around the world. They won’t be flying to your doorstep to meet you. You’ll need to make some arrangements, and yeah it’ll likely require taking some time off of work. But don’t freak out about that part; if you end up getting the invite, you will make it happen, we’re confident (and Harvard is flexible with extreme situations like deployed military).

So that you can be prepared: here’s an explanation of the HBS Mid-Cycle Decision and the Moods of a BSer.

 

Harvard’s Post-Interview Reflection

The gist of it is, within 24 hours after your interview, you’ll need to submit something (an essay that’s not an essay but it’s basically an essay – even if the admissions people claim it’s not an essay) that is, again, totally open-ended. Can you see how much Harvard wants to see how you deal with ambiguity? That’s kind of what leaders have to do all the time, right?

The Post Interview Reflection is a chance for you to tell the Harvard Admissions Board that thing that occurred to you, that you realized you should’ve said the moment you walked out of the interview room. Or it’s an opportunity or try to fix your answer to that one question you completely flubbed. Or if you can’t think of anything else, maybe reiterate your application “theme” (though honestly we don’t think that’s such a great idea, that’s just our personal Snark opinion).


If you’ve been invited to interview at Harvard – GREAT! CONGRATULATIONS!! Now you really should pick up our HBS Application Guide if you don’t already have it.

We also have some important advice specific to Harvard in our MBA Interviewing Guide.

Yes we’re telling you to buy two guides. (In fact you’d also benefit greatly from our Custom Interview Questions service.)

Do you want to make the most of this opportunity or not?

 

HBS Useful Info and some Snark

Harvard posted a preliminary Class of 2017 profile on 6-8-15 – but then later we saw the full profile including GMAT scores and we blinked.

An 80% range of scores of 700 to 760?!? Really?? OUCH! It’s still possible to get in with a score outside that range but boy is it going to be tough.

For reference, here’s the Class of 2016 profile posted at the same point in time the prior year (6-3-14) — which looked very similar to the Class of 2015. So, same GMAT (median 730, full range 510 – 790 – but you know there’s only one or two in the 510 range); same GPA (3.67 – ouch!) and same age (27 years old). The only difference is there’s more apps than ever – a 1.5% increase – and they marginally bumped up the class size, to 948.

Takeaways? That it’s just as hard as ever to get into Harvard Business School.

Direct from Harvard

Snarkety snark snark

and finally, just:

 

 

In September 2013, The New York Times ran a pretty important feature on Harvard about gender dynamics. A few days later, a follow-up article was published on class at HBS (not the kind of “class” with teachers). This resulted in lots of media coverage and big conversations across all the business schools. EssaySnark’s reaction is here.

For Reference: Harvard’s Past-Season Questions

Provided for posterity. And because it helps you to understand this school.

Click to view last year's question



This year they have rolled back to a simplified version of the question they asked previously:

One essay, unlimited length:

“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?”

They first asked a version of this question in 2013, for the Class of 2016. This year’s incarnation is really the epitome of a perfect essay question. They’re basically saying, “Tell us what you think is important.”

Here’s advice from the ‘Snarchives which offers a very good place to start thinking about that: The most important thing to remember with your Harvard essay

It also doesn’t hurt to view the video that was part of the official question last year . Knowing what a school is about is the first step in figuring out how to express that you’re a good fit to the place.

Every year, EssaySnark provides insights and recommendations for how to handle the HBS application – and we have now done that for all you Class of 2019 prospects! Expanded and revised to give you the greatest advantage in setting your strategy.


 

Harvard’s Class of 2018 profile shows you what you’re up against: Average GPA of 3.67, median GMAT of 730. The average GMAT is – gulp – 729 (frequently when the median and mean diverge then that tells you the numbers are scattered across a wider range, but this implies that the full 100% range of scores isn’t that much different than the 80% range reported of 690 to 760). App volumes at Harvard have increased for many years running: up 4% for the Class of 2015, up 2.4% for the Class of 2016, up 1.5% for the Class of 2017, and up 3.2% for the Class of 2018 (the last data available at this point).

 

 

[end discussion of 2016 HBS app]


Click to view the 2015 question


They mixed it up in 2015-’16, but it’s not THAT different from what they had before. Our 2015 HBS essay guide goes into the details.

Here’s 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.

 

First step: Review that video – and review it again! You should also check out their HBS MBA Voices student-focused blog , which should serve as a real goldmine of insights about the school (though PLEASE do not simply parrot the information you view/read/hear from any of these sources into your essays!!! that’s like such a rookie mistake – and yeah, we see it all the time).

As a reminder, this is what they asked for the two years previous:

“You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career intentions, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”

Advice from EssaySnark: The most important thing to remember with your Harvard essay (August 2014) – this is still relevant even with the new wording of the 2015-’16 question. And: Here’s how everyone is muffing things up with their Harvard essay (August 2015).

Advice from Harvard: Be sure to read their Direct from the Director post dated 15 May 2015 (you may have to scroll down on that page to find it) – Admissions Director Dee Leopold gives some useful guidelines to use as an important starting point.
[end discussion of last year’s HBS app]

Yes, we do recommend a Round 1 application to Harvard. Definitely. It’s still possible to make it in during Round 2 but you have a LOT more competition against you then (and it sounds like this year’s Round 1 was as full as ever). Regardless, a great app is needed in any round for Harvard Business School.

Harvard’s Class of 2017 profile is pretty crazy: Even higher stats for GPA and GMAT (80% range for students starts at 700?!??), average age still 27, admit rate down to 11%, even with an increase in class size. They received almost 10,000 apps for the Class of 2018 and we expect these stats to be very similar. Given these daunting figures, maybe you’d like to get EssaySnark’s opinion on your Harvard essay?

[end discussion of 2015 HBS app]


Click to view the 2014 question


They had the same-exact requirements in 2013: One essay, unlimited length, technically optional. We discuss it quite a bit here on the blahg. Here’s the question:

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?

We’ll say it again: Our HBS MBA application guide is very detailed, and it gives you important insights into how the HBS Admissions Board thinks about stuff. It’s been revised to reflect the new “Introduce yourself” question, with additional checklists and tests you can perform on your essay to make sure it’s presenting you as it should. Don’t apply to Harvard just because it’s Harvard; you’re likely to end up heartbroken. Read that guide, and study this blahg, and then make an informed decision – and create an infinitely stronger strategy – with your approach.

How interviews worked in 2014’s Round 1 – deadline was 9/9/14

  • First wave interview invites: October 8 – an estimated 800 candidates received one (for 2015 Dee Leopold said they’d issue 900 invites that first day)
  • Second wave invites (another 150 candidates got one), “further consideration” invitations (a variation on the waitlist but essentially the same; about 200 of these went out), and release of all others: October 15 (for 2015 there were two more waves, with ~350 total invites between them, and another ~100 FC invites)
  • Interviews held from October 20 to November 21. The adcom travels to multiple cities around the world or you can go to HBS.

How it worked in 2014’s Round 2 – deadline was 1/6/15 – sorry that we don’t have data, only dates

  • First wave interview invites: January 28
  • Second wave invites, waitlist invitations, and release of all others: February 4

 

[end discussion of 2014 HBS app]



Click to view the 2013 question


2013 application and what we said about it
Just one question!

With no word limits!!
Harvard asks:

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?

They’ve also reduced the number of recommendations to just two, from three.
[end discussion of 2013 HBS app]



Click to view the 2012 questions


2012 questions – these are REALLY OLD
In case you’re curious about what they’ve asked before:
Two essays, 400 words each:
  1. Tell us about something you did well.
  2. Tell us about something you wish you’d done better.

[end discussion of 2012 HBS app]


ADVICE FOR BRAVE SUPPLICANTS GOING FOR HARVARD: EssaySnark REALLY (really really really) recommends that you don’t write HBS as your first essay, ever. You’ll end up doing a lot of rework, we can almost 100% guarantee it. We suggest enlisting our help with the Complete Essay Package on such an important school – or on some other school first. Or getting another school’s essays reviewed by us before even writing a single word for Harvard. No matter what, the HBS essay shouldn’t be the first essay anyone writes. You’re not going to optimize your chances by cutting your teeth on the very hardest one. You need to figure out how to write an admissions essay before you try to write one for Harvard. Just like Neo in the Matrix: Everyone falls the first time. Don’t use the hardest essay in the world as your learning process.

 


Highlights from HBS Admissions Webinar July 2, 2014

  • In 2013, HBS invited 1,887 people to interview. [That’s almost 20% of the 9,543 applications they received. The Class of 2016 is 936 students. -ES]
  • A new section of the app this year asks about non-degree coursework; you can include MOOCs and other online (non-credit) work you’ve done. [This is to help you demonstrate analytical abilities. -ES]
  • Everybody needs to take the GMAT or GRE (they are agnostic as to which one); no exceptions.
  • The resume you upload can be more than one page, but you should ask yourself, “Does it need to be?” [No. -ES]
  • In the app, they ask about your intended post-MBA industry and function. HBS does not want a “laminated life plan” but they do want to know your general direction.
  • There’s a separate app question to cover additional information; this is not an essay. [You can use this to explain gaps in employment or circumstances surrounding a low GPA, as you would with other schools’ “optional essays” – but again, with HBS, this is not an essay – and also, you should be able to cover that in your actual Harvard essay, probably. -ES]
  • All financial aid awards are need-based; they don’t do merit-based fellowships. This means you don’t get news of scholarship money at the time of admission, like other schools do. [Basically you should be happy with the admit itself! They don’t feel the need to bribe you to attend. -ES]
  • Of course, Dee talked about the “optional” essay and what they saw in successful applicants last year.

EssaySnark covered many of these points in detail in the 2016 Harvard Guide.

Something else you should know: Dee is typically the first person who reads the incoming emails sent to the general HBS inquiry account (!). The most common question they get is, “Do I have to take the TOEFL?” The next most common: “Do I need to take the GMAT?” (Hint: Their requirements are pretty darned clear on their website .) Takeaway message: Don’t write a stupid email to Harvard admissions. Do your research first, and then – and only then – ask the question if you cannot find the answer elsewhere.

 

EssaySnark reviews of Harvard’s 2014 essays

 

EssaySnark reviews of Harvard’s 2013 essays

We did a bunch of reviews of Harvard essays on GMAT Club in September 2013; the question hasn’t really changed even with the “Introduce yourself” thing, so you may want to check those out. Alas, our contract with GMATClub was not extended so we’re not doing reviews over there any more.

EssaySnark reviews of Harvard’s 2012 essays

And even older than that (2011 and later) – these are still relevant because Harvard is still Harvard – they’ve been looking for the same qualities in a Brave Supplicant year after year:

 

 

Our Essay Ideas App Accelerator includes a free BONUS: a sample essay that won! Review the original draft and EssaySnark’s complete Essay Decimator critique for the 2011 HBS Essay 1, on “three accomplishments” – study it for free and make your Harvard essay that much stronger.

 

And we’ll say it again: Our HBS MBA application guide is very detailed, and it gives you important insights into how the HBS Admissions Board thinks about stuff. Don’t apply to Harvard just because it’s Harvard; you’re likely to end up heartbroken. Read that guide, and study this blahg, and then make an informed decision – and create an infinitely stronger strategy (with a professional’s opinion on your HBS essay, even).

[Index of essay questions by business school]

So you’ve taken the GMAT, you’ve lined up your recommendations, and you’re sitting down to write your business school application essays. Dreaded as they are, they’re also supremely important.

Just a few years ago, I was there too, and I remember it being a bit daunting. I wanted to go to Harvard—but no one I knew well had gone there before. I didn’t go to a prestigious private high school or Ivy League college. I also wasn’t an investment banker or a management consultant (I was an engineer). I did have good undergraduate grades and a great GMAT score—but I strongly suspect it was my essays that landed me my acceptances to both Harvard and Stanford.

There were a few key principles that helped me when I was writing my essays. And no matter what school you’re hoping for, the same strategies can help you get there, too. Here’s what to consider before you start typing.

1. Line up Your Critics

You don’t have to go through the process entirely alone. In fact, you’ll need outside perspectives—after drafting, revising, re-revising and re-re-revising, you will lose your ability to be objective. From the beginning brainstorming stages to the final read-through, you need people to sanity check what you’re writing to make sure it makes sense and is interesting.

Line up one person to be a consistent primary feedback-giver, and plan to touch base with him or her fairly regularly. You should also have two or three other people review your essays to get some different perspectives, but be careful adding more than that—getting too many differing opinions may give you feedback whiplash.

The best feedback-givers are people who have been accepted to the schools you’re applying to—they’re most familiar with the application process (and they obviously did something right). In the absence of a B-school alum, someone with good business sense and writing skills will work just fine, too.

2. Share Your Passions

In 2005, I heard Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, speak, and she said something that has stayed with me ever since: “Success is what happens when the passion for what you do outweighs the fatigue of doing it.”

Top programs are looking for passionate people—they’re more likely to be successful and, frankly, more interesting to be around. Schools want to know that you understand yourself and what you’re passionate about, that you have interesting examples of how that passion has surfaced in your life, and that you want to channel your passion to do big things after business school. (There you go, beginning, middle, and end to the “what matters most to you and why?” essay question from Stanford.)

So, tell a story about your passions. Be consistent, and be genuine. Admissions officers read thousands of essays and if you’re not authentic, they will sniff you out—if not on first read, then during the interview process.

3. Show Upward Trajectory

Like a good story, your essay should build. One strategy to do this effectively is to talk about something small that becomes bigger and better over time. (Even better if you can show that you’ve overcome obstacles to reach the bigger and better state—everyone loves an underdog.)

It’s a given that you need to illustrate how you’ve progressed professionally, but you should also show growth in your extracurricular endeavors. For example, did your weekend volunteering at a non-profit turn into you landing a board seat? If you’re passionate about mountain climbing, did you start with Mt. Rainier and then rise to the challenge of climbing Mt. Everest?

4. Illustrate Your Ability to Give Back

Business schools aren’t completely altruistic—they want to know that you’ll make their campus richer by participating in community events and taking on leadership roles in campus organizations. And because the best predictor of future behavior is past performance, it’s smart to use at least one essay to illustrate how you’ve previously given back to a community.

The best examples of charity hit on two points: they demonstrate your benevolence and also reinforce your stated passion. If you’re passionate about environmental sustainability, have you volunteered to speak to high school students on the topic? Did you lead a fundraising campaign for a preservation organization?

5. Be Concise (and Correct)

There’s absolutely no excuse for going over a word limit or making grammatical errors. Both are just plain lazy—and in some cases, might get your essay tossed in the trash without a second thought.

So, once you’re done with your applications, go back with a critical eye. Cut out all unnecessary words by using contractions (doesn’t vs. does not) and eliminating excessive adjectives (“successful” is just as effective as “very successful” and “a long, dangerous, windy path” can be shortened to “a path”). Leverage your feedback-giver to help you figure out all the places where adjectives and adverbs aren’t adding anything to your story.

And please, proofread. Multiple times. Have someone else proofread, too.

Beyond that, don’t overthink it. Pick up 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays—I was impressed (and reassured) by how straightforward the essays were. After all, it’s not about showing schools something that’s never been seen before—it’s about showing them that you’re a good fit.

Want more? Ask your essay and admissions questions on Twitter @ssahney. Good luck!

Photo courtesy of Patricia Drury.

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