How to write the Harvard Business School MBA Application EssayHarvard Business School is undoubtedly the best known business school in the world. It was the first school in the world to offer the Master’s of Business Administration degree, and is known for pioneering the case method of business instruction. This method is still one of the hallmarks of the HBS MBA program today, in addition to the school’s highly structured Required Curriculum and emphasis on cultivating young leaders.

In this post, we tackle that elusive question: What makes an effective application essay for the Harvard MBA program?

The essay question, on the face of it is deceptively simple:

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) 

As you review this question, first focus on what Harvard wants in its MBA candidates. The school states that it looks for candidates who demonstrate:

  1. A habit of leadership
  2. Analytical Aptitude and Appetite
  3. Engaged Community Citizenship

Now think about what the admissions committee already knows about you from the other parts of your application. They already have your resume, GPA, GMAT score, recommendations, and some personal history provided in your responses to the short-answer questions. So your essay should explain how you best embody these core Harvard Business School qualities, outside the other parts of your application. You can use one instance that demonstrates all these qualities or thread separate instances embodying separate qualities into the essay.

We will consider each of these core values and how you can weave it into your application.

A Habit of Leadership

It might be useful to think about any quantifiable positive change you’ve created that is not adequately described in your other material. Harvard Business School does not explicitly ask you to show your potential for leadership in this essay. But it may very well be something you decide to write about, since Harvard Business School’s mission is to educate leaders.

If you have held a formal leadership position, great. Such positions are great to write about, since they often involve you having a significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility. But this is also true if you have shown leadership qualities without having a formal title. A few scenarios that can help you get started if you don’t have a formal leadership title include:

  1. A time you convinced someone or some group.
  2. A time you led others.
  3. A time you demonstrated courage.
  4. A time you made a difficult decision.
  5. A time you were innovative.
  6. A time you formulated and executed a strategy or tactics.
  7. A time you turned around a situation, overcame an obstacle.
  8. A time reformed something.
  9. A time you changed something.
  10. A time you effectively negotiated with someone.
  11. A time created something.
  12. A time you managed or organized something.
  13. A time you mentored or coached someone.
  14. A time you represented an organization in public.
  15. A time you managed up, down, or across an organization.

Whatever instance you choose to describe your leadership style, make sure you highlight the contribution you have made. Provide a clear interpretation of what you have done. Write in simple language, even about complex things.


Harvard: Also Read how to write Stanford MBA Essays


Analytical Aptitude and Appetite 

Typically most candidates find it very easy to demonstrate analytical aptitude and appetite on their application itself.  A solid GPA and GMAT are enough for that purpose. But if you think your academic record and GMAT are weak, you can use an example to demonstrate your academic potential. Some ways in which you can do this include:

  1. Solving a complex problem at work, school, or elsewhere
  2. Discussing the successful completion of complex analytical tasks
  3. Breaking down a complex problem that you solved and communicating it a very brief and clear way
  4.  Demonstrating great personal insight into one’s weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes
  5. Showing the ability to learn from weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes
  6. Showing the ability to learn and master something highly complex

Engaged Community Citizenship

Harvard Business School  is looking for candidates who are fully committed to collaboration, both within and outside the Harvard community. You have to showcase your ability to be a contributing member of one of the most powerful alumni networks the world over. So you need to showcase an instance or two of how you have engaged with your community in the past.  You could consider the following prompts:

  1. Volunteer or social activities at work, school or outside work (whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them).
  2. A volunteer activity related to your post-MBA goals
  3. A volunteer activity that allowed for the development of leadership and/or teamwork experience
  4. An international volunteer or social activity
  5. Active involvement in an alumni organization
  6. Active participation in a sports team
  7. Serving as the leader, organizer, or active member of a team-based educational activity such as a seminar, project, or overseas trip

Once you have your instances ready, you have to connect them together to create a coherent whole. Lumping disparate instances together will not help you craft a great application essay. You need to have a sincere, believable thread that runs through your experiences.

Great essays don’t just need to be believable and interesting. They have to be convincing. You are trying to get the committee to take a specific action after they read your file: admit you or invite you for an interview. Thus, essays must convince them to take action, they have to see why you should be admitted.

In conclusion, Harvard Business School is looking for people who want to be leaders, not mere managers. They are looking for people who will use their “one precious and wild life” to achieve great things, not those who will be satisfied at being mediocre.

We hope our essay tips for Harvard Business School set you on the way to crafting your application! IMS’s Center for International Education (CIE) has successfully helped students secure admits to Harvard Business School, year on year and we are happy to help you at every step of the way.

Stay tuned to this blog for more!


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