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As we announced recently, Harvard Business School has released its essay question for the 2016-2017 application season. This year’s prompt hearkens back to the essay from 2014-2015, again asking applicants for what else would pique the admissions committee’s interest outside of the other application materials. The school has also 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 determining its topic and length. 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)
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.”
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 leadership. 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.
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.
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