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Harvard Business School MBA Essay Topic Analysis

The following essay topic analysis examines Harvard Business School’s (HBS) MBA admissions essays for the 2020-2021 admissions season. You can also review essay topic analyses for all other leading MBA programs as well as general Essay Tips to further aid you in developing your admissions essays.

2020-2021 Harvard Business School Essay Topic Analysis

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) 
For several admissions seasons now, HBS has chosen an essay prompt that leaves applicants with a completely open field.  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 citizenship. 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 review the data fields in the online application, 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 consistently trimmed down its essay set prior to this single prompt 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.

Career Goals Short Answer

Briefly tell us more about your career aspirations. (500 characters)
In the online application, there is a short section for your post-MBA goals. Applicants are asked to pick their industry group and function from a dropdown menu. There are 11 options in the industry group pick list, e.g. consulting, venture capital/private equity, and nearly 50 under function, e.g. business development, product management, etc. Then you will have 500 characters (about 80-85 words) to elaborate—albeit briefly.

When explaining your goals, make sure they are aspirational while also being realistic. You’ll want to include why they makes sense. Identify your goals and even name a company or two that you are targeting immediately post-MBA. Then, cover how the short term is a stepping stone to the long term. Highlight the impact you hope to make because of what you’ll be doing, too. Remember, leaders have vision—and HBS will be looking for higher-level plans here.

Post-Interview Reflection

Since the 2012-2013 season, applicants who are invited to interview have been asked to write a reflection about their interview experience. Typically, 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. HBS will likely ask this of 2020-2021 candidates, so we are including this analysis.

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 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.

Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Harvard MBA essay topics. As you work on your Harvard MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s HBS offerings:

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