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?

 

The Harvard essay is as open as they come. What more would you like the committee to know about you? When you sit down to write this, you will most likely discover how difficult this question is. There are probably a million things you want Harvard to know about you. Also, what the heck do they want to hear? The prompt gives no clues as to what direction to even begin. We’ll try to give you some tips and pointers in this entry to help you make smart choices regarding the subject you come up with for this essay.

 

  1. First of all, while Harvard doesn’t give a word limit, we recommend staying within the 500-1,000 range. If you go more, your story is either too scattered or too detailed. The suggested range should be more than enough to give an in depth look into one central quality of your personality or provide a narration of a few impactful moments that you’ve been through with some paragraphs that tie everything together into a “what I learned” ending.

 

  1. Tell an impactful story; a story of strength, overcoming hardship, and perseverance, and then tell it in a thought out, calculated manner. This essay is not a diary entry for you to spill raw emotions. But it should still be emotional. It’s about conveying impactful moments of growth in your life in a lucid, well-written way that shows not only your overcoming of difficulty or your developing strength, but also your introspection and your ability to show that you are introspective and mature.

 

  1. Yours stories should describe values that resonate with Harvard, but they shouldn’t be professional stories. There will be room in your online application to talk about your career goals and accomplishments – this essay is not the place for that. Here they want to see who you are beyond your resume; what your life looked like; and how you became the person you are today. This isn’t an essay about what you accomplished professionally, but rather, how you grew; where you struggled; and how you persevered. Unless you overcame bankruptcy or carried your family through single-handedly during the stock market crash of 2008, it’s best to steer clear of stories from your professional life.

 

  1. It’s an essay that needs to be written with honesty and from the heart. A general rule of thumb we like to give our clients is that your writing subject should matter to you. If it doesn’t matter to you, why should it matter to anyone else? Moreover, if it doesn’t matter to you, it probably wasn’t an impactful enough experience to be worth writing about for Harvard.

 

  1. Do not write about a book you read or philosophize about ideals. This is not a manifesto of hifalutin rhetoric; the essay is qualitative and artistic, and should be story based.

 

  1. Did we say story based? That’s because we mean, story based. The reason people love books, TV, and movies is because we get to share in someone’s world for 300 pages, once a week, or for 2 hours in the theater. Stories are a good way to both truly demonstrate the situation while drawing the reader in. We recommend leading the essay with a defining moment or life changing event. The “easiest” stories to use are tragedies – overcoming an illness, losing a loved one, bankruptcy, etc. These are go-to’s because they immediately put the person in a trial which they have to overcome – the way the person overcomes that trial is what demonstrates character.

 

  1. Obviously tragedies are not the only topics to write about. If you volunteered in Africa for a year that will probably be the subject of your essay. But remember: it’s not a dry narration. Once you have your topic, you will need to think long and hard about how to angle your story so that it is most impactful. In other words, if you’re lucky enough to never have experienced a tragedy, you need to think creatively of what is important to you, and then find good stories to show how you were shaped to be that way. For example, we’ve seen wonderful essays on leadership or on three big decisions one candidate made and where each decision led them. Because it’s not just about the “what” it’s also about the “how”. If you find an awesome way to talk about something, that’s half the battle. Again, the point is – the essay should demonstrate who you are and how you became that way. So find a few moments that were meaningful to you, and find a creative way to tie them together.

 

  1. Do not try to write something that you think they want to hear. Phony essays are painfully dull to read because they are generic and empty. Write about something that you’re passionate about. At the very worst, you will write about something only you care about and you will have taught the reader something new. Powerful writing is honest writing.

 

  1. The structure we suggest is to open with a personal story and then demonstrate the aftermath; how did that moment influence your life and what did you learn. Remember that how you tie your anecdotes together is key. They aren’t strong just as stand-alones but in the way that you thread them together under an overarching theme.

 

  1. Take your time with this essay. Don’t rush the topic, the brainstorm, or the submission. Besides the fact that these take some time to weave together tightly, you also run the risk of growing callous to your story after reading it over and over again as you write it. So it would be wise to give yourself some time between the writing process and the submission. This way, you can take some distance from your work and return to it with fresh eyes. If, when you come back to your document, you think to yourself “wow! I wrote this?” then you’re on the right track.

 

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to give a recipe for this kind of essay because it is so keen on uniqueness. Hopefully, this entry gave you some ideas of where to start and how to think about this essay. As you approach your brainstorm, remember: go with your heart, your brain, and your intuition. Did your story leave your reader empowered? Did you focus on impactful experiences and how they changed you? Did you make sure your readers walk away understanding what you’ve been through and why it was important to you? Did you provide them a window into your life and growth? Then you did your job.

If you’re interested in applying to Harvard Business School, our Harvard MBA page will give you a head start. If you’d like to discuss your application to Harvard, get in touch to set up a free MBA consultation with one of our MBA consultants.