Harvard MBA Application: Essay Analysis 2015-2016

What should you do about your Harvard Business School application? I wish I had a secret formula I could share to guarantee you ace your Harvard application. Instead, let me give you my best advice.

The good news:

1) There’s only one essay to write, so it’s a little less painful than usual. It’s still stressful, though, since over 9,000 applied last year, but only about 1,800 were invited to interview.

2) There’s no word limit, so make it as long or as short as you wish.

The prompt is  “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.

The focus of this essay is on how you present yourself to others. NYU Stern has used a similar essay over the last 10 years, and this year Columbia business school introduced something similar.

The secret to answering this question is to identify interesting aspects of your personality and profile that are not covered by other parts of the application: resume, rec letters, transcripts, activities section.

Should I talk about career goals?

It’s been some time since Harvard asked about career goals because there are so many options out there. They don’t want to be swayed by whether you want to save the rain forest, reinvent make-up, or become a millionaire. It doesn’t mean you absolutely shouldn’t talk about career goals, but it’s not a must.

Should I include examples of my success?

Your resume and recommendation letters should already have made it clear to the reader that you’re a shining star and well on your way to becoming a famous manager (or at least a very successful one). Don’t come across as arrogant. It would be impolite to introduce yourself to your new peers by saying how much money you’ve made for your company. What you might say is, “In my last role at Hilton, I created a new loyalty program, the first of its kind ….”.


From Rags to Riches

Many people have inspiring stories about how they overcame adversity to finish school and launch their careers. If you have such a story, and it is not going to be covered elsewhere in the application, consider telling it. Just don’t make it a sob story; focus on your actions, not your difficult circumstance.

What if I have…

– low GMAT

– low GPA

– employment gap

– institutional actions from college

– withdrawn classes in college

– past firing from my job

– previous application….

Should you talk about these? You certainly can. If one of the above is a real concern it’s important to address it in the essay. Then you know you’ve done your best to explain it so the school will understand rather than just hoping it’ll turn out alright.


Contact me at yael@admit1mba.com to talk more about your chances and what should go into your Harvard MBA application.