Sunday, June 1, 2014

How to respond to the HBS essay prompt

There are still 3 months and 8 days left until the HBS round 1 application for the Class of 2017 is due. However, I've recently had quite a few people asking me about my essay. When I applied, HBS provided the following essay prompt:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School.  We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? 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. 

Interestingly, this exact same prompt is being used for the Class of 2017, even though Dean of Admissions Dee Leopold has previously gone on record stating that the question will change every year. Clearly this 'optional' essay worked out pretty well.

So, what brilliant topic did I write about in order to land the golden ticket? What is the secret sauce behind this question. Honestly, there's no secret sauce. I spent significantly less time on the HBS essay than I did on my Stanford essays, and the essays of every other school to which I applied. I took the advice to heart of not overthinking this, even though my natural reaction was, of course, to totally overthink it.

Anyway, I wrote about what has motivated me to pursue my career goals. I connected my personal and professional experiences into a ~700 word essay. The advice I have given to other applicants is to tell a meaningful story that highlights something important to you. Don't try to guess what's important to the admissions committee, because you'll probably guess wrong.


  1. I want that secret sauce! Good review though!

  2. There is a LOT of group work during my MBA classes which some shy people are not fan of. After working all day, the last thing they want is to meet for extra hours outside of class time, but I like this.

  3. How similar was your HBS essay to your Stanford response?

    1. My HBS and Stanford essays were radically different.

  4. Thanks for the information.