Scott Edinburgh
April 25, 2018

Harvard Business School Class of 2021 – Essay Questions & Analysis – Fall 2018 – Spring 2019

Harvard Business School has officially kicked off the 2018-2019 application season with an announcement that its application question will remain the same for class of 2021 hopefuls. HBS was the first school this year to confirm both its main question and the deadlines, making this announcement more than a month earlier than it has in the past. Take this opportunity to get a head start on your applications.

The 2018-2019 deadlines are as follows:

Round 1: September 5, 2018

Round 2: January 3, 2019

Round 3 and 2+2: TBD

Below are Personal MBA Coach’s key tips for tackling the HBS essay.

Question:“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?”

This is an open invitation to tell HBS what is truly interesting about your profile. This question allows you to hone in on what is important and unique, without feeling the need to discuss every aspect of your profile.

As everyone is likely well aware, HBS educates and admits leaders. It goes without saying that whatever story or stories you choose should show leadership and demonstrate how you have excelled. HBS students will emerge as leaders in the areas they are most passionate about. They will drive change. They are not afraid to stand up for their beliefs. They show courage. You want the admissions committee to see you living these traits.

I advise applicants to watch this video on the HBS case method to re-enforce how critical leadership and diversity of thought is to HBS. With this in mind, along with Harvard’s other stated values of analytics and community, think about this essay as your chance to let them “meet” the real you. The person behind the resume and application questions.

While we recommend that most applicants show their professional accomplishments, make sure to share enough so that the admissions committee can learn more about you on a personal level. Successful essays have included some sort of personal anecdote at a minimum and often a much more detailed personal story.

Think about what makes you unique and why you made the choices that you did. The most accomplished individuals follow their passions and these are usually shaped by particular experiences or personality traits. Consider what has had the greatest impact on your choices, who you are today or who you want to be. This will likely give you some areas to expand upon.

But do not just tell this story, as we have said in the past, try to help the reader live it.

Finally, mention your future ambitions and how HBS will fit. This is NOT a why HBS or career goals essay, but you would be remiss not to at least give the admissions committee a glimpse of where you are headed (which of course should naturally flow from the rest of the essay) and how HBS is uniquely suited to help you on this path.

Key Takeaways:

  • Make your essay interesting to read. Each year the admissions team receives ~10,000 applications.

  • You must differentiate yourself, particularly if you come from an overrepresented industry such as consulting or banking or an overrepresented demographic pool. HBS looks to select a well-rounded class and it will be crucial to show how you will add unique value.

  • This essay is designed to be a starting point for an interview conversation. HBS has very detailed interviews that are planned in advance for each applicant and will dive into at least one aspect of your application. Be ready to talk about anything you submit as part of your application in great detail during the interview.

  • Show rather than tell. Essays are much more impactful when they describe something about you, showing it in action instead of just stating the facts. For instance, say you tutored 20 young immigrants and helped them excel in school. Rather than listing your accomplishment, start off writing about Giacomo and your weekly interaction with an introverted nervous six year old.

  • This essay will be VERY different for everyone. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to write an essay like one you have read in the past or like your friend is writing. There will be a wide range of successful essays this year, and proper execution will be the key rather than simply the content alone.

  • Most essays that work will fall somewhere between 700-1000 words. However, absolutely consider quality over quantity. If you can write a solid 600 word essay that is powerful and moving, do not feel the need to lengthen it. I have helped many applicants write successful essays on the shorter side.

If you would like individual and personal support with any aspect of the MBA application process, including early planning, school selection, GMAT/GRE tutoring, essay editing or interview preparation with former M7 interviewers and HBS alums, please find information about Personal MBA Coach’s comprehensive packages or contact me to learn how I can help!

As a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate, I have been helping candidates get into the schools of their dreams with a 96% success rate for over 10 years. Last year we not only got applicants into HBS and all other top programs, but helped them to receive over $4.5M in fellowships. Email me today at: