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Harvard Business School MBA Essay Analysis: 2020-2021




Once again, Harvard Business School was the first to kick off the official business school application season, sharing MBA application deadlines and the required essay for MBA class of 2023 hopefuls.

The 2020-2021 application deadlines are as follows:

Round 1: September 8, 2020

Round 2: January 5, 2021

HBS Admissions Director, Chad Losee recognizes the uncertainty candidates are facing during these challenging times and shares Harvard Business School’s plan to consider unique circumstances while reviewing applications:

We understand that these are difficult times globally and that many of you have been affected personally by the pandemic. Please know that we always review applications holistically and understand that many plans, employment opportunities, and personal situations have been disrupted by COVID-19. Of course we will take this most unusual of times into account as we evaluate your application.

As we predicted last week, HBS is minimizing changes this year and keeping the one and only essay question the same:

“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 HBS essay is arguably one of the most difficult to tackle, given its open-ended nature.

This application essay is an open invitation to show HBS what is truly interesting about your profile. This question allows you to focus and elaborate on what is important to you. Think about the HBS essay as your chance to let them “meet” the real you—the authentic person behind the resume and application questions.

As everyone is likely well aware, HBS educates and admits leaders. It goes without saying that whatever story or stories you choose should show your leadership and demonstrate how you have excelled across disciplines.


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 and understand how you personify 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. Keep this in mind, along with Harvard’s other stated values of analytics and community, as you craft your HBS essay.

While we recommend that most applicants show their professional accomplishments, make sure to share enough anecdotally 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, which is often tied to a recurring theme throughout your essay.

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 give the admissions committee a brief glimpse of where you are headed (which should naturally flow from the rest of the essay) and how HBS is uniquely suited to help you on this path.


Personal MBA Coach's HBS Essay Analysis - Key Takeaways:

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


  • 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.

  • Consider this essay as 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 in great detail during the interview about anything you submit as part of your application.


  • 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. Give the reader details about the situation. Add names to the players within your stories. Describe your setting and tell the reader how you felt.


  • The HBS essay will be VERY different for everyone. Do not 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 700-1,000 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.


Are you looking for help with your MBA Applications? Personal MBA Coach is willing to be your guide. Founded by a Wharton and MIT graduate, we regularly help applicants navigate their applications each year. We also conduct mock interviews with former M7 interviewers on our team.

Personal MBA Coach has been guiding candidates through all aspects of the MBA application process for 13 years with a 96% success rate. Call us today at +1 617-645-2424 or email scott@personalmbacoach.com for a free consultation on your profile along with how we can help make your MBA dreams a reality!

#AIGAC #HarvardBusinessSchool #MBAEssays #EssayAnalysis

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