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Hbs Essay Word Limitation

Harvard Business School just announced the deadlines for the class of 2020, and the essay question, which is unchanged from last year. It’s worth trying hard to hit the first round deadline when there is a lower volume of applicants and therefore more time for the admissions committee to evaluate your candidacy. You have just a few months until the September 6th deadline.

The most challenging part of the HBS essay is remaining disciplined. With unlimited space to make your case, you may be tempted to compose a laundry list of everything interesting or impressive you have ever done.

That urge could backfire, as the essay is used to determine who isn’t a fit for HBS as much as those who deserve the chance to move into the interview round. Maturity, accomplishment, and leadership are highly valued qualities and this essay is your chance to display those qualities through the stories you choose and the voice coming through your writing.

Class of 2020 admissions 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? (no word count limit)

A note on word count: HBS values brevity in essays. Do not be tempted to go overboard with a 2,000 word essay, rather focus on concise and clear writing and consider keeping this essay in the ~1,000 word range. Our clients have successfully composed essays anywhere from 500-1,300 words, though you should take a pass through your essay to cut any unnecessary words if you find yourself on the upper end of that range.

Because there is no stated word count you do have the flexibility to take extra space if you are telling a compelling story that needs it.

The goal of this essay is to know yourself, know HBS, and know how to match the two to demonstrate your fit for the school. Your first task should be to evaluate all of the other aspects of your candidacy – what is the story your resume tells? What do you think recommenders will say? How does your transcript communicate your skills, accomplishments and interests? Then you need to evaluate how to fill the gaps with the essay.

HBS is devoted to the case method, and published a video a few years ago, which is worth watching now. The video clearly shows that diverse perspectives are valuable to the case method experience. In your essay preparations consider what diverse experience you bring.

Check out the incoming class profile for some idea of what a “typical” HBS student is like. We have found that both personal and career oriented topics can work, and most candidates tell more than one story in the essay. In the past we have observed that successful HBS essays also demonstrate a core driving passion. HBS students are ambitious, motivated and never boring.

As you consider possible stories to tell in this essay keep in mind that HBS has always been highly focused on leadership and really loves candidates with a track record of leadership impact and a success trajectory that indicates upper management potential and a passion for impact in both business and society.

Accomplishments have traditionally been a strong focus of HBS essays, and using at least one accomplishment story in this essay may be a good strategy, particularly if your accomplishments are not obvious when reading your resume or transcripts.

A note on what not to do: We see many applicants tempted to include “why HBS” type information in HBS essays. Explaining why the case method specifically is a good fit for you and your learning style is absolutely appropriate, but more detailed “why HBS” content has never been asked for in an HBS application essay question. We believe it’s more effective for you to use the space to provide detailed information about yourself and your candidacy.

Looking for guidance on your HBS application? Contact us to learn more about Stacy Blackman Consulting.

Image credit: Michael A. Herzog (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This entry was posted in Application Tips, Harvard Advice and tagged advice, application tips, applications, career goals, Essay Tips, Fall 2018 MBA Essay Tips, Harvard Business School, HBS, MBA application.
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Harvard Business School (HBS) recently released its essay question for the 2016–2017 application season, and the prompt is so open-ended that it is bound to puzzle some applicants:

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? (no word limit)

This broad question may leave you asking yourself, “Where do I even start?” So we wanted to offer a few tips for framing your thoughts and getting to work on your first draft.

Express Your Values: Before you start writing, consider for a moment what information the admissions committee already has about you via the other parts of your application. This includes your resume, GPA, GMAT score, recommendations, and some personal history provided in your responses to the short-answer questions. This information is either “black and white” or consists of someone else’s impression of you. This essay is your opportunity to add your own personal “color” and voice to your application. Your goal is not to show off your writing abilities, however, but to share your experiences so that they demonstrate who you are as a person, revealing what inspires and motivates you. In other words, this essay relies on your experience as a vehicle to communicate your values. If you simply lump a variety of anecdotes together and try to foist a theme upon your admissions reader, you will miss the mark. But if you are truly thoughtful about who you are as a person and can speak to a sincere thread that runs through your experiences (or can be powerfully exemplified by a single experience) and that motivates or excites you, you should be on the right track.

Stay Away from “Type”: The enemy of sincerity is “type.” If you believe the admissions committee wants something particular from you or for you to be a specific kind of individual and you strive to portray yourself that way in your essay, you will very likely fail this exercise. If, for example, you write explicitly about “leadership” or offer a number of unsubtle hints that you would master the case method, the admissions committee will recognize the pandering and will be neither fooled nor impressed. The HBS environment is diverse—the admissions committee is not interested in selecting 900-plus individuals who will all bring the same qualities to campus and make identical contributions. So relinquish your belief that HBS is looking for certain themes or profiles in this essay, because it is not. The admissions committee wants to learn about you as an individual—whoever you may be—so return to point one and think about your values.

Recognize This Is Not a Career Goals Essay: For the vast (and we do mean vast!) majority of applicants, this essay is not the place to discuss career goals. If you work in private equity and plan to return to private equity after graduating, this would not be a worthwhile topic for your essay, largely because it would not provide any novel information to better illuminate who you are as an individual. However, if your goals are part of a journey that clearly relates to or expresses your values or if they elucidate an otherwise unclear connection between your past and your business school aspirations, then you might be an exception. For example, a medic at a bush hospital in Uganda who dreams of commercializing low-cost technologies to fight infectious diseases would likely be well served discussing his journey to HBS via this essay. Doing so would clarify this candidate’s path and reveal something critical—something “more”—that the committee could use in evaluating the applicant’s candidacy.

Avoid Writing Your Biography: Although we see absolutely nothing wrong with taking a biographical approach to this essay, this essay cannot be a biography! This means you can discuss your family history and how it has influenced you and shaped your values, but you simply do not have enough space to discuss your entire personal history, and more importantly, it is not relevant. If some interesting and clearly significant inflection points in your life have shaped who you are today, these could make good essay fodder, but you must focus on conveying the why and how of their profound impact on you and filter out everything else in between. The admissions committee wants to learn “more” about you—not everything.

Do Not Rehash Your Resume: Just because HBS is a business school, you do not need to offer a detailed discussion of your professional experience to date. In fact, many successful applicants will not discuss their past career at all. That said, the topic is not entirely off-limits. If you feel that detailing some aspect of your professional life is the ideal way to offer more about you and your values, then you can explore this approach more deeply. On the other hand, we would not recommend simply describing a work accomplishment with no connection to a central theme or purpose. Your resume or recommendations should do the trick as far as informing the admissions committee about a core professional achievement, but if a particular element of or achievement in your professional life truly strikes at the heart of who you are as a person, this could be a fitting topic for your essay. Just make sure that at its core, the story you share serves as a manifestation of who you are, rather than what you have done.

Consider Word Count: HBS offers no word count guidance for this essay, so we will. In the past few years, ever since the school first eliminated its word count limitation, we have advised many successful applicants who submitted essays in the 750- to 1,250-word range. Although we acknowledge that some candidates who exceeded that top limit were accepted into the HBS program, we feel confident that this is a comfortable and appropriate range, whereby you should be able to fully share your thoughts without demanding an inordinate amount of the admissions reader’s time. Be aware that if you submit 2,500 words, you are asking a very busy person to dedicate more time to your essay than to others, so you need to be confident that in the end, he or she would feel that this was time well spent. Again, we recommend 750–1,250 words as your target. Focus first on writing an essay that showcases your personality and experiences, and if it ultimately exceeds that range, do what is necessary to reduce your verbiage without sacrificing effectiveness.

Make Sure You Are Offering More: In its prompt, HBS very specifically asks for more information about you, so by the time you are finessing your final draft, you will hopefully be able to conclusively determine whether you are truly providing the admissions committee with additional useful information. Applicants tend to write, revise, and revise again until they ultimately lose the forest for the trees. Before you press “submit,” step away from your essay for a while so you can return to it later with fresh eyes and evaluate it more objectively. You could also share it with someone who knows you well and ask that person whether it truly illuminates your personality and experience. More is critical, but more of the same is a recipe for disaster!

Author Jeremy Shinewald is the founder and president of mbaMission, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm.

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