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Tackling the 2011 HBS 2+2 Essays

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

hbs 2+2 essaysHBS has changed its essay questions for the 2+2 program. This year’s applicants won’t have the flexibility of having some optional essays. This time, all four essay questions are required.

– Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

– Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)

– Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)

– What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience? (400 words)

Here are some tips on how to tackle the challenge of the HBS 2+2 essays:

Tell us about three of your accomplishments

This essay has been around as long as I can remember. It is HBS’ core question. It is tough to gain admission to the program if you blow these three questions.

All the essays are important but take extra time to make sure you get the accomplishment essay right.

– Don’t exaggerate. You are not expected to have achieved what someone with 10 years of experience has. Stick to the facts.

– Show different facets of who you are. Don’t write about only one thing, for example focusing mostly on your work achievements through internships or fixating solely on your academic achievements.

You are multidimensional so try and cover the different things that matter to you, your brand, and your personality.

– Reveal your passion/what you care about: Focus on what you feel most proud of and share that with them.

It can be personal, professional, community based. There isn’t a right or wrong category. What matters is what it shows about you.

– Be specific. Resist painting broad strokes in telling the story without really getting at the heart of the achievement.

What exactly was the achievement and even though they don’t ask Why it matters to you, the reader should be able to walk away from reading your accomplishments with an awareness of who you are….and that’s where the “why” it matters is still useful.

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Tell us three setbacks you have faced

I like the fact that they have changed this question from mistake to setback. It is a better question to ask and more likely an easier one for applicants to handle.

The challenge for applicants is that they have to address three setbacks instead of one mistake.  Focus on maturity and growth when tackling this essay. Your judgment is being tested.

– Remember the context. This is an application to business school. And HBS is wondering whether you can hold your own two years from now when you will be surrounded by global and highly accomplished classmates.

Choose examples that reveal maturity and self awareness

– Show that you are able to bounce back. So the setback matters but then the outcome/growth/lessons learned also matter.

– Reveal your character. This essay allows you to show whether you are someone things happen to vs. someone who seeks things out.

Most students at HBS are driven (even the laid back ones)! Make sure that your stories are not solely about you doing your job/assignment or whatever the case may be.

Leadership is a huge brand element for HBS and the adcom wants people who take initiative to make things happen. Resilience is another thing that you need to reveal when writing this essay.

– Balance your choices.  Make sure your examples are relevant to the business school context.

I’m not saying you can’t go back to high school, but it needs to be a compelling example for it to work. I wouldn’t use three setbacks all from high school.

Balance picking something that happened early in college with something you recently experienced if possible.

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Why do you want an MBA

You are not expected to have all the details of your future career worked out.

However you have to at least know in a broad sense where you would like to end up as well as understand the skills you lack currently that the MBA would provide you with.

For example, would you like to be a successful entrepreneur in the biotech industry? This is assuming that you have shown a genuine interest in technology and biological sciences or related subjects. What will you need to achieve this?

Do you have a product that you are tinkering with that you would like to further develop while in B-School?

Perhaps entering a business plan competition would be a good opportunity to further test out the marketability of your idea.

Would gaining a better understanding of funding ventures help you raise money to fund and develop new products?

Whatever you do, to ace this essay you have to show that the MBA is vital to your future success?

– Show continuity to your interests and passions. What footprints have you left that suggest that this is a genuine interest?

– Be realistic. In making a case for why you need an MBA, make sure that you present a realistic picture of your ambitions. They have to be compelling to warrant the MBA but not delusional.

– Make sure you have done your research and understand what the MBA will/can do for you and how it fits into the career you aspire to build.

What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?

All the questions carry great weight but I would argue that this is a critical essay.

Why? Because everyone has different life experiences and one can argue that the accomplishments, setbacks, even aspirations that drive one’s need for an MBA can be quite varied given each candidate’s opportunities.

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The academic undergrad experience essay is in a way a leveling of the landscape. You enroll at a school, you sign up for classes, maybe you study abroad, etc.

What stands out or differentiates you from other people who have also done the same thing? If you answer this question in the standard way of focusing on transcripts, resume…the superficial stuff, you miss the point.

You need to dig a bit deeper….What inspired you to choose the school you chose? What attracted you to your major? How have you gone beyond what the major offered?

If you come from a poor background, how have you managed the most rigorous schedule while working to fund your school? What did it teach you?

How can you connect your passion for learning and exploring connections (which could be your brand) by describing how you lobbied the school to allow a new cross-disciplinary course to be taught between the Engineering and Psychology department?

The point of this essay is to help the adcom understand what motivates you intellectually and how you have gone about it.

– Answer the question! Underscore the phrase “undergraduate academic experience”. Don’t talk about stuff outside of your university.

Don’t focus on your extracurricular activities. They want to hear about exactly what they have asked you to write about: your academic journey for the time you have been in college. Doing anything else is skirting the issue.

– Connect the dots of your story (your passion, brand, values) by describing WHY you have done what you have done as it is related to your academic undergrad experience

– Don’t brag. Arrogance is a key reason many candidates are rejected.