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Part 2: Harvard Business School Application Essay Tips

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

Harvard Business School essayI was reading the essays of one of our clients who was a re-applicant to Harvard Business School and was reminded of the core ingredients that successful essays to HBS have.

While her work experience did not change fundamentally, what resulted in her admission to HBS, this time, was the way she repositioned her stories and the key elements that she focused on when tackling her essays.

Here are the main ingredients to writing essays that will win the hearts and minds of the admissions board at Harvard:

Passion: Are you someone who is passionate about the world you inhabit and do you use that passion to affect others?

Simply put, you need to care about something and do something besides just your job. As a passionate individual you will leave a mark, both small and big, wherever you are.

You will even encounter setbacks and challenges. All of these make for great stuff to write about in your business school essays. It’s not about going through the motions or simply collecting accolades.

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Admission boards can see through those quickly. They are looking for the heart. It’s hard to fake genuine passion.

So if you are doing community service just to fill your resume or simply to get content for your accomplishment essays, don’t bother, it won’t fly.

Find things you truly care about and commit to them. Even better, let passion permeate all aspects of your life, how you engage friends, family, clients, colleagues.

Living your life this way is rewarding and as a byproduct of that you are able to share stories in your essays that will set you shoulders above your competition.

Guts: Successful essays are rarely those written by individuals who have played it safe.

If you want to capture the attention of the admissions board at Harvard Business School make sure you communicate how you have taken risks, stepped outside of your comfort zone, and challenged yourself.

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But in the process you should also reveal your vulnerability in facing your fears and how you have grown as a result.

Impact: Many people tell me they are leaders. When I ask for evidence of how they have led and the impact they have had it’s another story.

To succeed in the HBS application you need to demonstrate what they call “A Habit of Leadership”.  There needs to be consistency to your leadership engagement.

It can’t be a one off event. You have to show that you have the character trait to step up and seize an opportunity.

This can be shown through examples where you influenced others to work towards a common goal. You don’t have to have formal authority or title.

Leadership ultimately is about having conviction and courage to make a difference. Remember that there is no leadership without impact.

The impact can be small or big, personal or collective (on a group). Remember to show impact in all of your essays, especially in the accomplishment and setback essays.

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Self awareness: Emotional intelligence is highly ranked among the traits of the greatest leaders around the world.

It is no surprise that this attribute is also vital in the application process for Harvard Business School.

An essay that reveals a mature point of view, sensitivity to others (diversity, global perspective, etc.,) and even awareness of one’s limitations make for some of the most interesting essays.

The expectation is also that self aware applicants will translate to self aware students who will be able to thrive in the HBS Case environment.

The essays may change from year to year. But if you keep these elements in mind as you go about preparing for your application, you will be better positioned to succeed in the application process. Good luck with your application.