HBS Class of 2018 Essay Question Analysis

HBS has one required question this year and while it is very simple and straightforward, there are many things to consider when drafting a response.


Question: It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.

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Introduce yourself.

Note: Should you enroll at HBS, there will be an opportunity for you to share this with them.

We suggest you view this video before beginning to write.

There is no word limit for this question.  We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.


How to answer the question

Review the rest of your application to get a sense of what has already been communicated to HBS. This includes your letters of recommendations, short answer questions and resume. While this essay can certainly discuss items already in your application, it is a good idea to try to have it be somewhat complementary.

What are some things you could address?

  • Explain when you were a protagonist. How did you get there? What did you learn?
  • An interest or passion of yours. How has it made you a better leader?
  • Reflect on why are interested in learning through the case method and how you will contribute to the classroom. It is not necessary to specifically write how you will do this, rather think about the characteristics that define you and how those characteristics will manifest themselves in your team discussions. If you love lively debates with friends, talk about how that helps you to grow.
  • Leadership and motivation: While you don’t want to come across as too intense, you definitely want your passion, drive and motivation to be evident.
  • Lastly, this does not have to be and should not be completely professional. Your classmates will want to know all about you, not just what you have accomplished but what makes you interesting.

What should you keep in mind while writing?

  • Imagine reciting the essay out loud to your classmates
  • This could be a starting point for an interview conversation. (as Dee mentions in her blog) If you have something very impressive that hasn’t been written about elsewhere, you could discuss it here. Just be prepared to talk about it in great detail during the interview.
  • Reveal interesting things that will peak the interest of both adcom and your classmates. After all, the point of this is to start a dialogue. You don’t have to leave stories unfinished but write something that will make the reader curious to hear more about.
  • This essay will be VERY different for everyone. Even more than traditional essay questions, this requires very deep thought and reflection. There is an art to crafting a successful answer here. Make sure to take the time to do so.

How long should the essay really be?

  • Most essays that work will fall somewhere between 500-1000 words, with some being over 1000.
  • Absolutely consider quality over quantity. If you can write a solid 600 word essay that is powerful and moving, that can absolutely work and lengthening it for no reason would only hurt you.

The case method video is very informative and inspiring! I have all of my clients watch it multiple times as it helps put you in the mindset of an HBS student and better prepares you not only for the application but the interview. Watch it a few times, especially the day before your interview.

If you would like individual and personal support developing your story for the Harvard Business School application, or have questions about choosing the right topics to answer these questions, contact me to learn how I can help! Ask your queries here.

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