PMBA Coach Harvard Business School Class of 2022 – Essay Question & Analysis – Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

Once again, Harvard Business School was the first to officially kick off the official application season with the announcement (as predicted) that its application question will remain the same for class of 2022 hopefuls.

While the application itself officially opens in June, we recommend that you take this opportunity to get a head start on your essay.

The 2019-2020 deadlines are as follows:

Round 1: September 4, 2019

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Round 2: January 6, 2020


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

Below we have reiterated Personal MBA Coach’s key tips for approaching the one and only essay: “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?”

I have spent the past week meeting with top admissions directors during the 2019 Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) conference. As the Chair of the Survey Committee who sits on the AIGAC Board of Directors, I presented the results of our comprehensive 2019 survey to admissions directors of top MBA programs, including: HBS, MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, UVA Darden, Berkeley Haas, Michigan Ross, Yale SOM, and London Business School, while also gathering key insights from each school on their trends, upcoming changes and advice for future applicants.

Authenticity was one of the key emerging themes. Admissions directors reiterated how they want you to be honest and reflect that you have growth to come. You are applying to business school to learn and develop. Do not write what you think admissions directors want to hear or paint a picture of perfection. As I share my advice for tackling the HBS essay, I cannot stress enough the importance of authenticity.

This 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 this 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 essays.

Check out this video

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; 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.

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 details. Add names. Describe your setting. Tell the reader how you felt.
  • This 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.

PMC specializes in providing its candidates with tailored advice, helping them to articulate their unique stories.

If you need personal support navigating your MBA application, reaching out to Wharton and MIT graduate, Personal MBA Coach may be worthwhile. PMC’s comprehensive support includes mock interviews with a team of former M7 interviewers and customized GMAT/GRE tutoring with tutors who scored in the 99th percentile.

This article has been re-published from Personal MBA Coach’s blog.

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