A soldier who served on the front lines in Afghanistan. A process engineer challenged by a long series of early failures. And a female consultant whose passion became healthcare.
Three MBA applicants to Harvard Business School last year. Three students in the newest crop of MBA students at Harvard this fall. All of them answered the question now being asked of 2017-2018 applicants to Harvard: 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?
The school provides minimal guidance for applicants trying to make an impression. “There is no word limit for this question,” advises HBS admissions. “We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t over think, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”
Each of the three applicants above wrote a clear and compelling essay in their applications, essays that Poets&Quants is reprinting with permission from the MBA Essay Guide Summer 2017 Edition recently published by The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard Business School. The guide contains 39 essays written by successful candidates who are now starting the MBA program at HBS. Proceeds from the sale of the guidebook go to benefit the non-profit foundation that supports The Harbus.
With application deadlines rapidly approaching at Harvard Business School and many other prestige MBA programs, these successful essays will, no doubt, give current candidates a bit of guidance. More importantly, the essays that follow are most likely to provide comfort, that there is no formula or singular way to craft a successful answer.
THREE SUCCESSFUL ESSAYS. THREE VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES.
The latest edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus costs $61.49
In his 1,130-word essay, the U.S. Army applicant ties together his experiences of leading soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan together with staff postings in Army operations and logistics to paint a portrait of a dedicated and people-oriented leader.
Inspired by a selfless act from her nine-year-old mentee, this management consultant decided to challenge herself to make an impact in healthcare. In a 937-word essay, she uses a particularly difficult turnaround situation which she was put in charge of as exemplifying her strongest skills: building relationships and uniting people around a common goal.
In a 1,358-essay, a process engineer opens up to a long series of failures in his early life. By showing both vulnerability and honesty, he is able to transform this list of fruitless endeavors into a credible “badge of honor,” evidence of his resilience, determination and strength of character. It quickly becomes apparent that what appeared to be failures in the first half, actually proved to be successes or openings for new opportunities, given enough time and perseverance.
ONE APPLICANT DID 25 DRAFTS BEFORE COMING UP WITH ONE SHE LIKED ENOUGH TO SUBMIT
Behind every MBA application is a person and a story, and in this trio of representative essays the approaches taken by each candidate is as different as the essays they submitted to the admissions committee at HBS.
The engineer went through took eight drafts over two months. “I thought about what personal traits I wanted to share with the ADCOM and identified stories from my past that identified those traits,” he explains. “After two or three drafts, I’d figured out the right narrative and kept refining it, taking as much as a week to finalize each draft. My best advice is to be honest, start early, and have someone who knows what the ADCOMS are looking for to read through a couple of your drafts and give you pointers.”
The consultant estimates that she went through 25 drafts to get to her final version. “I think the most important thing with the essay is to iterate,” she advises. “Because the question is so open-ended, it is important to reflect as much as possible and give yourself the time (in my case two months) to go on the journey necessary to realize what you care most about communicating and how to do so in the most effective way. I also cannot overstate the importance of finding someone who will give you honest feedback.
(See on the following pages the complete and full MBA essays submitted to Harvard Business School)
Sample MBA Admissions Essays - Accepted by Stern and NYU (Courtesy of EssayEdge)
1. Think about the decisions you have made in your life. Describe the following:
PAST: What choices have you made that led you to your current position?
PRESENT: Why is a Stern MBA necessary at this point in your life?
FUTURE: What is your desired position upon graduation from the Stern School?
I like options, I like security, and I like power. With these wants, I knew at a very early age that I would enter business and thus I attended a college that specializes in the subject. In my first position out of school, I was hired by Dunhill Equities as a cold-caller. After several weeks of being hung up on by angry prospects, I decided that this career path would not lead me to success. I then moved within the firm to a position as sales assistant. While this was by no means my dream job, I learned a tremendous amount about business, and I gained useful exposure to the world of finance. Unfortunately, the company hit a period of instability, and after ten months I transferred with my boss to Coleman & Company. Thirteen months later, that company also began to fail, and I began to search for another path to advancement. With two strikes against me, I hit a home run and was hired by Sanford Bernstein into a challenging job with limitless opportunity for growth.
After almost three years at Bernstein, I am once again seeking career advancement. My education and work experience have provided me with an excellent introduction to business, and they have sparked my interest in finance. Taking into consideration my foundation and my interests, graduate business school is the next logical step. At this point in my life, I consider a Stern MBA to be necessary since I need to gain a broader understanding of finance and to sharpen my analytical skills in order to be successful in corporate finance. Stern’s MBA program will allow me to concentrate in finance, strengthen my global business perspective, and provide me with the opportunity to study with and learn from people with varied backgrounds. The school’s location in the financial capital of the world and in one of the most diverse cities in the world also suits me perfectly.
Aside from advancing my career, I would also like to develop personally. In college I did not join many clubs or organizations, and I did not participate in sports. Instead, I spent all my time studying, working, or dealing with family issues. Having been away from home and living in New York City for four years, I feel the need to make a name for myself and to develop a meaningful social life. I want to take advantage of the many benefits that extracurricular activities offer, and I want to be involved in the Stern community.
Upon graduation from the Stern School, I will seek a position as an associate within the corporate finance department of a large, Wall Street, investment-banking firm. In three to five years, once I have become adept in financial analyses, drafting prospectuses, preparing business presentations and other financial advisory work, I will move into a senior associate position. Here I will develop my abilities to anticipate client needs and to engineer solutions that address these needs. In approximately 10 years, I will have the experience necessary to take on upper-level management responsibilities.
Describe yourself to your MBA classmates. (You may use any method to convey your message: words, illustrations, etc.)
I grew up in a small fishing village in Maine, surrounded by family. Expectations and aspirations are limited in such an environment. I could have made a living exploiting the sea, but chose to do similar work as a corporate executive. Although I have no siblings, my hometown contains over fifty family members, and our agenda of family activities is always packed. Most of my family is employed in the commercial fishing industry, which instilled in me at a very young age, the concept of work. At age eleven, I started babysitting and mowing lawns, and at the age of fifteen I applied for my lobster license. The first summer with my license, I took a job as a sternperson with a fellow female. We were the only two females out there, which was definitely an experience. When the lobstering season ended that year, I took a job at a grocery store bagging groceries. I saved enough money to build a boat and to buy fifty lobster traps; I was on my way. The following summer I continued to work as a sternperson, and I also fished my own traps. I continued lobstering throughout the rest of high school and college, and it helped me finance my college education.
In addition to being ambitious and motivated enough to put my heart into even mundane, low-level tasks, I am also extremely organized. This is one characteristic that has always received praise. I pay particular attention to detail, which I believe has contributed to my success thus far. I take pride in my work, and I look at it as a representation of myself. In my position at Sanford Bernstein as a Consultant Liaison, I market my firm to the financial consulting community. Maintaining the integrity of the firm is vital and errors are disastrous. When training new group members, I stress this point most thoroughly.
I work in a group that currently has six members. The group serves as a central source of information for the firm, and its success relies on an extraordinary amount of cooperation from each of us. As a senior member, I am able to contribute to the group in several ways including: training group members, controlling the quality of the group’s output, managing and accurately completing multiple requests with short turnaround times, gathering and conveying information from senior investment professionals, collecting and calculating data, maintaining databases, overseeing projects aimed at making long-term improvements to the group’s processes, and strengthening my own foundation of knowledge to be used as a resource. Recently, as the result of a manager leaving the firm, I have also taken on some of the managerial responsibilities for the group including prioritizing and delegating assignments.
Though I am an excellent team player, in business school I would like to sharpen my managerial skills. I have found that I need to overcompensate for my “soft” appearance in order to get my point across. I hope to improve my negotiating skills and to gain more experience in getting group members to carry their own weight. At the same time, I do not want to become a tyrant. To be effective, it is important for a manager to maintain the proper balance of power and compassion. Only in this way, will I be able to lead a team of people to realizing the goals of a firm.
(Optional) Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admission Committee. If you are unable to submit a recommendation from a current employer, please give your reason here.
To satisfy my desire for success, I must continue my education. Of the six business schools to which I am applying, the Stern School is my first choice. I am very excited about entering an MBA program that will allow me to focus on my interest in finance as well as provide me with the career possibilities and exposure to resources, such as networks and learning tools, which I do not currently have. At Stern, I know that my investment of time, energy, and money will be well rewarded. At this point in my life, I believe I have great potential to gain much from a business degree since I have been exposed to the business environment for the past eight and a half years. I now posses a strong foundation to build upon, and I am ready to assume the rigors and challenges of the Stern School’s MBA program.
In addition to its academic program, the Stern community is itself very appealing. The three undergraduate schools that I applied to were Babson, Bentley and Bryant. Babson College became my first choice as soon as I visited its quaint campus and fell in love with the friendly atmosphere and cultural diversity. From someone coming from a small fishing village in Maine, it was refreshing to be surrounded by family. Living in New York City has broadened my exposure to include a fast-paced, career-minded atmosphere. The combination of these characteristics at the Stern School will provide me with an excellent learning environment, and I hope to attend Stern for many of the same reasons I selected Babson.
For access to 100 free sample successful admissions essays, visit EssayEdge .