Crafting a well-written essay for your MBA application is a daunting exercise for most applicants. After all, if you’re applying to a highly selective business school, the admissions staff is typically looking for a reason to ding you. An essay that reveals any weakness in your candidacy could quickly put you in the reject pile.
So what does a successful essay to a top business school look like? For the past two years, The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard Business School, has collected and published essays from successful applicants now enrolled as students at the school. What those collections clearly show is that an essay doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to get you an invite to attend Harvard. “They just need to serviceably present your story and not be annoying of odd or offensive or confusing,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com, the MBA admissions consultant.
The new 51-page essay guide costs $49.99, the proceeds of which go to support the non-profit Harbus Foundation. It contains 16 essays written by students admitted to Harvard’s Class of 2017. For just $20 more, The Harbus will toss in last year’s essay guide which includes an additional 23 essays. You can buy them here. Unlike much of the drivel written about how to write an MBA essay, the advice and the essays come from incoming HBS students who are willing to share the questions they were asked and the essays they wrote.
NO PAINT-BY-NUMBER APPROACH FOLLOWED BY SUCCESSFUL MBA APPLICANTS TO HARVARD
The new essay guide includes 16 successful essays written by this year’s incoming HBS students
Of course, one issue with these essays is that they address a different question asked by the school’s admissions staff. In the past two years, HBS used this prompt: “You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”
All the essays published in both books address that question rather than the 2015-2016 prompt to introduce yourself to your classmates. The big difference between the two questions is the audience. Last year, applicants addressed the admissions committee. This year, they need to address their own peers. The actual content may or may not be all that different which makes these essays valuable and worthwhile.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO WRITE LIKE MALCOLM GLADWELL TO GET ACCEPTED INTO HBS
What you can’t do, of course, is crib from an existing essay. That is the quickest route to rejection. As Kreisberg points out, reading and even studying the essays of those who have made the cut “can loosen you up, show you some useable gimmicks, and prove that you do not need some extensive career road map and belabored rap on why HBS.”
The four samples that follow from the past two years, reprinted here with the permission of The Harbus, may well surprise you. In most cases, content trumps style. Admissions staffers aren’t expecting master storytellers. After all, the Harvard Business School (or any other business school for that matter), does not enroll the likes of a Malcolm Gladwell or a Stephen King.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t take real effort. One MBA student says she labored over 15 drafts that consumed something like 50 hours of time to do her 703-word essay. “It was like six hours on the first eight drafts, then probably just one hour of tweaking on each of the next seven drafts,” she confides. Another says her HBS application 895-word essay was “a work in progress for two months. Wrote it, edited it, let it sit, edited it again, etc. I would say (I wrote) five drafts and (took) 20 hours.“
The greatest benefit of reading these samples? They’ll take a lot of pressure off of you because, although we picked some of the best examples to guide you through the process of doing your own essays, they are quite imperfect.
DON’T MISS: WINNING ESSAYS OF HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS or BEFORE YOU WRITE THAT HBS ESSAY….DO’S & DON’TS
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 .