Harvard Business School (HBS) asks candidates to write only one essay, but its open-ended prompt can be daunting for some:
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? (no word limit)
However, the admissions committee is just interested in learning more about who you are and, even more, what drives you. In other words, what do you value, and what makes you tick?
This essay is obviously for business school, but this does not mean that you can only write about your work life or about something special you accomplished at your firm. (Just imagine how boring reading 10,000 essays like that would be! And how would anyone stand out?) Instead, spend some time thinking about how your values have emerged, evolved, and enabled you to become the person you are today. You can touch on the professional, of course—it is understandably a large part of your identity—but your goal is not to just string together as many professional stories as possible. After all, the admissions committee already has your resume and recommendations, which will give them a pretty good idea of where you’ve been and what you’ve done. For this part of the HBS application, you need to focus on conveying your character and personality so the admissions committee can understand how you have grown and developed and carved out your place in the world. If something from your work experience is central to this, then you should discuss it, but do not force the professional angle if it is not.
Similarly, you also do not need to outline your short- or long-term goals or explain why you want to be at HBS. After all, if the admissions committee wanted this information, the essay question would ask for it explicitly. If such details somehow fit your essay, then including them makes sense, but they are not mandatory. We have helped many (many!) applicants get into HBS without discussing their goals, and nothing ruins a beautifully written essay faster than a cloying and poorly conceived phrase like “And I want to earn my MBA from HBS because….” Think carefully about whether your goals and your interest in the HBS program are part of a compelling picture of who you are as an individual before writing about either one at length.
Finally, “no word limit” could easily be three of the scariest words ever in reference to an application essay. Some candidates see this as license to write 2,500 words because they feel they just couldn’t possibly distill all their experience into anything shorter. But there is no way an admissions reader is going to be excited about reading an essay that long, so asking them to do so will end up negatively affecting their opinion of you. We recommend aiming for roughly 1,000−1,250 words. A little less or more is fine, but focus on including only the most important examples and experiences that truly reflect the person you are today.
In Stratus Admissions’ Guide to Getting into Harvard Business School, you will find information on a variety of the MBA program’s offerings such as the FIELD Program, Innovation Labs, the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, and the HBS Health Care Conference. This free guide also includes class profile statistics and our expert advice on answering the business school’s application essay questions. Download our brand-new guide to learn more about Harvard Business School!