Tag Archives: essays

How long should your HBS essay be?

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: September 5, 2014)

The HBS round-one application deadline is less than a week away, leaving a lot of candidates scrambling to make the finishing touches on their essays. Inevitably, applicants also seem to be left wondering whether their HBS essay is the “right length” or what the “ideal word count” is for their essay. Without a suggested word limit from HBS to guide you, it’s a reasonable question to ask.

Ultimately, you have to let the content dictate how long your essay will be, but over the past year we’ve been able to collect enough data at MBA Admissions Advisors to make some reasonable guesses as to how long successful HBS essays typically are. The below histogram represents just that — an educated guess based on a limited sample — and while I cannot guarantee it is perfectly accurate, I hope it serves as a rough guide and useful datapoint as you consider the length of your essay.

But it’s worth stressing again that content is king and should ultimately dictate your essay’s length. If you’re looking for advice on the content of your HBS essay, you can check out our detailed post here or reach out to us through our free consultation service; we’re happy to chat about your essay ideas, essay length, or your profile more generally.

The above represents our best guess — based on a reasonable but limited sample — of how long successful HBS essays are typically.

 

MBA Admissions Essays are Disappearing

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: August 5, 2014)

How to Make the Most of a Shrinking MBA Admissions Application

MBA admissions essays are quickly disappearing. In fact, an applicant applying to the top ten MBA programs today would be required to complete fewer than half as many essays today as she would have just five year ago. And – she’d have to do it in a lot less space, with the average word limit per essay a mere 75% of what it used to be:

Since last year, HBS has no longer required that applicants write any essay (although only 10 of the 9,543 candidates that applied last cycle actually opted not to submit one). Wharton, meanwhile, moved to require only a single essay of its applicants this year. Even Columbia and Haas, the only programs among the top ten that still require applicants to write more than two essays, have reduced the word limit that applicants are allowed.

Why Essays are Disappearing

Having read many applications, I can attest to the fact that you don’t need four essays and 2,000 words to gauge an applicant’s compatibility with a program. So I don’t mean to cynically suggest that business schools’ motives are entirely self-serving here. With that said, however, logic holds that requiring fewer essays and shorter word counts – essentially decreasing the cost to apply – will increase the number of candidates that submit applications. Increasing the number of applicants will, in turn, decrease a school’s admittance rate, making the school seem more selective and helping to keep the top-ranked programs top ranked.

Additionally, there’s no doubt that reducing the number of application essays also reduces the burden on busy admissions staff. Ensuring that there are fewer essays to read will also ensure that fewer resources are required to do so, something any admissions director could get behind.

Finally, admissions committees are likely looking for a more focused story and essay set from their applicants, who can meander quite a bit over the course of 2,000 words. This raises the next logical question, which is what fewer essays should mean for aspiring applicants…

What it Means for Your Applications

The reduction in essays has been a pretty remarkable shift, and it certainly has consequences for applicants applying this year:

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Stanford’s “What Matters Most to You, and Why” Essay

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: July 12, 2014)

I’ve found that most admissions consultants provide the same advice on how to answer Stanford’s first essay question, and frankly it’s no different than the advice Stanford provides in the prompt itself: a good answer requires deep self-examination. Unfortunately, I’ve also found this advice to be remarkably unhelpful for MBA applicants setting out to answer the most difficult essay question in business school admissions.

So, while I agree that this essay requires significant self-examination and reflection, I hope to provide some more concrete advice for how to approach that process and how to know when you’ve gotten to a quality answer.

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Wharton Essay Analysis

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: July 10, 2014)

Wharton Business School Essay Tips for the 2014-2015 Admissions Cycle

Over the past five years, Wharton has steadily decreased the number of essays required in its application. This year, that trend continues, as Wharton announced that it will require only one, 500-word essay, a far cry from the four essays totaling over 2,000 words that it required half a decade ago.

At face value, this may just be an attempt by Wharton to reverse the decline in applications they saw with the Class of 2015, the latest class for which stats are available:

Percent Change in Number of Applicants

 

Requiring less essay writing lowers the cost of applying, likely increasing the number of applications Wharton will receive (and also making the school’s admissions stats seem more selective – something that can only help it stay at the top of the US News business school rankings).

But this change also raises the stake for applicants, who have a lot less space to capture the attention of the Wharton admissions committee. In about half the words that are in this blog post, candidates must answer:

What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA?

The question is nearly identical to the prompt provided for last year’s applicants, which asked, “What do you aspire to achieve, personally and professionally, through the Wharton MBA?” Perhaps this biggest different is the word choice Wharton used to set up the question. “Hope to gain” is a lot more down to earth than “aspire to achieve” – likely a subtle cue to applicants that went a bit overboard with their answers last year. Wharton isn’t looking for applicants dreaming of solving poverty and ending hunger; they want to get to know you in a very personal and real way. The shift in language is a subtle hint at that, and something applicants should be mindful of when they’re deciding how lofty they want to make their goals.

Last year, Wharton made a similarly subtle shift in this essay question, which previously had read, “How will a Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives?” The addition of the word “personal” last year was an important prod to get applicants to talk more about their passions and values, as well as their professional ambition and vision. The admissions committee wants to know how you’ll participate in the broader school community – and what you expect to gain from that involvement. It wants to know how you think you’ll grow as a person, so you have to go beyond the commonplace reasons almost all applicants give for why they want an MBA: enhance their skill set and grow their network.

So, given all of this, what does a good Wharton essay response look like? Here are the keys:

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HBS Essay Tips (Class of 2017)

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: September 5, 2014)

Harvard Business School Essay Tips for the 2014-2015 Admissions Cycle

Harvard Business School made headlines last year when it said that writing an essay would be optional for applicants. Only 10 of the 9,543 candidates that applied actually took the liberty of skipping the essay, and only one of those 10 was accepted (which is actually in line with HBS’s overall 12% admit rate).

Candidates who are vying to be a member of HBS’s Class of 2017 will face the same question in this year’s application:

“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?”

So, with just over two months to go until the Round One deadline for HBS, let’s consider some of the most common strategies that didn’t work for applicants last year and consider the best way for this year’s applicants to approach this unapologetically open-ended essay prompt.

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Analyzing the Applications: the Wharton Essays (Part II)

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: December 17, 2013)

In Part I of this post, we looked at how a small change to Wharton’s first essay question will affect answers in a meaningful way. Today, we’ll focus on the second of Wharton’s two essay questions:

“Academic engagement is an important element of the Wharton MBA experience. How do you see yourself contributing to our learning community?”

A good answer to this question will accomplish four things.

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