Just a few weeks (or even days) before the first round application deadlines for most top MBA programs, including Harvard Business School, MIT, Stanford, Booth, Kellogg, LBS, and Wharton, we thought that MBA applicants could use a checklist for items to review before hitting the “Submit” button.
View of Harvard University and the Charles River
1. Thoughts About Harvard’s Essay
In the past, Dee Leopold, former director of admissions at HBS, tried to offer comforting words to its MBA applicants. She insisted that the essay should not be considered a hit or miss exercise. It is really just meant to add color to your application package. More recently, HBS’ new dean of admissions, Chad Losee, wrote the following: “(…) As in years past, we will read (and re-read) and consider the application in its entirety —application, resume, essay, recommendations, transcripts, interview, post-interview reflection, GMAT or GRE scores, etc. Said another way, no one thing will get you admitted or “released” from our admissions process.” Therefore, do not feel that you have to cover any particular topic in this optional essay. You set the rules here, depending on what you believe will allow the admissions committee to better understand what makes you unique. Interestingly, this year’s essay prompt is similar to the one HBS used just a couple of years ago: “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?”. In 2014, Kyle Watkins had provided advice about a very similar HBS essay. We also wrote about the overall HBS application process in several posts. Make sure to check them out.
2. Completing The Application Form
Most business schools have a lengthy online application form. You should allocate at least 3 hours to go through it and fill it out properly. You will be asked about past job titles, exact employment dates, and compensation data. You will have to describe your employer, explain why you left the company, detail your key accomplishments and most significant challenges. You already should have some of this on your resume, but in a different format. Although Harvard’s admissions team is telling you not to obsess, you’ll notice that it’s easy to spend 20 to 30 minutes writing a meaningful job description in the space allotted to your answer. And then you will go through the same excruciating process for your extra curricular activities, awards and recognition, and academic experience. Some candidates tend to describe the online form as a collection of mini-essays, and approach the form’s questions as such. Don’t fall into that trap. Do your best, but be ready to settle for good enough, unless you are willing to spend 10 hours filling that form.
In any case, do not panic if the options from a specific drop down menu do not match perfectly your personal situation, and do not sweat over the limited space allocated to describe your work experiences. Filling this form properly is important, but keep in mind that the admissions committee will largely rely on your resume to assess your pre-MBA experience.