HBS changed its essay question this year and made it no longer optional.
At MBA Admissions Advisors, we thought that it would be useful to provide our readers with fresh recommendations to tackle Harvard’s new question. We also tried to summarize what the web is saying about it.
Here is the new Harvard Business School’s essay prompt:
“It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your ‘section’. This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting. Introduce yourself.”
Answering the Introduce Yourself question:
You should consider these five pieces of advice when tackling the HBS essay:
1. Don’t repeat yourself: this essay is only one part of your application, use it to share information that can’t be found elsewhere (e.g. in the applications form or on your resume). Think about what professional and personal experiences you would like to highlight and what additional elements you would like to share with the admissions team.You shouldn’t approach this essay much differently than in the recent years, when HBS was asking applicants:
“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”
2. Write as if you were speaking to your classmates: this is one of the main difference from last year’s essay: you are not writing to the admissions committee, but speaking to your classmates instead. It should influence your essay structure in two main aspects.
First, you need to think about a set of stories or anecdotes that you would want to share with your classmates. You may not want to write about things that are very personal in nature and you certainly want to avoid coming across as over-confident or pretentious. After all, you will be pretty much living with your classmates for the next two years, so don’t be annoying.
Second, your story needs to be concise, and easy for your classmates to follow. Your style should be impactful yet simple, as your section mates will not be reading your essay; you will be speaking to them.
3. Don’t be boring: Imagine that you are the last one of your section of 90 students to speak. What are you going to tell your peers that is interesting enough to keep them awake. You will need to find a story that sets you apart from your colleague, one that has the potential to intrigue them. There is no magic formula here, but think about experiences, connections, or unique achievements that might make them want to know more about you. Put yourself in their shoes: if you were listening to a classmate’s introduction, what would you be interested in hearing? This is your chance to deliver a mini-TED talk.
4. Show that you’ve done your homework and know what HBS is about: When they published the new essay question (“Introduce Yourself”), the HBS admissions team also posted a video depicting the HBS case method. This highlights the importance for you to know HBS and its emblematic case method. We don’t recommend that you explicitly address the “Why HBS” question directly in your essay, but you should make sure that your essay highlights the contributions that you will make to your class: what unique experiences and perspectives will you bring to the case discussions. Answering this question may actually take some honest introspection.
5. Be VERY concise: The essay has no word limit, but you need to remember that there are 90 people in your section who will all introduce themselves. If everyone were to take 5 minutes for their speech, it would take 7.5 hours in total… You get the point! Overall, we recommend keeping your essay between 600 and 800 words, and certainly avoid going beyond 1,000 words. When done with your essay, read it out loud and see how long it takes you. Your presentation shouldn’t exceed two to three minutes.
Around the Web: What others are saying about Harvard’s new essay question
To help you start think about ways to Introduce Yourself, we’ve also summarized the web’s best posts on the topic. Here is what we’ve found :
- The admission committee has already seen your resume, data forms, and recommendations so you should build on them rather then reiterate content already covered in your application
- Don’t be too cocky, try to strike a balance between impressive stories and salient interests you would typically share with your classmates
- Leverage the case method video the admission committee shared to emphasis your points and mention what role you would play in the collaborative environment of the case method
- You should aim for 750-1,000 words for your essay
- You need to prioritize meaningful aspect of your life, but present the content in a style and tone suitable for your future classmates whom you just met
- Read your essay out loud and see if it makes sense, it really needs to feel like you are presenting yourself to your classmates
- It shouldn’t be too long. When you read it out loud it should be between 1 and 3 minutes, 5 being the absolute max.
- Simplicity: it needs to be easy to understand
- Don’t overstate your accomplishments, it needs to be believable
- You need to be different and make sure your story is interesting
- Don’t replicate information from your application
For more advice on how to approach your essay, we encourage to read some of our past posts, including our HBS essay tips from last year. Many are still relevant.
Finally, it helps to have someone who doesn’t know you well read your MBA application essays. They’ll be far more likely to spot gaps or inconsistencies that, while they make sense to someone who knows you well, stand out to someone who does not. If you’re interested in having one of us take a look, or if you want to brainstorm about potential essay stories, then reach out through our free consultation service. And of course, stay tuned to this blog for more posts on how to write effective MBA applications.