HBS Deadlines, Essays & Analysis (Class of 2014, Starting Fall 2012)


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Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

Analysis: In altering its longstanding three accomplishments question (ref: What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such?), HBS seems to have loosened up a bit. But while your choices no longer have to represent your "most substantial" wins, clearly you should be choosing from your most noteworthy achievements, both personal and professional, especially if they connect with your reasons for pursuing an MBA. And after having read many tortured and overwrought explanations for "why do you view them as such", I can imagine that HBS wants you to focus more on the accomplishments themselves and your enabling actions and decisions, from which they can reach their own conclusions about your abilities, values, and characteristics - classic "show, don't tell".

Editing hint: for powerful storytelling in such a short space, concentrate on action, action, action, with just enough context to understand the situation and results, and, of course, your impact.

For further reference, please see: The MBA Leadership Essay

Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)

Analysis: I like this change from HBS's past focus on just one "mistake" (ref: What have you learned from a mistake?), which is a fairly common and easy essay for most MBA applicants to write, because it demands more self-reflection and understanding of the role you played - either through action or inaction - in a failure, mistake, or setback. Requiring three of them will also give the HBS adcom a better sense of the adversity you've faced and risks you've taken throughout your life. I can imagine that some of these setbacks were overcome at the time, and the lessons from others might have paved the way for your accomplishments above. And while your accomplishments taken together should demonstrate a core set of strengths that you can build on at your MBA, your setbacks should show your ability to learn and grow - and not necessarily succeed - under a variety of settings. In other words, don't include similar setbacks that would indicate a negative behavioral pattern and inability to overcome a weakness. Also, focus on the learning, and not on sneaking these experiences in as "disguised accomplishments". I could also imagine that one or possibly more of your setbacks could serve as motivation for pursuing an MBA, as long as you don't miss the overall focus of this question, which is to show your ability and willingness to face and grow from adversity.

For further reference, please see: The MBA Failure Essay

Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)

Analysis: This is a straightforward Goals Essay question, which HBS has once again made mandatory. The only thing I'll add is that you should not waste words on explaining why you want HBS. In such a short amount of space, it's virtually impossible to say anything of much depth, and when applicants try, they almost always mention the same things: case method, unparalleled leadership training, etc. Skip it, and focus on your goals and motivations. Connect them to your accomplishments and setbacks. HBS is smart. They don't need a recitation of their curriculum.

For further reference, please see: The MBA Goals Essay

Answer a question you wish we'd asked. (400 words)

Analysis: A freebie. Obviously, you should be writing about something that will provide another dimension to your profile. Were most of your accomplishments professional? Then this is your chance to balance that with something personal. Last year, three of my clients were invited to interview at HBS (Two were admitted). All three of them submitted the following essays: 1) 3 accomplishments and 2) mistake (mandatory), 3) goals and 4) introduction to classmates (choice). I'm not saying this was "THE Winning Pattern", but for them it provided the best configuration to show them as accomplished, interesting and balanced individuals.

Joint Degree Applicants:

How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (400 words)

Letter of Recommendation Questions:

Please comment on the context of your interaction with the applicant. If applicable, briefly describe the applicant's role in your organization. (250 words)

How does the candidate's performance compare to other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (250 words)

Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)

Please make additional statements about the applicant's performance, potential, or personal qualities you believe would be helpful to the MBA Admissions Board. (250 words)