Best tips for answering Harvard Business School HBS MBA Class of 2016 Application & Essay Questions


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2014-2015 Question and analysis 

I was recently at an event talking with some veteran MBA admissions officers. We all agreed that the MBA admissions process is becoming much more like the law school admissions process.

For the top schools, it seems to matter more where you went to school, what you studied, what your grades were like, where you showed leadership, where you work, what you do, and how impressive your standardized test scores look. 

Sure, HBS and Stanford GSB are going to admit a few people with 550 and brag about it, but that doesn't mean that person will be you.

If my hypothesis bears any weight, then we can extrapolate that the HBS "non-essay" is actually a statement of purpose in disguise. Of course, most MBA admissions officers would not want to call their essay a statement of purpose that because doing so might motivate busy or imagination-challenged applicants to find or purchase templates and sample statements of purpose instead of the same old "why MBA" and "what is your greatest accomplishment" answers that we've all been reading for years. 

Whether or not you agree with me, I encourage you to write your first HBS essay draft as a statement of purpose. You may later find some creative breakthrough. In fact, I hope you do find your voice. As a professional writing coach since 1990, I always want to see people keeping their story in their own voice.

As a writer, I know that voice is sometimes hard to find and master. I had a bad stutter and a "Maryland R" speech impediment until I was 10. Please trust me when I say that confident self-expression is a gift few of us are born with. It all takes LOTS more work than you might imagine. 

Alternative essay and storytelling / narrative structures work but they take LOTS of time. If you only find yourself with 10 minutes a day to write, then I suggest starting with the following set of questions to guide your self reflective writing.

  1. What academic and lifestyle choices led you to your present position?
  2. Where do you hope to go in the future? 
  3. Why is that the best activity or endeavor you can imagine for your life? 
  4. How does an MBA best prepare you to achieve your career aspirations? 
  5. Why does [THIS SCHOOL] best prepare you to maximize your potential? 
  6. How would you define our student culture? 
  7. How can you contribute to [OUR PROGRAM / STUDENT CULTURE / ALUMNI NETWORK]?



As always, enjoy the process. If you love sharing your story, chances are your audience will be that much more likely to enjoy reading it.

- Updated by Vince on 10 Dec 2014



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