A soldier who served on the front lines in Afghanistan. A process engineer challenged by a long series of early failures. And a female consultant whose passion became healthcare.
Three MBA applicants to Harvard Business School last year. Three students in the newest crop of MBA students at Harvard this fall. All of them answered the question now being asked of 2017-2018 applicants to Harvard: 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?
The school provides minimal guidance for applicants trying to make an impression. “There is no word limit for this question,” advises HBS admissions. “We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t over think, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”
Each of the three applicants above wrote a clear and compelling essay in their applications, essays that Poets&Quants is reprinting with permission from the MBA Essay Guide Summer 2017 Edition recently published by The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard Business School. The guide contains 39 essays written by successful candidates who are now starting the MBA program at HBS. Proceeds from the sale of the guidebook go to benefit the non-profit foundation that supports The Harbus.
With application deadlines rapidly approaching at Harvard Business School and many other prestige MBA programs, these successful essays will, no doubt, give current candidates a bit of guidance. More importantly, the essays that follow are most likely to provide comfort, that there is no formula or singular way to craft a successful answer.
THREE SUCCESSFUL ESSAYS. THREE VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES.
The latest edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus costs $61.49
In his 1,130-word essay, the U.S. Army applicant ties together his experiences of leading soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan together with staff postings in Army operations and logistics to paint a portrait of a dedicated and people-oriented leader.
Inspired by a selfless act from her nine-year-old mentee, this management consultant decided to challenge herself to make an impact in healthcare. In a 937-word essay, she uses a particularly difficult turnaround situation which she was put in charge of as exemplifying her strongest skills: building relationships and uniting people around a common goal.
In a 1,358-essay, a process engineer opens up to a long series of failures in his early life. By showing both vulnerability and honesty, he is able to transform this list of fruitless endeavors into a credible “badge of honor,” evidence of his resilience, determination and strength of character. It quickly becomes apparent that what appeared to be failures in the first half, actually proved to be successes or openings for new opportunities, given enough time and perseverance.
ONE APPLICANT DID 25 DRAFTS BEFORE COMING UP WITH ONE SHE LIKED ENOUGH TO SUBMIT
Behind every MBA application is a person and a story, and in this trio of representative essays the approaches taken by each candidate is as different as the essays they submitted to the admissions committee at HBS.
The engineer went through took eight drafts over two months. “I thought about what personal traits I wanted to share with the ADCOM and identified stories from my past that identified those traits,” he explains. “After two or three drafts, I’d figured out the right narrative and kept refining it, taking as much as a week to finalize each draft. My best advice is to be honest, start early, and have someone who knows what the ADCOMS are looking for to read through a couple of your drafts and give you pointers.”
The consultant estimates that she went through 25 drafts to get to her final version. “I think the most important thing with the essay is to iterate,” she advises. “Because the question is so open-ended, it is important to reflect as much as possible and give yourself the time (in my case two months) to go on the journey necessary to realize what you care most about communicating and how to do so in the most effective way. I also cannot overstate the importance of finding someone who will give you honest feedback.
(See on the following pages the complete and full MBA essays submitted to Harvard Business School)
Sample essays for professional school—written by students applying for business, law, or medical school—are abundant online, and they also can be highly specialized. Many medical schools require two separate applications: one directly to the target school itself and one through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), both of which usually require essays. Both law and business schools also often require multiple essays of their applicants, with questions ranging from details about your personal background to questions asking you to write an essay exploring a controversial issue. Therefore, I provide just a few samples of professional essays here in the pdf link below, referring you to online sites in the “Self-Study” box below for further study and targeted samples.
For students applying to professional schools who desire further advice and samples, I do recommend three books throughout this manual, all available for purchase online:
In addition to these books all having a well-established and positive reputation, they offer insights from the admissions officers themselves at professional programs, thus giving readers an inside track as to what will be expected of them in both the application essays and the overall application process. With each of these books costing less than the price of most professional school application fees, they’re all well worth the investment.
Overview of Professional Essay Samples
Pharmacy Student Sample
The sample essay from a pharmacy student was written during the student’s sophomore year and before she had experience in the field. Therefore, she chose to highlight her attitude towards and seriousness about her future path of study. She also discusses pre-pharmacy courses she has already completed and stresses her academic success.
Law School Student Sample
The student applying to law school to study environmental law immediately persuades readers of his commitment by telling a personal story of how environmental law affected his family business. He also traces his educational path from community college to a bachelor’s program, where he completed a technical senior thesis with ties to a government agency. With law schools just as interested in recruiting students with a diverse background and life experience as they are with seeking pre-law majors, this student builds a strong case for himself as a candidate in just one page.
Business School Student Sample
The two business application essays, written by the same applicant, are in response to questions posed by an MBA program, which is especially interested in how candidates take risks and overcome challenges. The writer handles the first question, which allows for one page to describe a personal risk and its impact, by vividly recounting a life-changing 3500-mile bike trip he took across the US with his brother at the age of 21. The second essay gives applicants two pages to describe a challenging team experience and their contributions to its success. Here, the writer has the advantage of having already worked in business for a few years after completing his bachelor’s degree, so he wisely turns to his most successful team experience at his company, where he was a project leader.
Short Medical School Student Sample
With medical school applications sometimes asking very focused questions with short answer responses, this student uses the small amount of space allotted to explain why she’s applying to med school by describing how she applied creative thinking to working with a disabled patient in a clinic. Here we recognize that the writer has the sensibility to respond individually to her future patients with respect.
Click here to download a pdf of four professional essay samples.