Harvard Business School essay: 3 tips to stand out

Harvard Business School. Courtesy photo

Earlier this month, Harvard Business School ad his two application cycles for the next promotion of 2024.

Harvard’s Open Editorial Prompt asks applicants to answer the following question, “As we review your application, what more would you like us to know when we review your application to the Harvard Business School MBA program?”

Karla Cohen, expert coach at Fortuna Admissions and former Associate Director of HBS Doctoral Programs and MBA Board Member, recently offered some tips on how to write a compelling MBA essay for Harvard and what school B admissions officials are looking for .


Cohen says character is the most important factor HBS admissions officers look for in applicants.

“The admissions committee is looking for passionate, principled individuals who have the potential to fulfill the HBS mission to education leaders who are making a difference in the world,” Cohen writes.

While School B says it specifically examines past academic performance and GMAT or GRE scores, it also places importance committed community citizenship.

“Much of our MBA experience – including the case method, section life, and student-run events – requires the active collaboration of the entire HBS community,” according to the HBS website. “This is why we are looking for students who exhibit the highest ethical standards and respect for others, and who can make positive contributions to the MBA program. Good candidates should be willing to share their experiences, support their colleagues, teach and learn from their peers. “


According to Cohen, one of the biggest pitfalls candidates face when writing an MBA essay is simply writing about their professional achievements.

“What really made my eyes shine were the stories of candidates who have come through life, never having failed or struggled, who have always excelled at everything and then got down to the details of a deal or of a consulting project, ”Cohen writes. “It cannot be overstated: your essay shouldn’t read simply as a story of success and achievement. It’s a common pitfall, and it robs your story of the potential to bond emotionally. Above all else, write an essay that you would like to read yourself.


The most compelling and powerful essays are the stories rooted in real life, including chess. Cohen says one of the best ways to write a compelling essay is to be vulnerable in your writing.

“Most people are afraid of being real and spend hours polishing and perfecting an ‘image’ or ‘brand’ that is an illusion,” she writes. “When you take the risk of being yourself, of being vulnerable, it inspires a human connection. It gives you credibility. What is more interesting to read – the story of someone who walked through life and worked everything perfectly, every time? Or the story of someone who struggled, faced extraordinary challenges, and demonstrated tenacity and resilience not only to survive, but also to thrive? “


When writing, it’s also important to write in a way that guides the reader through your experience – from the feelings you’ve had to the lessons you’ve learned.

“Avoid the temptation to qualify your experience or tell readers what they’re supposed to think,” Cohen writes. “Show them instead. For example, which is more powerful – someone who says, ‘I had a horrible flight’ or, ‘We got to the runway and I could see from my window the dark clouds above; the captain announced once cleared for take-off we were in a bumpy race. I could feel my pulse quicken.

Finally, be sure to relate your experience to the lessons you learned.

“Point out how it shaped you as a human being and what you learned from the experience and remember to SHOW them the impact rather than just telling them,” Cohen writes.

Sources: Fortuna Admissions, HBS, HBS

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