Harvard Business School Personal Statement

Graduating class: 2010

Current Job Title: Strategic Planning Manager at Invesco

Essay prompt: "What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?"

I first considered applying to Berry College while dangling from a fifty-foot Georgia pine tree, encouraging a high school classmate, literally, to make a leap of faith. Every autumn, my school's graduating seniors took a three-day trip to Berry to bond on the ropes course, talk about leadership, and speak frankly about the future, and it was on that retreat, after the ropes course, that I made my own leap.

I had narrowed my college choices to my top scholarship offers, but after a number of campus visits I still hadn't found a place that truly felt like home. On the retreat, I realized Berry College was different. The students I met were practical, caring, and curious. The 28,000-acre campus was idyllic. The atmosphere was one of service, leadership, and intellectual curiosity (as founder Martha Berry termed it, an education of the "whole person . . . the head, the heart, and the hands"). Berry also offered what I thought was the best opportunity to mold my own academic experience, take diverse leadership roles, and change myself and my college community in the process.

That is exactly what I did. Taking a "case method" approach to my undergraduate education, I complemented every academic lesson with a practical application. I supplemented my formal education in economics, government, and political philosophy with cigar shop chats, competitive international fellowships, leadership in student government, and in-depth academic research. Rather than studying communication, I practiced communication. As a freshman, I was the campus's top new television reporter, and as a junior and senior, I translated that passion for human connection into a stint as Berry's top newspaper opinion columnist and a widely read campus poet. I was the lead in a one-act play and led my college speech team to its highest ever national finish. I learned business, finance, and organizational leadership by founding a community soup kitchen and leading the campus investment group to unprecedented stock market returns; and in everything, I sought not simply to become better educated, but better rounded — a "whole" person—and to change my campus community in the process.

At Berry, I learned that you can stand trepid before a challenge, transition, or experience. Or you can embrace new challenges, define your own experience, and make a leap of faith. I am proud that my undergraduate academic experience was a period lived in leaps.

Why it works

Not only does the essay show that a brand name or Ivy League college isn't the only path to Harvard Business School, it does an excellent job of showing the author's personality through the narrative and the way it's written, has a clear sense of energy, and makes it very clear what John would bring to HBS.

Source: 65 Successful Harvard Business School Applications

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)

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