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 MBA Application Essay - Before
Essay 1: Please discuss the factors, both professional and personal, influencing the career decisions you have made that, in turn, have led you to your current position. What are your career goals for the future, and why is now the appropriate time to pursue an MBA at XXX? How will you avail yourself of the resources at the XXX to achieve these goals?
PAST CAREER DEVELOPMENT AND FUTURE GOALS
Have you ever seen, heard of or witnessed any of the following things?
-- The surface of the sea littered with dead sheep.
-- A domestic waste landfill explosion leading to a number of deaths due to the resultant flood of waste?
-- Tea vendors offering radiation-contaminated tea for half-price?
-- A little girl's death resulting from her fall through an open sewage manhole in her school garden?
-- Radioactive waste sold to unsuspecting scrap dealers, causing their deaths.
-- A twenty year-old tanker breaking into pieces, spilling hundreds of tons of crude oil and killing sea life.
Unfortunately, such environmental disasters have become common place in Turkey.
Concerned about such situations, and aware of the insensitivity of the authorities towards our environment and health, I sought to learn ways to prevent these types of disasters. At the age of fifteen, I decided to focus my studies on environmental sciences, in order to equip myself with the technical tools I would need to do just that.
I went on to earn a Master's degree in environmental sciences, subsequently attending a professional international management certificate program in order to gain management perspective.
In order to make use of my technical knowledge and management skills in an effective way, I was aware of the fact that I should start working in a large company that would in turn would provide me insight experience from various industries and the international business arena.
I have now worked in the energy and environment group of Lec Corporation headquarters, the first and biggest diversified conglomerate, for nearly two years as a project engineer, mainly responsible for environment and energy sector investments of our holding companies.
This work position gave me an opportunity to interact with businessmen from all over the world which expanded my international perspective. Working with American partners and English consultants, I gleaned the subtle meaning of being a professional. Though it was unusual for a young associate to be a representative for my company at such events, I am proud to say that my outstanding work performance allowed me to seize the opportunity to attend various meetings with local and international governmental bodies such as OPIC, IFC and the World Bank that increased my self-confidence and improved my management skills.
While working in various business lines, such as automotive industry, consumer durables and energy sector, I have realized that the root cause of many environmental problems is financial. I believe that many people in the environmental sector are so ignorant or insensitive that they will cheat customers to increase profits. Furthermore, businesses do not prioritize environmental investments and, as a result, insufficient funds are allocated to adequately prevent problems. For instance, with a population over eight million people, Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey does not have a properly operating sewage system, and in most of the areas wastewater is discharged directly to Bosphorus.
Ultimately, I am interested in helping to solve my country's problems by starting my own environmental services business in Turkey, serving both local and international customers giving cost effective and appropriate solutions differing from waste management to safety management.
WHY MBA AND XXX SCHOOL?
Despite my experience, I still lack some important knowledge and management experiences/skills, especially in finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. I also miss important knowledge of American environment. It is essential that I master these skills since dealing with aspects of international business will be an integral part of my job as an entrepreneur.
The XXX School's MBA program is the bridge where I am and where I want to be.
The inventiveness and uniqueness of the XXX School's both entrepreneurial and finance programs impressed me. I believe that I will increase my practical knowledge of entrepreneurship from interacting with my XXX School classmates. I value the fact that at the XXX School, entrepreneurial education does not stop at the classroom but continues through internships and extracurricular activities. I feel that a business school for entrepreneurs should balance a dose of theory with real-world application. The XXX School's curriculum and hands-on experiences through associations, internships and the management field study provide this balance, as demonstrated by the variety and success of its alumni.
I am also drawn to XXX School because of its emphasis on teamwork and technology. XXX School's MBA program proposes such exciting courses and programs as High Technology Entrepreneurship, International Finance,12-week field application projects, global immersion program directed to teach thinking and acting globally.
Further, the XXX School's flexible entrepreneurial program allows students to choose electives from 200 courses that will allow me to tailor my course of study directly to my career interests.
After a long search I found in XXX a top quality business school, able to provide me with the opportunities to gain the knowledge I need for my future in addition to putting me in contact with a diverse student environment and ensure my perception of American values. Moreover, my background and my desire to succeed will allow me to flourish in the XXX program.
I liked the alumni network and student clubs present at XXX.XXX has one of the strongest and largest alumni networks with 70,000 alumni in more than 130 countries of which I would like to be honored to be a member of.
I count very much on earning a XXX School MBA degree to help me strengthen both my finance knowledge and entrepreneurial skills, necessary to enable me to secure a position as an environmental specialist in a multinational American-based firm; this, in turn, will prepare me to accomplish my long term ambition of starting my own company and helping Turkey improve its environmental record.
I am now on my way to the next step in my career planning which involves receiving an MBA degree from XXX. My experience and technical knowledge guided my success during each new venture I attempted. These early accomplishments boosted my confidence that I would soon be closer to my goal of being a successful young entrepreneur.
I believe I am on the right path to achieve my goals. I now anxiously await the next phase in my development. I know that my skills along with my experience will continue to aid in achieving my long-term objective.
Essay 2: Describe a personal achievement that has had a significant impact on your life. In addition to recounting this achievement, please analyze how the event has changed your understanding of yourself and how you perceive the world around you.
When I was an undergraduate, I was asked, as part of a class, to select a project on which I wished to work with supervisor whom I was interested in studying with. I had chosen to study with the Head of the University's Chemistry Department on a project named "Environmental Risk Assessment of Hazardous Materials." After the earthquake disaster that hit Turkey, causing approximately 30,000 people to die, the State Planning Organization of Turkey has used the model we developed in the project to determine the risks posed by materials spilled around the region devastated by the earthquake.
In addition to working with me on my project, my supervisor also provided me with other important assistance. My supervisor was a person who not only lectured about the issue at hand but also shared his vast knowledge about the practical experience of his professional and personal life. His main goal was to shape his students into well-educated and socially active engineers with strong personal and professional ethics. He took me to many seminars, fairs, and conferences in order to give me the background necessary to become an engineer of whom he could be proud. On my own, I became president of the Environment Club, organizing technical site visits and meetings regarding environmental engineering for freshmen students.
One day, my supervisor told me about a non-profit organization named Cekud of which he was a member. I was impressed with the group's activities. Cekud's main activity is a tree-planting campaign called "Seven Trees." The idea for the campaign comes from the assumption that the average person consumes almost seven trees for his or her needs annually.
I decided to organize a planting day with Cekud. We have rent a bus and went to the decided planting are together with forty-five students. There were also small kids of ages between eight to fifteen associated with Cekud representatives. When I asked who they were, I am informed that they were the participants of one of the other Cekud activities named " Education for our future". Main purpose of the program is to educate children of poor families who can not afford to take preparatory courses for college and/or university entrance exams. At that day we have planted 650 trees and named the little forest as our Club's forest.
I was impressed with Cekud's activities and decided to work at Cekud as a volunteer especially for the education program. While working with Cekud , I have also learned about their other activities such as restoration of historical houses.
I have noticed that Cekud is the place to make one of my childhood dreams come true.
I spent much of my childhood moving around Turkey because my father was an officer in the Turkish army. The perspective and insight gained during that time have been significant factors in my personal development.
In the early 1980's, there was a great deal of political unrest in Turkey, and security was a major issue for citizens. For a time, we attended school in the company of soldiers. I attended three different primary schools because my family moved so often.
We stayed in least developed towns of Eastern Turkey. People were suffering from unemployement as a result welfare. My classmates were from poor families who could hardly speak Turkish and could not afford to get school uniforms even hardly afford to receive basic human needs such as medicine, food, education to survive. Those regions were much affected by the unpredictable economic conditions and terorism present in Turkey in those days.
Because of this instability, the quality of my education suffered. Yet I was well aware that I would need to study hard in order to succeed in life. With my determination and perseverance, I did well in my college and university entrance exams, winning admission to one of the best colleges in Ankara and to university in Istanbul.
With our luck and ambition, we succeeded in receiving the best education possible, but I knew first hand the difficult lives these children were facing. Early in life, I vowed to help the people if I was ever able to do so. Knowing about the facts of Turkey as a well educated and a loyal Turkish youngman., I am feeling responsible for those people.
I started allocating approximately six hours at the weekeneds educating those kids. Giving them mathematics, physics and chemistry lectures. I took the responsibility of two kids who were at the age of ten and eleven years old. We targeted to make them pass through the private college entrance exam that will be governmentally sponsored all through their education life.
After a seven months of period we succeeded. They entered the colleges. This summer they are going to graduate from high school. I not only lectured them but also became their brother by listening their problems and trying to solve them. We also went to picnics and arranged city sight seeing tours to make them also socially strong citizens. Cekud became the chance I needed to honor my vow.
I consider helping these two kids to be my most significant personal accomplishment to date.
As one of our famous poets Nazim Hikmet mentioned;
"Karanliktan sikayet edecegine bir mum da sen yak"
"Do not complain about the darkness, instead add a candle". My candles are still burning.
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