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How to Answer New HBS Questions

TIPS FOR ANSWERING NEW HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL ESSAYS FOR 2010


Essays: first two required, then you must pick two more from remaining 5.

  • What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)
  • What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)
  • Please respond to two of the following (400-word limit each):
    1. What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
    2. Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
    3. Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
    4. Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
    5. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
QUESTION HBSGURU NOTES
What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)
The most important question by far: as a rule these accomplishments should reflect your work, your development and extra currics. The purpose of essays for HBS is find out what makes you tick --they already will know a lot about you, so think added value not sketching out your story, they know that. OK to write one that in general says, "Coming to USA (or overcoming childhood b..c of poverty blah blah) and thriving by dint of finding mentors etc. is accomplishment--e.g. life story summary. Usual work b.s. is ok, e.g. I did X at work which required being leader and overcoming obstacles and then say how; also ok to say I did extra curric X which had impact 1 2 3 and here is how I did it. Accomplishments should be concrete w. metric outcomes if pzzble, e.g. impact at work was x, raised y dollars, increased club size fr. x to y. But more imptly, you need to explain HOW YOU DID IT, how got others to cooperate, etc. etc.
What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)
Yikes, this Q sucks and usually does not add value, IMHO, after having read over ~300 of them last year. It is possible to 'score' here w. some deeply personal story about addiciton and recovery, disappointing or lying to parents, lovers etc. and why, & what you learned, but the vast majority of answers, even among accepted kids, take the form, "I made a mistake at work b.c. [too arrogant, too rushed, too focused on my ego, did not listen b.c., too immature to get help, too afraid to get help, blah, blah, or mismanaged my first subord for same reasons, and consequences and b.s. about how better you have become w. examples. Duh, try to avoid that, but remember, 70 percent of the admitted class wrote essays just like that, so if you are not fortunate enuf to have recovered fr. meth, etc. well, write one of those dufus essays.
What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience?
hmmmm, do not answer this Q in general UNLESS you need to--e.g. explain bummer grades or something else clinical and important, it is REALLY hard to add value w. this. My guess, number of admitted kids who answer this Q=less than 10 percent, which cld also be the pool of all applicant percent (or maybe not, if there are LOTS of kids explaining bad grades who dont get in. )
Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.
winner!--most kids answer this (both admitted and all applicants) b.c. it is HBS sweet spot, it allows you to do a leadership demonstration piece. Classic answer is Over x period I dealt w. Org Y, and made these innovations, added members, built out org (specify) and here is how I got results and others to help me. Oddball but effective variants are engagment w. your family or a cause (e..g based on your affinity or ethnic background) over time, same jive tho. What you did, how you led, or worked in teams, etc. etc. As a rule extra currics work better here, but if you got a super strong work story, that works, but less effective IMHO.
Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision.
hmmmmm, new Q. My hunch, in general. AVOID, unless you are burning to answer this b.c. you actually have MADE a difficult decision. What works in these apps is real accomplishments w. results, bang, bang bang. altho adcoms will swear til Sunday they want to know how you think blah blah and may even believe it themselves (until actually reading apps and not pontificating in Forums) -going thru some decision tree etc. etc. like who cares? Sure, if you can hing style, and other key decisions like that, or how you decided, after leading student demos in Comcombine this w. some accomplishment, e.g. how as captain of team I benched star player b.c. of my coacmie country growing up, you called them off b.c. loss of life was not worth it, well, yeah, if you got a story like that, sure. Coming out to parents, hmmmmm, my guess is, they are going to get A LOT of those stories . Stay in the closet, essay wise. altho trust me, in next year's admitted class there will be ~20-30 kids w. coming out to parents stories admitted, but it will not be THAT essay which got them in. pulling plug on mom or dad, etc. could work if you can show how you marshalled medical and other family members to make that call.
What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?
Most kids answer the career vision essay b.c. 1. they already got answer fr. other apps, they think HBS cares, they want to also waste our friggin time by saying WHY HBS (HBS DONT CARE!!!!) Well, the trend is your friend here, you should answer this Q too, but beware--you need to think MACRO, we want a VISION not a business plan, not a continuation of what you are doing, but some vision of how the platform of your current life and accomplishments is a sort of foundation for a vision which is based on it in some deep way but yet builds it out. A good answer has a PC or informed variant of whatever industy you choose, dont worry about being a cliche, all those cliches get in, and several DUMS DUMS thinking of marching to their own stupid drum often do real damage here. Make sure what you want to do sorta requires an MBA, and slug in some part which explains personal sig. to you.
Write a cover letter to your application introducing yourself to the Admissions Board.
Dunno, this seems like fun, but you should have introduced yourself LONG before this by dint of all the other essays and accomplishments and resume. Soooo, I have a hard time seeing a good answer here. As a rule, wild stuff, like list of favorite songs, books, etc. and Twitter type baloney, which you think is SOOOO intimate and clever, dont work. I've read several attempts at that, so you keep the sun roof open in the winter and sing along to the radio, who gives a F. DO NOT EXPLAIN WHY YOU WANT TO ATTEND HBS, THAT IS NO VALUE AND FOR LOSERS. SURE SOME KIDS WHO DO THAT WILL GET IN, BUT IT WILL BE DESPITE THAT PART. I suppose if you got some amazing Lost Boys of Sudan story w. family trauma, etc. etc, you could do a good job here, you could also finese career vision question in here and write cover letter about how background etc. impacts goals, yeah, but you could do that w. vision question too (and should). Dangers here more likely than value. But tempting, good luck, and your funeral.
   
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