Harvard Business School Essay Book

Over the next several days, Sanford Kreisberg, the HBSGURU and beloved odds-maker here at Poets&Quants, will be reviewing the essays in The Harbus e-book to give us his idea of what made them work or not.

The new book of 23 application essays from Harvard Business School admits in the Class of 2016 was published this week (see For Sale: Successful HBS Applicant Essays). We asked Sandy to have a look at the book and provide a tell-it-like-it-is tear down of each essay. His analysis is, as always, irreverent, penetrating and filled with important lessons on how to craft an ideal essay, whether you are applying to the Harvard Business School or any other top-ranked MBA program. And if you have no intention of completing a business school application, his assessments is laugh-out-loud entertainment.

In preparation for this project, we asked Sandy what he thought of the e-book, now being sold for $50 a pop. 

So, Sandy, what is your general impression?

Well, first, reading this book will probably confirm the myth that anyone can get into HBS with some odd or quirky essay, since several of the 23 essays reprinted here are lousy and odd and badly written and hard to follow because the editors have taken out company names. Plus we know nothing else about the person writing the essay, e.g., what their stats were, where they went to school or worked, what country they came from, etc.  The editors could have done a much better job if they had included a blurb about the writer, even if they wanted to preserve the writer’s anonymity.

Sandy Kreisberg, founder of HBSGuru.com

OK, what is good about the book?

Hmmmm, it will certainly relieve kids writing essays now of the delusion that essays need to masterpieces and finely polished. They do not, they just need to serviceably present your story and not be annoying of odd or offensive or confusing.

What do you think is missing from the book?

As noted, what is missing from the book is some background information about the writers which really could help you understand the context of the essay, and especially would explain how some of the worse essays, and some of these are real clunkers, as I note, wound up not sinking the writer. What I also would have liked to see, although this is just a dream, is essays by kids WHO DID NOT GET IN, who shot themselves in the foot by writing DAMAGING essays. 

How do you know that happens?

I’ve read those essays, by applicants who send me their entire app for a ding report.  There are cases where essays are damaging, and I don’t mean because they contain hate speech or racial slurs (that almost never happens), they are damaging because they out of control, disorganized, off point, or attempt to explain some issue, e.g. a zig-zagging career through three jobs,  in an extended and monomaniacal way and unconvincing way. 

Is the book worth $50 for applicants to HBS or any other business school? 

Definitely, it can loosen you up, show you some useable gimmicks, and prove that you do not need some extensive career road map and belabored rap on why HBS, although some writers below did manage to speak about why HBS with real personality and passion, for instance the woman who wrote Essay 3 below. 

I’d also like to see, in the comments section, some agreement or push-back on analysis from people who have bought the book and read the actual essays, which you need to do to really understand what I am talking about. 

Soooooo, without further ado, here is my opinion on the first 10 of the 23 essays in the book. I’ll be chiming in on the rest over the next few days. 

When applying to business school, the essay can make or break your chances of admittance.

While it's only one part of the application — and a mediocre essay might suffice if you're an otherwise ideal candidate — a superb essay can be the game-changer that pushes you into "yes" territory.

These essays give prospective students an opportunity to show administrators their true motives and personality, thus humanizing the dry facts that come with tests scores and a CV.

To get to know their prospective students, Harvard Business School asked applicants to answer the following question last year:

You're applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? (No word limit)

The Harbus, HBS's student newspaper, recently published a collection of successful answers in "The Essay Book." One of the best examples of a strong essay, "The Giver," is included below:

What else would I like you to know?

I am who I am today mostly because of my brother [name]. [name] was born when I was fouryears old, and he had an extremely rare birth defect called Robert's Syndrome. At the time, hewas one of a handful in the world to have it. He was born without arms, couldn't walk or talk,and had many other severe physical and mental defects. It was a complete shock to myparents. He was only expected to live for a day or two, but after a few weeks in the hospital hewas healthy enough to come home with us. I was too young to really understand what wasgoing on; I was just excited to have a brother.

[name] was a full-time job for us. For his entire life he was incapable of doing anything forhimself. My parents and I didn't have much, but we did have an amazing family and group offriends to support us. We couldn't have taken care of [name] without all of them, and seeingthis level of sacrifice from so many people had a huge impact on me. No one ever complained.No one ever hesitated. We just did what we had to, and I saw first-hand at a young age howimportant it is to work together and help those around you. And our family (extendedincluded), became so much closer because of how we came together for [name], and thatcloseness still holds today.

[name] ended up living for about four years, and I'm so grateful for the lessons I learned fromhim. My generosity, kindness, team work, and independence, come directly from him being inmy life. And learning to deal with that level of stress and responsibility made me a much, muchstronger person than I would have been without.

So my family and I have carried [name]'s memory with us since he passed in the form of givingto others. About ten years ago, we started a charity called [institution], whose purpose is tosupply beds and bedding to children in our area who are without. The thought was that [name]spent most of his life in bed, and if we hadn't had a decent one for him his life would have beenso uncomfortable. As of this year, we have supplied almost [number] kids with mattresses,blankets, and stuffed animals, and each year we are able to help more and more children.

This mentality of service has been a big part of my life since we started [institution], and as Igot older I wanted to start branching out to new service opportunities. And let me tell you,[city] has been a great place to start. This city has made a serious impression on me. Anyonewho's from here either loves it or hates it, but either way, [city] is the kind of place that definesa person. [city] is the underdog, full of unrealized potential. Living in a place like this hasopened my eyes to the heartache of missed opportunities (not even mentioning our sportsteams…), and it's because of this that I've become so involved in the community. I've been ableto work with so many very smart, driven people, and together we've done a lot to make apositive impact. My work with the [institution] has allowed me to help raise over [number] for small, local NFPs, and my work with the [institution] has complemented that with a morehands-on, service based focus. And being a Big Brother through [institution] has allowed me tomake a lasting, consistent impact in a more focused way.

All of these, together with working for a commercial bank, have given me a very satisfying lifebalance. I'm able to do so many things, and able to make a tangible impact in each of them. Butsometimes I do so much that I don't take the time to stop and look around - to process what'shappening. This was missing in my life. I know that the path I'd been taking was the right onefor me, I'd just never truly felt ready to move on to the next phase.

This changed this past summer when I did my first [event]. If you're not familiar with this, it's a[number] mile swim followed by a [number] mile bike and then a [number] mile run. Still seems nuts to me. I'd never done a triathlon of any kind before I signed up for this, but was sooverwhelmed by watching my friend compete in the same one the year before. I'll never forgetthe moment: I was watching a quadriplegic go up the final - and largest - hill in his wheelchair,sweating, grunting, and crying. And finishing. I'm pretty sure everyone watching that wascrying; it was one of the most moving things I'd ever seen. So I signed up.

Training for this requires a serious amount of time, most of which you're alone with yourthoughts (no music allowed during the race, so you train without). Eight hours biking, fiverunning, and two swimming, each week for seven months, is so mentally taxing, and your mindgoes to some new places. I started reflecting a lot, and really began to understand the choicesI've made and the impact they've had. I thought a lot about where I was in life, why I was there,and what I would have done differently along the way. I thought about what I wanted for myfuture, not just career-wise, but in order to be happy. And it's not so much that my viewschanged from this experience, but I feel like I've gained a new level of clarity. I'm much moreconfident in my life goals, and can pursue them with pride and conviction.

I'm now ready to move on to the next phase of my life, and am very excited to do so.

To understand what makes this such a strong HBS admissions essay, we spoke with Nabil Mohamed, editor-in-chief of The Harbus.

"It's just an incredibly powerful account of how someone's entire life trajectory was changed by the birth of their sibling, and how the entire community came together in a way he had never seen before," he says. "It changed [the author's] priorities. It's almost a gene-altering experience. Even if he was born a driven guy who just wanted to take care of himself, something like that is powerful enough to even change that and completely alter his priorities to dedicate his life toward helping other people. That's what I thought was powerful about the essay. It changed his nature as a person, his priorities, and his belief in the reason why he exists."

Though not all essays need to delve into such a deeply personal event as this one, it provides a shining example of what every powerful essay should aim to do: show who you are beyond your resume.

As Mohamed points out, instead of saying, "I am my achievements" or, "I am my situation," this essays says, "I am a loving brother." It adds personality to the author's application, showing who he is on a deeper level than merely where he has worked or what his undergrad GPA was.

"At the end of the day, anybody can study hard, get a couple of recommendations, do well at a company, and then submit their application," Mohamed says. "But they want to get a sense of what your priorities are, what you want to do in life, what brought you here, why you want to do this now."

The essay offers HBS applicants an opportunity to unveil their true personalities. And with no word limit, it is up to each applicant to take their own route in doing so. In fact, Mohamed points out that every essay The Harbus published was starkly different, telling each individual's story in a clear, understandable way.

Administrators already know where you went to school, what clubs you were in, and where your career has taken you so far, but they don't know how these experiences have shaped who you are today and influenced your goals and priorities. That's where the essay comes in.

0 Thoughts to “Harvard Business School Essay Book

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *