MBA Admissions: HBS Updates its Application Essays

June 11, 2012
Lucas Weingarten

GMAT BlogIn an attempt to decrease the import of personal essays in the admissions process at Harvard Business School (HBS), the university has cut in half the number of required essays.  Down from four essays of up to 2,000 words, the coveted institution will now require just two essays at 400 words per.  Here are the questions:

  1. Tell us about something you did well.  (400 words)
  2. Tell us about something you wish you had done better.  (400 words)

Isn’t the brevity and imprecision sublime?  A recent blog post by our partners over at mbaMission comprehensively and deftly analyzes the HBS essay questions as well as the impact the new requirements will have on applicants.  This is a highly recommended read.  The insight offered can and should be generalized to personal statements for all MBA programs.

John A. Byrne of Poets&Quants wrote an article on this, as well.  As both Mr. Byrne and mbaMission discuss, HBS claims the new essay approach is a reflection of their 2002 decision to interview all applicants being seriously considered for admission.  [FYI:  Roughly 25% of applicants are asked for an interview and approximately 12% of applicants are granted a seat in the lecture halls.]  In another interesting twist to the process, those who sit for an interview must submit another 400-word essay within 24 hours of the interview for a chance at a “last word.”

Time will tell if Harvard keeps this new essay structure (managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, Deidre “Dee” Leopold, labeled the change as an “experiment”) or if it will have an impact in peer institutions’ admissions processes.  HBS competitors like Stanford, Kellogg, and Wharton currently require 1800, 2200, and 1500 word essays, respectively.

Read the mbaMission post here.

Lucas Weingarten Lucas Weingarten teaches students how to beat the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for Kaplan Test Prep and is proud to have earned “elite instructor” status. Lucas writes extensively for Kaplan’s GMAT blog, and in addition to the GMAT and business school as primary subject matter, he regularly explores topics within higher education, economic systems, sustainability, and current events. Lucas spent his formative years in North Carolina and currently resides in Milwaukee, WI, though he has not yet found the part of the world wherein to bury his roots. He has an MBA with a dual concentration in entrepreneurship and finance from DePaul University in Chicago and is fortunate to have secured an adjunct teaching position there out of the department of management. Family, friends, and a seemingly endless stream of new hobbies keep Lucas busy and happy outside of the classroom. You can reach out any time by email ( or through the comments thread after his blog posts.

About Kaplan

We know test prep. We invented it. Through innovative technology and a personalized approach to learning we’ll equip you with the test insights and advice you need to achieve your personal best. Results, guaranteed*.

*Higher Score Guarantee: Conditions and restrictions apply. For complete guarantee eligibility requirements, visit