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 is a full-time instructor for Kaplan Test Prep and he loves preparing GRE students for Test Day. The classroom is Lucas’ arena. When he cannot be found in one of Kaplan’s cage matches of learning, he is very likely dancing around DePaul University’s College of Commerce/Kellstadt Graduate School of Business in Chicago professing various courses offered by the Department of Management, up to and including monikers such as: “Managing for Effective and Ethical Organizational Behavior,” “Entrepreneurship Strategy,” “Strategic Managements and Analysis,” “Human Resource Management,” “Recruitment and Selection,” and “Foundations of Business Thought and Theory.” (Although that last one was cancelled just before the quarter started and he’s still not gotten over it.) Lucas spent most of his formative years in North Carolina, but hit the long road as soon as he was able. A world traveler with a currently expired passport, he has lived on and wandered around three continents with the expressed intention of finishing the job. He holds a BFA with a concentration in sculpture as well as an MBA with dual concentrations in Entrepreneurship and Finance. When not challenging standardized tests to a duel or wondering how to corrupt the business students of America, Lucas can be found brewing delicious beers, riding-then-fixing-then-riding his motorcycle, hanging out with dogs, pretending he’s a good cook, and feeling like the luckiest guy in the world to have such a fantastic wife and endlessly amazing young son. He’s in Milwaukee now, but is in Chicago often. Email him anytime about anything at:

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