You thought we were kidding when we said it’s time to write essays?
Here we are, telling you really truly to start writing essays. With some advice on specifically what to write for Harvard!
Now, before we get into it, let’s direct you here to what we talked about in the run-up to Round 1 and some controversies about what EssaySnark suggests, and what other MBA admissions consultants might be suggesting.
Read that first. And, ideally, read the SnarkStrategies Guide to the Essays for Harvard Business School.
And then if you’re feeling contrarian and don’t want to go along with the advice that we offer, come back to this post.
Where we will tell you, please write about anything at all that you care to!!
It’s LITERALLY what the adcom is inviting. (Yes, literally. In this case, we are using “literally” to literally mean the word “literally.” Please don’t get us started on that pet peeve!!)
The HBS Admissions Board is saying, “What should we know about you?”
Our advice traditionally has been: “Focus on your accomplishments!!”
Because accomplishments reveal so much. Accomplishments can take you really far in demonstrating that you’re the “Harvard type.”
But not everybody either a) has accomplishments that they feel are significant to broadcast in an essay, or b) is comfortable in what seems like bragging.
You can totally do this essay another way.
How about this!
How about you, right now, pull out a pen or open a note on your phone and type out the five most important qualities or characteristics that define who you are.
Don’t just sit there.
Go do it!
Now, come up with five stories that illustrate each of those five traits.
Yes, we’re asking you for 25 examples.
If you are X, and you believe in your bones that it’s true, then stories of you as X should proliferate. They should come spewing forth.
WRITE ABOUT THAT!
Regardless of whether you take our advice to write about accomplishments (hint: we have an App Accelerator to help you with that!), or you reject that advice and want to share something else about who you are, what you need to do in your Harvard essay is tell stories.
Storytelling is the most important skill to develop as you craft your essays for bschool.
It’s what we are indirectly teaching you through our Complete Essay Package.
It’s what you will learn about without even knowing it if you pore over our posts on the blahg. Like the ones about “show, don’t tell.” Et cetera.
You need to present an argument in your essay for Harvard. For any school’s essays, really, but especially this one.
You come out with a statement that’s the premise you want to propose to the reader.
Then you come out with examples, reasons, backup. Evidence. Ways that the premise is true.
The best way to do that?
Now we come back to the original problem.
What do you want to share with the Harvard admissions reviewer?
If you feel that personal content is the way to go in your Harvard essay, we would immediately push back on you and say, “Why?”
Can you explain why that would be better than, say, our suggestion to focus on professional stuff?
It may in fact be better. But you need to know in advance WHY it is better, based on what you think it can do for you against the crowded pool of other candidates saying the same thing. (Especially all of those who are repurposing their Stanford “what matters most?” essay for Harvard. Which really is never a good idea.)
Or, what if you already have your Harvard draft written? What if you want to know if it works?
Well, what did you intend to SAY with your Harvard draft that you wrote?
Can you define that succinctly?
OK great, now you know what you wanted to say. Can you go to the draft and literally identify where you have said it?
Because what we see over and over again in drafts written for Harvard is just drivel. Just words and words going nowhere, without a destination, with no plan.
We very frequently say stuff like this to BSers who come to us frustrated after getting feedback on an essay where they don’t know what to do next:
What was the point you were aiming for in that draft? If you wanted to write about X, then where is it captured? You’re telling us in this comment that you want to talk about [redacted] and [redacted] and [redacted] but we’re not seeing any of that coming through in this draft. If you can SHOW those qualities, you can easily stand out. Those qualities are who you are, and they make you human — and we will also tell you that they might be really hard to capture on the page.
The main trap laying in wait for you is that, frequently we give people advice like just this, saying: “Go write about THAT!!”
And they move from a very sincere statement, captured here in direct communication to the ‘Snark, to something that is all stilted and overblown and trying too hard in the next draft they attempt.
HBS is looking for anyone who can show that they’re going to add to the fabric of Harvard Business School. When 99% of their applicant pool is qualified for admission, then that means you need to do a lot to stand out. PROFESSING or ASSERTING that you’re going to bring value won’t cut it; it needs to be demonstrable.
Presumably your profile shows you as qualified or you wouldn’t be at the stage of thinking about essays. You’re checking the box on things like GPA and GMAT or GRE and work experience. So now it’s the essay as the opportunity to qualitatively demonstrate what you bring. Character is valuable, but the school wants to see diversity of PERSPECTIVE or viewpoint. Something where you’re going to change the discussion in a team case prep session, based on lived experience, or the unique lens that you see the world through. But all this needs to be viscerally and tangibly in evidence within the essay. Differentiation can’t be claimed or alluded to; the reader needs to see it. If there’s personal qualities that differentiate you, then that surely would let you stand out — but usually, there has to be some element of objective evidence to point to, to back up these perspectives and SHOW them to the reader somehow.
Does that make sense?
(In case it wasn’t clear, those words were verbatim literally what we said to a BSer as feedback in response to some ideas they floated for writing about in their Harvard MBA essay. Did you find that valuable? You too can get such feedback! You can go for our Essay Ideas App Accelerator, or heck, just dive straight in with the Harvard Essay Review! Find out if you’ve got words of wisdom on the page. Or… not quite as much as you’d thought.)
We can totally let you off the hook on trying to shoehorn “accomplishments” into the essay if that’s just not part of the package. But your HBS essay needs to then reflect an alternate strategy that still DEMONSTRATES who you are.
If you can pull that off, you will totally have a shot. And we’re just cautioning that it’s not the simplest assignment to execute on.
But you and everyone reading this: We’re definitely encouraging you to try!