We will be showing HBS essay examples to get a sense of what they are looking for at Harvard Business School.
Writing an admissions essay is a tough task, however, Harvard raises the bar with its highly challenging yet open-ended prompt. HBS likes this question so much that they have kept it unchanged for multiple years.
Also, business schools in general often prefer essays that incorporate good storytelling techniques. In the past, some of our most successful clients have been those who select a defining theme and connect their examples to this theme.
The following essays were written by candidates who got accepted to Harvard Business School MBA program over the past few years. Read these HBS essay examples to get a sense of what they are looking for at Harvard Business School.
HBS Essay Examples from Successful Students
Read Essays by Three Women: A Former Consultant, An Investor & Chief-Of-Staff to A CEO
This time, we’ve chosen statements crafted by successful women candidates: a former consultant, an investor in a private equity firm and former i-banker, and a former chief-of-staff to the CEO of a global healthcare company. Each woman takes a very different approach to the HBS essay.
The consultant began work early, some three months before the deadline, by laying out potential themes and stories. She ultimately came up with her core message after having two to three close friends read multiple drafts.
She ultimately settled on an approach that demonstrated vulnerability yet strength. Her opening sentence is compelling: “I have cried exactly four times at work.”
The investor racked up many hours brainstorming ideas, even writing an essay that she did not submit. As the application deadline approached, she kept recalling a conversation with alums who stressed that Harvard is looking to admit people who know themselves.
Down to the final week, she came upon the idea that would work during a yoga class. “I realized how central my appreciation for beauty is to my life,” she explains. “I decided to change the essay and asked my parents and boyfriend to review it.
We all agreed that the essay captured my essence. My advice would be to write about something that matters to you. When you read your essay, your reaction should be “wow I never would have thought of this before, but it is so uniquely me’.”
And finally, the chief of staff to the healthcare CEO spent nearly a month working on her HBS essay. She started the process by reflecting on the critical milestones in her life.
She plotted out a “life map” of the key turning points in her personal journey. The result: An essay that explored the three values that HBS says it is looking for – leadership, academic excellence, and impact.
Note: Describe an internal conflict (or difficult decision) that you have faced. How did you resolve the situation? What did you learn from this? (500-word limit).
I frequently encountered the need to make decisions of considerable importance during both my managerial and my military work. However, one of the most difficult decisions I ever made was a personal decision that concerned my future. This internal conflict could better reflect who I am.
In the last four years I have progressed, with great effort, in two areas: the business-managerial area and the political area. In both fields I have accomplished, considering my age, significant achievements. In the business area, I served as Vice President in a private company owned by my family.
In the political area, I worked in a few positions in my municipality, and as an assistant to the Deputy Minister of Defense. My aim was to acquire diverse experiences and knowledge, and this aim was achieved.
A year ago, I reached the conclusion that it was time to decide if in the near future (in 10-20 years), I wanted to attain a career in business management or a career in politics. I reached a point where without setting a general goal, I could not progress to other decisions (my next job, my master’s degree field etc.).
To resolve this conflict, my first step was to decide to make my decision by the deadline I set (June 2000). I realized that my years of experience in both areas were a part of a learning and searching process that granted me the necessary instruments to make this decision.
My conflict was very sharp, because I knew that any decision, I would make would mean giving up one area of activity and one career aspiration– political or managerial. Moreover, much data concerning the future was naturally missing and my decision had to be rather arbitrary – a very difficult situation for a strictly rational person.
Nonetheless, I knew that having numerous options could be a dangerous situation. Not concentrating on one career option, out of fear of missing the others, might leave a person behind in all areas, and this contradicted my ambition.
Eventually, about half a year ago, I decided to steer my future to a business management career. I feel that in this area I will be able to express my talents effectively and to bring a significant contribution to society. I believe that turning to a political career in the far future, after a successful managerial career, is an adequate and natural option.
From the moment I decided, I have not looked back or hesitated. I started to focus on how to implement my decision. Consequently, a few days later I sent a Request For Application Material to Harvard Business School.
I learned a lot about myself in the decision process I went through. I underwent an important and healthy process of developing, focusing, and maturing. I devoted numerous hours to contemplating basic questions – What do I like to do? What am I good at? What role should I play in the community that surrounds me? I solidified my perspectives and came out stable, strengthened, and determined.
Note: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?
Beyond the achievements written in my CV, I would like you to know more about who I am through three important lessons I have learned. The first lesson I learned from my parents, the second from my soldiers and the last lesson I learned from my comrades.
From my parents I learned the importance of dedication to my goals. I am the eldest of five siblings, and until I reached junior high all five of us slept together in the same room.
Even with limited financial resources, our parents promoted personal development and insisted we all learn to play an instrument and master at least one sport: I played piano and practiced judo. Music and sports taught us to set our goals and to keep improving in order to achieve them.
As a result, I grew up to be very mission-driven: quickly analyzing the main factors involved in reaching a personal goal and aligning them around the objective. With the ability to clearly visualize the goals of my organization or the needs of my community, I am able to take initiative, identify opportunities and drive everyone involved towards achieving them.
As a graduate of the Defense Force’s technological leadership program, I saw the need for combat officers with technological expertise. Therefore, although most of my program classmates pursued roles as developers or engineers, I elected to fill a demanding role in a field unit, where I could contribute my knowledge and understand first-hand the technological needs of our fighting forces. I saw my opportunity to make an impact as a combat officer in a highly technological and elite operational unit of the Artillery Corps.
From my soldiers I learned that in order to be an effective leader, I need to listen to my subordinates and constantly work to improve them and myself.
Serving as a platoon commander I made it a practice to have weekly personal conversations with each of my subordinate commanders during which each of us would provide candid and constructive feedback to the other.
Thus, I was able to achieve great trust through and use their feedback to improve as a commander. I believe these conversations created a winning team, in which my subordinates flourished. Most of them were promoted to platoon sergeant.
As a platoon commander I was concerned that the training we received fell short of meeting operational requirements on the field. When I attributed this in part to inadequate simulator time during officers’ training, I convinced my superiors to assign me to command the officers’ course in order to make sure that future officers would be qualified to face the challenges they were about to encounter.
Moreover, my experience in music, where independent practice was a key to improvement, inspired me to include more independent practice in the training plan, nearly doubling simulator time without overtaxing the instructors.
My efforts were acknowledged when I was rewarded the ‘Officers Excellence Award’ by unit commander for my contribution as the officers’ course commander.
Finally, I discovered through my military comrades what I want to do with my life and career. As a commander I had the privilege of working with many amazing people, but I also saw too many cases where people with tremendous talent were blocked from fulfilling their potential due to socio-economic circumstances.
This seems to be a particularly serious problem in my country, which was ranked as the fourth most unequal society among OECD countries. I met one soldier who finished high school without taking his final matriculation exams in math because he had to work to support his family.
I helped prepare him for the exams, which he completed with excellent grades, and he helped me to understand the challenges so many people face.
Inspired by these soldiers, I began to volunteer for the Movement for the Quality of Governance, an organization boasting 17,000 members that promotes increased moral standards in the public service and politics in my country. Researching market aspects that affect equal opportunities has helped me understand that what my country needs most is the creation of opportunities.
Local startups have seen many successes during the last decade. However, a very large portion of our society is unable to take part of that phenomenon, as many successful startups are sold without creating sustainable jobs in the country. Thus, innovation in my country translates into big wealth for the few most talented but has little effect on the lives of the majority of the middle class.
In the long run I envision myself starting and managing a sustainable, international business in the field of automated transportation. I am passionate about extending economic opportunities to populations who need it most, and I expect the field of automated transportation to have great impact by spreading affordable transportation and creating new job opportunities for workers around the globe and in my country.
In order to lead in an ever-changing world, my business would have to predict and meet global demands, engage in continuous innovation, and incorporate the finest management practices. I need an HBS MBA to improve my expertise in these three areas.
As a post-MBA step towards my goal, I intend to lead the efforts towards self-driving vehicles in a global corpora, where I will contribute a multidisciplinary view that merges technological and business knowledge, while I prepare to start my own business in the field.
At HBS I will take advantage of the many opportunities offered, such as the ‘FIELD Global Immersion’, where I will be able to study relevant global topics first-hand.
I am especially interested in studying the unique transportation and economic needs of emerging markets such as India or Brazil, which would affect the future demand for automated transportation and where automated transportation can serve as a much-needed engine of progress.
I have the necessary technological and leadership background to be this kind of leader, and an HBS MBA will bring me one giant step closer to achieving it.
I hope this HBS Essay Example helps get you started with the HBS essay!
The ambiguity of the question makes it a tough one, but with some self-reflection, vulnerability, and a good bit of patience, you can write a great essay and hopefully have a bit of fun with it along the way.