Harvard Business School Essay Tips and Examples

Harvard Business School (HBS) has introduced brand new essay prompts for the 2024–2025 application season. In doing so, it has stepped away from the single open-ended essay question it has consistently posed since 2016 in favor of three questions that are far more direct. The previous prompt—which could be summarized as “What else would you like us to know about you?” and had no word limit—was actually so broad that when the time came to submit their essay responses, some applicants had difficulty knowing whether or not they had succeeded in answering it in full. With the program’s new essay questions, you should have no such concerns, because each one is clearly focused on a specific topic. For the school’s first required essay, you will need to reflect on your past and explain how certain experiences have influenced your professional choices. Leadership is the central theme of the second, and for the third essay, you must discuss how your curiosity has led to growth. So, the challenge in HBS’s application essays now lies in the miserly word count allowed for each, especially given that the new questions ask for more than the recounting of a single anecdote. Instead, the essays require a fuller discussion of “cause and effect” for each story you share. You will need to present a past experience and then reveal how it has either shaped you into the person you are today or will inform your behavior or anticipated impact going forward. That is a lot to accomplish in 300, 250, and 250 words, respectively. In this post, we discuss how you can meet this challenge and craft effective essay responses to HBS’s new prompts for 2024–2025. 

Harvard Business School Essay Analysis, 2024–2025

Applicants to the MBA Class of 2027 (matriculating fall 2025) need to respond to these three essay prompts:

Business-Minded Essay: Please reflect on how your experiences have influenced your career choices and aspirations and the impact you will have on the businesses, organizations, and communities you plan to serve. (up to 300 words)

As you read this first prompt, pay special attention to the word “experiences.”  HBS asks “how your experiences have influenced your career choices and aspirations” (emphasis ours). Your experiences can be personal, professional, extracurricular, or community-oriented. Do not feel that you can only write about how a business-related event influenced your career choice. As you consider possible stories, keep “cause and effect” in mind. You need to create a clear connection between your experiences and your professional decisions to date, and then another connection to the impact you will have on others going forward. Although this essay is not a conventional “personal statement” (What are your goals? Why do you need an MBA? Why our school?), it covers many of the same elements. We mention this only because—as we focus on “cause and effect”—your plan going forward must be ambitious yet plausible. 

Again, do not feel compelled to discuss aspirations that you perceive the admissions committee “wants.” Authenticity is key here, and HBS is not seeking a specific “right” answer (no “right” answer actually exists). Also, do not be daunted by the phrase “impact you will have on the businesses, organizations, and communities you plan to serve” and subsequently believe that you must write about a purely social mission in your future work—especially if you have nothing in your background that would suggest you are prepared for such a role or path. Rather than trying to guess what the admissions committee might want to hear or attempting to force an embellished answer, take some time to seriously consider your actual goals and what kind of impact you believe you could have in your pursuit and eventual achievement of them. Not everyone needs to be striving to save the world, and HBS knows that. So, sincerely reflect on where you can make a positive difference, and then express that vision with authenticity. 

Leadership-Focused Essay: What experiences have shaped who you are, how you invest in others, and what kind of leader you want to become? (up to 250 words)

Are you tired of reading the phrase “cause and effect” yet? We hope not, because this is another prompt that forces you to consider that equation. As for HBS’s first essay, you are not restricted to choosing stories from any one particular area of your life; your focus should be on identifying experiences that are most revelatory of who you are. Brainstorm thoroughly, combing through all the different parts of your life, and focus on the catalysts that have driven your choices, paying special attention to those that have resulted in your having a meaningful impact on others. If you can create that linkage via a powerful narrative, then the discussion of the leader you want to become should flow pretty naturally from there. It might tie directly to your prior experience (e.g., you want to amplify your existing impact), or it might be an aspect of your leadership profile that you want to develop so you can enhance your impact going forward. Focus on the logical connections that link the different questions within the school’s prompt together. 

One thing to keep in mind as you brainstorm for this essay is that you need to ensure that the admissions committee learns something new about you from essay to essay. So, the backward-looking component (the “cause” in your cause-and-effect scenarios) should be different for each of your three submissions, so that you maintain the admissions reader’s attention and, to an extent, impress them with your range of experiences and accomplishments. You do not want HBS to think you have had only one or two formative experiences in your life; the broader a lens you can offer into your story and background, the better. So, consider the school’s three application essays as a suite, rather than discrete submissions, and give the admissions committee a new window into who you fundamentally are with each one. 

Growth-Oriented Essay: Curiosity can be seen in many ways. Please share an example of how you have demonstrated curiosity and how that has influenced your growth. (up to 250 words)

Where does your sense of curiosity manifest most strongly in your life? Through a hobby? An intellectual interest? A personal practice? The key with this essay is not what that area of interest is but rather the passion with which you have pursued it—your level of commitment to satiating that curiosity! So, for example, you might have been drawn in by veganism and a desire to master the art of meatless cuisine; you might have become enticed by your family’s history and gone down the genealogy rabbit hole; maybe learning to play an obscure instrument has become a preoccupation for you; or you could have even become absorbed by something as abstract as “understanding yourself.”  Take a step back and truly reflect on times when you have been insatiable in your quest to learn more and grow, and focus in particular on areas for which you can offer the admissions committee clear examples that bring your quest to life. Again, your success with this essay will not lie in the topic you choose, but in the way you demonstrate your inordinate pursuit of knowledge about it or mastery of it. 

So, if you state that you are a coffee aficionado, that will not say much about your character or soul for the admissions committee. However, if you share how you have travelled to coffee farms around the world to learn firsthand about the techniques used to produce the finest beans, or how you have filled multiple journals—or perhaps even Instagram —with copious notes on the years of espressos you have enjoyed in different cities across the country, you will convey that you have an inordinate sense of curiosity—one that is not truly just about coffee. You could thereby demonstrate how you appreciate nuance or enjoy exploring niches, or maybe that you admire the development of expertise or the observance of tradition in the world. Whatever it is, you need to fully understand what motivated you to go on whatever journey you have pursued, because you will need to explain to HBS how it has influenced your growth. Where else have you learned to apply your intense level of commitment? Again, you must offer a cause-and-effect relationship, sharing how your passion manifests in your lived experience and other pursuits.  

Joint degree applicants for the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School must provide an additional essay: How do you expect the joint degree experience to benefit you on both a professional and a personal level? (up to 400 words)

This is the kind of straightforward prompt that applicants appreciate! In this essay, you should simply and clearly provide your rationale for applying to the joint-degree program, thoughtfully revealing its role in your intellectual and professional growth. While the prompt does not explicitly ask for any professional or personal context, providing this foundational information before illustrating the connection to your educational and professional goals will help the admissions committee better understand your trajectory. Further, in discussing how the program will benefit you, note specific resources it offers that you intend to take advantage of. You should not be afraid to commit as much as one-half of your essay to sharing your plan for your time in the program, citing classes, clubs, professors, extracurriculars, and other key resources that will enhance your experience and your future!

Joint degree applicants for the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences must provide an additional essay: The MS/MBA Engineering Sciences program is focused on entrepreneurship, design, and innovation. Describe your past experiences in these areas and your reasons for pursuing a program with this focus. (recommended length: 500 words). Applicants will also be able to respond to an optional essay.

Again, HBS provides a very straightforward prompt! In this essay, you should clearly showcase your experience, offering key anecdotes, presented in a narrative form, that showcase your accomplishments in entrepreneurship, design, and innovation. If you have a true depth of experience in these areas, you might commit 300–350 words to the past and then 150–200 words to your reasons for applying to the program and your expectations for it. Make sure to call out specific resources available in the program that you feel are key to your future success, and lay out a clear plan for your education to show the admissions committee that you have a deep understanding of the program and how it will contribute to your growth. If you have less experience in these areas, you might use 250 words to discuss your background and then 250 words to emphasize how the program will help you develop the abilities you need to achieve your post-HBS goals. 

For a thorough exploration of HBS’s academic offerings, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, community/environment, and other key facets of the program, please download your free copy of the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Harvard Business School.

The Next Step—Mastering Your HBS Interview

Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. Download your complimentary copy of the Harvard Business School Interview Guide today, and be sure to also check out our tailored HBS Mock Interview and Post-Interview Reflection Support.

Reapplicant Essay: Please use this space to share with the Admissions Committee how you have reflected and grown since your previous application and discuss any relevant updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, and extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)

Thankfully, this essay is pretty straightforward. Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. HBS wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the time since you last applied to do so, because a Harvard MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts are presented in the best light possible.

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