Applicants to the HEC Paris’s MBA program have their work cut out for them as far as writing application essays goes. Candidates must submit a total of five essays (and may add a sixth, if they wish) that cover a wide range of topics. One submission is a fairly standard personal statement, but then applicants are asked to describe a particularly significant achievement, share an instance at the intersection of leadership and ethics, and envision a completely different life for themselves. Lastly, candidates must choose whether to highlight a favorite place or monument from their homeland; critique an otherwise universally popular book, movie, or play; or discuss a person they admire. If they still have more story to tell, they can do so in an optional essay. Read on for our more detailed analysis of the 2023–2024 essay prompts for HEC Paris.
HEC Paris 2023–2024 Essay Tips
Why are you applying to the HEC MBA Program now? What is the professional objective that will guide your career choice after your MBA, and how will the HEC MBA contribute to the achievement of this objective? (500 words maximum)
Your essay response to this prompt will include several key factors of a traditional personal statement: what your overarching post-MBA career goal is, why you need an MBA to be successful, why you need the degree at this point on your professional path, and why the school you are applying to is the right one for you. To craft an effective essay response, you will need to accomplish a few things (though not necessarily in the order we list them here). One, present your post-MBA career objectives—ideally, both your short- and long-term goals, making the connection between them clear. Two, explain why an MBA is the crucial factor in your being able to attain your objectives. A good way to frame this argument is by noting the skills and experiences you need to develop via the MBA experience to be successful in your desired role/industry (thereby demonstrating your understanding of what will be required of you). Three, clarify what makes now the right time for you to earn this degree. And four, identify the resources and opportunities HEC offers that will allow you to gain the abilities and exposure you currently lack. We explain these concepts and how to achieve them in more detail in our mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which is available free of charge. Download your complimentary copy today!
What do you consider your most significant life achievement? (250 words maximum)
Your response to this straightforward prompt should be equally straightforward. Simply present and describe the accomplishment, taking care to avoid bragging. As for which anecdote you should share, we have to ask, “Well, what are you most proud of?” Rest assured that this is not some kind of test in which the admissions committee is waiting to see if you pick the “right” one. The school does not “like” certain types of achievements and dislike others. The particular achievement you choose to describe is not actually the point here. Instead, it is meant as an avenue through which you can create and convey an impression of yourself.
To ensure that you write a compelling essay response, use a narrative approach to illustrate how you achieved your goal. If you write, for example, something like “My proudest achievement was completing the Kona Ironman Triathlon,” your story has (unfortunately) both started and finished in the very first sentence. Keeping it going from there and holding your reader’s attention would be quite difficult. Instead, let your story develop by taking your reader step by step through each part, describing how you were able to achieve what you did. Because our greatest accomplishments are often hard won, your account will ideally involve a clear conflict or challenge—otherwise, anyone could have done what you did, and that would lessen the impact of your story.
Although the school does not ask you to explain why this chosen achievement is so significant for you, this is an important element of the story, so you should share this information briefly. Doing so will round out the story for the admissions committee and provide useful insight into your character and values, which can help set you apart from other applicants. Consider clarifying what has changed about you since the achievement or what you have chosen to pursue or not pursue as a result. Perhaps touch on how your life, your personal philosophy, or the way you prioritize things is different than it was before your accomplishment. Reflect thoroughly on this aspect of the situation so that you can convey this element of your story clearly and succinctly.
Leadership and ethics are inevitably intertwined in the business world. Describe a situation in which you have dealt with these issues and how they have influenced you. (250 words maximum)
Ethics is an important part of business today and an integral element of an MBA education, so we are not surprised that the HEC admissions committee wants to get a basic understanding of applicants’ firsthand experience with—and views on—the subject. When ethics are at the core of a situation, the decisions or moves to be made are not immediately obvious, or at a minimum, not unanimously agreed upon, so some degree of courage and value judgment is required. Perhaps you had to deal with the ethical (or unethical) actions and motivations of a leader with whom you worked, or maybe you were the leader in the situation and had to grapple with an ethical decision of some kind. The school does not stipulate that you must have been the person tasked with making the call, so be sure to consider all your options to identify the story that was truly the most affecting for you. HEC wants to understand your view on how these kinds of issues should be approached and navigated in a professional context. Take care not to blame or shame anyone in your story, and likewise, avoid coming across as sanctimonious. You want to demonstrate that in such situations, you are realistic, measured, rational, and thoughtful.
Do not focus too much on describing the situation and forget to explain the effect and influence the experience had on you. This is arguably the most important part of this essay. HEC wants to see not only how and what you learn from challenging situations in general but also how the specific incident you describe has helped shape the kind of ethical leader you will be in the future.
Imagine a life entirely different from the one you now lead, what would it be? (250 words maximum)
We have seen schools pose this kind of question with respect to applicants’ career goals, but HEC has significantly broadened the scope. The key here is demonstrating that you have a genuine understanding of yourself and your current reality. This question has no “right” answer, but whatever you propose has to be credible, so the alternate life you describe needs to make sense and be feasible for you. Basically, the admissions committee wants to understand that you are not rigid and single-minded (the business world requires flexibility, after all, and can certainly be unpredictable) and that you view yourself as multifaceted, with potential and interests in multiple arenas. You can view your skills and qualities from more than one angle and picture yourself in different scenarios and settings. By thoughtfully discussing another probable version of your life, you will demonstrate self-awareness and openness, thereby positioning you as an attractive MBA candidate.
Please choose from one of the following essays (250 words maximum):
a.) What monument or site would you advise a first-time visitor to your country or city to discover, and why?
The HEC community is an extremely diverse one, bringing together individuals from all over the world (92% of the Class of 2024 is international!). This essay prompt allows candidates to highlight something they love or are proud of from where they grew up, thereby shining a bit of a light on their background and character and helping the admissions committee view them more clearly in the context of the diversity they could bring to the student body. Note that the query specifies a “monument” or “site” (so no favorite restaurant or activity), and these are often associated with some sort of historical event or person. Make sure you are fully informed not just about the modern-day perception of the location or monument you wish to highlight but also about its background and that of anyone it might commemorate, so that your choice is true to your character and beliefs and reflects back on you the way you want it to.
b) Certain books, movies or plays have had an international success that you believe to be undeserved. Choose an example and analyse it.
Let us first make one thing very clear—the admissions committee is not using this essay to judge your taste in books, movies, or plays! If your opinion happens to be the complete opposite of that of your admissions reader, this is not going to be a problem or negatively affect your chances of being accepted. Like all other business school essay questions, this one has no “right” answer, so do not worry about potentially choosing the “wrong” piece of art to discuss. The admissions committee wants to see evidence of original, critical thought and to get an idea of how you might stand out from the pack. When much of the world zigs, you zag, but why? How do you view things that is different from the norm? Try to pinpoint a play, movie, or book that will allow you to discuss something you believe is truly pivotal or especially interesting about your personality and/or world view, so that you have the best chance of leaving a meaningful impression on the admissions reader.
c) What figure do you most admire and why? You may choose from any field (arts, literature, politics, business, etc).
Here, the admissions committee wants to know which values and strengths you believe are commendable, impressive, honorable, deserving of respect, and/or worthy of emulating and also why you view them as such. Before we address how you should approach this essay, though, we want to point out a few things you should not do. First, avoid choosing any individuals who would come across as obvious or cliché, such as Steve Jobs or Barack Obama. Second, like all application essay questions, this one does not have a “right” answer, so do not spend any time or effort trying to guess who the admissions committee wants or expects you to pick. And third, resist the urge to choose a parent, grandparent, or other close relative, unless the person in question really has something distinctly and obviously special to offer.
Authenticity is key to your success with this essay, so start by thinking of people who really do inspire and appeal to you—who elicit a strong response from you in some key way. Then identify the qualities in these figures that resonate the most with you and describe what kind of feeling these qualities elicit (thereby illustrating the why). Although you will be discussing another person, the aspects of your chosen figure that you highlight will help convey to the HEC admissions committee who you are.
Is there any additional information you would like to share with us? (900 words max)
With this prompt—and its generous word count, compared to that of the school’s required essays—HEC is acknowledging that some candidates have aspects of their profiles that might need a little special clarification. This essay is therefore your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a low GRE or GMAT score, a legal or disciplinary incident, or a gap in your academic or professional record. The other condition under which you might want to submit an essay here is if you have something in your candidacy (not already covered elsewhere in your application) that would help you stand out and/or contribute in a special way to the HEC community—perhaps a unique background, skill, experience, or accomplishment. If you do not feel that the school’s required essays allow you to share enough about yourself and your story for the admissions committee to evaluate you fully and fairly, this would be your chance to fill in the missing pieces.
Keep in mind, however, that by submitting an optional essay, you are requiring the already overtaxed admissions readers to do additional work on your application, so do not rush to fill this space just because you fear that not doing so will somehow count against you (it will not), and also avoid being overly verbose or sharing more information than is truly necessary just because you technically can. Focus on being direct and succinct so that you convey your intended information without placing undue burden on the admissions readers.
If you feel you might have a valid reason for submitting this additional essay or are not sure whether the issue you are considering would warrant doing so, we encourage you to download a free copy of our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, in which we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, along with multiple sample essays.
Business schools outside the United States are increasingly popular among MBA hopefuls, and we at mbaMission are proud to offer our latest publications: International Program Guides. In these snapshots, we discuss core curricula, elective courses, locations, school facilities, rankings, and other key program features. Click here to download your free copy of the HEC Paris Program Guide.