First-round application deadlines for Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) are less than a month away.
When you read that sentence, did your heart rate quicken? Although candidates who have been procrastinating on their applications probably felt the most anxious, even those who have been working diligently for months are probably a little nervous, too, because crafting a successful application is more of an art than a science. How can you really know that your “What matters most?” and “What more would you like us to know?” essays for these schools will be effective? So many applicants are wondering the same thing, which inspired me and my colleague at Gatehouse Admissions, Liza Weale, to write a book in which we offer our ideas for approaching these tricky essays. We also present and critique 50 successful HBS and GSB essays, annotating each one with footnotes that explain the wise and sometimes not-so-wise decisions the applicant writers made. With not even a month left, if you need inspiration—or perhaps just a reality check on your approach—we recommend picking up a copy soon! You can especially benefit from reading these essays if you are one of the following kinds of applicants:
- The Daunted: Did you catch our reference to “wise and not-so-wise decisions”? Yes, a few of the successful candidates in our book made some questionable choices, and we even disagreed completely with a few of their approaches, but the bottom line is that all these applicants were accepted! Many candidates struggle with their essays because they believe that a “perfect” essay exists that will unlock the doors to these schools, but they have not yet been able to figure out what this magic response is. Liza and I know admissions officers and readers at both HBS and the Stanford GSB, and we can assure you that they are not looking for perfection—they understand that you are a human being, and they want to learn about who you are through your essay. Indeed, one reason we wrote this book was to show applicants that they can succeed with essays that are more real than unbelievable! So, if you are feeling daunted, reading the essay examples in our book should help reset your expectations and calm your nerves. By the end, you will understand that you need to showcase your values, rather than craft an unattainably “perfect” essay.
- The Stifled: Maybe you just do not know where to begin. In that case, a framework can sometimes help you organize your thoughts more effectively and inspire some creativity. In our introductory chapter, we share four approaches to writing these essays—the journey, single event, mosaic, and thematic—and then illustrate them via the 50 examples that follow. We are definitely not advocating that you copy anyone’s essay, of course—that would not even work because another candidate’s approach and style will not fit you. But reading 50 successful examples should get your creative juices flowing.
- The Dual Applicant: Although the HBS and GSB essays are similar in that they demand that you reveal character and values, beyond that, the specific prompts and the word limits are both different: 900 words for HBS and 650 words for the GSB. So, you might want to use the same base story for both schools, but you certainly cannot merely copy, paste, edit, and hope for the best! Our book features ten essays from applicants who were accepted at both HBS and Stanford, so you will be able to see the choices they made as they rewrote or refashioned and reshaped essays that were virtually identical thematically. If you are applying to both programs and are trying to find ways to adapt your core essay to each school’s prompt, our book can provide some helpful illustrations.
- The Early Bird: As crazy as this might sound, some applicants have already finished their essays—a month early! Yes, this phenomenon is probably as rare as a Bigfoot sighting, but it does in fact happen. (We would like to meet these people and shake their hands, by the way.) And even these ambitious candidates can benefit from taking a step back and considering the essay choices that others have made. We are not suggesting that applicants who have completed their submissions need to reconsider their work and change their approaches. How could we say that without having seen those essays? But we do believe that our critiques of the decisions the candidates in our book made, along with our annotations on their essays, will provide some critical perspective that “early bird” applicants can use to tweak and improve their drafts. For example, we point out ways in which the applicants reveal humility, play against type, and destroy cliches. This is why we think our book will give you many ideas for critiquing your work.
As the clock winds down, we hope that you are feeling motivated and inspired as you continue to craft your essays—and that our guide will help you revise and hone them into your ideal submissions. If you find you still need help validating your ideas, refining your essays, and/or crafting your entire application, our consultants are standing by, ready to consult with you directly.