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Sample Harvard Business School Application Essay

You’re applying to Harvard Business School.

We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you.
The college essay (officially your “personal statement,” at least at Harvard) was the most intimidating part of my application process-because, by the beginning of my senior year, it was the only thing I had any real control over. Think about it this way: by the time you hit the summer before you apply to college, most of your application is already complete. You probably have a pretty good idea of what your scores are going to look like, the majority of you high school grades have already been entered into your transcript, your recommending teachers already know you (I hope…), and you’ve already gotten involved in whatever school activities you’ve filled your last three years in high school with.

What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

Essay 16: The Author

Author’s Background: Finance & Media

Analysis:

The author sets the stage for the remainder of the essay by first presenting a notable accomplishment of hers and then explicitly illustrating the entrepreneurial drive and diligence she used to see it through.

More importantly, the author’s opening introduces a theme - storytelling - that is consistently interwoven through different stages of her life.
No less intriguing, however, is that each essay includes a short statement from its author who explains what it took to get the essay done. A 1,003-word treatise from a U.S. military commander took 20 hours of work and 12 drafts. An architect confesses that her 816-word essay consumed at least 45 hours, four story lines, and 24 drafts to get it right. A footballing engineer says his 1,075-word statement went through 12 to 13 iterations in total over a period of two months of on-and-off work.

The reader is lead through the author’s childhood, professional and extracurricular experiences, along with accomplishments, all the while being reminded of the integral role storytelling has played. Beyond highlighting her gift, or passion for the art of storytelling, the author goes on to connect this theme with her future career ambitions, as well as describe how this could also serve the HBS community.
Influence? Why is it that the people who influence us most influence us in ways that are not easily quantified? Through her work with abused children, my mother has shown me the heroism of selfless dedication to a worthy cause. By being an upstanding individual, my playwriting teacher in middle school acted as an inspiring male role model at a time when I needed one most. By being approachable and interesting, my World History teacher in my freshman year of high school opened my eyes to the connections between a society's culture and its history and broadened my view of cultures and the world. While these influences mean much to me and have contributed greatly to my development, they came too easily to mind.

In 2012, I realized a life ambition - I completed my first novel, all while working full time at [Top U.S. Investment Bank]. I could not wait to share it with the world and eagerly went in search of a literary agent.

Harvard University, sometimes simply refer to as Harvard, is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its history, influence and wealth have made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

But each agent I contacted declined to represent my novel.

Nevertheless, I was passionate about my work and was determined to put it into readers’ hands. In true entrepreneurial fashion, I self-published my novel through the digital platforms Smashwords and Createspace.

At music’s core, math is present in the tempo and rhythm of a piece, with the time signature being represented as a fraction and the tempo being represented by a numerical value in beats per minute. The relationship between the two gets even more intriguing when applied to actual notes being played. The best sounding music is that which uses flawless mathematics. It is common knowledge that each note has a letter name—A through G—but also has a number value, measured in hertz. An A4 for instance is 440 hertz. In Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” there exist triads in triplet form. These triads are made up of D, F#, and A. Since sound is a vibrational energy, notes can be graphed as sine functions. When the triad notes are graphed, they intersect at their starting point and at the point 0.042. At this point the D has gone through two full cycles, the F# two and a half, and the A three. This results in consonance, something that sounds naturally pleasant to the ear. Thinking about this opened my eyes to all the aspects of my life with which I utilize math to enhance.

I worked with a promotional expert to organize a month-long book tour to promote the book to prominent book bloggers and their readers. The result? My novel has received multiple 5-star reader reviews, from Amazon to Goodreads, and was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Storytelling is my lifelong passion; it saw me through a difficult childhood.

She told the story of a visit to Antananarivo, Madagascar, where she has relatives, and of an impending incident of bullying. A deeply personal story, at first she was going to write about something a little less private.

After my father left, my mother raised me as a single parent in [U.S. City/State], a rural Bible Belt town two hours south of [U.S. State]. We did not have much money and that coupled with my bookishness made me a target for bullies.
Violent staccatos of the jackhammer coupled with rhythmic pounding of nails and muffled obscenities comprise the symphony of the construction site that has been my father’s accompaniment more than half of his life. While initially a position as a laborer seemed appealing to a junior in high sc...

Books and writing were an escape; they gave me an avenue to articulate the feelings of abandonment and powerlessness I otherwise did not want to express. Writing made me happy and the more I wrote, the more my talent blossomed.
If you really want to know, after hours of debate over whether or not writing about my failures was really a good way to attempt to get into college, I picked the Common App essay prompt, “Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure,” and wrote about the two years in high school I spent generally making a mess of my time in a Navy JROTC program-complete with exactly five terrible nautical puns.

I began to win awards and my work was published in youth literary journals. These experiences made me more confident, a key part of my success later in life. It all started with a pen, a notebook, and my imagination.
Rodriguez' other impressive stats are included on his Admitsee profile. AdmitSee is an education startup that has 60,000 profiles of students who have been accepted into college. In addition to admissions essays, and test scores, the students list other data points for prospective students to browse.

Stories are an integral part of the human experience. They uplift and inspire, give us permission to dream and to visualize what could be. Storytelling has been an integral part of my career, from building financial models at [Top U.S. Investment Bank] that illustrated my expectations for the companies that I covered to delivering a presentation to [International Daily Newspaper]’s chief revenue officer explaining why reducing ad prices for tender house advertisers would not lead to an increase in revenue.

There is also an incredible amount of unseen math present in football. At 5 foot 10 inches and 160 pounds with pads on, I fall short of the average player at my position who is usually at least 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds, so applying math to football is intellectually stimulating, but is more importantly a survival mechanism. When I have to go up against an opponent who is over twice my size and looks like he eats freshmen for lunch, brute force is not on my side and it helps having equations for momentum and attack angle running through my head. Math not only helps me survive, but also thrive. As an opponent running back is darting down the sideline with seemingly cheetah-like speed, I can trust that my angles and velocity will allow me to make the play and possibly save a game-changing touchdown. Or when a ball is sailing through the air caught in the stadium lights, I can picture a projectile motion problem with constant acceleration downward and a near constant velocity in the x-direction, and know that I have a leg up on the player next to me who does not think about it the way I do. When I look at aspects of my life in a math context, they make more sense and make things that I love even better and more enjoyable.

My passion has also informed my growth as a leader; I believe my most impactful expressions of leadership have been my efforts to help others write the narratives of their own lives and careers. At [Top U.S. Investment Bank], I created an informal mentorship program for female and minority interns and first-year analysts in the research division and led a “soft skills” class to help new analysts handle difficult interpersonal situations.

I think about the converging waves of the notes I play, the standing waves being created by plucking a string, and the physics behind the air pockets being forged that eventually find a listening ear whenever I sit down to play my bass. Thus, my passions of math and music synergistically become more together than they could ever be apart. I started thinking about this when a former math teacher of mine approached me one afternoon and asked me if I was interested in giving the induction speech at the Mu Alpha Theta induction ceremony. Being a member of the honor society and recounting the memorable induction speech given the year prior at my own induction, I wholeheartedly agreed. I decided on the topic of music and math because I play upright bass in the orchestra and electric bass in the jazz ensemble and being a math enthusiast, it is impossible for me not to see the mathematics and physics present in music.

For four years, I’ve mentored a young Hispanic woman through Student Sponsor Partners, a nonprofit that gives low-income students scholarships to private high schools. Being a mentor gave me the privilege of guiding another first generation college student along what I know can be a lonely, difficult path.
I’m sitting in an office with four other students right now, and (after a brief poll) it turns out we wrote about everything from writer’s block to being a pastor’s kid to the U.S. Navy. So the answer to the all-important question, “What do you say to convince someone to let you into Harvard?” is that you talk about you.

This fall, she started college with a full scholarship.

Storytelling will be a part of my future career path; as an MBA graduate, my goal is to obtain a position in strategy and business development at an entertainment company that specializes in film or television.

When Steve Hind and Alula Eshete were putting together the annual admission and essay guides to Harvard Business School, what struck them most about the essays that helped to get current and future classmates admitted was how different they were from each other. No cookie-cutter formula was evident. There was no paint-by-the-numbers approach. If a pattern of any kind could be discerned, it was how genuine the essays read.

Long term, I want to start a multimedia and merchandising company with a publishing arm (books and magazines) as well as film, TV, and digital operations. Using strong, fictional heroines and informative lifestyle content, my company’s goal will be to educate and inspire women to become their best selves.
I am overwhelmed by the rules and precepts that are observed in the college. Harvard is a school built on strong christian foundations and this has influenced my body, soul and spirit to be in that college. I am someone who is so much concerned about my spiritual life and all the rules and pre...

My particular focus is creating compelling, multidimensional characters to inspire young women of color, who are constantly bombarded by negative images of women who look like them in media.

I’m pursuing a Harvard MBA because I want to become a better business strategist and strong general manager.

Colleges aren’t asking for your whole life story (please…) or a piece of art in which you expound upon your love of all things Harvard; they’re asking for a little more information about you, and you’re the one who gets to decide what you tell them. It’s a daunting task, but no one is better prepared to write about your life than you are.

Also, I want to further develop my leadership and presentation skills as I will manage professionals on the content and business side; it will be my task to unite them behind a shared strategic vision.
Rodriquez graciously shared his admissions essay with Business Insider, which we've reprinted verbatim below.

Specifically, I want to learn how to motivate teams and individuals to perform at their highest level, and to become more adept at persuasion and generating “buy-in” from others. Harvard’s unique approach using the case method and emphasis on leadership development will challenge me to grow in both these areas.
So write about your grandmother. Or your gym teacher. Or your after-school job bagging groceries. Or math theorems, if they really are your favorite. Write in your voice, whatever that sounds like-whether you love dialogue or description or have a soft spot for terrible Navy puns. Come up with something that’s uniquely you-no matter how long it takes. I spent the first 27 days of those four August weeks trying to wrap my head around how I was even going to put an essay on that blank page at which I was staring. And on the 28th day, in a corner on the floor of my high school’s senior homeroom right before my last first day of school, something clicked, I grabbed my laptop, and I went from lamenting having nothing to say in my college essay to having 2,500 words of stuff to say that I spent the next eight weeks cutting down to 650.

I also feel that I have much to contribute to Harvard’s community. My varied background in finance and media has given me a unique perspective that will be valuable in classroom discussions and team projects.
Mike came to my school in the seventh grade, and we immediately clicked. Before he came, I didn’t feel like an outcast by any means, as I had my friends that I had known since first grade. However, until Mike, I never had anyone my age to identify with completely. Mike made me feel confident in who I was; he reaffirmed my drives and my thoughts and my inspirations. At this awkward stage in our lives, we found uncritical appreciation in each other. We both were obsessed by movies and had a similar sense of humor. We had the same problems and the same thoughts. That was all it took.

I want to share my passion for the entertainment industry with my classmates by chairing the Entertainment & Media club and planning conferences, career treks, and other opportunities.

My background gives me the capacity for fearless thinking that is needed to meet the challenges of the entertainment industry’s shifting landscape.

So write about you: what matters to you, how you spend your time, what makes you tick and keeps you up at night. Don’t try to write what you think Harvard wants to hear, whether that’s an essay about a love of mathematical theorems you don’t really have or your “life-changing” experience helping poor orphans in Indonesia that wasn’t really that life-changing at all. If you’re reading (or writing) your essay and it feels like you’re describing someone else, there’s a big problem.

A Harvard MBA will strengthen that foundation and help me to become the kind of dynamic leader who can bring the vision for my own company to life and be at the forefront of entertainment’s structural shift.
Harvard University freshman Brenden Rodriquez is immersed in the strenuous course load required of his mechanical engineering major.

Time & Effort: “It was about 6 or 7 drafts. Not sure on the hours.” Word Count: 805

This sample essay is from The Harbus MBA Essay Guide and is reprinted with permission from Harbus. We highly recommend the book!

If you would like advice on responding to this year’s HBS essay question, (which is different from the 2014-15 prompt) please read our Harvard Business School essay tips.

The whole point of your application essay-and the reason Harvard calls it your “personal statement” instead-is that it’s personal. I wouldn’t recommend including my nautical puns in your writing to Harvard for a lot of reasons, but the most important is that they’re a part of my story, not yours.

Linda’s Comments:

I would hate for any of you to read this essay or any of the other essays in The Essay Guide, which I recommend, and think “I’m going to tell a story just like this one!” Bad idea. Wrong response.

The one take-away from this essay and the other successful essays in this book is that the reader feels a little like s/he is meeting the author - not someone else and not some masked being.

The Common Application opened August 1, and in my summer schedule I’d left myself a whole four weeks to sit down and figure out what I was going to send to colleges.

Individuality is the common thread in those essays; it isn’t brilliant prose or incredible writing. It’s authenticity and humanity. And yes, the authors are accomplished too.

You want your readers to feel like that they are meeting you — not someone else, not a scripted piece of shallow PR devoid of personality and humanity, and not some phony combo of you and the author of an essay in a guidebook or on a website.

You spend all day with yourself, but your admissions officers meet you for the first time the day they pick up your application. They meet you through your transcript and teacher recommendations and extracurricular resume, but mostly they meet you-the parts of you that don’t revolve around a list of leadership positions or your stellar (or not-so-stellar, in my case) math grades or how helpful you were in English class that one time-in what you write to them.

They really and truly want to meet you!

So think about your story. And if you are reading this in the 2015-16 application cycle when the question asks you to introduce yourself to your section mates, what would you like your peers to know about you? Yes I know, the admissions readers are eavesdropping, but don’t let that fact intimidate you.

Halfway through that same year, Mike and I became inseparable. In fact, our yearbook had a section that lists the names of students and what they were never seen without. Under Mike, it read: “Ted, ” and under Ted: “Mike.” I became a staple at his house and he at mine. We no longer had to ask our parents if it was ok to have a sleepover on weekends, they assumed we would. On weekdays, we usually walked over to his house, which was near school, and hung out there till I had to go home. Our favorite past time on those long afternoons after school was to walk to the nearby food mart and get a bag of chips and two 24 oz. Coca-Colas. Watching a movie, we would sit on his couch with our chips and Coke and talk about our dreams of working together in the movies. Mike wanted to be a director and actor, and I wanted to be an actor and a playwright/screenwriter. It was the perfect combination. We even tried writing a few scripts together.

What would you really tell your peers, classmates, and future friends? What part of your story would you share?

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