Some of the best admissions advisers are those who have gone through the process recently, and I think that one of the posters over at Wall Street Oasis, has been incredibly helpful in his musings about getting into Harvard Business School. His posts and his responses are incredibly thoughtful, and I suggest you take a few minutes to go through his entire 2-page Q&A. This is one articulate and humble guy. He’s also honest and will tell you that he didn’t even get an interview at Wharton, blew the interview at Stanford, and was put on “further consideration” for HBS. So just remember, this stuff isn’t predictable.
I’m quoting him below and have highlighted some of the most important points about how you differentiate yourself in the HBS essay. You’ll see right here on this website a video on how to differentiate yourself in the short answers, and now here are some great tips on the essay. Remember: they are looking for someone who can add to the class of already excellent MBA students.
From Wall Street Oasis:
The professor who heads the first year curriculum told us something that stuck in my head: “you weren’t selected because you’re the best at learning things (though we think you’re very good at that, too) but rather because we think you’re the best at teaching.” So when you write your application, think about what you’ll teach people: is there something unique to your background (whether work experience or otherwise) that causes you to see the world – especially business world – differently? Do you have some special skill or interest that you could introduce to HBS? Do you have a way of pulling people together (whatever the style) that could be beneficial to have in a section?
I’d highlight the sort of thinking and domain knowledge that someone with a Corp Fin background could bring to a classroom that would contrast, say, the sort of knowledge that someone with a PE background or IB background could bring. Has your job taught you interesting things that you wouldn’t realize about how the world works if you hadn’t had that experience? If not, can you seek out such experiences? Can you get your bosses to attest to that? A lot of people think that PE types are auto-admits while Corp Fin guys face much harder slogs. I’m more skeptical; I think if you make this case well, you’ve got a huge tailwind.
Another thing I’d do is find something – whether in your job or outside it – that shows that you enjoy contributing to teams. It doesn’t have to save the world, it doesn’t have to be prestigious, it doesn’t have to be big… it just has to show that, in your day-to-day life, you’re the sort of guy who voluntarily contributes to the groups you work with (b/c it means you’ll be a voluntary contributor to your section). Please make it something you like; it’s much harder to do anything of consequence without intrinsic motivation.
The key here is that you are showing the admissions committee how you add to the experience of the other people who are trying to get the most out of their two years. Remember, business school, particularly at HBS, characterized by the case method, is the ultimate crowd-sourced experience. How can you contribute?