How should you approach it?
For the class entering in the fall of 2016, the Harvard Business School has kept the open-ended single essay question. But there’s a little twist this time: the essay prompt centers around the HBS case method. It reads as follows:
It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.
How should you approach this essay? What should you write about? HBS recommends that you watch this video before you start writing.
Here are some insights about the case method:
- The night before the first day of class, you are given your seating chart. You are reminded that every seat in the section is intentionally planned, that there are reasons why you sit where you do, and why you were assigned certain seatmates next to you.
- Before you start class, you are also assigned a Learning Team (LT). You are told once again that everything is intentionally planned, and that each one of you will bring something different to your respective LT.
- The most anxiety-driven moment of every class is the cold call. I can tell from experience (and my classmates would agree) that the cold call never goes to the expert. For example, in a finance class, the cold call usually goes to the poet.
What does all that mean for applicants? One word: perspective . The HBS case method works because of the mix of different perspectives that students bring to the classroom. Ask yourself, why is your perspective important to the case discussion? How would your perspective contribute to the learning experience of others? What makes your perspective unique?
As admissions consultants who have spent many years helping people get into HBS, we are happy to share a few profiles of past admits:
- The execution-driven tech guru: He contributed to the making of the first iPad. In class, he challenged his classmates about the feasibility of executing certain strategies. He shared his knowledge of how technology can be designed, assembled, and launched. He had the power to ground the high-level thinkers who did not see the detailed picture.
- The liberal arts major: Although capable, she was not into quantitative models or number-crunching exercises. She excelled at forming strategic partnerships to grow a whole division’s revenue. She followed her intuition and took calculated risks for the company. She brought a fresh perspective to the classroom because of the naïveté with which she looked at financial models. Cold calling her in a finance class exposed everyone to the questions that her classmates also had but were too shy to ask.
- The classic investment banker: Regarded by everyone as the person who fits the business school stereotype, he worked on one of the most well-known deals in the financial industry. He carried his confidence and knowledge with a great sense of humility. In class, he made no arguments to authority by stressing the achievements of his career, explaining the rationale behind his analysis instead.
- The management consultant: Regarded as another stereotypical business school applicant, she had the cookie cutter McKinsey career track. Her resume looked exactly like the other consultants’. However, she carried a rich personal story, with a multicultural background and filled with moments of personal growth. Her heartfelt comments tended to be the voice of reason in class.
- The petroleum engineer: Your average engineer, with good grades and average GMAT scores. But this engineer grew up in a family of migrant farmworkers. Outside of work, he devoted his life to the nonprofit outreaches, helping other disadvantaged students with similar backgrounds break their glass ceilings. His perspective grounded the class about the realities that the disadvantaged face.
- The U.S. Navy officer: He worked in a submarine for months at a time, without seeing any daylight. The way he carried himself in the submarine influenced the behavior of others. He knew how to lead a crew in crisis, how to inspire 100 men to stay grounded and alert despite the tedium of the unchanging days. His contribution to class shook everyone’s perspective about leading teams.
How do you stand out? Remember, there are three pillars that make up a strong HBS candidate: leadership, global awareness, and the ability to make a positive impact. Demonstrating all three while standing out as a unique candidate isn’t an easy task.
Before starting your essay, look at all the elements of your application, and then ask yourself,“What else don’t they know about me”? Spending a few minutes to craft the right application strategy before delving into writing could do wonders for your chance of being admitted.
For a limited time offer on helping you construct your MBA application strategy, click here.Stay tuned for more about business school applications, as we will have more insight in the following posts.