HBS Class of 2023 Essay Analysis


The HBS essay question has remained the same from the previous application cycle. Read on for tips on how to approach their prompt!


2020/21 essay question

Essay 1: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? (No word limit)


2020/21 essay question analysis

Essay 1

We often recommend to clients that they check out the HBS portrait project before beginning their HBS essays. It offers great inspiration (amazing classmates) and perspective on the type of storytelling that might best engage the audience. Typically, the Portrait Project stories are personal, share motivations and goals, while also staying well within a 600-word limit. Are you tempted to write something with 1000+ words? Does it feel like a life narrative? Go back and check out these stories first.


The open-ended nature of this essay question continued to make it challenging this past year. As Harvard’s Admissions Office has mentioned before, there are few if any common characteristics that make for a “successful” essay – some are incredibly creative, while others are much more conventional. The key is to write something authentic to you. This is easier said than done.

More tactically, successful clients from previous years kept the essay to fewer than 1000 words (ideally 400-800), and focused on adding context to the other components of their application (i.e. resume, activities). Many of them shared deeply personal stories that highlighted why they would be a great fit for HBS. Essays typically covered two or more of the following topics:

  • A life-changing experience

  • Formative college experiences, and lessons learned that enabled future successes

  • Recent career insights that drove the decision to pursue an MBA

  • Extracurricular activities (typically after college) for which you had a particular passion

  • Expected future career impact (ideally, discuss the value you want to add and transformation you want to enable, rather than the role/job you seek)

Most importantly, successful candidates treated the essay as an opportunity for a conversation, rather than a formulaic, check-the-box approach. Consider what you would say to the admissions team to convince them that you are the best person to deliver something they really need to the class they are putting together, if you only had 30-60 seconds to pitch them. Write those words down, as that will be a great starting point for this essay. By conducting our personal branding exercise, you’ll also receive some great insights from those who know you best!


2020/21 deadlines

Deadline time: 12:00pm ET

  • Round 1: Application deadline: Sept. 8, 2020, Decision date: Dec. 10, 2020

  • Round 2: Application deadline: Jan. 5, 2021 Decision date: Mar. 30, 2021

Other application details

Click here for school interaction opportunities.

The online application is expected to be released in mid-June, 2020.

Re-applicant?

Check out information here.

School resources

Check out our links to several of school's resources, including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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