Here is a sample HBS application essay reviewed by our consultant Shana! To help you get the most out of it, she has added comments indicating the strongest areas of this essay for those who decide to apply to HBS. We made things easy for you: the gray boxes below contain the essay content, and all of the text in-between the boxes are Shana’s comments for the text.
It’s the first day of class at Harvard Business School. 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 charged experience will be lasting. Introduce yourself.
NOTE: This essay was written by one of our consultants—not an actual applicant. It’s meant as a demonstration of the kind of content we believe should go into the essay itself. This essay is copyrighted by The Art of Applying, and should not be copied. Plagiarism is when you present someone else’s work as your own. It is a serious issue; please don’t do it.
Here is the essay!
I’m thrilled to get to know each of you and hear your stories. But more than that, I’d like to publish them! As a writer at heart, I have a vision of how to market books in the rapidly changing landscape that is twenty-first century publishing.
Comments from Shana: Here, I can feel the applicant’s excitement jump off the page! I love how she is immediately showing interest in the other students. This is a good job explaining what her goal is in the very first paragraph.
My story begins in high school, where I served as editor of our school newspaper, The Green Light. Each week I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the editor of our town’s newspaper, as he reviewed my work and offered suggestions to improve the articles written by my staff. When I got to college, not only did I join the newspaper, but I began to write fiction and poetry, and I was the only freshman admitted to an upperclassmen poetry seminar. Right after college, I moved to New York and took my first job as associate to the managing editor at Time Warner Books. My jaw dropped when I realized that the publication of a book requires so many more people than an author and an editor. I was amazed to discover the extensive team that included marketing staff, sales representatives, cover artists, publicists, and company executives.
Comments from Shana: She mentioned “story” in the first sentence in this paragraph. This is an interesting choice to extend the metaphor of writing stories/publishing throughout the essay.
I’ll never forget the day our CEO met with Madonna before he offered her a million dollar contract. Who knew that it wasn’t only the quality of the publication that determined its success, but like a tail wagging the dog, the decision of how profitable a title would be was often made in-house before the words were even written! In fact, I discovered that the marketing dollars were invested to yield the desired results. I was very curious about how the marketing and sales departments would ensure that Madonna’s book earned out the enormous author advance.
Comments from Shana: I’m glad that she going to tell us a fascinating story (the CEO meets Madonna!) that brings us into the action with her. In the beginning of the second sentence, she began with “Who knew.” When she uses this kind of unexpected sentence structure, she is really showing us her fun personality! Nice.
With the endorsement of the managing editor, I made a lateral move to work as a marketing assistant. Quickly I learned about how the marketing team plugged in metrics—such as comparable titles, an author’s following, and previous sales—in order to estimate likely revenue that would be generated by the new title. I gradually assumed responsibility for managing these estimation models for all book titles in the action-adventure genre. After a steep learning curve, my estimates routinely landed within 3 percent of actual sales, when the department average was 7 percent. People joked that I was psychic and should become a fortune teller. One day the VP of Marketing brought in a giant jar of jelly beans and announced that I was going to tell them exactly how many pieces of candy were in the jar. (I guessed 10,864 but was off by 231. I won the whole jar!)
Comments from Shana: So, I see that she wasn’t passively moved from one position to the other, but her questions and curiosity drove this move to become a marketing assistant. It’s good that she is showing us she is a person of action. In the last sentence, I can relate to her here as a human being. I can tell she has a good sense of humor along with excellent predictive skills. The writing paints her as very friendly, and relatable. That’s one thing that you want to accomplish through your essay—you want to come across as a likable person and not just deliver a list of achievements.
Two years later, I was thrilled to be offered a marketing position at Random House, but it was only six months later that Random House merged with Penguin, and in the process, there were hundreds of layoffs. There was more work for everyone, and we were scrambling to keep up with competition from new publishers like Amazon.com. In the middle of a marketing blitz for bestselling author TD Calhoun, the author’s agent informed us that Calhoun was going to go the nontraditional route and self-publish her next books; she felt she could market her own work through social media and keep a greater percentage of the process.
Comments from Shana: The admissions committee along with cohort peers are eager to hear about how you deal with adversity and make decisions in challenging situations. Here, the writer sounds like she is an innovator with a vision. When writing your essay, make sure to highlight your most valuable assets.
Employees in traditional publishing throughout New York were in despair. But as an avid user of social media, a passionate writer myself, and an experienced professional in the traditional publishing world, I was secretly excited about the possibilities. What if I could help merge the best of what the digital age offers authors with the best of what the big houses provided in order to create a new publishing format? Not only would I like to create a publishing house that is lean yet builds in marketing, sales, and editing, but I’d forgo the traditional advance for my authors and offer a commission-based model that would enable authors to keep at least forty percent of their profits. Although I have many ideas for how this new hybrid publishing model could work, I have even more questions, especially about the marketing and operations aspects. That’s why I’m so excited to be here at HBS. I hope to find answers by taking Marketing Segmentation with Professor Jones and E-commerce Productivity with Professor Allen.
Comments from Shana: This sentence is critical: “Although I have many ideas for how this new hybrid publishing model could work, I have even more questions, especially about the marketing and operations aspects.” She has to make it clear that although she has ideas for her career, there are absolutely missing pieces that can best be found at HBS. You never want the admissions committee or your peers to think you’re already a complete package and you’ve already got all the skills, knowledge, and experience you need.
Also, I’d like to start my own publishing industry club on campus. I know each of us has our own fascinating story to tell, so I hope you’ll join me as a marketer, sales rep, or business executive of our own HBS Publishing Club and turn everyone in our cohort into authors. I can’t wait to publish your titles and share your wise insights and experiences with a wide audience.
The Art of Applying team agrees that this is a great essay! One thing you may have noticed is that the essay writer didn’t include any information on her personal background or what family life was like growing up. This was a choice this particular author made, but it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t include information on your personal background. It just depends how you want to tell your story. We hope that this sample essay guides and inspires you as you work on your HBS introduction essay.
If want us to help you tell your own story, reach out and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to leave questions or comments below. Share this article with your friends if it helped you!
You’ve probably heard a great deal about the admissions interview, including various perspectives on its relative importance as part of your college application. It’s a good idea to look into interview options at the colleges on your list, because not only does it provide a good opportunity for the admissions committee to learn more about you as a person, but it also gives you a chance to learn more about the school itself.
Once you’ve scheduled an alumni or on-campus interview with a college, how do you prepare? While you have no way of knowing exactly what an interviewer will ask, you can — and should — expect and be prepared for certain types of questions.
At CollegeVine, we specialize in guiding students through the admissions process, including holding mock interviews with tons of practice questions to be as prepared as possible. Learn more about how our College Applications program can help you ace your interview.
Starting the Interview: What your Interviewer Wants to Know
The interviewer will most likely begin with some form of the question, “Tell me about yourself.” While this may seem like a fairly open-ended prompt, and perhaps even a bit daunting, there are certain ways to answer effectively, as well as topics to avoid.
Setting the Tone
You should see the “tell me about yourself” prompt as an opportunity to show the interviewer your most important qualities and describe what you can contribute to the school community. Just as with any interview you will have over the course of your career, college years and beyond, this prompt is meant to give the interviewer an idea of what qualities you offer that are relevant to the position at hand — in this case, as a member of that college’s matriculating class.
Because this may well be the interviewer’s first question, it will set the tone for the rest of the interview, so be ready with a strong, but not overly rehearsed, answer. Keep in mind that this is not an invitation to share your life story or overly personal information with your interviewer; doing so will make you appear unprofessional and unprepared.
Topics to Cover
In general, it is a good idea to begin by mentioning the area in which you grew up. Don’t spend too much time discussing the intricacies of your hometown and home life, but mention if you’ve lived there your whole life or moved around a lot, and, if possible, connect it to your interest in the college’s area, size, or campus.
Tell the interviewer about your prospective major, if you have one, or what your main area of interest is and what you hope to study. Also, describe a few personality traits (roughly three), which will allow you to segue into your academic areas of interest and extracurricular activities and why they are important to you. End your answer with why you want to attend that college.
Since you should have researched the school thoroughly before the interview, you will have a good idea of how your personality and academic and extracurricular interests will fit in there, so make an effort to connect what you know about the school with your personal strengths and the topics you’ve covered in your answer. Keep in mind that, if the school offers you admission, the admissions officers want you to choose them as much as you wanted them to choose you, so you should express how interested you are in attending.
I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and have lived there my whole life, so I’d really love to experience city life in college. Since I live relatively close to New York, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few times, and it has so much to offer, especially in terms of the literary scene. I love reading and writing, so I’m planning on majoring in English or journalism. Journalism seems like a good fit because I’m good at noticing the details and know how to dig deep.
I’m proud of my ability to persevere and overcome challenges. This year I was having a hard time in trig, but I met with the teacher outside of class and committed to studying for two hours a day, and ended up with an A in the class. I’m also really passionate about my interests, especially writing and foreign languages. That’s why I’m a columnist for my school newspaper and the president of Spanish club.
I also tutor English and Spanish at an after-school program in my town. I’d love to attend NYU because it has such strong English and journalism programs. I’m also interested in foreign languages, and I hear NYU has an amazing study abroad program. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, New York is such an amazing city, especially for an aspiring writer.
In this response, the interviewee touches on the topics relevant to her interests and qualifications for the school. She discusses her background a bit and connects it to why NYU and the candidate are mutually good fits, explaining her interests in English, writing, and foreign languages, what she has to done to explore them both inside and outside school, and how she can continue to pursue them in college.
She also makes it clear what attributes of NYU appeal to her. Additionally, she reveals some attributes that make her unique and avoids offering cliché personality traits. She provides examples that illustrate these attributes, such has her ability to persevere and overcome obstacles in a challenging course, also demonstrating her ability to turn a negative into a positive.