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Blog: Harvard Business School MBA Essay Update: Finally some certainty!

Updated: Feb 1

This year, Harvard Business School (HBS) have added a word limit to their MBA application essay: “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?” This was previously an open-ended prompt with no word limit.

The HBS MBA essay’s new word limit is 900 words for 2022-2023.

In their update, HBS mentions that this decision was taken to provide applicants with “a little more direction” and reduce “the stress about how much is too much to write”. We also suspect that a major factor is speeding up the application review process. HBS hasn’t declared this, of course, but with thousands of applications (approximately 10,000 last application cycle) the Admissions Committee is probably a bit tired of overly verbose essays.

What does this mean for HBS MBA applicants?

For nearly 10 years, HBS applicants have struggled with finding a balance with their HBS essay. Some applicants played it conservatively and submitted essays as short as 500 words. Others got carried away and submitted 2,000 word drafts. Neither has been a deal-breaker for HBS - that’s how open-ended it has always been.

So HBS’s decision to ask applicants to work within a prescribed frame will finally provide some certainty and put a few minds at ease.

900 words = approximately 2 pages.

Not short enough to limit your self-expression, but tight enough to avoid a boring page-flipper either. Your essay doesn’t need to fill up the entire word limit, but I’d say it would be tough to convey what they want in less than 600 words. For a complete rundown on what HBS is looking for in your MBA essays, read our comprehensive HBS MBA Essay Analysis Guide.

Remember, every theme in your essay should be impactful and memorable, which is why it’s so important to be authentic. Getting personal doesn’t mean telling the Admissions Committee about your first dog, but analyzing your experiences and motivations through an introspective lens. You’re the only one qualified to tell your story.

What to Avoid in the HBS MBA Essay:

In the HBS Admissions blog “Direct from the Director”, they don’t tell you how to write your essay. But they do provide a list of things not to do:

1. Don’t paraphrase your resume. They’ve already read it. They know your job history, your GPA, and what corporate awards you’ve won. As the prompt asks, “What more?”

What they are interested in is something beyond your resume. Perhaps how you managed to get your company out of a particularly difficult spot in record time, or how an online course you took snowballed into an idea for an entrepreneurial venture. Don’t just describe, analyze.

2. Don’t waste your words. To convey such a meaningful story within the word limit, you’ll need to stick to the point. The essay must be cohesive and clear. This is not to say that you can’t be creative with your approach - just ensure that your stories tie together and support your overall application.

3. Don’t forget who this essay is about: you! The HBS blog asks “Could this essay also describe someone else?” If your answer is yes, then it needs more work. Applicants often digress by talking about HBS or the campus or Boston, but that eats into their opportunity to show individuality (HBS already knows how great they are, and the opportunities in Boston). It may take months to create such compelling stories, but it’s essential if you want a realistic chance of receiving an interview invite.

By providing a word limit, the HBS MBA essay now joins Chicago Booth School of Business, the Wharton School, Columbia Business School, and other top business schools that specify word counts. But it remains one of the few b-schools that has only 1 application essay. Use it well!

One size does not fit all when you’re applying to multiple top b-schools. For school-specific essay advice, consult our business school essay guides and position yourself for a successful MBA application.


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