Harvard Business School Application Essay Example

Writing the Harvard Business School (HBS) essay is a daunting task, and candidates often find themselves staring at a blank screen wondering what on earth they should tell the HBS admissions committee and whether they have anything worthy of sharing. Try to ignore those seeds of doubt and take comfort in knowing that others have struggled with the same questions.

The following essay, along with its associated commentary, is one of fifty essays reviewed in “What Matters?” and “What More?”: 50 Successful Essays for the Stanford GSB and HBS (and Why They Worked), a book co-authored by our firm’s founder, Liza Weale. We have selected this essay not only because it was successful (Andrey recently graduated from HBS and is building a career in investing) but also because the essay reads to us as approachable and might assure you that you do have things worthy of sharing!

Pre-Reading Commentary from Liza Weale, Founder of Gatehouse Admissions:

Andrey faces the unenviable task of needing to somewhat distract the admissions reader from his past, but not for the red flags you might imagine. On the contrary, his pre–business school credentials, including an analyst role at a prominent investment bank and a subsequent associate role at a fast-growing private equity firm, are very compelling. In fact, both HBS and the Stanford GSB allocate an impressive number of their seats to applicants from this very pool. Yet therein lies the problem: the path of “banker-to-investor-to-MBA” is incredibly crowded, which complicates such candidates’ efforts to stand out. Everyone in this group has worked on a “big deal,” pulled an all-nighter, and stepped up to pinch-hit in the role senior to them. HBS has heard these stories many times before! So, if you are part of this pool, what do you do?

The answer is to share things the school will not readily know about you rather than those it will! Andrey focuses his essay on the importance of community and how he strives to contribute to his. Although he mentions his work, it serves merely as a backdrop, and he discusses neither deals nor transactions and instead reflects on mentoring more junior analysts and building a new tool to benefit his entire group. Andrey thereby avoids characterizing himself as “just another finance applicant” and showcases traits that HBS might not be able to assume in reviewing his resume—compassion, humility, initiative, and empathy.

Andrey’s essay also exemplifies the old adage that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. None of Andrey’s stories on their own would likely be sufficient in convincing HBS that he is the stuff the school’s future alumni are made of. Yet by mentioning several examples (some bold and character building, others—such as his effort to drum up interest in his office’s March Madness tournament—smaller in nature), each of which deals with a slightly different challenge or learning, Andrey conveys his earnestness and proves to HBS that his dedication to strengthening communities will enable him to the very sort of leader the school desires.

Getting Outsiders In (885 words) – Harvard Business School Application Essay Written by Andrey, HBS MBA

I emigrated from Eastern Europe at the age of eleven without speaking a word of English. Enrolling in the 7th grade at a local public school, I was lost. No one helped—especially not the two other Eastern Europeans who seemed to enjoy watching me struggle. The more I was excluded, the stronger my commitment to learning English and dropping my accent became. I did whatever it took—watching the Olsen twins’ movies with my mother on weekends and reading ESL books during recess. As my English skills improved, so did my friendships. I initiated conversations—risking ridicule for my accent—and asked to join my classmates’ activities. Soon, I no longer had to ask to be included. In the 8th grade, my classmates gave their final proof of acceptance by electing me as class president. [1] Instead of staying on the outside looking in, I invested in friends, the culture, and the language. I had finally made America feel like home.

The next time I had to make a new place feel like home was in college. Though I had the language down this time, I again knew no one, so I immersed myself in student life. The organization I was drawn most to was Student Government which emphasized building an inclusive community above all else. I loved contributing to the sense of connectedness through planning and executing events such as the school-wide semi-formal, the annual gingerbread house competition, and our first carnival, a timely break right before exams. When elected as Community Lead, I shifted my focus to advocating on classmates’ behalf. I saw firsthand how my classmates were finding connections through our campus clubs. However, upon taking a closer look, I realized that many of my classmates felt that clubs could be improved. I investigated their issues; the themes I heard were consistent: “Not enough of a budget to get our word out there! Not enough help from the administration!” I launched an effort to help, putting together a proposal for the Senate Finance Team that showed the need for increased funding. I slowly built buy-in with the faculty chairs of the committee and ultimately defended our ask in front of the Dean of Student Life. As a result of my dedication, clubs were awarded increased budgets, and a new full-time staff member was added to liaise with the clubs. Not only was UPenn now home to me, but I had also changed that home for the better for current and future students. [2]

Starting out as a stranger in my own communities, I’ve discovered that I take joy in helping others get on the “inside” faster. [3] Throughout college, in addition to my roles in student government, I pursued positions as a Teacher’s Assistant (TA) for three professors and as a Welcome Member giving tours of the campus to prospective students. As a mentor to underclassmen, there were the easy tasks like editing a resume and explaining how to utilize Excel. But I’ve learned that helping others requires real dedication. After Alexander, a student with a learning disability, failed his accounting course, a professor asked me if I would help him with the class as he retook it. He needed much more of me than students I’d TA’ed—I created new materials better suited for his needs and started fresh, reviewing each individual concept with him. When he passed the class,I may have been happier than he was. Now, I’m helping Alexander navigate his first year in the professional world.

Today, I still invest deeply in building a sense of community and connections. My side sessions with fellow analysts on complicated modeling and new accounting topics led to me being selected as one of two first-years at BankCo to tutor the summer analysts. Two years later and they’re contacting me for guidance as they embark on the buy-side recruiting process—guidance I’m happy to provide. At Private Equity Partners (PEP), I introduced new energy into the March Madness and World Cup pools, replacing the generic email updates with my own 5-minute stand-up routine every Monday—drawing together partners and associates alike. As a UPenn alum, I’ve created panels and networking events to help current international students understand the visa process, a maze that I worked through myself years prior.

I also continue to make my mark on my “homes”: prior to leaving BankCo, I saw an opportunity to improve communication between industry groups and the M&A defense team by creating a website for defense team requests. On top of my regular responsibilities, I made the case for the investment and managed two technology developers in creating a website that is now used across the entire investment bank. At PEP, I championed the Tech Team Offsite, an opportunity to brainstorm sourcing strategies and new sub-sectors for investment. In addition to the new investment theses we articulated, the offsite served as a mechanism to further develop the relationships between junior members and senior advisors of the team. My experiences have shaped the type of leader I am today—one who believes strongly in the value of culture and connections and one who seeks change that will help a broader group. I know what it’s like to be on the “outs”—I strive to make an impact on others by helping them be on the “in.

Additional Commentary from Liza:

[1] Being elected class president one year after arriving at a school in a foreign land must have felt like a tremendous stamp of approval. Note, however, that Andrey does not focus too much on this success. Perhaps he recognized that in the eyes of the admissions committee, the achievement occurred too long ago to dwell on; perhaps he is humble and does not consider it as significant an accomplishment as the reader might. Whatever the reason, his choice ultimately strengthens the power of the example.

[2] Theme-wise, Andrey’s college story here is similar to his eighth grade story (starting on the outside, becoming a leader within), but he takes this one a step further by explaining how he made a lasting impact on the budget process. If you use a thematic approach in your essay, make sure that each story reveals something new or more about you.

[3] Note that only here at the start of paragraph three does Andrey state his thesis, but given what he has shared of his journey thus far, we already understand why community is so important to him.

If you would like to see more examples of successful HBS and GSB essays, you can purchase the entire guide here.

Wondering what to write for HBS’s essay? Read our essay analysis here.