Sunday, September 10, 2006

Celebratory Post! & HBS Essays Deconstructed

I have completed all 5 schools' essays (H, W, S, K, Chicago) within the deadline I'd set for myself, i.e TODAY. And of course I finished them yesterday itself! To celebrate I decided to write a post describing the insights I gained while writing each of these school's essays. Yes I know it sounds ironical (may even sound dumb) that I want to celebrate completing all that writing by writing some more. That is the curse (or fortune) of being a creative writer you see :D. I can write tirelessly...

Most B-School applicants are well into their essay writing sojourn. I feel now is a good time to share my insights about how to fit the same story into different schools' essays. Most of us apply to around 4-8 schools. So we have 4 different schools, 4 different sets of essays but a single applicant and a single story. At first this realization can be paralyzing. But improvization is an art, a manager's art :-). I call it improvisation because we cannot invent a new story each time we are faced with a different essay stub, we simply have to make do with the experiences we've had so far.

Now a single post convering all 5 schools would be a big hindrance to your readability and my writability:D. Moreover it will be too much to sustain within the average human attention span. So I've decided to write 5 different posts, one for each school.

Before I begin my ramblings about the HBS essays let me establish a thumb rule here. Honesty is an absolute must while writing essays. Once we decide to spin stories this particular problem ceases to exist and this blog post is worthless :-)

Harvard Business School - the school with the most stringent word limits, the school I would die to get into :D...

HBS essays are not rigidly structured like the usual B-School essays. There is no single essay where you can talk only about your profession, no single essay where you can talk only about your extracurriculars unless you consciously choose to do so. HBS essays make life difficult because you can wonder endlessly whether you should pick a personal, professional or extracurricular incident to talk about for 3 out of the 6 essays. The balance is very difficult to achieve. You might need to make a huge compromise for you might end up writing all 6 essays and then find that you have 3-4 more good anecdotes from various realms of life still left to say. Harvard really tests your discretion, judgement and above all your conciseness.

HBS is the only school that gives you 400 words to write about undergrad alone. This is both a boon and a bane. A boon for people who have not really been involved in any XC after undergrad days, such people can use this essay to talk about all the XC they managed along with their "gruelling academics". A boon for people with a low GMAT, such people can use this essay to prove that they can handle the academic rigor at HBS. A bane for people who have lots of experience and could have used this precious space to talk about more recent and more indicative accomplishments than about something that happened in a previous era. A bane for people who are still involved in lots of extracurriculars, they have to devote at least a part of this essay to academics and rest of it also is restricted to 4 years of undergrad, space that could have been used to talk about current involvements that cannot be worked into the other essays.

The ethics essay,I know I know, It's a pain to write something on such a futuristic note and yet keep it grounded in your past/present experiences and yet sound convincing. But don't underestimate the power of research. There's truckloads of material available on ethics. Some exploring and reading should give you a fairly large number of ideas that you can relate your past, present and future to. So start googling and clicking around right now!

Coming to the career vision essay, first of all we need to note the phrasing here - "Career Vision". They are not simply "goals"like other schools. This is another indication of the legendary mission of HBS to create great leaders and visionaries. It's better to have a concrete goal for all schools, more so for HBS if you want them to take you seriously. This is particularly true for younger applicants who may not have too many stories of professional leadership to talk about and who have a tougher time explaining why they are ready for an MBA from HBS so early. In general HBS wants demonstrated leadership potential. Weave as many leadership episodes as possible into your saga, taking care not to go overboard and sound like an alpha personality.

HBS' style of asking questions has its own advantages. You can portray yourself in the best light by talking a lot about one of personal, professional and extracurricular aspects, whichever has the richest and most interesting experiences. Admittedly, it is a more prudent approach to strike a balance between the three. But I feel the risk is well worth it, if you feel you can pull it off. For example if you are a very young applicant you can pick 2 achievements from extracurriculars, or your defining leadership experience could be a personal one. Similarly people from a very heavily represented demographic such as the Indian IT pool or Investment Bankers, Management Consultants etc. can differentiate themselves very well. HBS does not force you to talk about professional experiences alone, so you can avoid talking about experiences which you feel will be very similar to those of others belonging to your demographic. An Indian engineer for example can stand out by talking about his/her proficiency in the creative arts, or deep knowledge of Indian scriptures/mythology/vedas, ballet dancing performances, adventure/wildlife photography etc.

Thus the key to the success of your HBS essays lies in choosing the right mix of stories to talk about. It's just takes a little foresight, a little more courage and a lot more introspection and digging into your past to paint a refreshingly unique picture of yourself.

Ok I'm off to do some serious rewriting ***Snicker***! Ciao...

Also check out: My take on Wharton, Stanford, Chicago, Kellogg essays.