How to Approach Top-Ranked Business School Application Essays

Business school deadlines are fast approaching and it’s time to write the most compelling essay of your academic and professional career thus far. As you sit down, reflect deeply and intensely on the following before you submit your business school application essays:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

  • Why is the school asking this? HBS wants a chance to get to know you – the person, the student, the candidate for its program – personally. By asking this question, HBS is giving you a chance to show the admission officers who you really are through your words, perspective, and voice.

  • What is the school really looking for in asking this question? HBS is looking for you to set yourself apart from applicants with similar scores, GPAs, resumes, and qualifications. As you are competing against candidates of the highest caliber in the world, the admissions office is looking for applicants who stand out. Among the stack of thousands of applications, readers are looking for essays that they will remember.

  • What are some good sample approaches for dealing with the question? When approaching this question, it is important to first step back, brainstorm, and choose a central theme for your application. Ask yourself, “What is the thread that ties together your entire application? How are you going to market yourself to the admissions office?” Once you have decided on the central thrust of your application, use your essay to support, emphasize, and elaborate on your application’s argument, which is to prove to the admissions office that you are a necessary addition to the school.

  • What are some pitfalls to avoid? It is imperative that you do not repeat anything that is listed in other parts of your application. Doing so is a direct disregard for the question and a waste of an opportunity to show the admissions office more about you. It is also imperative that your answer shows the reader something about you and not anyone else. You are the person who will be attending HBS if accepted, so the admissions committee wants to know why you will be a contribution to class, the HBS community, and  eventually the HBS alumni.

Exclusive Bonus: Download this guide to learn How to Answer the Wharton MBA essay question.

Why School X?

  • Why is the school asking this? The business school wants to know why you are pursuing an MBA and why you are pursuing an MBA from that school, specifically.

  • What is the school really looking for in asking this question? The school is looking to know how you will contribute to their class, community, and school. Why are you a good fit for that school? Why do they need to have you? How will they benefit from letting you in?

  • What are some good sample approaches for dealing with the question? Before you begin writing, do your research on the school, its programs, and its community. It’s important that you discuss why you want an MBA, what you will do with your MBA, and why you want your MBA to be from that school specifically.

  • What are some pitfalls to avoid? Not researching is a huge mistake! Writing a vague essay with no details about the specific school shows disinterest or laziness, so do your research. Remember that they are not asking “Why Business School?”; rather, they are asking “Why Business School X?”

Kellogg: What’s the greatest obstacle you have had to overcome (personally and professionally)? How has overcoming this obstacle prepared you to achieve success now and in the future?

  • Why is the school asking this? Often times, the most telling information about a person can be found during challenging times. The school wants to know about a formative experience in your life.

  • What is the school really looking for in asking this question? The admissions office is looking to see what you consider to be an obstacle, how overcoming the obstacle has changed you, and how you use overcoming this obstacle to your advantage in the future. How has overcoming this challenge made you a better contribution to Kellogg?

  • What are some good sample approaches for dealing with the question? When approaching this question, it’s important to choose your obstacle wisely, to choose how you overcame these obstacles wisely, and to show how what you learned from this formative experience will make you a better candidate for Kellogg.

  • What are some pitfalls to avoid? Kellogg is not looking for a sob story. It’s important that your focus be on how you overcame the obstacle and not on the obstacle itself. It’s also important that your obstacle is actually an obstacle. As everyone has challenges in life, writing about something that is not really a challenge, is disingenuous and will make the reader dislike you. Lastly, avoid cliche obstacles at all costs.

Developing and executing your most compelling essay is a crucial part of the business school application process.

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About the Author


Yosepha Greenfield grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science. While at Yale, she was the Captain of the Women’s Basketball team and the starting point guard. Under her leadership, the team advanced to the NIT tournament for the first time in program history.

Throughout her academic, athletic, and professional career, Yosepha has dedicated herself to helping people become the best version of themselves. She has mentored several young female athletes, promoted the importance of fitness through children’s exercise videos and fitness startups, and now works to help as many students as possible achieve their admissions goals.

Yosepha is also a six-time National Champion in Tae Kwon Do.