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Harvard MBA Application Essay for 2023-24

  1. 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? (900-word limit) 
  2. Briefly tell us more about your career aspirations. (500 characters)

Harvard MBA Winning Sample Essay – 1

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? (There is no word limit for this question)

As an artist, I have always been obsessed with how the great masters could transform a blank canvas into something humanity would grow to treasure and preserve through time. Each line and brushstroke blended together to make an image that spoke to people and provoked emotions. No two ever alike – the individuality of the artists was in both style and brushstroke – yet they all portrayed the conflict and beauty of humanity in breathtaking ways. I can’t help but identify with both the canvas and the artist – my upbringing sketching out the rough lines of who I am, and my decisions adding paint and purpose to smooth the edges of this portrait. When I try to picture the painting I want my life to represent, I think of the journey I’ve made thus far, and of how I want to continue inspiring others to transform their own canvases into a positive reflection of themselves.

The background of my painting would be set in CITY, when, at 15, I joined a volunteer group to teach health awareness in one of the poorest regions of my country. As a doctor’s daughter, I was aware of the damage poor health education could have on populations that didn’t have their most basic needs satisfied; but their paintings, while dark with inequity, could still have a bright finish if they were given the right tools. That in mind, I spent one year studying the area’s multiple problems and fundraising, before going out to rural communities and educating women about some of the dangers of sexual intercourse. I was apprehensive – I was only 15, discussing a topic that was so taboo that people barely registered for the class to begin with! How would I help combat the high rate of STDs and undesired pregnancies in the region if people were ashamed to talk about it? I realized the issue needed an informal solution, so instead of the previously planned class, I created a side location, away from the community center, where people could meet me in private and express their questions. I selected the spot carefully – under a distant tree that created one of the few shady areas in that impoverished, arid region – and was rewarded by many women stopping by to air their concerns. This moment was very meaningful to me, making me realize that no matter the topic, the first step to engaging others is understanding their concerns and being flexible to adapt to them. Later, I was inspired further while volunteering for a social impact group in CITY, teaching basic entrepreneurial skills to young business professionals so they could structure small businesses and supplement our family income. This case, however, was transformative: Using my business skills on their behalf awakened me to a career goal I had never dreamed of, guiding my actions to help prevent grey uncertainty from tarnishing their personal paintings in the future.

These experiences gave me the ability to build trust and relate with people, a skill that MBB took advantage of when they needed someone on a sensitive project requiring the most tactful intrapersonal skills. A dam had collapsed, killing hundreds of people, devastating an entire region, and causing thousands of inhabitants to lose their houses and livelihoods, their landscapes shadowed by heavy clouds of despair. The day after the tragedy, carefully selected consultants were in the client’s headquarters, maximizing efforts to create a crisis control center to coordinate relief efforts. I was assigned to create a recovery plan for the afflicted region. Honored, I took measures to learn about urbanization, agriculture, and reallocation to the labor market, all while hearing about the devastation in the aftermath. We were dark with mourning – creating the saddest team environment I’ve ever witnessed. Yet there was light too – consultants, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, and engineers were all united trying to stem the tide of tragedy: Each rescue a cause for celebration; each death a reason to cry. Seeing the best professionals in their fields fighting together for this tragic cause inspired me to develop my portrait further and fueled my desire of using my profession to create an impact through causes that would help transform others’ canvases into positive and bright images.

Next, the vibrant colors and electric patterns of Africa gave my picture a broader scope. Still at MBB, I served the almost bankrupt Development Bank of COUNTRY, designing organizational processes and training the employees to adopt a new credit analysis methodology. I faced immediate resistance from the staff, who refused to change their ways of working. I knew transformation bred insecurity, but in COUNTRY, this mindset was even more prevalent. However, the volatile uncertainty in which many local people lived their life made this distrust understandable – I could empathize with their resistance and see it for what it was: People who have had little control of their life being forced to give up even more for something they hadn’t even seen work. Keeping that in mind, I spent time working with each employee individually, drawing them into conversations and giving them a safe place to air their concerns. Gradually, a cooperative environment arose, allowing the adoption of new processes and the recovery of a 200 million dollar portfolio. The bank’s CEO was so pleased, he doubled my allocated time on the project. Knowing I had directly helped a key institution for a country’s development, a renewed sense of purpose gave brighter colors to my painting, shining bright like the African sun.

My portrait is taking shape, yet it’s far from finished: I aim to enroll in Harvard’s MBA program to further etch out the lines of my portrait with the skills I need to succeed. Through the case study methodology, I plan to learn through real-life examples and first-hand experiences, giving me insight into different business practices and strategies being implemented around the world. I look forward to the Organizational Behavior’s electives, especially the “Authentic Leader Development,” to further develop my leadership style while improving self-awareness and embracing my vulnerabilities. While reading Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly,” I understood that letting ourselves be seen is an important step to become inspiring leaders; at HBS, I plan to be seen by my colleagues, sharing insecurities, strengths, and ambitions, while supporting each other’s journeys. Lastly, the group discussions will enable me to learn from the most renowned tutors and insightful peers, further defining the leader I envision myself to be.

After receiving my MBA from Harvard, I plan to return to MBB, joining the Transformation Practice (RTS) so I can further explore my passion for engaging and transforming people and organizations with complex problems. I want to gain experience in identifying pain points of bankrupt companies and governments, define holistic strategies for turnaround projects, and engage individuals towards positive changes. My home region is tainted with inefficiencies in its private and public institutions, slowing our development. Thus, I want to support sustainable economic development in my region by promoting healthier organizational practices. My dream is to play a key role in maximizing individual empowerment, team collaboration, and empathic leadership within organizations, which I can achieve by becoming a partner at MBB, ultimately transforming the blurry paintings that have colored the socio-economic landscape of my home for so long.

 

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Harvard MBA Winning Sample Essay – 2

Describe an internal conflict (or difficult decision) that you have faced. How did you resolve the situation? What did you learn from this? (500-word limit)

I grew up in a conservative and patriarchal society in a small town in North India. Like most parents in Indian society, my father didn’t want to spend money on my higher education; he instead planned to save for my brother’s higher education and my dowry. My mother had faced the same prejudice and was forced to get married at a young age of 19. Fearing similar consequences, I decided to speak up. I was punished to be a rebel, but I refused to give up. Seeing my passion to study, one of my teachers sponsored the fees for engineering entrance exam and guided me. With my determination and hard work, I passed the toughest engineering exam of India. This teenage experience instilled in me core values of courage, hard work, and determination and boosted my confidence to stand up for myself.

After graduating from XXXX, I joined the world’s leading oil-field service provider, YYYY. Though I was excited about designing oil wells on offshore rigs, I was yet to live the real challenges of this industry. I found myself surrounded by gigantic pumps, noisy cranes, and heavy iron oil rigs, in the company of 100 pair male oilfield workers who pried on my every move. I worked in remote locations and harsh environments, from anywhere in the middle of an ocean to the middle of a desert, where even basic hygiene and sanitary facilities were extremely hard to find. But I stayed determined and consistently delivered successful projects for my clients. These extreme challenges early in my career made me resilient and
patient.

When I moved to Indonesia, I was assigned to lead the workshop team of about 20. I was the only female expat in the team, and most of my team members were much older than me. They didn’t even accept me as a team member, let alone accept me as a leader. I started by learning their language and lunching with them in the Indonesian cafeteria rather than in the continental one. As I embraced their culture by joining them during the fasting month of ‘Ramadan’, I found them reciprocating with the same respect and acceptance. I then started doing daily workshop tasks a bit differently, showcasing better efficiency. Rather than instructing new methods, I led by example which motivated them to adopt these methods. Gradually, I improved team efficiency that enabled us to accomplish more challenging projects in lesser time. I learned
to develop strong interpersonal relations and be a collaborative leader.

My experience as a service provider motivated me to grow in the industry and join ‘ZZZZ’. Before the downturn hit us, I was leading contracting for 57 units, but in a span of six months, I had to reduce it to 19. The biggest challenge came when I was asked to cancel contracts for almost 40 people. This gave me many sleepless nights. Having failed to de-hire personnel, I was summoned by our CFO. I requested him to give me one month and promised him to deliver the same product in 20% lesser cost, thereby forgoing the need to lay-off. For the next one month, I worked tirelessly, took initiatives to save every penny, and closely monitored expenditure. Seeing my efforts, my team was motivated and supported me in my initiatives.

However, by month-end, I was still 10% short of my promised targets. Disheartened, I entered the CFO’s room with the actual numbers, and to my surprise, he still canceled the lay-offs. Impressed with my efforts, he recommended me for early promotion to ‘Lead Engineer’.

Though we successfully survived the downturn in the short term, I realized that it is imperative to hedge against diminishing oil demand in the long term. This realization deepened on my recent diving trip to Sumba Island, where I saw dead corals and almost no marine life due to an oil spill that happened 500 kms away eight years ago. The oil spill had affected the livelihood of thousands of seaweed farmers and fishermen. This experience strengthened my belief to harness energy in a clean, safe, and sustainable manner.

In the long term, I envision leading a global renewable energy company and drive the transformation from fossil to clean renewable energy. During my recent interaction with our Chief Strategy Officer, I was further encouraged especially on knowing his plans to diversify ZZZZ into renewable energy. He laid emphasis on HBS being the perfect catalyst for achieving my vision and transforming me into an impactful leader. My personal and professional experiences have built a strong foundation. Building on this foundation and my technical knowledge of the energy industry, I want to develop my business acumen, gain a strategic outlook, and be a transformational and impactful leader. Studying at HBS, with the smartest students from around the world and using the case method in conjunction with the FIELD method will make me practice critical decision making every single day and learn to adapt to different leadership styles in diverse situations.

With my passion to learn, my collaborative attitude, and unique professional experiences, I will add a different perspective to the case discussions at HBS. I am looking forward to two years of excitement, rigor, and passion!

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