5 Essays That Got People Into Harvard Business School — And Why They Worked

Jason Kreuziger poses with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon

Photo: Jason Krezuinger

With an acceptance rate of only 11 per cent, even people with the most impeccable credentials and test scores routinely get turned down from Harvard Business School.What sets people apart are their truly unique experiences, and whether they can really get them through to the admissions board in their personal essays. 

There’s no magic formula, but these 5 essays from “65 Successful Harvard Business School Applications” are great examples of what can work.

Thanks to the publisher and the individual authors for permission to feature these essays

Jason Kreuziger shared his goal of ringing the opening bell at his company's NASDAQ IPO

Graduating class: 2008

Current Job Title: Vice President at Summit Partners

Essay prompt: 'What is your career vision, and why is this choice meaningful to you?'

My highest career aspiration is to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ as my company celebrates the successful completion of its initial public offering. My experiences have prepared me to build market-disrupting technology companies fit for public investment, but they have also exposed me to the intangible qualities of successful entrepreneurs. These qualities include the ability to manage, presence to inspire, charisma to lead, and fortitude to persist in the face of challenge. These virtues are represented in the bedrock of Harvard's MBA program. My desire to internalize these qualities is the catalyst that drives me to pursue a Harvard MBA with such conviction. The timing of my application coincides with both my developmental needs and the natural termination of my current position in July 2006.

To achieve these goals, I have focused my academic and professional pursuits in the areas of finance and technology. In addition to my undergraduate majors, my work in the technology group of a San Francisco based, middle-market investment bank has given me a first-hand view into Silicon Valley's technology incubator and the lives of successful technology entrepreneurs. I have learned revolutionizing technologies ranging from enterprise software applications to price-per-click Internet advertising services. The experience has placed me in close contact with senior executives who share the story of my career aspirations as their own reality. The opportunity to interact with such innovative individuals has been an inspiration, and provided me a first-hand account of what qualities today's entrepreneurial leaders possess.

While these experiences form a solid foundation, an MBA from Harvard is necessary for developing the managerial skills, leadership ability, and influential network necessary to achieve my goals. This assertion was confirmed during my campus visit to Bill Sahlman's entrepreneurial finance class where I observed the case method in action as debate raced from eager hand to eager hand, with each comment seeking to improve upon the discussion. The collaborative energy was tangible, the environment exciting, and the effect impressive. A visit to the Arthur Rock centre revealed a collection of memorabilia from companies founded by Harvard alums, foreshadowing the addition I hope to make. A student lunch with a former tech start-up CFO ensured me other students will share my goals and enthusiasm, adding vital energy to the MBA experience. I left my campus visit knowing that Harvard Business School is where I want to build the next layer upon my foundation.

Why it works

This particular essay gets right to the point of the prompt with the vivid image of ringing the opening bell. It also made the applicant stand out from what was likely a sea of other banking applicants by focusing on technology and Jason's unique experiences, and made a strong case for why an HBS MBA would be help him to his goal.

Source: 65 Successful Harvard Business School Applications

Anne Morriss wanted to engage Michael Porter and other strategy gurus to fight poverty

Martin Brand dealt with extreme pressure as an ambulance driver, then went to Goldman Sachs

Paul Yeh solved a $50,000 problem on the Ford factory floor and wants to fix the auto industry

Graduating class: 2009

Current Job Title: Director of Product Strategy and Business Development at Fisker Automotive

Essay prompt: 'In your career, you will have to deal with many ethical issues. What are likely to be the most challenging, and what is your plan for developing the competencies you will need to handle these issues effectively?'

The automotive industry is under duress. Company executives are cutting healthcare benefits, freezing pensions, and laying off workers. While corporations have responsibilities toward their stakeholders, how does an executive balance between his employees and shareholders? As I continue my career in the automotive business, I will undoubtedly face the ethical issues of balancing between profits and people.

During the Explorer launch, I experienced one such issue. On the chassis assembly line, Ted, an operator, complained that his hands were becoming numb from trying to insert a part. The engineer's solution was to revise the attachment, but it would cost $70,000 to retool the part. Typically, the finance department would reject the issue because the measured insertion effort was within the UAW contract. But contract or no, it seemed wrong to cause an employee to damage himself. So, I tried Ted's job for 30 minutes. I picked up the part, walked six feet toward the assembly line, and pushed the part into the frame. The first dozen were effortless. I noticed, however, that the repetitive motion strained the wrist. I wanted to fix the issue, but approving an expensive change when Ford is not liable is a hard sell to management. Rather than approving or rejecting the costly solution outright, I brainstormed with the engineer and explored alternatives. Two days later, we came up with a cost-efficient way of lubricating the attachment for easier insertion.

The material costs less than $20,000, and I convinced the finance management to accept. Ted was extremely appreciative: he gave me a bear hug.

To continue developing my competencies, I will observe how Rick Wagoner, Lee Iacocca, and other executives balance profitability with employees. I will then discuss their rationales with renowned professors such as Malcolm Salter, who has done extensive research in the automotive industry. Harvard professors will help me understand each situation's intricacies and in turn cultivate my decision making process.

Additionally, I will continue to interact with Detroit Executive Service Corps volunteers, most of whom are retired automotive executives. Similar to Harvard's Leadership and Values Initiative Speaker Series, I will learn from these leaders' experiences and see what competencies have been practiced, and which have worked and which have not.

Finally, I will continue to go to the front line so I can assess each issue effectively. Then, armed with the academic training and practices from courses such as The Moral Leader, I am confident that I will be able to approach and resolve challenging ethical issues.

Why it works

This essay's strength comes from the fact that it very clearly addresses the prompt with a very compelling real life experience, and that it manages to let the writer's personality come through. It also outlines the sort of real management problem and pragmatic solution that make it clear Paul would bring some leadership ability to the table.

Source: 65 Successful Harvard Business School Applications

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