Posted on June 8, 2020

Harvard Application Deadlines and Essay Question Analysis: 2020-21


Harvard Business School kicked off the 2020-21 MBA admissions season last month by releasing its application deadlines and essay question.

Application Deadlines:

Round 1:

  • Application Deadline: Tuesday, September 8th at Noon ET
  • Decision Notification: Thursday, December 10th at Noon ET

Round 2:

  • Application Deadline: Tuesday, January 5th at Noon ET
  • Decision Notification: Tuesday, March 30th at Noon ET

Once again, the essay question remains unchanged from previous years.

Admission director, Losee says, "Amidst all the uncertainty globally, we plan to minimize changes in our application process this year…..We understand that these are difficult times globally and that many of you have been affected personally by the pandemic. Please know that we always review applications holistically and understand that many plans, employment opportunities, and personal situations have been disrupted by COVID-19. Of course, we will take this most unusual of times into account as we evaluate your application."

The application will open up again in mid- June 2020. Meanwhile, the applicants are encouraged to download the Application Guide to learn more about what's inside.

Let's take a closer look at the essay prompt.

QUESTION: 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? (no word limit)

This open-ended question needs to be tackled very strategically, and it requires a significant amount of introspection. Since the essay prompts says, 'what more would you like us to know', you should make sure that you do not merely repeat what you have already discussed in other application materials. To avoid overlapping of elements in your essay, you must go through other application materials (résumé, application form, and LORs) and discuss with your recommenders what examples they will be discussing in their letters. However, you may still discuss at length the achievements you have already touched upon in your résumé.

Before choosing your stories (personal and professional), please get a thorough understanding of what Harvard is looking for in candidates, and then weave your stories/ accomplishments around these traits. HBS is looking for candidates with "a habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community leadership." Therefore, your stories should illustrate these traits with a focus on leadership.

Be authentic and genuine. Show your confidence and passion for what you have done and what you plan to do- academically, personally, socially, and professionally. Remember, you are a unique individual, so use this essay as a platform to show your uniqueness. Do not be afraid to share your mistake or failure at some point in life. Harvard is not looking for mistake-free individuals. The key is how you have learned from your mistakes, overcome life challenges, and have emerged a more influential person.

Since there is no word limit for this open-ended question, please use your discretion regarding the final length of your essay. You may decide to submit an essay between 500- 750 words. If you choose to write a longer essay, make sure to keep it under 1000 words. Our clients have written compelling essays within 800-1000 words.

Mistakes to avoid while writing this essay:

  1. 'Don't overthink, overwrite, and over craft'. When working with people on HBS essay, I often need to remind them that though re-writing and revising is the essence of writing, overwriting sometimes may kill the very soul of the essay.
  2. After you have brainstormed and finalized your stories, have confidence in your stories and writing style, and organize them coherently and succinctly. Refrain from making countless unnecessary revisions thinking, "Is this what admission committee would like to know?"
  3. Write from your heart in a concise and straightforward language. This is not an academic paper, and flowery prose will not get you in. We recommend expressing your passion and drive, your leadership experiences, analytical aptitude, and background in a simple, but effective and concise language that reflects your unique voice.
  4. Avoid using the word 'leadership' in every single sentence. Some applicants think that their best bet to impress the admission committee is to use 'leadership' in every sentence. Follow the thumb rule of 'show not tell' and allow your unique accomplishment stories (personal, professional, and social) to vouch for your leadership skills.
  5. Avoid writing a 'why MBA' and 'goals' essay since you will be covering these topics in other application materials.
  6. Avoid telling the school how great they are. They are aware of their greatness.
  7. Even though the essay question doesn't ask 'Why HBS', you will still like to let them know what you envision getting involved in to reach the next level of your career and how you plan to leave Harvard a better place.
  8. Avoid spoon-feeding the Ad Com. For example, don't waste precious space by starting your essay with the following statement: "I would like the admission committee to understand what has driven my personal and professional growth." Also, please do not wrap up your essay by stating, "I hope that through this essay you got an insight into my personal and professional life for better evaluation of my candidacy." Please remember that the purpose of writing this essay is to offer the admission committee insights into your personal and professional attributes/ strengths. Hence, such explicit statements are redundant and will not add any value to your story.

Free Resources

  1. 10 Key Essay Tips with Examples
  2.  Success Stories -MER Students
  3. Harvard MBA Mansi's video interview

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs. (Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

Do you have questions about your application? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.