Harvard’s essays for the MBA class of 2015 are blissfully straightforward:
Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)
I strongly suggest following their advice: “Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.” You shouldn’t choose your loftiest success or your most embarrassing failure. When describing something you did well, there should be a challenge involved and your answer should describe how you overcame it. For example, consider a time when you communicated effectively with a difficult boss/colleague/client. How did you approach the situation and adapt your speaking style and tone? Avoid writing the essay that tells why you earned the big promotion; the focus should be your thoughts and actions, not your accomplishments. Start by asking yourself, “What do I want the admissions committee to know about me?” Try to name two or three distinct attributes (such as patience, creativity, empathy, or self-awareness) and then show the reader how you demonstrated them. The same advice applies to the essay about something you wish you had done better, as failures are often even better opportunities to demonstrate self-awareness and the desire to improve oneself, which are critical for getting the most out of your MBA. Don’t forget to conclude with a statement about how you changed your behavior to avoid making the same mistake twice. When you’re done, have a trusted friend read the essays and ask them, “Does this sound like me?” The most important goal is to preserve your authentic voice.