Answers to questions I’ve been getting via emails, which I believe may interest many people reading this blog: application essays, how to choose recommenders, how to choose schools and more.

Feel free to ask questions – by mail or comments. I do promise to reply, but can’t promise a quick reply, especially after next week (going to Boston…)
So, here goes:

“One of the essay questions this year is: What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)
I wonder if I can discuss a mistake made by my family member but one from which I could learn a great deal. Would that be too abnormal?”

My answer would be Don’t. In every essay, the first thing you should do is answer the question. Not something similar to the question, not a variation of it, but the question itself. Specifically for this question, there’s a reason HBS asks you for your own mistake. Of course it’s hard to write about a mistake you did without damaging the oh-so-perfect image you’re all trying to create throughout the application. Of course it would’ve been easier to write about someone else’s mistake. But that’s not what HBS asks for… and probably one reason they ask about your own mistake is to see how you deal with the question itself, and reveal a real mistake without hurting your overall representation.

I’ve been managing my own company for the past years and have not had a “real” job. As a result, I’m finding it really difficult to select recommenders. What would you suggest? who did you select to do your recommendations?

I have a post being written about selecting recommenders, but in short, in your case you can select a customer or a supplier you’ve been closely working with, or someone who supervised you in an extra-curricular activity. The most important thing in choosing them (or in choosing a supervisor recommender, for that matter) is choosing people who really know you well and can provide a vivid recommendation, with anecdotes and specific stories about you, and not just generic praises. Personally, I didn’t have such a problem and selected my current and former supervisors. More about that soon…

Could you share with me what are your post MBA goals?

I come from the computer software industry and plan on staying in this industry. That’s what I wrote in my applications, and I think it makes sense. However, during my MBA studies I do plan on exploring other career paths; it’s only natural given the wealth of career resources you’re exposed to while in b-school.

Could you also share with me which schools did you apply to and how exactly did you pick them? I ask because I feel that your response will help in my school selection.

There are many reasons why an individual should go to HBS. Could you tell me why you picked HBS?
I’ll answer these questions in a specific post about school selection coming up…

What according to you constitutes good extra curriculars? I know that one should get involved in what interests them and take up leadership roles, but I would very much appreciate if you could share the extra curricular activities that you had done, especially since I read that your extra curriculars were stellar.

Actually my own extra curriculars were far from stellar; in fact I thought that was the weakest facet in my entire application. In Israel (and probably in many other countries), extracurricular activity is not as popular as it is in the US. When one applies for an undergraduate university in Israel, the only thing that matters are grades: high school grades and psychometric grade (like SAT). No essays, no CV, no extra curriculars. Same applies to b-schools, btw. During undergrad, many students work part- or full-time (present company included) and do reserve military service, so not much time left to any other activities (even sports). I did have a couple of extra curricular activities I did (nothing amazing and no leadership roles) so of course I wrote about them. I didn’t try to embellish them and make them look more than they were; instead, I wrote about the fact that I worked full-time – including many business trips abroad – in parallel to studying a very demanding undergraduate degree (HBS undergraduate essay allows you to do just that). In the optional essay I mentioned the fact that in Israel extra curriculars weren’t as common as they were in the US; however I’m not sure if that’s such a good thing to do – I believe the admissions officers are aware of this fact. Apparently it didn’t hurt…

Hope this helps current applicants. Good luck!

One Response to “FAQ / Answers to e-mail questions (essays, school selection, recommenders…)”

  1. Zippo Says:

    Great compilation. Am sure this will become more valuable as more people write in.