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Harvard Sample Essays

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Harvard Essay 1: What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

My passion and commitment for education motivated me to walk 10 miles a day to attend primary school. Living in rural India in a two-room flat with 13 family members for most of my childhood gave me many challenges. I spent long nights studying by lantern with a determination to make it to the best college. One of my most substantial achievements was clearing the IIT entrance examination in the top 0.15% of 250,000 applicants.

I knew that if I wanted to give back to society, I needed a world-class education and a brand name – IIT gave me both.  I also received access to the strongest alumni network in India. My professors, impressed with my strong performance, encouraged me to dream and achieve big.  I developed outstanding leadership and analytical skills that enabled my achievements at Company1, Company2, and now at Company3.

Another of my most substantial accomplishments has been my success in establishing the Indian office of the U.K. based company “Company3” and becoming the Vice President. An array of strong achievements made it possible for me to progress from a software developer to vice president position.  At Company1, I excelled, gaining extensive knowledge of the engineering product development cycle.  Implementing “Fast Video Telephony” and representing Company1 in Israel for this implementation brought me in contact with the founder and CTO of Company2. On the basis of my strong performance, he gave me the offer to start the research division of Company2 in India. This fast-growing company offered hands-on experience of the research domain and the broader responsibilities I was seeking. I led the team that developed the live streaming over iPhone solution, making Company2 the first company in the world to have such a solution. This implementation brought many coveted customers to Company2, including Yahoo and Nokia Siemens Network, and I gained instant recognition in the international telecommunication industry.

With my strong record of success, the CEO of Company3 approached me to start their office.  I turned down XYZ company’s offer of employment to accept this exciting position. At Company3, I have enjoyed an invaluable opportunity to address important entrepreneurial challenges.  In two months, I established the Delhi office and hired 28 highly talented employees. I am managing Company3 products for our customers in the USA and India such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable.  I have gained valuable experience in setting up a company, managing employees, and leading cross-cultural teams.

My experiences in rural India and my success post IIT reinforced my belief that every child should have access to quality education and motivated me to do something for my society. I believe that children just need a push and a ray of hope, and then there is no stopping them from achieving their goals.  Another of my substantial accomplishments occurred when I successfully co-founded the NGO “ABC NGO” in 2008. ABC NGO has given many children this gentle push and hope, providing access to education for the most neglected parts of India through volunteer teachers.

Starting “ABC NGO” with four co-founders, I increased membership to 95 in 2 years and raised more than US$25,000 through various fundraising events. Operating 13 educational centers and imparting education to more than 500 students every year has been a phenomenal journey that has given me a sense of deep satisfaction and pride. Running “ABC NGO” has presented challenges and associated learning as well, since we have had to convince urban-educated people to travel to rural  areas to teach children. I look forward to having an even greater impact as I continue ABC NGO and as I launch my successful virtual education company in the future.

Harvard Essay 2: What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit)

After  IIT, Company1 recruited me and there, I  excelled at my work. Company1 rewarded me with assignments on its most strategically important projects based at its corporate headquarters in South Korea.

Upon arriving in South Korea, I initially followed the tradition of the Indian teams there, interacting very little with our Korean team peers, and working instead as a separate Indian team in the Korean office. The language and cultural barriers  made interactions challenging. Indian team members knew little English and could not speak Korean, and were unacquainted with South Korean culture. I did not take immediate steps to address this situation. After some project delivery setbacks, I realized it was a mistake to limit our communication with the Korean team. The lack of interaction contributed to low morale. The lack of collaboration during the product development cycle also limited our learning and ensured there would be a final product delivery delay, because the modules, built by the Indian and the Korean team members were not in synchronization.

I reflected deeply on the prevailing dynamics between the teams. Seeking to bring positive change, I formed a strong vision of how to create cohesion between the teams and to create an environment that fostered collaboration and high performance.  I knew that overcoming the language barrier was a key, so I became knowledgeable of the English and Korean languages, attending night school to learn Korean and practicing English extensively. The Korean team members were thrilled with my efforts to learn Korean. I was soon able to communicate effectively with them. This enabled me to get to know them well both professionally and personally, to identify common ground and to foster collaboration.

My ability to identify cultural differences and to adapt to them allowed me to earn the trust and confidence of my Korean colleagues, to help build strong team morale, and to wield effective leadership. Everyone could see the impact of this collaboration when our subsequence products got shipped to market without any delays. There was complete understanding of the modules right from the beginning and continuous team interactions ensured no communication gap existed and problems were identified and resolved early. My role as a thought leader was well appreciated by everyone in the headquarters and I was asked to continue working from the South Korea for another year.

This experience continues to contribute significantly to my leadership successes.

Harvard Essay 3.2: What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? (400-word limit)

Having faced the hardships due to lack of educational resources during childhood, I developed a deep passion to bring positive change to society. I intend to use my technological expertise and business skills to launch a company that will provide quality education to students in rural areas by utilizing the best technological innovations, creating virtual universities to reach areas which lack teachers and schools. My innovative universities will receive outstanding multimedia educational content conveyed from urban areas and will employ two-way technology, transmitting student queries to their teachers.

In rural areas, the challenges of education and poverty are severe: children are forced to migrate to urban areas for education, or they are deprived of even primary education, relegating them to a lifetime of poverty. My passion for using technology to transform education was reinforced after I co-founded ABC NGO, which provides education in rural and slum areas through the creation of evening schools and full-day weekend school. Through ABC NGO, we create schools in any open space we can find, including open lots and parks. 

As I lead a company that will be at the forefront of the virtual education arena, my work with ABC NGO provides me experience in setting a vision, building and leading a winning executive team, and expanding our work successfully.  My work in Israel, UK, South Korea and USA, where I saw successful educational systems work, provides me with key insights.  will leverage technical skills I developed at IIT, along with the leadership, client management, teamwork and technical experience I gained through Samsung, one of the world’s most successful companies.  I will draw on the best practices I learned at Dilithium and experiences I am now gaining as I lead the Indian office of a highly successful UK based company.

With this rich experience, I now seek to deepen my leadership and managerial skills at HBS.  The core curriculum and case study method are ideal for my needs. Courses like “Entrepreneurship in Education Reform” will teach me about the complexities of the existing education systems and the possibilities, constraints and potential solutions for an aspiring education sector entrepreneur. Courses such as “Founder’s Dilemma” and “Business at the Base of the Pyramid” will help me understand the conditions under which economic returns are compatible with the creation of social value.  I will enjoy working with the “India School Fund” to build a sustainable network of socially conscious young professionals.

Harvard Essay 3.3: Tell us about a time in your professional experience when you were frustrated or disappointed. (400-word limit)

An occasion when I felt very disappointed occurred when Company 2, once a strong leader in the multimedia domain, failed to foresee its impending shutdown and then did not handle it well. Once the shutdown began, employees were terminated without notice. Angry with this, some employees damaged the office. This matters worse for both management, who was trying to sell the company, and employees, who still weren’t  paid and were looking for new jobs. I realized, however, that just being disappointed would not help resolve the situation. I stepped forward amid the uncertainty.

I have a reputation ofbeing a leader who adheres to the highest ethical standards, and this enabled me to interface effectively between emotionally charged employees and management. I listened well to employees and presented their perspectives and interests to management. My colleagues trusted me to negotiate terms with management that would benefit them. My reputation as a fair leader aided me in efforts to quell dissension among employees and forge consensus. It also gave me the credibility to persuade management to be responsive to employees’ concerns. As trust was strengthened between the groups, so too was discipline.

My success in securing formal termination letters and the money due to employees was important, but it was equally important to help employees find alternative employment. I contacted HR managers of various IT companies, informed them about Company 2’s shutdown and its talented pool of employees. These companies organized information sessions and interviews for former Company 2 employees. Through these networking events, I helped place 25 ex-Company 2 employees in leading companies.

I went one step further, helping Company 2’s board to sell the company. I knew Company 2 could revive its old glory and create a new history if it remained with its assets in tact. So, I along with the CEO of Company 2 started the acquisition process, interacting with the presidents and heads of many former competitors and customers.  I acted as a technical advisor, informing them about Company 2’s products and employee base. After meeting with over 10 companies, we sold Company 2 to “OnMobile”, the largest mobile value-added services company of India. Among my final achievements, I helped OnMobile recruit 18 ex-Company 2 employees to further advance Company 2 and “restart” it on an outstanding journey.

The Company 2 foreclosure and sale reiterated for me the importance of ethics, long-term vision, customer management, and the need to understand evolving market dynamics.

Harvard Essay 4: Tell us about something you did well.

“I am ready to invest $X million in the set-up” – my jaw nearly dropped in disbelief.  I was speaking to Mr. Nabuska, a Japanese multi-millionaire, who was eager to start his own renewable energy business in Japan and China. I was then just a student at University Of Tokyo with an attractive offer to join a investment bank that promised a great work ethic and a high flying life style. However I was more interested in a business-oriented role to round out my general management skills as well as skills in the area of management, strategy and operations. With this motivation I contacted hundreds of Tokyo alumni and Mr. Nabuska showed interest. He had a niche business idea to fit customized windmills on skyscrapers by taking advantage of government feed-in-tariff scheme but needed someone who could build a solid business case around it. The mandate from the beginning was to think out of the box, think unconventional because the Idea was transformative and never had a precedent across the world.  Mr. Nabuska was impressed by the structured thought process, problem solving skills and more importantly my attention to detail – our relationship took off at the very first meeting..

At first, both of us would sit in a room for hours with a pile of blank sheets, brainstorming on a wide of spectrum of ideas – starting with how many people we need in what domain or expertise. For the first few weeks,  I did everything from meeting with potential windmill suppliers, to interviewing mechanical and electrical engineers to designing our logo and hiring our warehouse manager. I feel proud now looking back at the various roles I performed to successfully build the company and the multi-faceted experience it gave me. This experience also taught me how important it is to be a persuasive communicator in order to be effective. For example, my persistent dialogue with Mr. Chou, Head of Investment banking, ICBC, played a significant role in us securing a loan facility of $75 million for the first couple of years of windmill installations. Within the first 6 months, we built a talented team of 30 professionals in a fun start-up environment and the business started to grow into a successful company – Today Xian Greens is a leading wind power producer in Japan, China and Cambodia with over 600+ employees.

I am fortunate to have been exposed to this environment where I learned how to work without supervision, how to build a team, how to delegate & inspire people and how important is to have a long-term vision. I view this experience as a inflexion point in my life and believe this experience played a major role in shaping my word-view.

Harvard Essay 5: Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)

I grew up training to become a professional swimmer – starting at the age of 7, I devoted six days a week for the next eight years to this sport. At 16, I was training to represent my country in the SAARC games and created a roadmap for an Olympic debut by the time I turned 20. I wanted to emulate Mark Splitz’s excellence in Swimming for India and wanted to bring glory to my country. After all I emerged as the national champion twice and was the fastest swimmer in India for the last 3 years.

When I was 20, I faced the most tragic incident of my life – a bad fall during a weights training session resulting in torn ligaments in right knee which shuttered my sports career.  After a year of rehabilitation hoping against the worst, I had to face the fact that my competitive swimming career was over.  I fell into a depression but through the love and support of my family, I was able to recover and overcome this dreadful moment.  Next year, when I moved to the JAPAN to pursue higher studies, I took this important lesson with me – failure is never final unless we choose to give up; choosing a different path or embracing a new idea can turn our lives around and propel us to success. Several years later now, though I am a successful banker in Beijing, I miss my passion for swimming.

Now, I have begun to comprehend the factors that profoundly shaped my personal development.  By being a professional swimmer, I learned about hard work, commitment, and sacrifice. The races I won (and lost), taught me about the true meaning of contributing, achieving goals and about life itself. I wish I had not given up and stuck to my childhood dream of being an Olympic swimmer. With new medical technologies and latest coaching facilities, most injuries can be healed and I could have persisted more with my rehabilitation. I could have kept myself associated with this sport I so loved by involving in training kids or by being a psychological mentor for sports enthusiasts in India.

I think the most important aspect of moving on was insecurity, fear of repeated failure and lack of a strong vision. I was worried about the impact on my career, If another incident were like to happen. Given my academic credentials, I found solace and comfort in the non-risky professional life rather than be a professional swimmer.

My only regret is that – I should acted with a little more conviction in times of humongous challenges.