Shrum advises applicants to avoid the "questionable advice" he's been hearing from certain MBA coaches, of treating Harvard's reflection essay as an opportunity to cram in things that applicants forgot to or couldn't bring up in the interview.
"I think the more effective use of that essay is going to be, 'In the interview we talked about A, B, and C. I've been thinking even more about C since the interview, and I want to tell you a little more about it,'" he says.
[Check out tips for preparing for an MBA interview.]
But Harvard's Leopold describes the reflection essay as a "gift" to applicants, which gives them the last word. "After you've been through 30 minutes, who hasn't walked out of an interview saying, 'Oh, I wish I had said this.' Or 'I wonder if I could have another chance to say this or something,'" she says.
However Harvard applicants tailor their reflection essays, Veritas Prep's Shrum says that it's likely that other business schools will also release applications that call for more self reflection. "It's never too early to subject yourself to that kind of introspection," he says. "That's not going to be a wasted effort."
Applicants can also start to envision what they want to say to the admissions committee, which is a better strategy than trying to compose a comprehensive list of all of their achievements, says Greg Mulholland, a member of Stanford's MBA class of 2014.
When Mulholland applied to Stanford last October, he was required to write four essays. "It is a fairly significant decrease from last year to this year," he says.
Ultimately, though, he isn't sure whether he'd prefer the shorter or longer essay lengths. "I didn't see it as a hassle," he says. "Whether they asked me to write 1,000 words or 5,000 words, I just saw that as an opportunity to try to put together the best application that I could."
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