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Harvard MBA Professors’ Summer Reading Recommendations

·8 min read

Harvard Business School Case Classroom

Harvard MBA Faculty Release Summer Reading Recommendations

With summer in full swing, MBAs may have some spare time on their hands.

Harvard Business School faculty recently rounded up a few of their summer reading recommendations with topics ranging from personal growth to organizational change.

Here are a few select books from the list:

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy Edmondson

A practical guide for teams and organizations serious about succeeding in the modern economy, this book explores the culture of psychological safety and offers a blueprint for bringing it to life.

The Fearless Organization touches on themes of how to unlock the full potential of organizations by supporting a culture that enables all team members to bring their full selves to the table,” Euvin Naidoo, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at HBS, says.

Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage by Laura Huang

Written by HBS professor Laura Huang, Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage teaches how people can create success from the challenges and biases we think hold us back and transform them to work in our favor.

“Huang combines her research with compelling personal anecdotes to provide an inspirational guide on how to overcome the challenges that we face and get ahead on our personal and professional goals,” Andy Wu, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at HBS, says.

The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II by Iris Chang

A New York Times bestseller, “The Rape of Nanking” recounts one of history’s most brutal and forgotten massacres of the Japanese invasion of China’s capital city on the eve of World War II.

For HBS professor Laura Huang, the book serves as a refresher of her own history and ancestry.

“I think it’s so important for us to know about where we came from and what our ancestors experienced,” Huang says.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Beverly Daniel Tatum is a psychologist, administrator, and educator who has focused on the topic of racism throughout her career.

In this book, Tatum argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides.

See the full list of Harvard Business School faculty book recommendations here.

Sources: Harvard Business School, Amazon, Amazon, Amazon, Amazon

Tips for the Harvard Business School Essay

Harvard Business School continuously ranks as one of the top b-schools globally.

Just last year, 2018-2019, the b-school had an overall admit rate of 11.5%. The MBA Class of 2021 at HBS holds an average GPA of 3.7, with an average 4.7 years of work experience, and median GMAT and GRE scores of 730 and 163, respectively.

It’s safe to say that HBS only seeks the best of the best. On its website, HBS states that MBAs at HBS tend to all share three common characteristics around leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and an engaged community citizenship. But how exactly can you convey these traits in your essay?

Karla Cohen, of Fortuna Admissions, recently offered a few tips on what HBS seeks in the MBA essay.


The one question HBS asks when it comes to the essay component is: what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?

Cohen says applicants should avoid simply making their essay a highlights reel of their professional achievements.

“Your essay must not read simply as a story of successes and accomplishments,” Cohen writes. “It’s a common pitfall, and it robs your story the potential for making an emotional connection. Above all, write an essay you yourself would want to read.”


Rather than perfecting an “image” or “brand” that isn’t authentic, Cohen stresses the importance of being open, imperfect, and above all real.

“When you take the risk to be yourself, to be vulnerable, it inspires a human connection,” Cohen writes. “It gives you credibility. What’s more interesting to read – the story of someone who sailed through life and had everything work out perfectly, every single time? Or the story of someone who struggled, faced extraordinary challenges, and demonstrated the tenacity and resilience to not only survive but to thrive?”


Storytelling is a key aspect of the MBA essay. And Cohen says it’s important to focus on the details when telling your story.

“Avoid the temptation to qualify your experience or tell the readers what they are supposed to think. Show them instead,” Cohen writes. “Show them what you have been through and the challenges you have faced through vivid recollection.”

Check out the rest of Cohen’s tips here.

Sources: Fortuna Admissions, P&Q, Harvard Business School, Harvard Business School

A Checklist for Your MBA Applications

With b-schools announcing a mix of online and in-person programs and summer internships being impacted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many MBA hopefuls may be left wondering whether they should still pursue the degree.

Experts have gone back-and-forth on whether the degree still holds the same value during a pandemic.

One of those experts is Barbara Coward, founder of MBA 360 Admissions Consulting. In a recent article for The Crimson Brand Studio, Coward offers MBA hopefuls a checklist that helps applicants prepare a strong MBA application.

“As a beleaguered economy makes for scant job opportunities, pursuing your secondary degree can be a great option. I’ve advised students and professionals embarking on this decision for more than two decades,” Coward writes. “What sets aspiring graduate students apart, regardless of where they attended undergraduate school or the GPA they achieved, is two criteria: preparation with appropriate lead time, and constructing a thoughtful application narrative.”


Coward says it’s important for applicants to ask themselves what they want out of an MBA prior to doing research.

“This proves to be the most difficult stage of the entire process for some applicants I’ve worked with, as they ponder questions such as: What programs do I qualify for? What am I seeking in a graduate program? Or even – What do I really want to do with my life?” she writes.

It can be helpful, Coward says, to talk through these ideas with a trusted family member of mentor.

“Additionally, brainstorming lists and charts is helpful,” she writes. “If you seek expert guidance, a graduate admissions counselor serves as a terrific resource, providing an unbiased sounding board with a trove of expert information about grad programs.”


Organization is key in the MBA application process. And Coward says summer time is the ideal time to begin your application process and get organized about deadlines.

“Most graduate school first-round deadlines fall between September and October, and some programs offer an ‘early action or decision’ option, for eager candidates to indicate interest and preparedness as well,” Coward writes. “Calculate how much time you have until the date your application is due to create a timeframe for your grad-school application check-list. Within this timeframe, you can then create deadlines for items listed below, such as taking standardized tests, completing prerequisite courses and writing essays.”


Coward highlights a couple critical components of the MBA application.

The first is standardized test scores, which include either the GRE or GMAT, depending on which school you’re applying to.

It’s important to note, however, that test-taking requirements have changed due to the pandemic.

“Conduct research in deciding which test you will take – for some schools, it doesn’t matter,” Coward writes. “If your dream school prioritizes test scores, you may want to allocate more time and money to test preparation. You’ll want to identify whether the specific support you need is content mastery, test-taking strategies, time management or mindset, and then plan accordingly what your study plan will be.”

When it comes to your resume, Coward suggests that applicants tailor their resume to each program they’re applying to.

“You can do this by including a ‘Statement of Purpose’ at the top, in which you state why you are applying to that program in particular,” Coward writes. “Attempt to at least slightly tailor your resume to each program, even if it means just making a few tweaks here and there.”

Letters of recommendation are also a key component of the application and Coward says they’re probably the “most telling aspect of your application.”

“Be thoughtful in selecting your recommendation writers,” Coward writes. “Try your best to let your writers know one month in advance.”

Lastly, look at the application essay. It’s one of the most time-consuming, yet important parts of an MBA application.

“Essays that succeed in impressing the admissions committee will have received a great deal of thought and undergone multiple revisions,” Coward writes. “As aforementioned, I’ve served on several admissions committees, and thus, stood in the shoes of the audience for these essays. The time dedicated was evident. This is the part of your application you should not skimp out on.”

Sources: The Crimson Brand Studio, Poets & Quants, Emory Goizueta Business School


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