Like several of the other top MBA programs that have released their essay questions for this year, the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) has remained faithful to the prompts it presented last season. But with a total maximum word count allowance of 1,150, the school gives its applicants a little more room in which to express themselves. Although the Stanford GSB is an institution well known for generating and encouraging innovators, the school uses its application essays not to ask candidates to share their imaginative new ideas but rather to look inward and examine their motivations and values. These are your opportunities to demonstrate the parts of your personality and profile that are not readily conveyed through transcripts, scores, and lists of professional accomplishments. Here we present our advice on how you might do so effectively…
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (School-suggested word count of 750)
For this essay, we would like you to:
- Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
- Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
- Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
- Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
When candidates ask us, “What should I write for what matters most to me?,” we offer some pretty simple guidance: start brainstorming for this essay by asking yourself that very question. What does matter most to you? This might seem like obvious advice, of course, but many applicants get flustered by the question, believing that an actual “right” answer exists that they must provide to satisfy the admissions committee. As a result, they never pause to actually consider their sincere responses, which are typically the most compelling.
We therefore encourage you to contemplate this question in depth and push yourself to explore the psychological and philosophical motivations behind your goals and achievements—behind who you are today. We cannot emphasize this enough: do not make a snap decision about the content of this essay. Once you have identified what you believe is an appropriate theme, discuss your idea(s) with those with whom you are closest and whose input you respect. Doing so can help validate deeply personal and authentic themes, leading to an essay that truly stands out.
Once you have fully examined your options and identified your main themes, do not simply provide a handful of supporting anecdotes—or worse, recycle the stories you used in a similar essay for another school. A strong essay response to this question will involve a true exploration of the themes you have chosen and reveal a thorough analysis of decisions, motives, and successes/failures, with a constant emphasis on how you conduct yourself. If you are merely telling stories and trying to tie in your preconceived conclusions, you are probably forcing a theme on your reader rather than genuinely analyzing your experiences, and any experienced admissions reader will see right through this. In short, be sure to fully consider and identify your most authentic answer(s), outline your essay accordingly, and then infuse your writing with your personality, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Stanford encourages you to give special attention to why the subject you have chosen to write about is the most important to you. This “why” element should be clear in your essay—it should be implied by what you are discussing and sharing. If you need to explicitly declare, “And what matters most to me is…,” your essay is not making a strong enough point on its own. A well-constructed essay that is infused with your values and motivation and that clearly conveys why you made certain decisions should effectively and implicitly reveal the “why” behind your chosen topic—and will almost always make a stronger point.
One final note is that you can write about a popular theme as long as you truly own the experience. However, the odds are very low that you could write on a theme that the Stanford GSB’s admissions committee has never read about before. You can discuss whatever you truly care about in your essay, but you absolutely must support your topic with a wealth of experience that shows how you have uniquely lived it. Therefore, for example, you cannot successfully write about “making a difference” if you have volunteered only occasionally, but if you have truly had a significant impact on someone’s life, then the topic is no longer a cliché—it is true to who you genuinely are. So, focus less on trying to choose the “right” subject for your essay and more on identifying one that is personal and authentic to you. If you write powerfully about your topic and connect it directly to your experiences and values, your essay should be a winner.
Essay 2: Why Stanford?(School-suggested word count of 400)
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
- Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
- Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
On the application essays page of the Stanford GSB Web site, the admissions committee states forthrightly, “Resist the urge to ‘package’ yourself into whatyou think Stanford wants to see” (emphasis added). What the school really wants is to understand what and/or who you want to be and what role its MBA program plays in bringing that to fruition. The admissions committee does not have a preferred job or industry in mind that it is waiting to hear you say you plan to enter—it truly wants to understand your personal vision and why you feel a Stanford MBA in particular is a necessary element to facilitate this vision. If you try to present yourself as someone or something you are not, you will ultimately undermine your candidacy. Trust the admissions committee (and us) on this one!
The “why our school?” topic is a common element of a typical personal statement, so we encourage you to download your free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. It explains ways of approaching this subject effectively and offers several sample essays as guides. Click here to access your complimentary copy today.
And for a thorough exploration of the Stanford GSB’s academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which is also available for free.
Short Answer Question: Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.(1,200 character maximum)
The Stanford GSB, like most—if not all—top MBA programs, values applicants who can contribute as students to its greater community and the educational experience for all. This query gets at the heart of that by asking you to show your willingness and capacity to draw on either your past or your natural inclinations and abilities, if not both, to contribute to a project or situation. To this end, note that the school is not asking simply about a time when you applied your knowledge or offered input because it was asked of you but instead for a time when you were drawn to a situation because of some personal connection with it—“when your background or perspective influenced your participation.”
For example, perhaps you encountered a problem that was similar in many ways to one you had faced before, and the insight and proficiency you gained from that earlier experience inspired you to want to assist in addressing the more recent one. Or maybe an opportunity arose that involved an element close to your heart—as in, it related to a value you hold dear or to a personal interest or hobby that you especially enjoy—and your connection to that element compelled you to become involved.
Do not overlook that your response must not exceed 1,200 characters, which to our understanding includes spaces. This is basically the length of the previous two paragraphs (together).
The Next Step—Mastering Your Stanford GSB Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Stanford GSB Interview Primer today.
Stanford is once again re-using it's essay questions. And there's good reason for the recycling: These are excellent questions that succinctly get to the heart of what Stanford wants to know about you. They are not easy questions, but they are thoughtful, probing ones.
Stanford gives a lot of advice and guidance on its website as to what it’s looking for in the essays. You should access that advice in addition to reviewing my suggestions below.
Stanford was the first top MBA program to release its application due dates for 2017-18. Those dates are virtually unchanged from last year.
My tips are in blue below.
Stanford GSB 2017-18 MBA Application Questions:
Essays help us learn about who you are rather than solely what you have done. Other parts of the application give insight to your academic and professional accomplishments; the essays reveal the person behind those achievements.
When writing your essays, resist the urge to “package” yourself into what you think Stanford wants to see. Doing so will only prevent us from understanding who you really are and what you hope to accomplish. The most impressive essays are the most authentic.
We request that you write two personal essays. The personal essays give us glimpses of your character and hopes. In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, aims, and dreams prior to writing them.
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
For this essay, we would like you to:
• Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
• Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
• Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
• Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
This superficially straightforward question has been Stanford’s first for at least the last sixteen years, but it is actually one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult MBA essay questions to answer. Superficial responses will fail. The prompt demands introspection. Before you put finger to keyboard or pen to paper, really reflect on what you value, how you have acted upon those principles, and why you value them. Stanford’s advice urges reflection. The question requires it.
When I reflect on our many successful Stanford clients, initiative in the face of need is the common thread among them. They are always the ones who revealed, especially in Essay A, that they do not turn away when they see a problem or need for action. They grab the initiative when faced with an opportunity to contribute. They are comfortable expressing emotion and their values, and their actions reflect both, but particularly the latter. Think purpose-driven, principle-driven lives and leadership.
More than anything else, initiative and self-awareness characterize the successful Stanford applicant. Implication: You have to know your values and those times you have acted upon them. Yes I wrote that a few seconds ago, but it bears repeating. Climbing Mt. Everest or suffering from terrible social ills is not a requirement of admission, but you do have to know the person occupying your skin.
Essay B: Why Stanford?
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
• Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
• Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
• If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
Now that question is succinct, and really says what they want to know.
Similar to questions that have occupied this Stanford application slot for years, this question is a variation of a standard MBA goals question, as revealed in the bullet points after it. For this forward-looking question, you need say why you want an MBA. The best way to do so is in terms of your desired post-MBA professional direction. Then explain how Stanford’s program specifically will help you travel down that path. Note the emphasis in the bullet points about the “distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.” Do your homework. You need to know what are the distinctive characteristics of the Stanford MBA program or you simply can’t answer the question.
Understand the flexibility inherent in Stanford’s curriculum, its integrated approach to management, its entrepreneurial culture, and how all these elements (and others) will help you learn what you need to know to achieve your career goals. Realize that the curriculum allows for personalization based on your goal and your past experience, specifically your previous business education. Two pieces of information are required to answer this question: A clear MBA goal and an in-depth understanding of Stanford GSB’s curriculum. (Folks: It’s not just the ranking, brand, or location.)
Please do NOT write that you want to attend Stanford because of "the flexibility inherent in Stanford’s curriculum, its integrated approach to management, its entrepreneurial culture...." That phrasing is too general for your specific reasons (and besides the Stanford adcom can google the phrase if they see it too often and see that you found it here). Go deeper and be more distinctive in your writing so that you really tie your goals to Stanford's program.
Stanford also asks that if you are applying to both the Stanford MBA and MSx programs, you use Essay B to address your interest in both programs. It gives those applying to both programs an extra 50 words to address that interest.
Essay Length: Your answers for both essay questions combined may not exceed 1,150 words (1,200 words if you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs). Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate these words between the essays in the way that is most effective for you. Below is a suggested word count, based on what we typically see.
Essay A: 750 words
Essay B: 400 words
Essay B (if applying to both the MBA and MSx programs): 450 words
• Indicate the question you are answering at the beginning of each essay (does not count toward the word limit)
• Number all pages
• Upload one document that includes both essays
Be sure to save a copy of your essays, and preview the uploaded document to ensure that the formatting is preserved.
If you would like professional guidance with your Stanford GSB application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the Stanford GSB application.
Stanford GSB 2017-18 MBA Application Deadlines:
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.
• What Stanford GSB is Looking For
• Why MBA?, a free guide to writing about your MBA goals
• Harvard, Stanford, Wharton: What’s the Difference?, a short video
This articleoriginally appeared on blog.accepted.com.
Applying to a top b-school? The talented folks at Accepted have helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to their dream programs. Whether you are figuring out where to apply, writing your application essays, or prepping for your interviews, we are just a call (or click) away.
Contact us, and get matched up with the consultant who will help you get accepted!
Liked this post?