Category Archives: Stanford Advice

Tuesday Tips: 2014 Stanford GSB Essay Tips

Stanford Graduate School of Business has followed the lead of the majority of top MBA programs and has reduced the essay count for this year’s application. Stanford is still focused on candid self-evaluation and authenticity, …

Stanford Graduate School of Business has followed the lead of the majority of top MBA programs and has reduced the essay count for this year’s application. Stanford is still focused on candid self-evaluation and authenticity, and has just cut out the optional shorter essays. The Stanford GSB MBA admissions website provides clear guidance and advice for what to do, and what not to do, that all applicants should read and follow.

What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life what will you admire and regret about your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach topics for this set of essays. Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you have developed into the person you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned and motivations. Introspection and honesty should persist through the entire set of essays.

Total word count for all three essays combined should not exceed 1,100 words, so applicants must be judicious in deciding how much or little to write for each prompt. As a general guideline, Stanford GSB suggests 750 words for essay one and 350 words for essay two. Check your deadlines before you get started to make sure you are maximizing the time on your essays.

Stanford GSB Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

This classic Stanford GSB MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) it may raise themes that you will continue in your career essay.
To generate ideas, try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what values they see you demonstrating in your life and choices. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, and mine your personal history for ideas.

Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced “what matters most” throughout your life. Keep in mind as you select examples that Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you, rather than accomplishments or achievements.

Essay B: Why Stanford? Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.

This year Stanford leads with the most important part: Why Stanford? Be specific in your response. You should know everything about the program and show that it is your dream school. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs?

This essay question is a somewhat standard career goals theme, but note that Stanford refers to it as a “personal essay.” Stanford GSB wants to know what you specifically need that will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and research will help you determine what aspects of the academic program, community and students are crucial to your aspirations.
When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your goals consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals. So think big about your plans. Don’t focus on what your parents or partner want you to do. Don’t think about the next job on the corporate ladder. What do you, with your own unique background and values, want for your life?

If the question seems too vast, take a few minutes to close your eyes and reflect. Envision your life in twenty years. Where do you live? How do you spend your days? What is your favorite activity? How does this vision fit into your career aspirations? Don’t be shy about your ambitions. Once you have identified your dream career, you also need to make sure an MBA is an important part of achieving your plans.

Stanford wants candidates for whom an MBA will make an impact on their ambitious trajectory, not candidates who are looking for a prestigious piece of paper. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals, not admit perfect people with no need for development.

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Stanford GSB Debunks MBA Admissions Myths

The Stanford MBA Admission Blog has published a trio of posts this month designed to dispel some of the misleading myths that continue to confound applicants. From interview questions to recommendation letter queries to work …

The Stanford MBA Admission Blog has published a trio of posts this month designed to dispel some of the misleading myths that continue to confound applicants. From interview questions to recommendation letter queries to work experience concerns, the admissions team at Stanford Graduate School of Business once again attempts to set the record straight and, with any luck, helps calm the nerves of worried b-school hopefuls.

Here, in one place for ease of viewing, is a condensed version of the myths addressed in all three posts—and the corrections—the admissions team would like applicants to know.

MYTH: The interview has a lot of weight so if I blow the interview, I have blown my chances of being admitted.
THE TRUTH: There is no specific weight assigned to the interview; the interview is one part of a comprehensive process. A positive interview does not guarantee admission, while a less than favorable interview does not, by itself, preclude admission. The written application, including the essays and letters of reference, is a critical part of the evaluation process. The interview is a key source of supplemental information.

MYTH: I received my interview invitation early in the round so it must mean I have a better chance of getting admitted.
THE TRUTH: The timing of your interview invitation reflects only the order in which your application was reviewed (and the order in which your application was reviewed doesn’t mean anything, honest!). Applications are not reviewed in any particular order, and applicants are not ranked.

MYTH: Visiting campus before or after I’ve submitted my application is an important way to demonstrate my interest in Stanford and increase my chances of being admitted.
THE TRUTH: Visiting campus does not affect your chances of admission whatsoever. You may wish to visit if it’s helpful to your research and decision-making process about schools. If you have only one chance to visit, save your time and money and come after you’ve been admitted for Admit Weekend, where you’ll meet students, alumni, faculty, and your future classmates.

MYTH: If I work in a family business, am self-employed, or can’t tell my boss that I’m applying, I will be at a disadvantage since I cannot get a recommendation from a current direct supervisor.
THE TRUTH: Rest assured that you are not the only applicant in this situation. You just need to be a little more creative in terms of where you get your recommendation. You could ask anyone who is in a position to evaluate your work: a previous supervisor, a client, or a member of your board of directors.

MYTH: It is okay to submit more than three recommendations. In fact, more is better!
THE TRUTH: We discourage you from sending additional letters. More is not better. In fact, it can have the opposite of the intended effect as it adds an additional burden to our staff who review literally thousands and thousands of pages over the application season. When we receive additional letters of reference either before or after the application deadline, we do add them to your application file, but there’s no guarantee that they will be reviewed.

MYTH: It is better to get my recommendations from three different sources to highlight different aspects of my professional and personal background.
THE TRUTH: It’s your decision how to present yourself in your application, what to highlight and what to focus on. There is no one right way. When choosing a recommender, our best advice is to (1) choose someone who knows you really well and can provide the detail, examples, and specifics that support his/her assertions; and (2) choose someone who is truly enthused to write a recommendation for you and will spend sufficient time writing a thoughtful letter.

MYTH: Recommendations must be written in English.
THE TRUTH: Recommendations must be submitted in English. However, if you and your recommenders think that their English is not sufficient to convey complex ideas, it may be to your advantage to have them write in their native language and then get it translated. The translation does not need to be from a paid service unless that is the only option available to the recommender. The translation is the responsibility of the recommender; the translator cannot be the applicant or a friend or family member of the applicant.

MYTH: It’s OK to provide a letter of recommendation from a professor as long as I did really well in the class.
THE TRUTH: We love professors – we are a school, after all – but faculty members typically are not the best choices for MBA recommendations. We find that they often ignore the questions we ask of recommenders, and instead, focus on how well you did in their classes (which we already know from your academic transcripts). If you are applying as a college senior and do not have much professional experience, there may be cases when a recommendation from a faculty member would be appropriate.

For example, if you worked with a faculty member outside the classroom, perhaps as a teaching assistant or on an independent research opportunity, then that professor might be in a position to write a helpful recommendation. Still, you need to think carefully about whether that person can address the questions we ask in the recommendation form.

MYTH: If I worked full-time during or before college, I can count those months as “full-time work experience.”
THE TRUTH: We value all work experience, including jobs or military service you’ve had before graduating college. We ask that in the box for “months of full-time work experience,” you include only the months of full-time work experience SINCE you graduated from your undergraduate university, calculating the number of months from your college graduation until September 1, 2014.

Since the application form doesn’t fit every person’s situation, we ask that applicants who have worked full-time before graduating college report that in the Part-Time Employment section and indicate 40 hours in the “hours/week” box. We will connect the dots that you were working before or throughout college. Also, the resume we ask you to submit will show us your career path.

MYTH: If my application doesn’t meet certain criteria, the admissions office won’t even look at it.
THE TRUTH: We review each and every application to understand your background, aspirations, and potential. While scores and grades command attention in the blogosphere, each of you is more than a combination of statistics; we are building a community as well as a class. Real people are getting to know you through your application. This is not an automated process; it’s a very human process that takes time and deliberation.

MYTH: Even though Stanford GSB accepts either the GMAT or GRE, it’s better to submit GMAT scores.
THE TRUTH: Nope. We don’t have a preference either way; and if we did, we’d tell you. Do what makes sense for you.

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Tuesday Tips: Stanford GSB Essay Tips

Stanford Graduate School of Business has just published the essay questions without changes for this new application cycle, maintaining the theme of candid self-evaluation and authenticity. The Stanford GSB MBA admissions website provides clear guidance …

Stanford Graduate School of Business has just published the essay questions without changes for this new application cycle, maintaining the theme of candid self-evaluation and authenticity. The Stanford GSB MBA admissions website provides clear guidance and advice for what to do, and what not to do that all applicants should read and follow.

As you approach topics for this set of essays think about the events of your life that have shaped your values and your future plans. Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you have developed into the person you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned and motivations. Introspection and honesty should persist through the entire set of essays.

Total word count for all three essays combined must not exceed 1,600 words, so applicants must be judicious in deciding how much or little to write for each prompt. As a general guideline, Stanford GSB suggests 750 words for essay one; 450 words for essay two; and 400 words for essay three. Check your deadlines before you get started to make sure you are maximizing the time on your essays.

Stanford GSB Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

This classic Stanford GSB MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) it may raise themes that you will continue in your career essay.

To generate ideas, try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what values they see you demonstrating in your life and choices. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, and mine your personal history for ideas.

Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced “what matters most” throughout your life. Keep in mind as you select examples that Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you, rather than accomplishments or achievements.

Stanford GSB Essay 2: What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?

We’ve observed that in these economic times plenty of candidates are content to be conservative about their dreams. For Stanford that approach may backfire. Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals.
So think hard about what you REALLY want to do. Not what your parents or partner want you to do. Not what your boss wants you to do. Not what you think an MBA program wants to hear. What do you, with your own unique background and values, want for your life?

If the question seems too vast, take a few minutes to close your eyes and reflect. Envision your life in twenty years. Where do you live? How do you spend your days? What is your favorite activity? How does this vision fit into your career aspirations? Dream big about what two years at Stanford can bring into your life. Once you have identified your dream career, you also need to make sure an MBA is an important part of achieving your plans.

Stanford wants candidates whose MBA will make an impact on the career they REALLY want, not candidates who are looking for a prestigious piece of paper. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals, not admit perfect people who will not learn from the two years in school.

One thing that is crucial “not to do” is be less than specific about why Stanford. You should know everything about the program that overlaps with your interests and aspirations. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs?

Stanford GSB wants to know what you specifically need that will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and research will help you determine the specifics of the academic program, community and students will be essential to demonstrating your knowledge and fit with the program.

Essay 3: Answer one of the three questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it.
What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.

Choose strategically here. What aspects of your background or career progress have not be highlighted in the previous two essays? Is there a community service involvement you would like to demonstrate? All examples must be from the past three years, and it is important to clearly describe your process and results.

HOW is the key word for these two essays. By asking specifically about your behavior, the admissions committee hopes to understand your motivations by clearly “seeing” your actions.

Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

If you have formally led a team at work, this is an ideal essay to highlight your management experience. Most candidates for Stanford have little formal management or leadership experience. In that case, think about the times you have served informally as a leader. Perhaps you led a team as part of a project at work. If work did not provide an opportunity for you to lead a team, consider an example in your volunteer or extracurricular activities.

Whatever the situation, describe what happened and your role in the performance of the team. In addition to clear description, explain what the expectations were for the team and how your team exceeded them. Be as specific as you can about the how: what were you thinking and doing as you built or developing the team?

Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.

While formal management experience may be less common if you’ve only worked for a few years, improving an organization is something that is possible with any job description. Think about the times that you have seen a problem and proactively solved it. Did you create a new initiative that involves many others? Have you impacted the culture or operations of your organization through an idea or by developing your team? Think about actions you have taken that may have lead to a fundamental shift in the way things are done or perceived within your company or organization.

Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

The topic of this essay can be from almost any area of your life. It will be helpful to give the context around what was defined or established to clearly demonstrate how you went beyond. Why and how did you achieve results beyond expectations? This topic could be similar to Option A in scope, yet is focused on your individual achievement rather than directing a team’s actions.

As you put together your Stanford GSB application it will be helpful to read all of the essays together (and have others read them) to see the overall impression. It should be clear what your underlying motivations are, what you hope do you with your career, and how you operate as an individual and in a team within an organization. As Stanford GSB clearly requests, the best essays will illuminate your individual voice clear and strong.

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Stanford GSB Debunks More Admissions Myths

It looks like the admissions department at Stanford Graduate School of Business is on a mission to bring the truth to the people as Allison Davis once again takes to the MBA admissions blog and …

Stanford GSBIt looks like the admissions department at Stanford Graduate School of Business is on a mission to bring the truth to the people as Allison Davis once again takes to the MBA admissions blog and dispels three persistent assumptions regarding Stanford’s admit process.

MYTH 1: If I worked full-time during college, I can count those months as “full-time work experience.”

THE TRUTH: In the Full-Time Employment section, please include only the months of full-time work experience SINCE you graduated from your undergraduate university. We ask you to calculate how many months you will have from your college graduation until September 1, 2013.

You can list work you did during college, even if it was full-time, in the Part-Time Employment section of the application. That section includes a field for hours per week so you will be able to indicate that you worked full-time. We read everything and will connect the dots that you were working throughout college.

MYTH 2: After I submit my application, I will receive regular updates on my status throughout the application process.

THE TRUTH: Unfortunately, we do not have the staff to update each applicant’s status for every step in the process. When you submit your application (…) you will receive an immediate message thanking you for your submission. Your application status in Hobson’s ApplyYourself shows as “Submitted.”

Approximately two weeks after the application deadline, all applications are updated to “Your application is currently under review.” This line will appear under the “Submission Status: Submitted” line. (Note that all applications are reviewed even if they are missing documents like recommendations. We will evaluate your application and make a decision based on the application documents that you submitted.)

You will be contacted via email by our office if you are invited to interview; your application status will remain “Under Review.” On the decision notification date, you will receive an email that the decision on your application has been posted. You will be directed to log into your Hobson’s ApplyYourself account, where you will see your decision letter.

MYTH 3: It’s critical to visit campus before I apply. If I can’t schedule a visit before the application deadline, I’d better wait to apply in the next application round.

THE TRUTH: Visiting campus does not affect your chances of admission whatsoever. It may be of value to you as part of your research on which schools to apply to; that’s up to you. Keep in mind that many of our applicants come from outside the U.S. so we couldn’t expect everyone to visit. If you have only one chance to visit, come after you’ve been admitted for Admit Weekend, where you’ll meet students, alumni, faculty, and your future classmates.

***

So there you have it, folks, straight from the admissions team at the Stanford GSB. If you’re applying in Round Two, coming up on January 9, 2013, and would like guidance on your MBA application, Stacy Blackman Consulting can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.

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Stanford GSB Demystifies Recommendation Requirements

The Stanford Graduate School of Business offers a new post this week attempting to clarify any misconceptions or confusions related to the letters of recommendation required as part of the MBA admissions process. Here, Allison …

The Stanford Graduate School of Business offers a new post this week attempting to clarify any misconceptions or confusions related to the letters of recommendation required as part of the MBA admissions process.

Here, Allison Davis sets the record straight so you have plenty of time to get this aspect of your application sorted out in advance of the Round 2 deadline on January 9, 2013.

MYTH 1: I will be at a disadvantage if I cannot get a recommendation from a current direct supervisor.

THE TRUTH: Rest assured that you are not the only applicant in this situation. You may not be disclosing to your employer that you are applying to business school. You may have started a new job recently, and your supervisor does not really know you that well.

Perhaps you are self-employed, run your own company, or work in a family business where your direct supervisor is a relative (…) If you’re in one of these situations, you just need to be a little more creative in terms of where you get your recommendation. You could ask anyone who is in a position to evaluate your work: a previous supervisor, a client, or a member of your board of directors.

MYTH 2: It is okay to submit more than 3 recommendations. In fact, more is better!

THE TRUTH: We discourage you from sending additional letters. More is not better. In fact, it can have the opposite of the intended effect as it adds an additional burden to our staff who read literally thousands and thousands of pages over the application season. When we receive additional letters of reference, we do add them to your application file, but there’s no guarantee that they will be read.

MYTH 3: It is better to get my recommendations from three different sources to highlight different aspects of my professional and personal background.

THE TRUTH: It’s your decision how to present yourself in your application, what to highlight and what to focus on. And, this goes for your choice of recommenders as well. Some applicants get all their references from work; others include references from outside of work. Some get all their references from their current employers; others include previous employers.

There is no one right way. The mix of recommendations does not affect your chances of admission. When choosing a recommender, our best advice is to (1) choose someone who knows you really well and can provide the detail, examples, and specifics that support their assertions; and (2) choose someone who is truly enthused to write a recommendation for you and will spend sufficient time writing a thoughtful letter.

MYTH 4: Recommendations must be written in English.

THE TRUTH: Recommendations must be submitted in English, but we do not expect the English to be perfect in recommendations written by non-native speakers. We focus on the content of the letter, not the writing style, so we will ignore minor syntax or grammar errors or awkward phrasing.

However, if you and your recommenders think that their English is not sufficient to convey complex ideas, it may be to your advantage to have them write in their native language and then get it translated into English either by a friend or colleague of the recommender, or from a paid service.

The translation does not need to be from a paid service unless that is the only option available to the recommender. The translation is the responsibility of the recommender; the translator cannot be the applicant or a friend or family member of the applicant.

Your recommender would then upload both the original language and the English translation into the recommendation form, and must also supply us with the name and contact information of the translator in case we have additional follow-up questions.

For more on the subject of recommenders, I invite you to read my U.S. News blog post from September on how to strategize and manage the MBA recommendation process. In it, I recommend that applicants create a recommender package, which has four main components and provides instruction on both process and content. Your recommenders will appreciate your assistance and thoroughness, and will undoubtedly produce a better recommendation on your behalf.

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Stanford GSB Debunks MBA Interview Myths

Allison Davis from the admissions office at Stanford Graduate School of Business updated the MBA admission blog yesterday with this information, designed to sooth the frayed nerves of those suffering from pre-interview angst. Here, she …

Allison Davis from the admissions office at Stanford Graduate School of Business updated the MBA admission blog yesterday with this information, designed to sooth the frayed nerves of those suffering from pre-interview angst.

Here, she dispels three persistent myths surrounding this part of the admissions process at the GSB.

MYTH 1: The interview has a lot of weight so if I blow the interview, I have blown my chances of being admitted.

THE TRUTH: There is no specific weight assigned to the interview; the interview is one part of a comprehensive process. A positive interview does not guarantee admission, while a less than favorable interview does not, by itself, preclude admission. The written application, including the essays and letters of reference, is a critical part of the evaluation process. The interview is a key source of supplemental information.

MYTH 2: I received my interview invitation early in the round so it must mean I have a better chance of getting admitted.

THE TRUTH: The timing of your interview invitation reflects only the order in which your application was reviewed (and the order in which your application was reviewed doesn’t mean anything, honest!). Interview invitations are extended from about a week or so after the round’s deadline until about a week before the round’s notification date, because it takes the Admissions Committee that entire period to review all applications thoroughly.

MYTH 3: I will be interviewed only if there is an alumni interviewer in my local area.

THE TRUTH: Please rest assured that we will work with you to match you with an interviewer. If there is none in your area, we may ask if you’d like to fly to another location or consider a “virtual” interview.

Remember, if you’re invited to interview at the Stanford GSB, or other b-school of your dreams, prep and practice will help ease any interview performance concerns you may have. Start by reviewing your applications, review typical questions, and write out some bullet points to outline what you would say in response to those questions.

Finally, practice, practice, practice! Enlist the help of family and friends, and ask them to provide constructive feedback. Perhaps most importantly, try to have fun and not to get too stressed out by the process.

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