Nowhere is the mandate to be authentic more emphasized than with the Stanford GSB application essays. The transparent Stanford GSB 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 approach to life and your future plans. Your accomplishments and achievements are key to who you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, values and motivations. Stanford GSB asks for candid self-examination in the first essay, and that theme of introspection should persist through the entire set of essays
Stanford GSB Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?
This is the keystone of the Stanford GSB essays and your chance to demonstrate who you are and what motivates you. 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 may not be career oriented at all) a truly cohesive life path will likely bring some of the aspects of what matters most into the topic of Essay 2.
If the open ended prompt is intimidating you can 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, or dreams that might help you understand your motivations.
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 are your career aspirations? What do you need to learn at Stanford GSB to achieve them?
Unlike many career goals essays, Stanford GSB does not ask for specific short- and long-term goals. Aspirational goals are likely a bit further into the future, so think about where you want your career to ultimately be, in the best possible scenario. What do you need to get there? What is the role of an MBA in achieving your aspirations, and how will Stanford GSB specifically contribute to achieving your aspirations?
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.
Stanford GSB Essay 3: Answer two of the four 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.
o Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
This Stanford GSB essay is an opportunity to highlight an achievement specifically in the arena of leadership and teamwork. If your professional life hasn’t included formal management responsibility perhaps you were able to lead a project or part of a project. Leading a team from within could also be possible if you contributed to developing or building a great team. Another possibility is other leadership experiences outside of work. 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.
o Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
Making a lasting impact through a discrete project or achievement is possible, yet less likely than creating impact through your relationships with others and the overall operations of the organization. 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.
o Option C: Tell us about a time when you motivated others to support your vision or initiative.
This question seeks to understand your leadership skills and ability to build support. When answering the question it is far more important to describe your specific actions and results than to have an impressive vision or initiative. Explain clearly how you (uniquely) were able to motivate your team or build support.
o Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.
The topic of this essay can be from almost any area of your life. Defining what was established and expected is important 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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