Stanford Graduate School of Business has announced the essay questions for this year’s application, which remain the same as in previous admissions cycles. Stanford has gained significant insight into applicants by asking, “What matters most, and why?” along with “Why Stanford?” These questions are deceptively simple, and the answers are quite revealing.
Stanford is one of the top MBA programs in the world, and many candidates are intimidated to apply. Here at Stacy Blackman Consulting we have worked with hundreds of applicants over the years who have successfully gained admission to Stanford, and before tackling these essays it may be useful to read about some of our successful applicants.
Successful applicants demonstrated true character, meaning that they helped others, demonstrated a sense of community, and showed that they cared about the world beyond their own material wants and needs.
As Stanford advises, “answer the question. 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.” These essays are meant to be personal and to show your personality and what drives you.
Understanding Stanford’s culture and academic approach will help you tailor your application. Before approaching these essays it will be useful to have spoken with Stanford students and alumni, or visited campus to understand what values the community holds.
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. Stanford suggests allocating more words to Essay A.
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 Stanford GSB MBA essay is about diving deep into what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to big picture visions of the future. This topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) though it is possible that some of your themes will continue in the next essay, which will likely focus more on your career.
For example, you may have a personal passion that also has led you into a related career aspiration. Character should shine through, and introspection and honesty should persist through the entire set of essays.
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. Review your personal history for ideas.
What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life what do you admire and regret about your choices? What moments in your life have led to a change in direction? Who has impacted your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach topics for this essay.
Though the essay question is open-ended and challenging to structure, using vivid and specific examples will provide the reader with images and stories to understand your perspective. After reading hundreds of essays, the ones that have vivid and descriptive stories in them stand out the most.
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. Don’t be scared of the tough moments in life – often self-awareness emerges from challenges. Whatever experiences you choose it’s very important to talk about why they made an impact on your life and your values.
Along with vivid examples, talk about how you felt, thought and reacted both at the time and as you reflected later. The “why” will come out of your reactions to your life experience or people who have influenced you, and the resulting introspection.
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.
After you have explained who you are, you will explain why your next step is a Stanford MBA. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx, make sure you can highlight the advantages of both programs for your specific situation. Perhaps you have significant work experience but also see the benefits of attending a two-year program to achieve your goals, and therefore would be interested in either option.
The sub questions for this essay cover both why you are interested in pursuing an MBA at all, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB. Stanford GSB wants to know your aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and school research will help you determine what aspects of the academic program, community and students are crucial to your aspirations.
Be as specific as possible in your response to provide evidence that you have done your research. You should know everything about the aspects of the program that most appeal to you. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs? What appeals to you about Stanford’s culture? Perhaps you are impressed with the career path of a specific alumna and can highlight that knowledge.
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 and explain that clearly.
When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your ambitions consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big and also have the credibility to achieve their goals. Be bold with your aspirations. Think about global, big picture issues you would like to solve. 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?
Though you should think big, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you are already perfect with no development needed. You are a work in progress, and that’s appropriate. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals and be a step on an ambitious career trajectory.
Finding the Stanford essays challenging? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for personalized guidance through the application process.