The Stanford Graduate School of Business has announced the essay questions for the 2019-2020 application. Today, we’re sharing our Stanford MBA essay tips to help you create a positive impression through your application materials. Although the required questions are the same as prior years, Stanford has added an optional short-answer essay this season.
The admissions committee at Stanford has gained significant insight into applicants by asking, “What matters most, and why?” along with “Why Stanford?” These questions are simple, yet the answers are revealing. In addition, the new optional essay allows you to go beyond your resume and describe a time you had an impact.
What is Stanford Looking For?
One of SBC’s former GSB Admissions Officers shared, “GSB is looking for people who will make a big difference AND have a better shot than most in being able to execute. Stanford GSB students also seem to have this ‘X’ factor associated with them. Almost like an ‘unexpected’ trait, talent, or experience.”
In light of its high ranking and competitive admissions numbers, many students are intimidated to apply to Stanford GSB for their MBA. However, here at Stacy Blackman Consulting, we have worked with hundreds of applicants over the years who have successfully gained admission to Stanford. We shared some of our successful applicants’ important traits to help everyone working for admission to top tier schools.
Our successful Stanford MBA applicants demonstrated true character. That means they helped others and demonstrated a sense of community. Also, they showed that they cared about the world beyond their own material wants and needs in their essays. Impact describes these applicants perfectly.
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.” Therefore, these essays are meant to be personal and to show your personality and what drives you.
Understanding Stanford’s culture and academics will help you tailor your application. Before starting these essays it will be useful to speak to Stanford students and alumni. Additionally, you could visit campus to see the Stanford community first hand. If you need to start your research online, read stories from current students. You can start with our former client, Natasha Malpani.
Stanford MBA Essay Tips for 2019-2020
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 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. However, this essay should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all). However, it is likely that some of your themes will continue in the next essay, which may 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.
What keeps you awake at night?
Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up. Review your personal history for ideas. When you look back at your life what do you admire and regret about your choices? Are there moments in your life that have led to a change in direction? Who has impacted your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm topics for this essay.
It can be tough to write such an open-ended and challenging essay, and using vivid and specific examples will help you focus. These examples will provide the reader with images and stories to understand your perspective. After reading hundreds of essays, the ones that have 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. You might have significant work experience but also see the benefits of attending a two-year program to achieve your goals. Therefore, you could be interested in either option.
The sub questions for this essay cover both why you are interested in pursuing an MBA, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB for your MBA. Stanford GSB wants to know your aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford. Thorough 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. Consider 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? Is Stanford’s culture appealing to you, and why? Think about using specific examples, like the career path of a specific alum you admire.
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? 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.
Consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big and also have the credibility to achieve their goals. Be bold with your aspirations. Write about global, big picture issues you would like to solve. Not what your parents or partner want you to do, and not the next job on the corporate ladder. In particular, explain what you—with your own unique background and values—want for your life.
Even though you should think big, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you are already perfect with no development needed. After all, 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.
Optional Short-Answer Question:
Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? You are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1500 characters, approximately 250 words, for each example)
This essay is optional and should be answered in the space provided in the application. In other words, do not submit this essay with the other two. You can use up to 250 words for each example, for a total of 750 words on this essay.
Many applicants to Stanford write personal stories and describe internal motivations in the “what matters most” essay. This leaves very little space to talk about your impact on organizations or teams. If you are one of those applicants, this is the perfect place to show off some of your leadership stories. Stanford is looking for people who have inner strength and drive. But also, Stanford seeks those who can influence others.
Once again, think about stories from your various roles in life. Work is usually a place to practice leadership skills, but positive leadership impact can happen anywhere. You might have an important volunteer role where leadership literally impacts lives. Or perhaps you are part of a cultural organization or political activity that is meaningful to you. Think about the stories of your life that can demonstrate the kind of positive leader you are, and showcase those stories to Stanford.
If, after reading these Stanford MBA essay tips, you still finding the essays challenging, then don’t hesitate to contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for personalized guidance through the application process.