Tuesday Tips: Stanford MBA Essay Tips for 2023-2024

Stanford MBA essay

The Stanford Graduate School of Business has announced the Stanford MBA essay questions for this year’s application. Today, we’re sharing our Stanford MBA essay tips to help you create a positive impression through your application materials. This year’s essays remain unchanged from previous seasons.

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. Also, the optional essay allows you to go beyond your resume and describe a time you had an impact.

What is Stanford Looking For?

“The 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,” says a former GSB admissions officer now on the SBC team.

Many students are intimidated to apply to Stanford GSB for their MBA in light of its high ranking and competitive admissions numbers. 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’ essential traits to help everyone get admitted to top-tier schools.

Our successful Stanford MBA applicants demonstrated real character. That means they have helped others and shown they share a sense of community. Also, they showed that they cared about the world beyond their material wants and needs in their essays.

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 need to be personal and reveal your personality and what drives you.

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast Episode #152: Spotlight on Stanford GSB

Understanding Stanford’s culture and academics will help you tailor your application. Before starting these essays, it will be helpful to speak to Stanford students and alumni. If you need to start your research online, read stories from current students. You can begin with our former client, Natasha Malpani (pictured).

Stanford MBA student

Stanford MBA Essay Tips

Both essays combined may not exceed 1,050 words. We recommend up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B. We often find effective essays that are written in fewer words.


For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?

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. This essay should not be explicitly career related (and the most persuasive essays are likely not career oriented at all). However, some of your themes will likely continue in the following 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. Your character should shine through, and ideally, introspection and honesty carry through the entire set of essays. To generate ideas, try brainstorming for 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 decisions? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm topics for this essay.

It is tough to write such an open-ended and challenging essay. To focus, use detailed and specific anecdotes. Clear examples will provide the reader with images and stories to understand your perspective. After reading hundreds of essays, the ones that have vivid stories in them stand out the most.

However, Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you. Accomplishments and achievements are great, but Stanford wants to know you. Don’t be scared of the challenging moments in life – often, self-awareness emerges from challenges. Whatever experiences you choose, it’s imperative to talk about why they impacted your life and your values.

Along with colorful 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.

Curious about your chances of getting into Stanford GSB? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant. 


Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.

After explaining who you are, you will tell 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 situation. For example, you might have significant work experience and also see the benefits of attending a two-year program. Therefore, you could be interested in either option to achieve your goals.

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. As a result, school research will help you explain how academics and community matter to you.

Be as specific as possible to provide evidence that you have done your research. 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 one particular 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, make sure an MBA is a big part of achieving your plans.

Stanford MBA essay tips

Also, consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big and have the credibility to achieve their goals. Be bold with your aspirations. Therefore 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 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 one step on an ambitious career trajectory.

Check out the SBC Application Strategy Guide for Stanford Graduate School of Business

Optional Short Answer Question

In the Essays section of the application, we ask you to tell us about who you are and how you think Stanford will help you achieve your aspirations. We are also interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you. If you would like to go beyond your resume to discuss some of your contributions more fully, you are welcome to share up to three examples (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words, for each example)

What do we mean by “optional”? We truly mean you have the opportunity to choose. If you feel that you’ve already described your contributions well in other areas of the application, congratulations, you’re done! If not, feel free to use this opportunity to tell us more.

Stanford’s MBA essay optional short-answer questions are truly optional. 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.

Optional 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?

This Stanford MBA essay focuses on an example of a time when you created an impact. Stanford is looking for people who have inner strength and drive. But also, Stanford seeks those who can influence others.

First, think about when you influenced a group. Perhaps you were a leader or a vital team member. Then, think about the positive results of that experience and how you contributed. Finally, describe how it was important to you. Ideally, this significance fits with your overall application themes in the primary essays. And hopefully, it also shows a new side to your candidacy.


If you need guidance on your Stanford GSB applications or wish to discuss your MBA plans, please reach out for a complimentary analysis of your candidacy. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of the elite AdCom expertise on the SBC team:

(Image credit: Corey Seeman, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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