Tuesday Tips: Stanford MBA Essay Tips for 2020-2021

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 are the same as they were last year, with a shorter recommended total length. As you prepare your applications for the fall, note that Stanford has published FAQs about COVID and its effect on admissions.

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?

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’ essential traits to help everyone working for admission 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 own 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.

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. If you need to start your research online, read stories from current students. You can begin with our former client, Natasha Malpani.

Stanford MBA student

Stanford MBA Essay Tips for 2020-2021

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 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. 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 tough moments in life – often, self-awareness emerges from challenges. Whatever experiences you choose, it’s imperative to talk about why they made an impact on 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.

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 you have explained 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 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 their program. 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 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

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 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 Question 1: 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? (Up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words, for each example)

This essay is one of two optional questions and should be answered in the space provided in the application form. In other words, do not submit these optional short essays with the other two.

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 a vital 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 leader you are. This essay is the perfect place to showcase examples of your positive leadership.

Optional Question 2: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school. (Up to 1,100 characters, or approximately 180 words)

This is the second optional question in the Stanford application form. Stanford emphasizes that this essay is also completely optional and should only be answered if you feel it adds to your application.

Stanford defines your background broadly. It could be anything from your gender identity to your work experience. Consider your own circumstances and if there is anything in your life experience that should be highlighted. For example, maybe you chose a particular job or volunteer activity because of an aspect of your identity. Or, your cultural background impacted a choice of opportunity or location. Review your resume and experiences to see if any of them would benefit from explaining this context.


If, after reading these Stanford MBA essay tips, you still find the essays challenging, then don’t hesitate to contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for guidance through the process.

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