The Stanford Graduate School of Business has released its admissions essays for the 2010-2011 season. Bucking the trend that some other top business schools have exhibited so far this year, Stanford hasn’t made a single change to its essays. So, readers will notice that our advice mostly remains the same.
When you visit Stanford’s web site, note how much coaching the admissions committee gives applicants right on its essay page. When in doubt, start with the advice that they explicitly give you!
Here are Stanford’s admissions essays, followed by our comments in italics:
Stanford MBA Admissions Essays
- What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,800 total)
This question has been around for years. Old-timers will remember that it used to have no word limit. Now, the essay’s 750-word limit forces applicants to be a little more economical with their words. With this essay, take Stanford’s advice to heart: “Truly, the most impressive essays are those that do not begin with the goal of impressing us.” This question requires a great deal of introspection, after which you should create an essay that truly answers the question asked, whether or not you feel that it’s directly applicable to your candidacy. Obviously, the more relevant your essay is to the goal of getting into business school, the better, but where many Stanford applicants go wrong is by writing about grand ideas and using impressive-sounding words, rather than a real glimpse into who they are as a person. The latter makes for a much more interesting read and is, ultimately, much more effective in getting you into Stanford
- What are your career aspirations? How will your education at Stanford help you achieve them? (450 words recommended)
This is the more common “Why do you want an MBA, and why this school?” question. Here you can feel more comfortable writing about the topics that business schools more often look for in their applications. Remember to keep it realistic and to demonstrate that you understand what the Stanford MBA experience will — and won’t — do for you as a growing professional. Again, you will do well to heed Stanford’s advice here: “Use this essay to explain your view of your future, not to repeat accomplishments from your past.”
- 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. (300 words recommended for each)
Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
Option C: Tell us about a time when you motivated others to support your vision or initiative.
Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.
As noted above, these essays all carry over unchanged from 2009-2010. What that tells us is that the Stanford admissions office likes what it got from applicants last year. For Option A, note the emphasis on “whose performance exceeded expectations”… Stanford wants applicants who can show strong results, and you need to show those results here. This is a classic Situation-Action-Result (“SAR”) question. Again, we love the “impact” idea in Option B… Stanford is looking for young professionals that leave a trail of success and positive, meaningful impact everywhere they go. If you have a good example to use, we strongly urge you to answer Option B.
Over the past few years Option C has evolved from a question about overcoming an obstacle or failure to a question that gets at one version of leadership — motivating others to support your ideas. Stanford considers this type of persuasiveness a key ingredient in the future leaders that it wants to produce. Think of Option D as another results-oriented question that also gets at a core component of leadership: the ambition and ability to do more than what is listed in your job description. We think the way this question is phrased sounds a bit pedestrian, but a great response will show you you tackled a problem or pursued an opportunity (in the workplace or in your community) that would have otherwise gone ignored.