Stanford GSB recently released its MBA admissions essays for the 2012-2013 application season. You may notice some changes to the essays since last year; we’ll dig into those changes below. Perhaps most significantly, Stanford removed one of its required essays this year, although the total recommended word count remains the same.
As it has done for the past several years, Stanford’s admissions committee provides some high-level advice right on its own website. While we think this advice is generally good, we don’t see anything in Stanford’s advice that hasn’t been said many times before. Still, any advice that comes straight from the horse’s mouth deserves your attention!
Stanford GSB Admissions Essays
- What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,600 total)
This question has been around for years, and while our advice has evolved subtly over the years, it mostly remains the same . With this essay, take Stanford’s advice to heart: “The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.” 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 is much more powerful and, ultimately, much more effective in getting you into Stanford GSB.
- What do you want to do — REALLY — and why Stanford? (450 words recommended)
This question also carries over unchanged from last year. The part in ALL CAPS is a very obvious hint that the admissions committee feels like it doesn’t usually get 100% honest answers from its applicants. Also, note that this question is deliberately pretty open-ended. Stanford is inviting you to dream big. They’re less interested in whether you want to do buy-side vs. sell-side research in the banking sector… They’re more interested in what you want to do with your life. Naturally, the job you take in the near term matters, but here is your chance to reveal some big dreams. If the first question is supposed to be a super-introspective look at you past, consider this the same exercise with your future. Finally, don’t forget the “Why Stanford?” part, too. Obviously it’s a great school with a terrific brand name, but the admissions committee already knows that. Why is Stanford specifically the school that will help you achieve your dreams?
- Answer one of the three 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. (400 words recommended)
Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.
Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.
Gee, do you think Stanford only wants to hear about stories that have happened in the last three years? Stanford included the “three year rule” here last year, but the fact that the admissions committee inserted it into every option suggests that too many applicants weren’t paying attention. Why do they only want to hear about the recent past? Because you’re young, and you’re still changing and growing a great deal. Something that you accomplished five years ago (perhaps while you were still in college) is far less useful in helping the admissions committee gauge your potential as a professional.
Two of these options carry over unchanged from last year, while one of them (Option B) is essentially a marriage of two separate questions from last year. For Option A, note the emphasis on “whose performance exceeded expectations”… Results matter, and you need to show them here. This is a classic Situation-Action-Result (“SAR”) question. While Option B doesn’t specifically use the word “impact” (as it did last year), it’s pretty clear what the school looks for here… It wants to find young professionals who 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.
Option C is 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 may actually lead some to misinterpret it and tell an underwhelming story, but a great response will show that you’re someone who readily goes beyond your job description to make things happen. In some respects, we consider Options B and C to be very similar… It’s clear that Stanford is itching to find go-getters who go beyond what’s normal to make things happen!