Stanford Graduate School of Business continues to ask applicants to delve deep into their personality, values and motivations for this set of MBA essays. The classic “what matters most” essay should be your primary focus, and secondly you will answer why Stanford is the next step in your journey.
Total word count for the essays must not exceed 1,150 words, so be judicious in deciding how much or little to write for each prompt. As a general guideline, Stanford GSB suggests 750 words for essay one and 400 words for essay two. Check your deadlines before you get started to make sure you are maximizing the time on your essays.
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (suggested 750 word limit)
– Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
– 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.
This classic Stanford GSB MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) it is possible that some of your themes will continue in your career essay.
Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you have developed into the person you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned and motivations. 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. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, and mine your personal history for ideas. What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life what will you admire and regret about your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach topics for this essay.
Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced “what matters most” throughout your life. 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.
Essay B: Why Stanford?
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions. (suggested 400 word limit, 450 for applicants to both the MBA and MBx programs)
– 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 what is most important to you in life you need to explain why your next step is a Stanford MBA. The sub questions for this essay cover both why you are interested in pursuing an MBA at all, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB. Stanford GSB wants to know your aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and 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. You should know 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?
When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your ambitions consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals. Be bold with your aspirations. Don’t focus on what your parents or partner want you to do. Don’t think about the next job on the corporate ladder. What do you, with your own unique background and values, want for your life?
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? How 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 and explain that part in your essay.
Though you should think big, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you are already perfect with no development needed. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals and be a step on an ambitious career trajectory.
Finding the Stanford essays challenging? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for personalized guidance through the application process.
This entry was posted in Application Tips, General, Stanford Advice and tagged Fall 2017 essay questions, Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips, Standford GSB, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford MBA essay tips.
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Stanford’s essay questions remain the same again this year. My advice for how to approach these essays essentially remain the same. However, Stanford has provided us with more more clarity on how we should approach these questions.
Essay Question 1: What matters most to you, and why?
Introspection is the foundation for Stanford’s first essay, which has become a hallmark classic. “What matters most and why,” forces the applicant to soul search and articulate at a granular level what matters most. If an applicant shares with me what matters most to them, I always push them to tell me “Why” it is important to them. If you can articulate the “why”, then rest assured you will be addressing the “what” and also writing from the heart. Solicit other people who can help you explore potential themes throughout your life (parents, colleagues, significant others, friends, etc).
Some common issues that candidates encounter are 1) discussing topics that are too high-level and don’t add any additional insight into their candidacy, 2) answering with cliché responses leaving your application undifferentiated (e.g. family, being challenged, making an impact on the world), or 3) answering the question by not being real or genuine. In other words, elaborating on a topic that you think the admissions committee wants to read.
My advice for applicants is to stop and think before your write this essay question. Do some serious soul searching and truly figure out what matters most to you, why, and then write an honest introspective analysis. Another strategy I like to employ is to ask my clients, “If you had one week left to live, what would you do?” I ask this question to push candidates to think beyond the cliché responses or diving into their career goals or forcing an answer. Instead, it can push candidates to figure out what matters most to them. Just a note of caution – the essay question is very different than ‘what would you do if you had one week left to live’ – but thinking about the question in that framework can get the creative juices flowing.
It may be difficult to avoid the cliché responses, because for many of us these types of responses are what matter most. However, if you can find a unique spin on the essay and personalize it, then you will avoid sounding cliché. For example, a client discussed that “karaoke was what mattered most” to her. While this might sound odd at first, she discussed her viewpoints on karaoke and tied in all the aspects that this activity enabled: expressing herself, creativity, bringing family and friends together, and laughter (note the heavy focus on why rather than describing karaoke). Those activities on their own could have come across as cliché, but when tied together with the theme of karaoke the essay was very unique, personal, interesting and memorable.
Once you have a theme, you need to develop your essay to support your theme. Don’t just recount story after story. Instead focus on the role this theme plays in your life and provide evidence of it in your past experiences and how you will support it with future endeavors. This question is highly valued by Stanford – give it ample thought, dig deep, find a unique angle, make it real, and be creative.
Essay Question 2: Why Stanford
As with many schools, the admissions committee wants to see that you truly understand the Stanford environment and what opportunities you will seek in your MBA studies. If it is logistically possible, we highly encourage applicants to visit the campus and see a classroom discussion in action. The difference in the richness of the “Why Stanford” answer is clear between those who have researched the school in depth and those who have not. It is highly advised to avoid writing about the generalities of the school such as location, reputation, or alumni network. Your answer needs to link your career aspirations to the specific offerings at Stanford. As a rule of thumb, if you can replace the word “Stanford” with another school’s name and the essay still makes sense, you have not answered it properly.
Filed Under: Essay Analysis