Stanford GSB has released the essay topics for aspiring 2021 MBA applicants (for deadlines head here). While the major essays remain unchanged, Stanford has expanded the optional essay section with an additional question, which we’ll help you tackle below.
When it comes to the two main prompts, though they may appear to be simple, they are commonly thought of as some of the hardest application questions among top MBAs. But, before you tackle these essays, be sure that the first step you make is to dig into Stanford’s MBA program. One of the major keys to success here is understanding what Stanford GSB can offer you and how you can fit within its community.
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
• For this essay, we would like you to:
• 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.
• Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
It’s easy to rush into this essay and develop an answer that focuses on your career, but try to avoid this temptation at all costs. Stanford wants to understand your most central passion. Whether it’s related to your occupation, your personal activities or something that you’re aiming for in the long-term is of secondary importance.
Commonly, applicants are not even completely aware of what ‘it’ might be. If that’s your case, how can you discover it? Start keeping and updating a list of ideas that drive strong positive or negative emotional responses in you. Reflect on the major changes in your life and what deep-rooted concepts drove them. You might even get some inspiration by auditing your library of literature; what topics have you been most consistently attracted to?
Once you’ve zeroed in on what matters most, you need to concentrate on the why. Stanford loves storytellers, especially those who develop an intelligent and vulnerable narrative. When writing your essay, don’t hesitate to use colorful examples and dialogue to connect with the reader. If you’re not sure which stories to choose, replay them in your mind to see whether they elicit a strong reaction in you.
Essay B: Why Stanford?
• Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
• 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.
When answering the question of why Stanford, you first need to explain the reason behind your pursuit of an MBA. To do so, you should concentrate on a career trajectory that is impactful while remaining realizable. Stanford wants dreamers who understand how to weigh their dreams in reality and know how to accomplish them.
After you’ve figured out what goal you’re shooting for post-MBA, you have to research how Stanford will help you achieve it. This section needs to be full of concrete examples. When you mention courses, professors, the culture or any other aspect of Stanford’s program, you need to connect that unique Stanford attribute to a unique need that you have. On the other hand, if you’re too general in your statements, Stanford will only be able to conclude one of two things: either you don’t know what you’ll truly need to accomplish your goal or you don’t care to learn what makes Stanford’s offer unique.
Lastly, if you happen to apply to both Stanford’s MBA and MSx programs, use the extra space you’re afforded in the essay to explain how both programs could strongly match your requirements. While one might be preferable, it’s important to stress the fit of both options.
Optional Short-Answer Questions: Before we get to the actual questions, let’s include an important note from Stanford.
What do we mean by “optional”? We truly mean you have the opportunity to choose. In evaluating your application, we want to know about who you are, what you have done, and how your background may have influenced your experiences. If you feel that you’ve already addressed these questions well in other areas of the application, congratulations, you’re done! If not, feel free to use this opportunity to tell us more by answering one or both questions.
The most important take away from these instructions is the call to self-reflection. Take the time to review and analyze your profile, as well as the stories you’ve chosen to convey in your essays, in order to identify whether you’ve hit the right notes (or compensated for the wrong ones) vis-a-vis what Stanford is looking for from someone like you.
Optional Short-Answer 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?
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)
This essay drives at one of the points that Stanford greatly prides itself on: making a difference. The applicants that GSB wants to recruit should ideally have that same desire. And what better way to illustrate the drive to make an impact than by showing examples in your history where you have done so positively?
When beginning, it’s best not to jump straight into answering this question, but rather to reflect on all the various instances in your life when you’re actions or presence has led to a significant change. Keep in mind that, in this case, significant could be something very personal to you or others. Because of that fact, most times, you don’t want to focus solely on professional activities, as you’ll risk seeming overly work-oriented or, even worse, you may seem to be simply rewriting your CV. Taking into consideration the human aspect is vital in this essay.
Once you have a list of possibilities, choose those that complement your application and reflect Stanford’s culture best. With 250 words per experience, you still have the space to bring pathos and color into your stories, but you’ll need to use it sparingly.
Optional Short-Answer Question 2: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.
We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. We are interested in how your background may have influenced your life experiences. In answering this question, consider how your background, such as your work, education, skills, interests, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, where/how you grew up, and/or other factors, had an impact on your recent actions and choices. How did one specific aspect of your background influence whether or how you participated in a situation, interaction, or project? (Up to 1,100 characters, or approximately 180 words)
Stanford is well known to look for candidates who have either overcome difficult circumstances or helped others to do so. As you consider potential answers to this prompt, it would be ideal to zero-in on those that somehow incorporate one or both parts of this formula, especially if you did not have the opportunity to include a story with a similar theme in one of your previous answers.
If you don’t have those kind of examples available, this question could potentially be used to address a cross-cultural situation, whether at work or beyond, or for a ‘fish out of water’ story. However, keep in mind that, as this question is optional, you need to be sure that the additional story is a positive addition to your entire application. If it’s only somewhat interesting, generic or simply boasting, it’s better to leave this space blank.
Stanford’s essay length instructions:
Your answers for both essay questions combined may not exceed 1,150 words (1,200 words if you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs).
Essay A 750
Essay B 400
Essay B (if applying to both the MBA and MSx programs) 450
As the MBA with the lowest acceptance rate, Stanford GSB will require you to adapt a powerful admissions strategy. So, don’t miss out on the opportunity to talk with our Stanford Admissions Experts.