Stanford GSB released their essay topics for aspiring 2022 MBA applicants (for deadlines head here). The essay topics remain unchanged, and Stanford has kept the optional essay section that appeared last year, though word counts for both have changed slightly. Below, we’ll help you tackle each.

While the two main prompts may appear to be simple, they are commonly considered some of the most challenging application questions among top MBAs. Before you tackle them, be sure to first dig into Stanford’s MBA program since one of the keys to succeeding with their essays is to understand what Stanford GSB can offer you and how you would fit into its community.


Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?

  • 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?

Here, Stanford wants to understand your most central passion. While it’s easy to rush to develop an answer that focuses on your career, try to avoid this at all costs. Whether it’s related to your personal activities, occupation or a long-term goal is of secondary importance.

Commonly, applicants are unsure what their essay’s ‘it’ might be. If that’s your case, think of how you can discover it. Try keeping a list of ideas that trigger strong positive or negative emotional responses from you. Reflect on any major changes in your life. What deep-rooted concepts drove these changes? You might even draw inspiration by auditing your library. What topics are you most consistently attracted to?

Once you’ve zeroed in on what matters most, concentrate on the why. Stanford loves storytellers, especially ones who develop intelligent and vulnerable narratives. So don’t hesitate to use vivid examples or dialogue to connect with your reader. If you’re not sure which stories to choose, replay them in your mind to see whether they elicit a strong response in you.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

  • 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.

When answering the why Stanford question, first explain the reason behind your desire to pursue an MBA. To do so, concentrate on a career path that would be impactful to you while remaining attainable. Stanford wants dreamers who understand how to navigate the “real world” and know how to accomplish their goals within it.

Once you’ve figured out what you’re aiming for post-MBA, research how Stanford will help you get there. This section should be full of concrete examples. Mention courses, professors, cultural or any other aspects of Stanford’s program – concrete examples that connect unique Stanford attributes to the unique needs that you have for attending Stanford. If you remain too general in your statements, Stanford might only deduce one of two options: that you either don’t know what you’ll truly need to accomplish your goal, or you that don’t care to learn what makes Stanford’s offer unique.

Lastly, if you are going to apply to both Stanford’s MBA and MSx programs, use the extra space available in the essay to show how both programs would strongly meet your requirements. While one might be preferable, 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 take away from these instructions should be Stanford’s call to self-reflection. Take time to consider your profile, as well as the stories you’ve chosen to share in your essays, in order to identify whether you’ve hit the right notes (or compensated for the wrong ones) with regards to 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 hits one point that Stanford greatly prides itself on: making a difference. Ideal GSB applicants should have that same desire. And what better way to illustrate your drive to create impact than by showing examples when you have done so?

To begin, it’s best to first reflect on the various instances in your life when your actions or presence has led to a significant change. Keep in mind that, in this case, significant could be something very personal. Most times, you won’t want to focus on professional activities, as you’ll risk seeming overly work-oriented or, even worse, could lead to simply rewriting your CV. Focusing on the human aspect of examples is vital for this question.

Once you thought of possibilities, choose options that complement your application and best reflect Stanford’s culture. With 250 words per example, you will have space to bring pathos and color into your stories, but you’ll need to use it wisely.

Optional Short-Answer Question 2: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project.

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 (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words).

Stanford is known to chose candidates who have either overcome difficult circumstances or have helped others do so. While considering this prompt, it would be best to first zero-in on examples from your past experiences that manage to incorporate one or both parts of this formula, especially if you did get the chance to include a story with a similar theme in the rest of your application.

If you don’t have any examples available, this question could alternatively be used to address a cross-cultural situation at work or beyond, or a ‘fish out of water’ story. Just keep in mind that, since this question is optional, it’s only worth adding a story that is a positive addition to your application. If it’s forced, generic or could come across as boasting, it may be best to leave this space blank.

Stanford’s essay length instructions:

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. 


As the MBA with the lowest acceptance rate, Stanford GSB will require you to adapt a powerful admissions strategy. Don’t miss the opportunity to talk with our Stanford Admissions Experts!

Published On: September 17th, 2021 / Categories: Essay, MBA, Stanford / Tags: , , /