The application essays for the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) are among the more expansive and demanding of those for the top MBA programs. The GSB truly wants to get to know you. With a 650-word essay that necessitates some soul searching, 400 words on your interest in Stanford specifically, and two optional short answer submissions that allow you to reveal purpose and impact, you have plenty of opportunity to paint a more complete picture of yourself that goes well beyond grades and test scores.
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (650 words recommended)
This simply worded question often vexes applicants, but that is because many perceive that there is a “right” answer they need to provide. But Stanford is agnostic with respect to topic. For example, it is not better to write about your quest for knowledge or worse to write about your desire to have impact. What matters (those words again!) here is that you share whatever has truly been the driving force, or will be the driving force, within your life—both anecdotally and through clear personal experience. The “why” part of this question is key; dig deep and demonstrate the reasons behind your passion for whatever you say matters most to you.
The GSB admissions committee is seeking authenticity and values, but that doesn’t mean that everything needs to be sunshine. You can show that your values evolved through a failure or by finding inspiration through others’ examples. Feel free to be vulnerable in this essay—to the extent that if you left it in the printer at work, you might feel a little embarrassed or exposed if a colleague were to find it.
We often think of this essay as having three distinct sections where a theme first emerges, then manifests through experience, and finally matures and is validated. It isn’t complete heresy to write “What matters most to me is…” at some point in your essay, but it is often unnecessary because the reader should fundamentally understand the point of your piece without those words being written. Either way, make sure your theme is very clear to the reader.
Essay B: Why Stanford? (400 words recommended)
Unlike many business schools, the GSB notably doesn’t explicitly pose the conventional “What are your goals?” question along with its “Why us?” prompt; it just asks, “Why Stanford?” However, we still think that many applicants can benefit from grounding their essay in a discussion of their goals to help contextualize their “Why Stanford?” answer.
We’d like to challenge you in this essay. What if you did not write about the popular “Touchy Feely” course (“Interpersonal Dynamics”) or “Startup Garage” course? So many applicants write about these Stanford experiences! Take a step back, go beyond the program’s most popular offerings, and really dig in and share your reason for wanting to be at the Stanford GSB more than any other program.
Do your homework! Beyond just sharing a list of programs and classes, be specific about how you might take advantage of nonacademic features of the GSB and perhaps of some broader Stanford University resources. Show that you really, fundamentally understand the culture and spirit of the program. When you write this essay, don’t be afraid to go high-minded and “big picture” if that makes sense for you. Stanford doesn’t mind dreamers as long as the applicant is grounded in reality in some way. The GSB likes to think of itself as a place where people go to embrace world-changing ideas, and you can paint yourself as such as long as you do so with sincerity. Even if you are on a conventional path such as consulting or private equity, there can absolutely be a place for you at the GSB. You can present your shorter-term goal as a means of achieving your bigger, longer-term dream—or as just your big, long-term dream itself. Either way, whatever goals you share, you need to think carefully about how the GSB will be your catalyst and then “prove” that in your essay.
Optional Short Answer Questions
Optional 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? (1,200-character maximum)
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)
Do you need to provide three examples for this prompt? The answer is basically “Yes!” unless you simply don’t have three examples of impact. The goal here is for the admissions committee to get to this point in your application, read your three stories, and say, “Wow! I can’t believe how much more there is still to learn about this applicant!” Ideally, you will share three examples that all include new information about you. What hasn’t the committee learned about your personal life, community experience, professional successes, or academic triumphs elsewhere in your application? Although you might be tempted to write three generally awesome stories about yourself, don’t lose sight of the fact that you need to discuss moments when your actions had a direct impact on others.
Even in such a short submission, you still have room to share a full anecdote that provides sufficient color to make the experience “real” for the admissions reader. Do not just write, “My greatest moment of impact was when I….” That kind of writing is almost always boring and minimizes the reader’s suspense and attention. Instead, set the stage, present a moment of conflict, and then drive home that you were able to positively change the experience for the better. Demonstrate your impact!
Optional Question 2: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project. (Up to 1,200 characters)
Again, you want to ensure that the admissions reader is almost flummoxed when they read your response here: “There’s even more to this person?!” So, ask yourself (again) what the admissions committee already knows about you and try to bring balance with this mini essay. If you shared two or three significant moments from your personal life in the first optional question, maybe consider drawing from your professional life here. Show the school different aspects of yourself!
When you start writing, think about sharing the emergence of a value along with anecdotal evidence to validate that value and then the application of that value in another, more recent situation. So, hypothetically, you learned to not be a bystander when you stood up for someone you saw being harassed and have since applied this learning by speaking with clarity against actions you deem to be wrong as an auditor (provide an example!). Of course, this particular experience will not be yours; you will need to find one where a clear relationship can be demonstrated between the emergence of a value that you hold dear and its modern-day manifestation.
In Stratus Admissions’ Guide to Getting into Stanford Graduate School of Business, you will find information on a variety of the MBA program’s offerings such as the Startup Garage, Interpersonal Dynamics class, Global Management Immersion Experience, and the MBA Challenge for Charity. This free guide also includes class profile statistics and our expert advice on answering the business school’s application essay questions. Download our brand-new guide to learn more about the Stanford Graduate School of Business!