Stanford GSB MBA Essay Analysis – 2012-2013

Stanford GSB is generally somewhat unique in its essay questions.  They genuinely attempt to get to know your personality and interests to see what makes you tick.  In essay 1, almost like a law school personal statement, they want to know what matters most to you and why.  In essay 2, they want to dig into your passion and interest in Stanford GSB.  To round out the essays, they have a series of behavioral essay questions to choose from for you to further discuss your leadership characteristics and personality.  Since these essays are so open-ended, they can be the toughest to write.  Spend time thinking about what you want to say and then attack the questions.  We recommend putting together an outline prior to writing the essays, so you will have a roadmap for success.

Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why? (Suggested 750 words)

There are some suggestions on the website that mention thinking about the core values and experiences that have led you to where you are today.  Make sure you are specific and address the foundation of your personality, drive, and outlook; don’t just talk about your accomplishments.  This essay should be about who you are, so it should take on your personality and tone.  Once you’re done with a solid draft, you should have your friends and family members read the essay and see if they believe that it captures the essence of your personality and value system.

Admit Advantage: Force yourself to think about the 3-4 values that matter most to you and choose one (or more).  Ideally, you will have stories behind how you developed your life passions and interests (religious upbringing, work or childhood experience, learned from being on your own, etc.).  Think about what is really important to you.  They want to understand what gets you up in the morning (and keeps you up at night).  This essay SHOULD be a bit difficult for you to think through and write well.

Admit Advantage: I once participated in leadership training where I had to map out my life on a chart and plot the various events that shaped who I was (marriage, kids, death of a loved one, personal illness, entrepreneurial experience, etc.).  I will never forget that training because it really made me reflect on my life.  That “life plot” could be a tool you use to help with your planning for the essay (For those interested, I believe my x-axis was time and y-axis was happiness – btw, my slope went negative after marriage – Just kidding, honey).

Essay 2: What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford? (Suggested 450 words)

This is a ST/LT goal question combined with the yStanford.  Frankly, the short-term and long-term goal articulation naturally ties into the why Stanford GSB question because Stanford’s MBA should (theoretically) help you achieve your career goals.  We are certain to get the question, “do they REALLY, want to know what I REALLY want to do?”  The answer is YES (or they wouldn’t have put it in CAPS).  REALLY think about it and include your true career passion and interests.  Enough CAPS for now—REALLY.

Admit Advantage: If you want to be a banker and then transition into private equity, fine, but is that what you really want to do, or is that because you haven’t done much soul searching and that sounds like a good story.  Ask yourself, why do you want to do what you are saying?  Have you thought about how your career will play out?  If not, don’t start writing yet.  Make sure to address how Stanford will support your efforts to achieve these life goals.

Admit Advantage: This question doesn’t limit you to career goals.  Leadership is all about impact, so make sure to include any non-career goals that you may be interested in (i.e. building a school in your home country) if that is part of what you “want to do”.

Admit Advantage: Think big.  It’s hard to admit a candidate who has aspirations to work their way up the corporate ladder and eventually be seven steps from the CEO.  That might be what happens, but I wouldn’t suggest writing it.

Essay 3 (400 word guideline): Pick 1 of the next 3.  Tell us what, how the outcome, and how people react (last 3 years).

Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

Admit Advantage: This is a great opportunity to show your management and leadership skills.  Make sure to provide specific examples of how you inspired the team to exceed expectations (numbers are welcome).  If you’ve never worked as a manager, but have an example of inspiring a team to outperform, use it!  Don’t let the team’s performance get lost in your specific contribution to the team.  Finally, make sure it is within 3 years and try to get your recommender to provide third party confirmation of your team’s success.

Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.

Admit Advantage: This is clearly a question on legacy.  Think about a time when you’ve implemented something that has made (and will make) an impression on an organization for years to come.  Remember, they are looking for an example of something you did that made a real and lasting impact on the organization.

Admit Advantage: If you are using a recommender that worked at this organization, you certainly want to mention to them to provide their comments around this specific impact.  It will tie nicely into your essay here and provide third party support of your legacy.

Option C: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined or established.

Admit Advantage: One way to look at this question is to discuss a time when you exceeded expectations; another is to outline a time when you went in a different direction from the establishment (think teenager).  Either way, make sure you clearly establish the standard, what you did that was beyond the standard, and why you did it.  The choice of essay topic is important as it gives an indication of what is important to you.

If there is any other information that is critical for us to know and is not captured elsewhere, please include it. Examples of pertinent additional information include:

  • Extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
  • Explanation of why you do not have a Letter of Reference from your current direct supervisor or peer
  • Explanation of criminal conviction, criminal charges sustained against you in a juvenile proceeding, and/or court-supervised probation
  • Explanation of academic suspension or expulsion
  • Any other information that you did not have sufficient space to complete in another section of the application (please begin the information in the appropriate section)
  • Additional work experience that cannot fit into the space provided
  • Additional information about your academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere

This essay is self-explanatory, but gives you a good set of themes for Stanford and other schools’ optional essays.  Again, if you don’t have anything to address outside of your core essays, don’t feel obligated to do so.  This essay usually formulates in one of two ways: 1) a weakness essay or 2) an area of strength/perseverance that you couldn’t fit in one of the other essays.  If you have a gaping hole (i.e. GPA, GMAT, long layoff, etc.), here is your opportunity to address it.  If you have a special talent or circumstance, go for it!  Keep in mind that this specifically asks for content that could not be addressed in the rest of the application.

Admit Advantage: Use your best judgment.  If you are a 710 GMAT (Stanford’s median GMAT is 730) and have good credentials otherwise, you probably don’t have to write about a low GMAT score.  Don’t feel compelled to write an essay here if you don’t need to andt don’t exceed the word limit.

Admit Advantage: Watch the tone of this essay.  Don’t apologize and rant about how life is hard (frankly, MBA admissions committee members have heard it all and don’t care too much).  Address the issue, talk about your mitigants and feel free to stop writing.

Admit Advantage: Don’t be afraid to talk about a positive characteristic that you couldn’t fit elsewhere.  If you’ve done the work upfront and identified what you want to say, you should know what you didn’t get the opportunity to highlight in the previous essays.  Do it here.

1 Comment

  1. Jens Kosman
    July 14, 2012

    This is great information, thank you.


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