Stanford Graduate School of Business – 2013-2014 Essay Analysis

StanfordStanford 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 and how business school will help you achieve your goals.  To round out the essays, they have a set of behavioral essay questions 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.

There is a 1600 word limit on all of the essays, but Stanford GSB provides guidelines for word count for each essay.  As you think about what matters most to you, take liberties in expanding on the essay topics that are most important to you and cutting back on others, however, 1600 IS the limit.  If they thought 2000 was OK, they would’ve set a 2000 word limit – being able to follow the guidelines shows judgment.  In reality, most business leaders are asked to make persuasive arguments in correspondence far fewer than 1600 words, so you should feel quite fortunate that you have so many!


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

There are some suggestions on the website that mention self-reflection on the 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: Answer one of the three questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.

For each of the two essays, make sure to answer 1) what you did; 2) how you did it; 3) what the outcome was; and 4) how people responded.  No, a story three and one half years ago is not OK!


These are behavioral questions intended to determine examples of your leadership characteristics.  The questions (in order) ask for examples of managing teams, showing lasting impact, influencing others, and achievement.  Think of what you want to articulate to the committee and focus on those particular questions.  Good luck.


Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

Admit Advantage: 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!


Option B: Tell us about a time 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.  The best situations include times when you made a lasting impression 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 contribution.


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.


Additional Information

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.

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