How to write a Stanford Essay

Read on for tips on how to write your Stanford MBA application essay

The Stanford Graduate School of Business, or Stanford GSB, is located on the eastern side of Stanford University’s campus in Palo Alto, California. Stanford’s MBA program is known for its small size, which creates an intimate academic setting. Due in part to its close proximity to Silicon Valley, the school is also well recognized for its strengths in entrepreneurship and the high-tech industry. The MBA program places a noted focus on fostering positive change, as evidenced by its motto, “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.”

Stanford GSB admissions has hired Kirsten Moss as the new assistant dean of admissions to replace Derrick Bolton.Despite this change in leadership at Stanford GSB admissions, there will not be much changes made to the Stanford GSB application this year. The essays and recommendations will remain the same from the 2016-2017 application cycle.

Admission to Stanford GSB’s MBA program is highly competitive—8,116 MBA hopefuls applied to the Class of 2018, and the school admitted slightly over 6% of these applicants. The average GMAT score among the 417 students enrolled in this class is 737, though scores ranged from 590 to 790. The overall GPA for the class averaged 3.73.

Here, IMS helps you crack the code for creating a successful Stanford Graduate School of Business application for the 2018 intake:

Stanford Essay #1: What matters most to you and why?

This is the classic Stanford GSB essay question. If you want to enter into the MBA Class of 2020, you will need to find your answer to it.The first essay question is famous in the MBA world as both particularly insightful and particularly tough to answer. Stanford GSB suggests using the majority of your word total – about 750 words – to answer this question. That alone should indicate the importance of the question. In our experience, the best answers to this question come from both the heart and the head. The two combined will allow you to tell your story about what matters most. To effectively answer this prompt:

Commit time to self-reflection: In sharing tips for this essay, Stanford GSB admissions officials repeatedly emphasize writing from the heart after deep self-examination.

Stanford GSB’s  previous admissions Director, Derrick Bolton had this to say about this prompt: “In the first essay, tell a story—and tell a story that only you can tell.This essay should be descriptive and told in a straightforward and sincere way. This probably sounds strange, since these are essays for business school, but we don’t expect to hear about your business experience in this essay (though, of course, you are free to write about whatever you would like).Remember that we have your entire application—work history, letters of reference, short-answer responses, etc.—to learn what you have accomplished and the type of impact you have made. Your task in this first essay is to connect the people, situations, and events in your life with the values you adhere to and the choices you have made. This essay gives you a terrific opportunity to learn about yourself!Many good essays describe the “what,” but great essays move to the next order and describe how and why these “whats” have influenced your life.The most common mistake applicants make is spending too much time describing the “what” and not enough time describing how and why these guiding forces have shaped your behavior, attitudes, and objectives in your personal and professional lives.”

Do not skimp on the self-examination portion. Before you type a word of your essay, you should spend a lot of time thinking carefully about the question, perhaps journaling or just taking a walk to think about what really matters most to you.

If you put in the time and self-reflect before you start writing, the actual task of writing will become much easier and your essay will be much more powerful. Begin with with no fixed assumptions about what Stanford wants here. One of the easiest ways to write a bad version of Essay 1 is to have a theme that does not directly relate to your actual experience: Round pegs do not fit into square holes.  No one is reducible to a core single concept, a single motivation, or any other sort of singularity, but certain things do make each of us tick. Beyond the most basic things of survival, what motivates you? What do you live for? What do you care about? How do you relate to other people? Are you driven by a particular idea or issue? Where do you find meaning? Once you think you have identified that essential thing that matters most to you, begin analyzing it. What is its source? WHY does it remain important to you? How? How does it relate to the career aspirations you discuss in the second essay.

“Focus on the why”: On their website, Stanford GSB explicitly says that applicants should “focus on the why rather than the what”. They want to hear what matters most to you, but more than that, they want to hear why you believe that and how that topic has shaped you.

It is tempting to spend several paragraphs introducing your topic and sharing stories. After all, you are writing about something that (hopefully) you love to talk about. Doing so, however, would leave you little room to discuss “why”. Instead, introduce your topic with one powerful illustration or statement, and then move directly into explaining how it has shaped you.

Be genuine: Do not tell the admissions committee what you think they want to hear. Sincerely tell them what matters most to you, even if you feel like that your answer is not that of a “typical MBA”. If you genuinely share what you love, that passion will shine through and impress the committee.

Stanford Essay #2 Why Stanford?

Given that Stanford wants both its essays to fit into a 1150 word count, if you have used up 750 words for the first essay, you have 400 words to make the case for why  you are prepared to not just be an MBA student, but a Stanford MBA student.

Stanford is looking for innovative change agents, so make sure that you demonstrate that in this essay. Your answer should be consistent with Stanford’s mission to “Change lives, Change organizations, Change the world.”  This really does matter.  Stanford takes 400 people a year  and is typically admitting approximately 7% of those that apply. It is a precious opportunity to go there and hence giving a spot to someone whose goals are simply mundane and not focused on impacting the wider world is not what Stanford is looking for. Whatever your objectives, you need to provide a sense that you have the capability to have wide impact in your chosen field. imply stating what your goals are and why Stanford is the best place for you to accomplish them is not exactly what you need here. Instead, you need to articulate a rationale related to why you want an MBA  that is connected to Stanford’s mission to train global leaders.

Think about how you embody these elements when tackling this essay. You should also share your decision making process. The ability to make sound, well-reasoned decisions is a crucial quality in any MBA candidate. Let admissions officials see the reasoning behind your decision and illustrate how you decided to pursue this next step in your education.

We hope these essay tips help you create an excellent Stanford application! Happy essay writing!


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