What are the qualities that Stanford GSB is looking for as they build their class? How do successful applicants stand out from the crowd? At a school as competitive as Stanford, it’s a fact that many smart, accomplished applicants won’t get in—so how can you demonstrate that you have that “it” factor? Let us walk you through Stanford’s evaluation criteria and give you some advice.
In an MBA essay on a meaningful personal experience:
• Applicant A describes his ascent of Machu Picchu; we learn that it was awe-inspiring, challenging, required excellent teamwork, and that he was moved on a deep level.
• Applicant B takes us on a walk around her block. We learn about the struggles of her neighbors in the face of gentrification and her mixed feelings as one of the gentrifiers; how she informally refereed an argument among residents about the stop-and-frisk policy; the diversity of canine life on the block and the particular friendship between her pug and a neighbor’s Rottweiler.
We conclude from these essays that Applicant A spends a lot of money on personal fulfillment, lacks imagination, relies on banalities, and relishes physical challenges; and that Applicant B is alive to the richness of daily life, addresses ambiguity head-on, has humor, is compassionate, is attentive and alert, and cares about meaningful issues.
Point: Our personal qualities flow from and mirror our character. And when it comes to personal qualities, be assured, Stanford will prefer those of Applicant B – even though Applicant A’s topic is superficially more dramatic – because of the quality of character they reflect. There’s not anything different or mind-blowing about Applicant B’s personal qualities – they simply represent an engaged, thoughtful person. And there’s nothing wrong with climbing Machu Picchu – but it’s not the fact of doing it that will impress; rather, what you have to say about it, arising from your personal qualities and reflecting your unique perspective that will catch the thoughtful admissions reader’s eye.
• Don’t struggle and strain for “unique” things to say.
• Rather, for Stanford, share your life. Open it up, let it dance or swagger or sashay or skip or march or cartwheel, whatever your style is.
Now the contribution part. Because Applicant B is attentive to and cares about her surroundings, she can respond and contribute to the daily life of her neighborhood. Again, nothing particularly dramatic or unique; mainly interactions with neighbors. But they’re quality interactions. She cares. She has specific questions and concerns and feelings and insights – which become her offering. She can bring this abundance, this world, this humanity “to the table.” You just know this person will be a big contributor wherever she is. She doesn’t have to explain that fact – it’s obvious! Follow her example. Let your personal qualities come alive by sharing what’s meaningful to you in your essays (and elsewhere if/as possible in the application). Don’t explain that you will contribute; show that you do contribute, as a result of these qualities. It’s simply who you are.
Check out the rest of the What Stanford GSB is Looking For series!
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted. She can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and develop a winning MBA admissions strategy. She is a member of the Association of International Graduate Application Consultants.