This Stanford GSB MBA Application tip post is one of a series of posts providing MBA application and essay advice for applicants to top MBA programs around the world. Check out the entire 2012 MBA Application Tips series for more valuable MBA essay advice.
Stanford’s instructions and question are in black below; my comments and tips are in blue:?
Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?
This superficially straightforward question has been Stanford’s first for the last several years, and it is actually one of the most difficult , if not the most difficult MBA essay questions to answer. It demands introspection. Before you finger to keyboard or pen to paper, really reflect on what you value, how you have acted upon those principles, and why you value them.
When I reflect on our many successful Stanford clients, initiative in the face of need is the common thread among them. They are always the ones who revealed, especially in Essay A, that they do not turn away or see a problem or need for action. They grab the initiative when they recognize an opportunity to contribute. They are comfortable expressing emotion and their values, and their actions reflect both, but particularly the latter. Think purpose-driven, principle-driven lives.
More than anything else, to me initiative and self-awareness characterize the successful Stanford application. Implication: You have to know your values and those times you have acted upon them. Yes I wrote that a few seconds ago, but it bears repeating. Climbing Mt. Everest or suffering from terrible social ills is not a requirement of admission, but you do have to know the person occupying your skin.
Essay 2: What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?
Similar to last year’s and to variations that have occupied this Stanford application slot for years, this question is a variation of a standard MBA goals question . For this forward-looking question, you need to define your goals and then explain how Stanford’s program will help you attain them. Understand the flexibility inherent in Stanford’s curriculum, its integrated approach to management, and how both will help you learn what you need to know to achieve your career goals. Realize that the curriculum allows for personalization based on your goal and your past experience, specifically your previous business education. Two pieces of information are required to answer this question: A clear MBA goal and an in-depth understanding of Stanford GSB’s curriculum . (It’s not just the ranking, brand or gorgeous location, folks.)
Essay 3: Answer two of the four 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.
The first issue you must address when looking at Essay C is “Which two do you choose?”. Answer: the two that, when added to your required essays, allow you to present the most impressive, authentic, and comprehensive portrait of you. Take advantage of Stanford’s flexibility within the limits they specify below. Take advantage of the flexible word limits just as Stanford suggests. Finally, these questions are experiential , not hypothetical. They are about the past, not the future. And Stanford wants recent experiences. (High school is irrelevant.) It wants to know how you achieved, what was the response of those around you, and what was your impact. For further insight, please see “Confessions from the Director of Evaluation.”
Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
This essay, like most experiential questions, requires specifics and works well with an anecdotal response. Stanford does not want to know about all the times that you may have built or developed a team. It wants to know about “a time,” a specific incident,when your performance exceeded expectations. When did you build a team that faced challenges and succeeded? What were the expectations? What impact did your team have and how did it exceed expectations? Make sure you relate your role in its success.
Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
Use a different experience than you use in Option 1 to answer Option 2. Exploit the opportunity to show Stanford a different facet of your experience and personality. In discussing your impact, refrain from writing about leadership in general terms. Focus on the specific aspects of your contribution and its impact. Discuss what you used to garner trust, organize your group, empower them, and achieve your goal.
Option C: Tell us about a time when you generated support from others for an idea or initiative.
Use this question to present a challenge you successfully handled. A PAR approach would work well here, as well as with the other 3 questions.
Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined or established.
This is a very broad question. It reveals Stanford’s values and allows you to discuss any event when you went beyond the norm. The suggestions for the other 3 questions hold here too. Choose to respond to this question if it allows you to demonstrate the individuality and initiative that Stanford values in a setting other than those you have used earlier.
You have your own story to tell, so please allocate the 1,800 words among all of the essays in the way that is most effective for you. We provide some guidelines below as a starting point, but you should feel comfortable to write as much or as little as you like on any essay question, as long as you do not exceed 1,800 words total.
- Essay 1: 750 words
- Essay 2: 450 words
- Essay 3: 300 words each
|Round 1||12 Oct 2011*||14 Dec 2011|
|Round 2||11 Jan 2012*||28 Mar 2012|
|Round 3||04 Apr 2012*||16 May 2012|
* Applications are due by 5:00 PM, Pacific Time