In terms of its application, Stanford is once again re-using its essay questions. And there’s good reason for the recycling: Stanford has excellent questions that succinctly get to the heart of what Stanford wants to know about you. They are not easy questions to answer, but they are thoughtful, probing ones.
You should write the optional essays if you have experiences not presented in the required essays, that address the optional questions and that will reinforce the portrayal of you as a change agent and consequential member of your community, however you define that community. And most of us are members of multiple communities.
If you have nothing to add, write nothing. However, I suspect most applicants will benefit by responding to the optional questions. Give GSB more reasons to admit you.
Stanford gives a lot of advice and guidance on its website as to what it’s looking for in the essays. You should access that advice in addition to reviewing my suggestions below.
In this post:
- Stanford GSB 2023-2024 MBA application essay questions
- Stanford GSB 2023-2024 deadlines
- Stanford MBA Class of 2024 profile
- More resources for Stanford GSB applicants
Stanford GSB 2023-24 MBA application essay questions
Essays help us learn about who you are rather than solely what you have done.
Other parts of the application give insight to your academic and professional accomplishments; the essays reveal the person behind those achievements.
We request that you write two personal essays.
In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, aims, and dreams. There is no “right answer” to these questions—the best answer is the one that is truest for you.
Stanford MBA Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?
The Stanford GSB’s tried and true essay question “What matters most to you and why?” is one of the most challenging MBA application prompts to respond to (so start early). Unlike most MBA essays, Stanford’s is not about describing your accomplishments, even if “achievement” is what you value most. It is not about highlighting your career, even if “ambition” matters most to you. It is not about revealing your “humble beginnings,” even if your childhood is the stuff about which memoirs are written. The school’s primary essay is about what you value most and, more importantly, why it matters most to you. It requires a level of maturity and introspection that only such a question can demand. It gives Stanford insights into who you are and what you can bring to the GSB beyond your academic background, professional accomplishments, and personal attributes.
So where do you start? Start with the “what.” Ask yourself, “For what would I walk over hot coals?” Still stuck? Review lists of values that resonate with you. Is it peace, relationships, health, creativity, compassion, expression? The lists go on and on, and you should not worry about being cliché with your “what” because your why will be unique to you and how you have lived your life.
Moreover, you can choose something symbolic to help you tell your story. I often talk about a ring my mother gave me. The ring is precious to me because of what it represents and how it motivated me to make the choices that I have made. It is a symbol of an unbreakable mother-daughter bond.
Where do you go after identifying your “what matters most”? Remember that your “why” is more important than your “what.” You need to explain why the values you highlight are essential to you. The best way to illustrate your “why” is by providing specific examples of how the values have shaped your life. Refrain from offering career examples because you can state your achievements in the optional “impact” essays, your resume, and the application form. You recommenders should be writing about your career achievements as well. If your values only motivate you for work, then these values are likely ones that don’t truly matter most to you, despite your spending 60-100 hours per week working.
- State the value that matters most to you.
- Explain why this value is essential to you.
- Provide specific examples (anecdotes) that illustrate how the value has shaped your life.
- Discuss how your value has influenced your decisions and actions.
- Explain why you are better off by having this value drive you.
The essay requires a level of honesty and authenticity that few others demand. Be specific and concise. The admissions committee wants to get to know the real you, so don’t be afraid to share your personal stories and experiences.
Stanford MBA Essay B: Why Stanford?
Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
Two words pack quite a punch: why Stanford, indeed? As you approach this essay, consider the following.
Stanford values intellectually curious individuals who can solve problems, see beyond the obvious, and connect the dots. Therefore, I suggest you begin your essay with what you hope to achieve after you graduate from the Stanford GSB. Don’t think about a role as you might with other post-MBA goals essays. Instead, consider the problems you want to solve at the organizations for which you hope to work in the future. It does not matter if you are considering an MBB consultancy, a giant Fortune 100 behemoth, a small start-up, a large private equity firm, a midsize family business, or a nonprofit organization. Focus on identifying the problems you can solve with your current skill set and the knowledge you will gain at Stanford.
Next, address the crux of the essay: Why Stanford? Note that the question is not “Why the GSB?” It is “Why Stanford?” While you want most of your essay to be about how the GSB can help you achieve your aspirations, consider how other parts of Stanford can add value to your education. And please don’t state the obvious. Resist the temptation to lift your information directly from the program’s website. The admissions committee already knows that the school’s location is perfect for entrepreneurship, tech, and venture capital. They already know they are highly selective and, therefore, highly ranked. They already know the Stanford brand resonates worldwide – they communicated all this to you in their marketing materials. Instead, think about the resources, opportunities, and community Stanford can offer you that will enable you to reach your unique goals. Why does this program make sense for you?
Finally, you will want to discuss how you will contribute to the Stanford GSB community. How will you make a difference at Stanford? What unique skills and experiences do you bring to the table? Why will your peers benefit from having you as a member of their class?
With only 1,050 words to use for Essay A (What matters most?) and B (Why Stanford?) together, you need to understand yourself, your goals, what Stanford offers, and your unique value proposition to the Stanford community before tackling this essay.
If there is any information that is critical for us to know and is not captured elsewhere, include it in the “Additional Information” section of the application. Pertinent examples include:
- Extenuating circumstances affecting your candidacy, including academic, work, or test-taking experiences
- Academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere
Additional information “essays” exist so that you don’t have to make the admissions committee guess what happened if you have something unusual or confusing in your profile, such as the following:
- You had terrible grades your first year of university when your parent became ill, and you flew back and forth to care for your parent, or you worked 30 hours a week to make ends meet.
- You received a subpar GMAT or GRE score because you are not a great test-taker and can prove it with your inadequate ACT or SAT score and a 4.0 GPA or because you were initially premed and realized after volunteering at a hospital that medicine was not your thing.
- You did not ask an immediate supervisor to recommend you because you have only been with the company for a short time, and they do not know you well, or because doing so could lead to losing your job.
Stanford also suggests that you use this section to discuss any academic research because they do not want to see it on your one-page resume.
Additional information does not mean you should add an essay you wrote for another school. Feel free to bullet your reasons, making the section easier to read. If you have many bullets, you might have too many excuses, and many schools, including Stanford, could be a long shot for you.
Stanford MBA optional short-answer questions
In this section, we provide an optional opportunity for you to discuss some of your contributions more fully.
What do we mean by “optional”? We truly mean you have the opportunity to choose. If you feel that you’ve already described your contributions well in other areas of the application, congratulations, you’re done! If not, feel free to use this opportunity to tell us more.
Optional short-answer question
In the Essays section of the application, we ask you to tell us about who you are and how you think Stanford will help you achieve your aspirations. We are also interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you. If you would like to go beyond your resume to discuss some of your contributions more fully, you are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words, for each example)
Question: Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others?
Why does Stanford have optional essays? The school offers these impact essays because too many applicants tried to squeeze their accomplishments into their “what matters most” essay. If you are tempted to write about your achievements in your “what matters most” essay, stop. Then, cut and paste that information here instead. Now you have a space where you can highlight activities and describe your impact on work, extracurriculars, community service, family, or anything else.
The best approach to writing an impact essay is to use CAR or STAR with an added Sig (significance) framework. Select each impact to show some variety in your life (in other words, don’t draw all three examples from your daily work).
C = Challenge (What challenge did you face?)
A = Action (How did you address the challenge? What specific steps did you take?)
R = Result (What was the outcome? Quantify the outcome, if possible. Did you increase revenues? Did you decrease costs? Did you increase membership? Did you minimize the danger? If so, by how much?)
Sig = Significance (Why was this important to you? What did it mean for others in your life?)
S = Situation (What background must you describe for the reader to understand your example?)
T = Task (What was your goal?)
A = Action (What steps did you take to achieve your goal?)
R = Result (What was the outcome? Did you achieve the goal? Did you surpass the goal. If so, by how much?)
Sig = Significance (Why was this important to you? What did it mean for others in your life?)
These frameworks will work for any behavioral question that an admissions committee or interviewer will ask you. They will help you stay on point, so use them. Finally, be succinct because the 1,200-character allotment includes spaces.
Personal Information, Activities and Awards: Optional question
In this section, we provide an optional opportunity for you to discuss your background more fully and how it has shaped your perspective.
We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. Please feel free to elaborate on how your background or life experiences have helped shape your recent actions or choices- (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words).
Some applicants miss this question because Stanford tucks it under the personal information section. Reflect on all those drop-downs you clicked on, and consider this the bookend to Essay A. In essay A, you discussed what matters most and why your values are what they are. For this essay, you need to consider how your identity, diversity, and uniqueness motivate your actions. Consider cultural upbringing, education, abilities, and life experiences. How have these factors influenced how you view the world? This question is about your identity. How has that identity – that core of who you are, that core of most significant influences and experiences – expressed itself in your recent actions? It’s about helping the admissions committee get to know you and what motivates you.
Given the meager 1,200-character limit, select one factor that drives your decisions. Then describe the subsequent action. Your action is the evidence to support how and why that factor motivates you. For example, my own life was heavily influenced by being the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student. It drove the overachiever in me. That background influences every action I take, from preparing clients for their GSB interview to advocating for the rights of disabled and infirm people. That identity is how I tell my story. Now, how will you tell yours?
Stanford GSB at a glance
- Stanford GSB average GMAT score: 738
- Stanford GSB average GPA: 3.78
- Stanford GSB acceptance rate: 6.2%
- U.S. News ranked the Stanford GSB #3 in 2023
For expert guidance with your Stanford GSB MBA application, check out Accepted’s MBA Application Packages, which include comprehensive guidance from an experienced admissions consultant. We’ve helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to Stanford’s MBA program and look forward to helping you too!
Stanford GSB 2022-23 MBA application timeline
|September 12, 2023
|December 7, 2023
|January 4, 2024
|March 28, 2024
|April 9, 2024
|May 23, 2024
Your completed application, including your and application fee payment, is due at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time on the deadline date for the round in which you apply.
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with the Stanford GSB to verify the essay questions, instructions, and deadlines.***
Stanford MBA Class of 2024 Profile
Here’s a look at the Stanford Class of 2024, taken from the Stanford Graduate School of Business website:
New students: 424
US students of color: 51%
International students: 37%
Countries represented: 56
Languages spoken: 71
U.S. students and permanent residents
|American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander
|Asian (including Indian subcontinent and Philippines)
|Black/African-American (including Africa and Caribbean)
|White (including Middle Eastern)
|Declined to identify race and ethnic background
Undergraduate field of study
|Business & Commerce
|Math & Sciences
|Arts & Humanities
Average GPA: 3.76
First generation in their family to graduate from a four-year college or university: 12%
Hold advanced degrees: 13%
US institutions: 83
Non-US institutions: 79
Average years work experience: 4.9
|Investment Management, PE & VC
|Government, Education & Nonprofit
|Consumer Products & Services
|Arts, Media & Entertainment
|Clean Tech, Energy & Environmental
Organizations represented: 285
- Average score: 737
- GMAT score range: 630-790
- Average Verbal score: 164
- Verbal score range: 149-170
- Average Quantitative score: 163
- Quantitative score range: 150-170
- Average score: 113
- Score range: 106-119
*Some students submitted both GMAT and GRE scores.
More resources for GSB applicants
Not sure that Stanford is the place for you? If you are in the research stage, these resources can help guide you:
- How to Demonstrate Impact in Your Application to Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton
- M7 MBA Programs: Everything You Need to Know
- Which MBA Program is Right for Me? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an MBA Program
To hear about life at Stanford GSB from the mouths of real students, listen to these podcast interviews:
- Transitioning from the Military to an MBA at Stanford GSB – podcast Episode 471
- Stanford MBA Discusses Coffee Chats – podcast Episode 437
- What These Seasoned Startup Founders Have Done Since Earning Their Stanford MBAs – podcast Episode 382
- A Stanford MBA with a Passion for Both Business and Humanities – podcast Episode 377
- Stanford MBA Grows His Amazing Tech Startup – podcast Episode 369
Have you decided that Stanford GSB is your top choice? The road to acceptance isn’t easy, but check out the following links for pro tips on crafting your stand-out GSB application:
- What Does It Take to Get Into Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton?, a YouTube video
- Why MBA?, a free guide to writing about your MBA goals
- What Stanford GSB is Looking For: Intellectual Vitality
- Stanford GSB’s Take on Demonstrated Leadership Potential
- Understanding Stanford GSB’s Interest in Personal Qualities and Contributions
Our team of MBA admissions experts includes former admissions directors, published authors, and highly experienced business school admissions consultants. And we are all primed and ready to help you secure a seat at your dream school, just as we have done for thousands of clients for the past 25 years. Schedule your free consultation and speak to an expert admissions consultant.
By Natalie Grinblatt, the former admissions dean/director at three top business schools. Natalie has reviewed more than 70,000 applications, interviewed more than 2,500 candidates, and trained nearly 700 admissions directors and alumni volunteers to select outstanding candidates for admission. Her clients gain admission to top programs, including those at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, and NYU. Natalie holds an MBA from Michigan Ross. Want Natalie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!