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.
Last year, Stanford GSB also added optional short answer questions to its application. And it added another one this year.
In a recent webinar with Kirsten Moss, she emphasized that the optional essays are truly optional. Stanford last year admitted students who wrote the optional essays and those who did not. You’ll see that sentiment echoed in GSB’s instruction. I definitely believe that Stanford intends them to be genuinely optional.
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.
Stanford GSB 2020-21 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?
This superficially straightforward question has been Stanford’s first for at least the last seventeen years, but it is actually one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult MBA essay question to answer. Superficial responses will fail. The prompt demands introspection. Before you put finger to keyboard or pen to paper, really reflect on what you value, how you have acted upon those principles, and why you live by them. Stanford’s advice urges reflection. The question requires it.
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 showed, especially in Essay A, that they do not turn away when they see a problem or need for action. They grab the initiative when faced with an opportunity to contribute. They are comfortable expressing emotion and their values, and their actions reflect both, but particularly the latter. Think purpose-driven, principled lives and leadership.
More than anything else, initiative and self-awareness characterize the successful Stanford MBA applicant. 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.
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.
Now that question is succinct, and really says what they want to know.
Two pieces of information are required to answer this question well: A clear MBA goal and an in-depth understanding of Stanford GSB’s curriculum. (Folks: It’s not just the ranking, brand, or location.)
This question is a variation of a standard MBA goals question. For this forward-looking question, discuss why you want an MBA. The best way to do so is in terms of your desired post-MBA professional direction. Then explain how specifically Stanford’s highly customizable program will help you travel down that path.
Do your homework. You need to know what are the distinctive characteristics of the Stanford MBA program, or you simply can’t answer the question. Understand the flexibility inherent in Stanford’s curriculum, its integrated approach to management education, its entrepreneurial culture, and how all these elements (and others) will help you learn what you need to know to realize your aspirations. Recognize that the curriculum allows for personalization based on your goal and your past experience, specifically your previous business education.
Please do NOT write that you want to attend Stanford because of “the flexibility inherent in Stanford’s curriculum, its integrated approach to management, its entrepreneurial culture….” That phrasing is too general for your specific reasons (and besides the Stanford adcom can google the phrase if they see it too often and see that you found it here). Go deeper and be more distinctive in your writing so that you really tie your goals to different facets of Stanford’s MBA program.
Both essays combined may not exceed 1,050 words. We recommend up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B. We often find effective essays that are written in fewer words.
- Number all pages
- Upload one document that includes both essays
Be sure to save a copy of your essays, and preview the uploaded document to ensure that the formatting is preserved.
Stanford MBA optional short-answer questions
In this section, we provide an optional opportunity for you to discuss some of your contributions and background more fully. What do we mean by “optional”? We truly mean you have the opportunity to choose. In evaluating your application, we want to know about who you are, what you have done, and how your background may have influenced your experiences. If you feel that you’ve already addressed these questions well in other areas of the application, congratulations, you’re done! If not, feel free to use this opportunity to tell us more by answering one or both questions.
Optional short-answer question #1
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?
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)
I think this question gets to the heart of the initiative, impact, and leadership we’ve seen in successful Stanford applicants. It gives you more opportunity to show those times when you’ve made a difference.
While the question is optional, Stanford wants people of impact. Show the Stanford GSB that you are that kind of person. All the essays should lead Stanford to that conclusion.
Using a CAR approach with each example would be very effective for these short responses:
Challenge: What was the situation or issue you were addressing?
Action: What did you do?
Result: What was the impact of your actions on you and others and why does it matter?
Given the character limit, you clearly need to be concise.
Optional short-answer question #2
Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.
We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. We are interested in how your background may have influenced your life experiences. In answering this question, consider how your background, such as your work, education, skills, interests, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, where/how you grew up, and/or other factors, had an impact on your recent actions and choices. How did one specific aspect of your background influence whether or how you participated in a situation, interaction, or project? (Up to 1,100 characters, or approximately 180 words)
This question is about your identity. It’s about getting to know you and what motivates you. How has that identity, that core of who you are, that core of most significant influences and experiences expressed in your recent actions.
There are so many ways to approach this question, but you have so little room. You can start with “the time” you want to discuss. Briefly tell that story, and then discuss how your background influenced your behavior. Alternatively, you could start with the element of your identity you want to discuss and move the story forward to the recent experience.
However you structure your response, your experience could show you mentoring someone else, taking initiative, creating something, or doing a myriad of other things. However “the time” has to be in the last three years and it has to have affected your behavior in a way that reflects your identity.
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 2020-21 MBA application deadlines
Round Application Deadline Decisions Released
1 September 15, 2020 December 10, 2020
2 January 6, 2021 April 1, 2021
3 April 6, 2021 May 20, 2021
***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!