Stanford Graduate School of Business pioneered the open-ended personal essay and has continued that tradition this year. “What matters most to you and why?” is a simple question that can lead you down many paths. There isn’t a specific best kind of story for this essay, rather the best essays tell a story about who you are as a person and leader.
You can use the same application for the Stanford MSx, accelerated Masters of Science in Management degree, which is a 12-month graduate program for experienced professionals. If you have more than 8 years of work experience and would like to gain all of the benefits of a Stanford GSB degree in only one year, the MSx program is an ideal choice. Unlike executive MBA programs the design is full-time and residential.
Whatever program is best for you, Stanford is a business school devoted to innovation and growth. When approaching these essays it will be useful to have spoken with Stanford students and alumni, or visited campus to understand what values the community holds.
Your answers for both essay questions combined may not exceed 1,150 words (1,200 words if you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs). Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate these words between the essays in the way that is most effective for you.
ESSAY A: WHAT MATTERS MOST TO YOU, AND WHY?
For this essay, Stanford would like you to:
• Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
• Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
• Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
• Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
This Stanford GSB MBA essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays are likely not career oriented at all) it is possible that some of your themes will continue in the next essay, which will likely focus more on your career.
Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you have developed into the person you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned and motivations. Introspection and honesty should persist through the entire set of essays.
To generate ideas, try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what values they see you demonstrating in your life and choices. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up. Review your personal history for ideas. What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life what do you admire and regret about your choices? What moments in your life have led to a change in direction? Who has impacted your choices? These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach topics for this essay.
Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide the reader with images and stories to understand your perspective. After reading hundreds of essays, the ones that have vivid and descriptive stories in them stand out the most.
Keep in mind as you select examples that Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you, rather than accomplishments or achievements. Don’t be scared of the tough moments in life – often self-awareness emerges from challenges. Whatever experiences you choose it’s very important to talk about why they made an impact on your life and your values.
Along with vivid examples, talk about how you felt, thought and reacted both at the time and as you reflected later. The “why” will come out of your reactions to your life experience or people who have influenced you, and the resulting introspection.
ESSAY B: WHY STANFORD?
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
• Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
• Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
• If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
After you have explained what is most important to you in life you need to explain why your next step is a Stanford MBA. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx, make sure you can highlight the advantages of both programs for your specific situation. Perhaps you have significant work experience but are also interested in a two-year program and therefore would be interested in either option.
The sub questions for this essay cover both why you are interested in pursuing an MBA at all, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB. Stanford GSB wants to know your aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and school research will help you determine what aspects of the academic program, community and students are crucial to your aspirations.
Be as specific as possible in your response to provide evidence that you have done your research. You should know everything about the aspects of the program that most appeal to you. Have you met current students and alumni? Who are the professors you are excited about? What are the unique programs? What appeals to you about Stanford’s culture? Perhaps you are impressed with the career path of a specific alumna and can highlight that knowledge.
When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your ambitions consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big, and have the credibility to achieve their goals. Be bold with your aspirations. Don’t focus on what your parents or partner want you to do. Don’t think about the next job on the corporate ladder. What do you, with your own unique background and values, want for your life?
If the question seems too vast, take a few minutes to close your eyes and reflect. Envision your life in twenty years. Where do you live? How do you spend your days? What is your favorite activity? How does this vision fit into your career aspirations? Don’t be shy about your ambitions. Once you have identified your dream career, you also need to make sure an MBA is an important part of achieving your plans and explain that part in your essay.
Though you should think big, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you are already perfect with no development needed. Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals and be a step on an ambitious career trajectory.
Finding the Stanford essays challenging? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting for personalized guidance through the application process.
This entry was posted in General, Stanford Advice and tagged application, application tips, career goals, Essay Tips, Fall 2018 MBA Essay Tips, MBA application, MBA Essays, Stanford, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford GSB.
Bookmark this post..
Stanford GSB MBA Essay Topic Analysis 2017-2018
Since the Stanford Graduate School of Business just released its essay questions for the 2017-2018 admissions season, we are following up with some advice for GSB applicants on how to approach Stanford’s essays. Stanford has asked applicants to respond to the same two questions it has asked the past few years, maintaining the 1,150 word limit from last year, with the allowance of 50 more words for those applying to both the MBA and MBx programs.
Stanford GSB MBA Essay Analysis 2017-2018
Let’s take a closer look at each of Stanford’s required essays.
What matters most to you, and why? (Suggested Word Count: 750 words)
For this essay, we would like you to:
- Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
- Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
- Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
- Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
Stanford’s “What Matters Most” essay is one of the most challenging prompts from a top business school. An answer to this essay has the potential to be profound and reveal a side of an applicant that the admissions committee cannot find anywhere else in the application, which is why Stanford has asked this question for more than a dozen years. However, the question can be quite intimidating in the context of a strategic application.
Part of the reason that so many applicants struggle with this topic is because they opt to begin their brainstorming by searching for a direct answer to the question of “what matters most” – rifling through common themes like ‘helping others’, ‘the pursuit of knowledge’, ‘revolutionizing an industry’, and any number of textbook replies. With each passing idea, candidates find themselves losing steam and fearful of getting lost in the shuffle of applicants who espouse similar views. While starting with an answer to “what matters most” and working into the body of the essay does seem tempting (and even quite logical), our years of experience advising Stanford GSB candidates tell us that this is often a dead-end. The good news is that we have another approach that has been wildly successful for more than 10 years.
The advice we are about to offer here may seem counterintuitive, but we actually encourage applicants to ‘work backwards’ when crafting this essay via a simple exercise (outlined below). In short, since the purpose of this question is to let the admissions team get to know you better, you should start with who you are and all that you have experienced and accomplished, and then work backwards to find the overarching theme of “what matters most.” Keep in mind that your direct ‘answer’ to the question here is NOT what is going to make you stand out (it may even be somewhat pedestrian), rather it is the series of anecdotes and supporting evidence you provide around that theme that will help you convey your unique candidacy to the admissions team.
So in short, if you find yourself struggling with how to answer this question, try this simple exercise:
- Write down the 15 to 20 most important events, accomplishments, interests, or experiences in your life. Include the good, the bad, the astounding, the ugly, etc. Also, remember that no time frame is off limits–think of events from your early childhood to the present day.
- Look at the list you have generated and try to determine the themes that unify the important events, interests, and ideas in your life.
- Select a small number of diverse items from the list that best support a given theme and use them to define your approach and kick off the drafting process for the essay.
This exercise of working backwards allows you to not only arrive at a “what matters most” theme that really resonates with you, but also helps you find specific examples and anecdotes to help you show how you have explored what matters most to you in your life.
Why Stanford? (Suggested Word Count: 400 words; 450 for applicants to both the MBA and MBx programs)
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
- Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
- Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
- If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
Stanford’s second essay steps away from the philosophical to focus on the candidate’s career goals and reasons for going to Stanford. Although this essay is more specific than Essay A, the “Why Stanford?” prompt is far less specific than the career goals questions of other top business schools. Instead of mapping out a specific career path in this essay, applicants should focus on defining the broad impact they hope to make on a service, a sector, or society at large through their chosen career. Essay B is strongest when it connects with Essay A. Essay A is your opportunity to lay out a philosophical explanation of what matters most to you, while Essay B gives you the opportunity to show how you would use your time at Stanford and your career to further what matters most to you.
In Stanford’s additional prompting for this question, the admissions committee asks you to “explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.” The key word in that sentence is distinctive. In this essay, you need to show the admissions committee that Stanford offers you benefits you can’t find at any other schools. Talk about specific classes, programs, collaboration with other parts of the school, dual degree offerings, clubs, conferences, or other offerings that set Stanford apart from other top business schools. Learning about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities–whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Stanford–will help you craft a response to Essay B that really stands out.
Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s GSB MBA essay topics. As you work on your GSB MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Stanford offerings:
Posted in: Admissions Tips, Application Tips, Essay Topic Analysis, Essays
Schools: Stanford GSB