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Following up on Stanford’s announcement of its essay questions for the 2014-2015 admissions season, we wanted to offer some guidance on how GSB hopefuls might approach this task. Like many of its peer programs, Stanford has pared down its required writing this year, eliminating its third situation-focused “tell us about a time…” prompt and leaving two core questions. The program has provided suggested ranges for the length of each of these two items, and has stipulated that the combined word count not exceed 1,100 words. Candidates will therefore need to make judgments about how to strategically allocate content across these two responses.
Let’s take a closer look at each of this year’s questions:
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (suggested word count: 650-850 words)
This open-ended and somewhat philosophical question has been part of Stanford’s MBA application for upwards of ten years, reflecting a durable interest on the part of the adcom in the values and forces that drive its applicants’ decisions. Because it asks applicants to articulate something so profound and personal within the strategic context of an application, this prompt poses a challenging starting point for this set of essays.
If a topic doesn’t immediately spring to mind, a constructive approach might be to think about your experiences to date (including growing up, attending school, working, pursuing outside activities and general interests) and look for some unifying theme among some or all of them. Because it’s always a good idea to introduce specific details and anecdotes to really tie the general ideas expressed in your essays to the key elements of your candidacy, it would be wise to select a topic that not only gives the adcom a sense of your values and priorities, but also allows to you discuss some of the ways you have translated these into action. Stanford’s pointers on this essay also reflect an interest in the developmental process behind the worldview reflected in this essay, so an opening commentary on formative experiences will likely be important in fully addressing the prompt. Needless to say, this is one of the more challenging essays in the business school application world, so feel free to reach out to Clear Admit if you seek tailored guidance vis-à-vis your candidacy.
MBA candidates should also reflect on the following tips for this essay that were shared by the Stanford GSB’s admissions team, which states that a strong response will:
Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
Reflect the self-examination process you used to write your response.
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.
Be written from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
Essay B: Why Stanford? (suggested word count: 250-450 words)
Perhaps the most concise formulation of this sort of prompt among the leading programs, this essay focuses on the candidate’s career goals and the reasons for his or her particular interest in Stanford. Like Essay A, this question is framed rather openly, and so and applicants may want to consider keeping their comments fairly high-level rather than sketching out specific short- and long-term goals, focusing instead on the broad impact they hope to make on a group, service, or sector through their career plans. Logically, this response should likely connect with the connect of Essay A in some logical way; i.e. the thing that matters most to an applicant would presumably be compatible with the focus of his or her professional goals and/or reasons for choosing to apply to Stanford.
No matter how broadly you decide to formulate your goals, it will be important to provide a detailed discussion of the ways an MBA, and specifically an MBA from Stanford, is necessary to achieve these aims, as well as the potential contribution you could make to the program. The relatively narrow word count will require that applicants be judicious in their ‘why Stanford’ remarks, honing in on the courses and extracurricular offerings that are most clearly connected to their post-MBA plans. Taking the time to learn 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 therefore pay dividends here.
As with Essay 1, Stanford also offers its own picture of a strong response to Essay 2, which applicants will want to keep in mind when responding to the prompt:
Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
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