Stanford has shortened its app, removing one required question, but the overall structure is the same as it was last year. Stanford's instructions and question are in black below; my comments and tips are in blue.
Unlike most schools, Stanford gives a lot of advice and guidance as to what it's looking for in the essays.
Stanford GSB 2013 MBA Application Questions
We read your essays to get to know you as a person and to learn about the ideas and interests that motivate you. Tell us in your own words who you are.
In other parts of the application, we learn about your academic and professional accomplishments (i.e., what you have done). Through your personal essays (Essays 1 and 2), we learn more about the person behind the achievements (i.e., who you are).
Because we want to discover who you are, resist the urge to "package" yourself in order to come across in a way you think Stanford wants. Such attempts simply blur our understanding of who you are and what you can accomplish.
We want to hear your genuine voice throughout the essays that you write and this is the time to think carefully about your values, your passions, your hopes and dreams.
In your short answer responses (Essay 3, options A, B, or C), we learn more about the experiences that have shaped your attitudes, behaviors, and aspirations.
Truly, the most impressive essays are those that do not begin with the goal of impressing us.
1. What matters most to you, and why?
- The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.
- They give us a vivid and genuine image of who you are—and they also convey how you became the person you are.
- They do not focus merely on what you've done or accomplished. Instead, they share with us the values, experiences, and lessons that have shaped your perspectives.
- They are written from the heart and address not only a person, situation, or event, but also how that person, situation, or event has influenced your life.
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 put 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. 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 revealed, especially in Essay A, that they do not turn away when they see a problem or need for action. They grab the initiative when 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, principle-driven lives.
More than anything else, to me initiative and self-awareness characterize the successful Stanford 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.
2. What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?
- Use this essay to explain your view of your future, not to repeat accomplishments from your past.
- You should address two distinct topics:
- your career aspirations
- and your rationale for earning your MBA at Stanford, in particular.
- The best examples of Essay 2 express your passions or focused interests, explain why you have decided to pursue graduate education in management, and demonstrate your desire to take advantage of the opportunities that are distinctive to the Stanford MBA Program.
Similar 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 . (Folks: It’s not just the ranking, brand, or gorgeous location.)
3. Answer ONE of the three 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.
Last year Stanford asked you to choose two out of four questions. This year it's one out of three.
The first issue you must address when looking at Essay 3 is “Which do you choose?” Answer: the one that, when added to your required essays, allows you to present the most impressive, authentic, and comprehensive portrait of you. Finally, these questions are experiential , not hypothetical. They are about the recent past -- last three years -- not the future. Stanford 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."
Keep in mind as you answer #3 that Derrick Bolton likes to say, "most Stanford MBA students have excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well." Show that you have too.
- Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years 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 in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.This is a new question and reflects Stanford GSB's motto, "Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world," as do all of the experiential options. It also mirrors Stanford's entrepreneurial culture. Again, choose one experience. The interesting twist here is that you had to have identified the opportunity and then acted on it. Describe the opportunity, how you pursued it, and the results.
- Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.
This is a very broad question. It allows you to discuss any event when you went beyond the norm. The suggestions for the other questions hold here too. Choose to respond to this question if you don't have a great teamwork on entrepreneurial example; it allows you to demonstrate the individuality and initiative that Stanford values in a setting other than those defined in options A and B.
Your answers for all of the essay questions cannot exceed 1,600 words.
You have your own story to tell, so please allocate the 1,600 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 1,600 words total.
- Essay 1: 750 words
- Essay 2: 450 words
- Essay 3: 400 words
If there is any other information that is critical for us to know and is not captured elsewhere, please include it. Examples of pertinent additional information include:
- Extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
- Explanation of why you do not have a Letter of Reference from your current direct supervisor or peer
- Explanation of criminal conviction, criminal charges sustained against you in a juvenile proceeding, and/or court-supervised probation
- Explanation of academic suspension or expulsion
- Any other information that you did not have sufficient space to complete in another section of the application (please begin the information in the appropriate section)
- Additional work experience that cannot fit into the space provided
- Additional information about your academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere
This is optional. Respond if you have something to explain or need the additional space because you can't fit in your work experience or all academic info. Responses should be succinct and to-the-point and should provide the context necessary for Stanford to understand the circumstances surrounding whatever difficulty you are writing about.
If you would like professional guidance with your Stanford MBA application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our Stanford Application Packages.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.
This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.