You’re smart. But this isn’t about smart. Most of the people Stanford GSB rejects are smart (often very smart). A person of average IQ may have enormous intellectual vitality, while a person with a stratospheric IQ may have scant intellectual vitality. Pretty much everyone uses their raw intellect, whatever its degree, in practical application – to get things done. People with intellectual vitality do that and more – they nurture and refine their raw intellect to make it a force in itself, one that draws them into new and challenging territory. No wonder Stanford wants it.
So what does intellectual vitality consist of? Here are 5 key components (separated for discussion purposes only, as they’re interconnected).
1. Zest for ideas. When you encounter a new or challenging idea, you’re tantalized. You have to find out more. What does it mean? Where did it come from? And how, and why? You relish ideas for their inherent meaning; they’re alive to you. You value them as a new lens to see through.
2. Dynamic, engaged mind. You’re always mentally comparing and contrasting, probing limits and boundaries, seeing overlaps between disparate points and differences between similar ones. To you, an event is not static, but rather part of a continuum, with a history to explore and future ramifications to consider. And you never take things at face value!
3. But why…? When you were a child, you probably were told you’re too curious. But curiosity underpins intellectual vitality. It drives you to learn more and more and more about something, to set off on thrilling learning journeys. (And you sometimes snag other people along for the ride!)
4. There’s a reason for what you believe and for what you do. Back to ideas – they animate you. Whether you’re politically conservative, moderate, or liberal, you’re not that way because your family or friends are, but because you’re interested in and think about the issues – from multiple angles. Your thought process informs your decisions, beliefs, actions.
5. Open, as in unafraid. So, you have your beliefs, your ideas. But you don’t hide behind them. You welcome them being challenged – it’s actually … fun. Intellectual fun. And you challenge back thoughtfully. You’re a skillful devil’s advocate, able to argue from multiple perspectives, even ones you personally disagree with. You relish learning what drives and underlies opposing ideas and beliefs (there’s that curiosity again…).
Hopefully the above points make clear that intellectual vitality is not something ponderous – it’s a thrill! Yes, it engages matters of seriousness and gravity. But it’s fundamentally invigorating. It fuels you. And it scintillates others.
Now, how do you let Stanford know you have it? The application essays are the perfect venue for showcasing this quality – integrate it into anecdotes, details, and reflections. If you are invited to interview, that’s an ideal place to demonstrate intellectual vitality.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted. She can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and develop a winning MBA admissions strategy. She is a member of the Association of International Graduate Application Consultants.
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This article originally appeared on the Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog, the official blog of Accepted.com.