Understanding Stanford GSB’s Interest in Personal Qualities and Contributions

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What are the qualities that Stanford GSB is looking for as they build their class? How do successful applicants stand out from the crowd? At a school as competitive as Stanford, it’s a fact that many smart, accomplished applicants won’t get in—so how can you demonstrate that you have that “it” factor? Let us walk you through Stanford’s evaluation criteria and give you some advice.

Personal Qualities and Contributions

In an MBA essay on a meaningful personal experience:

  • Applicant A describes his ascent of Machu Picchu; we learn that it was awe-inspiring, challenging, and required excellent teamwork; he concludes by asserting that he was moved on a deep level and grew from the experience.
  • Applicant B takes us on a walk around her block. We learn about the struggles of her neighbors facing gentrification and her mixed feelings as one of the gentrifiers; how she informally refereed an argument among residents over local policing; the diversity of canine life on the block and the blossoming friendship between her pug and a neighbor’s Rottweiler. She eventually gathers a diverse group of community members to try to proactively address the issue.  

Personal Qualities

We conclude from these essays that Applicant A spends a lot of money on personal fulfillment, lacks imagination, relies on banalities, and relishes physical challenges; and that Applicant B is alive to the richness of daily life, addresses ambiguity head-on, has humor, is compassionate, is attentive, and cares about meaningful issues.

Point: Our personal qualities flow from and mirror our character. And when it comes to personal qualities, be assured, Stanford will prefer those of Applicant B – even though Applicant A’s topic is superficially more dramatic – because of the quality of character they reflect. Unlike Applicant A, Applicant B’s personal qualities represent an engaged, observant, thoughtful person. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with climbing Machu Picchu or with writing about such an experience – but it’s not the fact of doing it that will impress; rather, what you have to say about it, arising from your personal qualities and reflecting your unique perspective that will catch the thoughtful admissions reader’s eye.

  • Don’t struggle and strain for “unique” things to say.
  • Rather, for Stanford, share your life. Open it up, let it dance or swagger or sashay or skip or march or cartwheel, whatever your style is.
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Now the contribution part. Because Applicant B is attentive to and cares about her surroundings, she responds and contributes to the daily life of her neighborhood. She is involved, she acts, and her actions have an impact (small and large: refereeing the argument; later starting a community group). She cares. She has specific questions and concerns and feelings and insights – and based on them she takes meaningful actions. She can bring this abundance, this world, this humanity and this energy “to the table.” You just know this person will be a big contributorwherever she is. She doesn’t have to explain that fact – it’s obvious! Follow her example. Let your personal qualities come alive by sharing what’s meaningful to you in your essays (and elsewhere if possible in the application) and how they are a springboard for involvement and action. Don’t explain that you will contribute; showthat you do contribute. It’s simply who you are.

Applying to Stanford? Check out our MBA Admissions Services and work one-on-one with an expert advisor who will help you create a stand-out application for Stanford GSB. Click here to learn more about how we can help you get accepted.

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Cindy Tokumitsu, admissions expert

Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA and EMBA programs in her 20 years with Accepted. She would love to help you too. Want Cindy to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!

Related Resources:

• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your MBA Application Essays, a free guide
• Stanford GSB MBA Application Essay Tips & Deadlines
• Stanford MBA Class of 2020 Profile

This article originally appeared on blog.accepted.com.

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