Stanford GSB Essay Tips and Deadlines: 2019- 20

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Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the top Silicon Valley B-school, is one of the most selective business schools in the world. For the class of 2020, only 419 applicants, out of an applicant pool of 7797, were selected. The school prides itself on innovation in the classroom and emphasis on new ideas and cutting-edge developments.

From the Stanford website, “Our global reputation is hard-earned. Stanford GSB offers unparalleled opportunities that will help you launch a meaningful career and make an impact."

Application Deadlines:

The deadlines for the 2019-2020 season are below.

Round Application Deadline Admissions Decision Posted
Round 1 September 12, 2019 December 12, 2019
Round 2 January 9, 2020 April 2, 2020
Round 3 April 8, 2020 May 21, 2020

*Applications due by 11 am Pacific Time


Like previous years, the Stanford Graduate School of Business asks MBA applicants to submit the same two required essay questions. It has retained the 1,150 word- limit, with the recommendation of using 750 words for Essay A and 400 for Essay B. Stanford GSB has added a new optional short-answer essay question this season.

Stanford GSB offers guidelines and advice on its website for writing essays, “Essays help us learn about who you are rather than solely what you have done. Other parts of the application give insight to your academic and professional accomplishments; the essays reveal the person behind those achievements. In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, aims, and dreams. There is no “right answer” to these questions—the best answer is the one that is truest for you.”

Explicit instructions for formatting are given on Stanford Website. The essays should have double space with a number on all pages. Only one document that includes both essays is to be uploaded. The short-answer response will not be uploaded in your essays upload; use the text boxes in the application for the optional essay.

When writing Stanford essays, our best advice is simple: answer the question. Resist the urge to ‘package’ yourself into what you think Stanford wants to see. Doing so will only prevent you from understanding who you are and what you hope to accomplish. The most impressive essays, after all, are the most authentic ones.

Here is MER’s analysis of the three Stanford GSB’s essays:

Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?

For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?

This is one of the most challenging essays asked by the business schools, and Stanford has asked applicants this essay question for a long time now. This essay requires you to introspect and reflect on your experiences and lessons learned along the journey. The answer to this question will reveal the undisclosed profound side of the applicant that cannot be found anywhere in the application. This essay is an opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. We would like you to do some deep self-reflection, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you became the person you are. Instead of focusing merely on what you have done or accomplished, share insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspective. Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you. Focus on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what.’

We are who we are because of the experiences and events that we have gone through in our life. To brainstorm ideas for this essay, you will need to look back and reflect on your past experiences - growing up years, schooling, college, professional life, volunteer activities, general interests, etc., and look for some common thread that runs through some or all of them. Since there is no direct answer to this essay, do not try to write a response right away. Prewriting your experiences to identify a unifying theme would be of great help. Try to focus on experiences that have shaped your values and priorities all these years. Don’t shy away from sharing the challenging experiences in life – often tough experiences make us stronger and instill a zeal in us to fight. Whatever stories you choose, focus on their impact on your life and your values.

As you recount your experiences, make sure to share your thought process- how you felt, thought, and reacted at that time and what lessons you eventually learned. I suggest providing a chronological account of events that have influenced your thoughts, values, and beliefs and have shaped you into a person you are now with your firm belief system and priorities. Please remember this essay is not directly about your accomplishments; it is about your values and perspectives that you have developed over the years. So, your focus has to be on the events, people, and anecdotes that made you the unique person you are today. Also, elucidate here how you have translated your values into actions. This way, your accomplishments will naturally stem from your values and priorities.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.

The second essay concentrates on the candidates’ career goals and reasons for pursuing a management degree at Stanford. After you have explained in the first essay what matters most to you in life, you need to explain why your next step is a Stanford MBA. Explain why you are interested in pursuing an MBA, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB. You need to have clarity regarding your goals and the additional training you require, which a Stanford MBA can provide.  Thorough research of the school’s resources and curriculum will help you determine how the Stanford MBA program aligns with your aspirations. Instead of mapping out a specific career path in this essay, applicants should focus on defining the broad impact they aim to make on a service, a sector, or society. While Essay A is your opportunity to explain what matters most to you, Essay B allows you to show how you would use your time at Stanford to further your career and what matters most to you. In a way, Essay B picks up from where Essay A ends.

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 interest you the most. Talk about specific classes, programs, collaboration with other parts of the school, clubs, conferences, or other offerings that distinguish Stanford from other top business schools. Are there any particular courses that appeal to you most? Have you met current students and alumni? Have you attended any admission events that offered you additional insights about the programs and confirmed your decision to apply to Stanford? Are there any professors whose classes you are most excited about?

Stanford likes to see applicants who have big dreams and have the potential to realize those

dreams. Be bold with your aspirations, but at the same time, be realistic in showing that you have the ability to realize your dreams.

Optional Short-Answer Question:

Think about times you've created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or others? You are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1500 characters, approximately 250 words, for each example)

This optional essay is different from optional essays from other schools. Instead of asking you about additional information or weakness in your profile, it asks you to share an achievement when you made a positive impact. So I would encourage you to not consider this essay as optional and take this as an opportunity to share your most significant accomplishment when you made a positive impact. The admission committee is interested in candidates who have the capability of making an impact in professional or personal life. Your achievements can be in any setting- professional, personal, academic, or community.

Please do not simply copy an accomplishment from your résumé. Include meaningful content not covered already in the resume. From the Stanford website, “Attending Stanford GSB will transform your life and the lives of those around you. And that’s only the beginning.” Keeping the impact statement of Stanford in mind, provide more details of an accomplishment when you made a positive impact at work, or in a person's life, or the community around you.

For organizing your essay, as always, we recommend using the STAR method.

  • Situation: What was the situation/challenge that you were addressing
  • Task:    What was the task? What were you expected to do?
  • Action: What actions you took to deal with the situation and overcome the challenge?
  • Result: What was the result/outcome? What was the impact of your actions on you and others?  Did it make a difference in the lives of people? Explain how? How was the experience meaningful to you and others?

 To meet the stringent word limits, make every word count.

Here are the free resources offered by MER:

1.10 Key Essay Tips with Examples

2. Essay Analysis of Other Tops Programs- 2019-20

3. 25 Video/Chat Interviews of Successful MER Students

4. E-book of 30 Essays that Worked

You may email Poonam at with questions about your Stanford MBA application.

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs including Stanford Graduate School of Business. (Poonam is  one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

This post was first published in myEssayReview blog.

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