Stanford MBA Admissions Essays and Deadlines for 2011-2012

Stanford GSB recently released its MBA admissions essays and deadlines for the 2011-2012 application season. You may notice some changes to the essays since last year; we’ll dig into those changes below.

Note that, as it has done for the past several years, Stanford’s admissions committee provides some high-level advice right on its own website. While we think this advice is generally good, we do think that most applicants can benefit from a more in-depth look at these essays. But, of course, any advice that comes straight from the horse’s mouth deserves your attention!

Here are Stanford’s application deadlines and essays, followed by our comments in italics:

Stanford Graduate School of Business Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 12, 2011
Round 2: January 11, 2012
Round 3: April 4, 2012

Stanford actually pushed back its Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines by a few days each, while its Round 3 deadline is two days earlier than it was last year. Note that applying in Round 1 means that you’ll be notified by December 14, giving you plenty of time to pull together additional Round 2 applications in January, if needed.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Application Essays

  • What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,800 total)

    This question has been around for years. Believe it or not, it used to have no word limit. Now, the essay’s 750-word limit forces applicants to be a little more economical with their words. With this essay, take Stanford’s advice to heart: “The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.” This question requires a great deal of introspection, after which you should create an essay that truly answers the question asked, whether or not you feel that it’s directly applicable to your candidacy. Obviously, the more relevant your essay is to the goal of getting into business school, the better, but where many Stanford applicants go wrong is by writing about grand ideas and using impressive-sounding words, rather than a real glimpse into who they are as a person. The latter is much more powerful and, ultimately, much more effective in getting you into Stanford GSB.

    Finally, consider this additional advice from the Stanford admissions team: “[The best essays] 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.”
  • What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford? (450 words recommended)This question is an evolution one one that has been on Stanford’s application for a while. The part in ALL CAPS is especially new and noteworthy, and is a very obvious hint that the admissions committee has not felt like it’s been getting REAL (now they’ve got us using all caps, too) answers from its applicants in recent years. As we always say, when a school changes or eliminates an essay question, it’s a clear sign that the question hasn’t been doing its job, which is to help the admissions committee get to know applicants better and to separate the great ones from the merely good ones.

    Perhaps the more interesting change is that Stanford has dropped the “career aspirations” part from last year’s question. By making it a little more open-ended, Stanford is inviting you to dream big. They’re less interested in whether you want to do buy-side vs. sell-side research in the banking sector… They’re more interested in what you want to do with your life. Naturally, the job you take in the near term matters, but here is your chance to reveal some big dreams. If the first question is supposed to be a super-introspective look at you past, consider this the same exercise with your future. Don’t forget the “Why Stanford?” part, too. Obviously it’s a great school with a terrific brand name, but so what? Why is Stanford specifically the school that will help you achieve your dreams?
  • Answer two of the four 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. (300 words recommended for each)

    Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

    Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.

    Option C: Tell us about a time when you generated support from others for an idea or initiative.

    Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined or established.

    Aside from a slight tweak to the wording in Option C, these essays all carry over unchanged from last year, and so our advice largely remains the same. What that tells us is that the Stanford admissions office likes what it got from applicants last year. For Option A, note the emphasis on “whose performance exceeded expectations”… Results matter, and you need to show them here. This is a classic Situation-Action-Result (“SAR”) question. Again, we love the “impact” idea in Option B… Stanford is looking for young professionals that leave a trail of success and positive, meaningful impact everywhere they go. If you have a good example to use, we strongly urge you to answer Option B.

    Over the years Option C has evolved from a question about overcoming an obstacle or failure to a question that gets at one version of leadership — motivating others to support your ideas. Stanford considers this type of persuasiveness a key ingredient in the future leaders that it wants to produce. Option D is another results-oriented question that also gets at a core component of leadership: the ambition and ability to do more than what is listed in your job description. We think the way this question is phrased may actually lead some to misinterpret it and tell an underwhelming story, but a great response will show you you tackled a problem or pursued an opportunity (in the workplace or in your community) that would have otherwise gone ignored. Again, this is a terrific sign of a budding leader… This is what Stanford wants to see!

Are you applying to Stanford this year? Take a look at our Stanford GSB Annual Report, one of 15 guides to the world’s best MBA programs, available for purchase on our site. If you’re ready to start building your own application for Stanford or other top business schools, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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