The Stanford Graduate School of Business has released its admissions essays and deadlines for the 2013-2014 application season. Stanford has actually made no changes to its admissions essays this year, which suggests that the admissions committee liked what it saw in the applications that it reviewed last year. Accordingly, our advice hasn’t changed much, although it has evolved subtly since last year. Let’s dig in.
Here are Stanford GSB’s application deadlines and essays for the Class of 2016, entering in 2014. Our comments follow in italics:
Stanford GSB Application Deadlines
Round 1: October 2, 2013
Round 2: January 8, 2014
Round 3: April 2, 2014
No big changes here. All of Stanford’s admissions deadlines are within one day of their 2012-2013 counterparts. Note that, if you apply in Round 1, Stanford has promised a response by December 11, 2013. That’s important since, if you’re rejected or waitlisted, it will give you more than three weeks until most other top MBA programs’ Round 2 admissions deadlines come in early January.
Regarding Round 3, Stanford is one top school that has gone out of its way to invite applicants to apply in Round 3. While you shouldn’t believe that your chances are as good in Round 3 as they would be in Round 1 or 2, if you’re reading this in early 2014 and are wondering if you absolutely must wait till the fall to apply to Stanford, know that the admissions committee will still look at strong Round 3 applications with a very open mind.
Stanford GSB Application Essays
- What matters most to you, and why? (750 words recommended, out of 1,600 total)
This question is probably the longest-running admissions essay prompt used by any prominent business school. Our advice has evolved a bit over the years, but only subtly. Before you start to work on 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. Naturally, telling a story that has nothing to do with your Stanford application can end up hurting you, but where many Stanford applicants go wrong is by writing about their grand plans for the future, rather than providing a real glimpse into who they are as people. The latter is much more powerful and, ultimately, much more effective in helping you get in. With the other essays in this application, you have ample opportunity to cover the exact reasons why you want an MBA from Stanford.
- What do you want to do — REALLY — and why Stanford? (450 words recommended)
This question also has not changed. With the part in ALL CAPS, the admissions committee is sending a clear message: “Cut the bull. We really want honest answers here.” Also, note that this question is deliberately pretty open-ended. Stanford invites you to dream big. The admissions committee is less interested in which exact blue-chip management consulting firm you want to work at after business school… 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 your past, consider this the same exercise with your future. Finally, take note of the last part of the guidance they give for this question: “… and demonstrate your desire to take advantage of the opportunities that are distinctive to the Stanford MBA Program.” Obviously it’s a great school with a terrific brand name, but the admissions committee already knows that. Why is Stanford specifically the school that will help you achieve your dreams?
- 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. (400 words recommended)
Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.
Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.
This question also carries over unchanged from last year. If one thing is clear, it’s that Stanford is interested in hearing stories that happened more than three years ago. (Just kidding.) We kid, but the fact that the admissions committee inserted this phrase four times suggests that applicants still look past this seemingly simple instruction! Why the emphasis on more recent stories? Because you’re young. You may feel old and wise compared to people just coming out of college, but the fact is that you’re still changing and growing a great deal. Something that you accomplished five years ago is far less useful in helping the admissions committee gauge your potential as a professional.
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. Option B is all about learning what impact you have had on those around you. The essay prompt doesn’t specifically use the word “impact,” but it is pretty clear what Stanford wants to see here — the admissions committee wants to find young professionals who leave a trail of success and positive, meaningful impact everywhere they go. Of the three essay prompts here, we like Option B the best. If you have a good example to use, you should respond to this prompt.
Option C 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 unremarkable story, but a great response will show that you’re someone who readily goes beyond your job description to make things happen. In some respects, we consider Options B and C to be very similar… It’s clear that Stanford wants to find go-getters who go beyond what’s expected to make things happen. But, we still prefer B because it puts a bit more emphasis on results than Option C does.
We work with dozens of Stanford GSB applicants every year. For more advice on getting into Stanford, download our Essential Guide to Stanford GSB, one of our 14 guides to the world’s top business schools. If you’re ready to start building your own application for Stanford and 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 Google+, and follow us on Twitter!
By Scott Shrum