Application season at Stanford GSB is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Stanford comes back with the same slate of essays from last year. Let’s discuss, from a high level, some early thoughts on how best to approach the essay prompts:
What matters most to you, and why? (750 words)
For years, Stanford’s infamous open-ended essay prompt has been one of the most dreaded aspects of its application process. Stanford is one of the MBA programs that has ushered in the movement of using more “open” essay prompts in evaluating applicants – a trend that has taken hold among many other top programs.
Stanford, as much as any other program, seeks out candidates who can be introspective, self-reflective, and authentic when responding to their essays. The school provides clear guidance on how best to approach these, and it’s not meant to trick you or confuse you, but instead to do the opposite.
As communicated by the school, the “why” of your essay is much more important than the “what.” Stanford truly wants to know who you are, so keep your narrative personal and focus on the experiences that have truly shaped your reasons for applying.
Avoid the temptation to resort to common business school stories around work accomplishments, and instead focus on the things that have had the most impact on your life. Breakthrough candidates will utilize structured storytelling to craft a compelling narrative that brings the Stanford Admissions Committee deep into their world.
Why Stanford? (400 words)
Essay 2 is the more traditional essay of the bunch, but even so, with Stanford you will want to avoid the typical boilerplate response and dive a bit deeper.
You will want to think about this prompt as really answering two questions: “Why an MBA?” and more specifically, “Why a Stanford MBA?” Be specific here – connect both your personal and professional development goals to the unique programs Stanford has and explain why they are crucial to your success. Breakthrough candidates will not only showcase their clear, well-aligned goals, but will also connect these goals with their personal passions to make their candidacy feel bigger than just business.
Stanford has historically clung to candidates that hold a more mission-based approach to their careers, so if there is some underlying passion inherent in your goals, do not be afraid to leverage that within this essay. Now, this does mean you should stretch the truth – keep your response as authentic as possible, but also keep in mind that Stanford has traditionally held a track record of looking for something special in their candidates.
Just a few thoughts on the new essay from Stanford – hopefully this will help you get started. For more thoughts on Stanford and its essays, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools for free, here.
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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.