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Stanford GSB Application Essay Tips

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

Stanford GSB essaysStanford GSB essays are by far one of the most challenging essays out there. There are two required essays and four optional essays of which applicants can choose two.

This year, again, Stanford has chosen not to change its essay questions except for a minor change in wording for the second essay.

Last year their career essay question was: What are your career aspirations? What do you need to learn at Stanford to achieve them?

This year it is: What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford? The most important advice to applicants applying to Stanford MBA program is to cast aside every preconceptions and to truly look inwards at what really makes you tick and why.

Few essays in the admissions process require the same level of soul-searching as the Stanford GSB essays.

It’s no wonder they haven’t changed their essays in a long time—a clear sense that the essays are working and the admission board is able to garner the information they need to build their class profile. (Often if an essay isn’t working the natural thing for the admission board to do is to discard it and generate new essays that attempt to address the issues they are looking for insight into.)

The first words of advice from Stanford get at the heart of what the school is looking for: “We read your essays to get to know you as a person and to learn about the ideas and interests that motivate you. Tell us in your own words who you really are.

Bottom line, you can’t fake your way through a Stanford application. Neither can you cut and paste your HBS essays for Stanford—it won’t work.

The two schools are very different, the tone, content of the essays should differ to reflect the difference in both. The italics represent Stanford’s tips on how to tackle the essays.

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Essay 1:What matters most to you, and why?

 – The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.

 – They give us a vivid and genuine image of who you are—and they also convey how you became the person you are.

 – They do not focus merely on what you’ve done or accomplished. Instead, they share with us the values, experiences, and lessons that have shaped your perspectives.

 – They 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.

EXPARTUS TIPS: Remember that Stanford does not give you a word limit on any of the essays but a total limit of 1800 words.

You can write this essay in as little as 450 words or even up to 750 or so words. The key thing to note is that this is the make or break essay for Stanford.

If this essay doesn’t ring of authenticity, you will not be able to convince them to admit you. There isn’t a formula of topics to write about or what is acceptable or not.

It has to be uniquely and authentically your story. Don’t be overly ambitious about writing about every minutia that you care about.

Less is more. Pick the thing that matters the most to you and put your stake in the ground and build the essay around that.

Avoid generic and trite statements like “ending poverty or creating access”.

Draw from your lived experience to show what matters to you, and why it matters. The why is even more important because it reveals your character, values, etc.

Make sure to help the reader get a clear window into the soul of what matters to you and be ready to really open up. Write this essay from the heart not from the head and you will likely be successful with it.

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Essay 2:What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?

 – Use this essay to explain your view of your future, not to repeat accomplishments from your past.

 – You should address three distinct topics:

       – your career aspirations

       – the role of an MBA education in achieving those aspirations

       – and your rationale for earning that MBA at Stanford, in particular.

 – The best examples of Essay 2 express your passions or focused interests; explain why you have decided to pursue graduate education in management; and demonstrate your desire to take advantage of the opportunities that are distinctive to the Stanford MBA Program.

EXPARTUS TIPS:The key thing to think of when addressing the Stanford career essay is passion.

You have to be able to communicate that you are genuinely interested, no, not just interested but, passionate about what it is you REALLY want to do.

You have to write this essay with conviction. This is the kind of essay that can be a bit more aspiring and lofty than concrete and practical which is the case for career essays at schools like LBS, Chicago and Columbia.

Bottom line, when addressing this essay, think of the following and make sure you fully address each part of the question: What is it that your heart longs to do career-wise, do you need an MBA to do it, and given the thorough research you have done about Stanford, convince them based on specific selling points about Stanford that you will fit in there.

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Essay 3: 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.

 – 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.

EXPARTUS TIPS: The first piece of advice is to make sure whatever topic you choose happened within the last three years.

So many applicants disregard this vital instruction to their detriment. Second point is that you should choose a moment in time.

All the prompts start with “Tell us about a time when….” This is not the essay where you want to paint broad brush strokes.

Pick a specific time and drill into the details….help the reader enter that moment with you to clearly “see” what was going on.

Before selecting on the option you wish to cover look at all your stories and ascertain which ones best reinforce your brand.

You may want to tackle these two essays last to use both of them strategically to round out your story.

One word of caution—do not exaggerate….stick to the facts. Don’t worry about not having huge, once in a life time achievements.

There is room for applicants who have achieved modest things but have done so by pushing beyond significant opposition and circumstance.

You can learn more about strategies on tackling your Stanford application by contacting us: