Category Archives: Stanford GSB

Stanford MBA Essay Question Tips and Deadlines 2012-13

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Chi Pham | Reve Counselor | Sept 2012

The structure for the Stanford MBA application essays has been slightly modified for the 2013 application season. The essay portion of the application continues to have two required questions: Essay 1 and Essay 2. The change is in Essay 3 where applicants are required to answer only one question from a series of options rather than two as in previous years.

Is this good news? Yes, in the sense that applicants now have one less essay to write. However, Stanford continues to expect high quality essays that reflect each applicant’s own voice, personality, and story. They probably feel that they can glean enough about your professional experiences from your one short essay, resume, and recommendations. This now allows them to focus more on Essays 1 and 2, and on your potential future interview. Stanford, perhaps more than any other business school, requires you to sit down for some soul searching and begin asking difficult questions about yourself.

Below are the deadlines, essay questions, and my analyses.

For further information about Stanford GSB application procedures and deadlines, please go to:

Deadlines (all 17:00PT)

Round 1: 3 Oct 2012

Round 2: 9 Jan 2013

Round 3: 3 April 2013

Essay Questions

Essay 1: What matters most to you and why?

This is the classic Stanford question and is designed to get to know you beyond your academic credentials and professional accomplishments. The admissions committee is trying to understand what makes you tick, and what makes you who you are. There will be dozens if not hundreds of other candidates who share a similar profile as you. However, even if you are among several hundred bankers (for example), there is only one you. This essay is designed to get to the root of that individuality and uniqueness. So think broadly about what really matters to you, beyond getting the next promotion or business deal. But, also ground your story with past experiences and concrete evidence rather than lofty ideals such as achieving world peace or finding the cure for cancer.

My advice for answering this question echoes what Cecilia has written in previous posts: brainstorm the various key experiences you’ve had in your own life and find the common theme or value that runs through these experiences. The theme or value you discover should be the answer to “what matters most to you.” As for the “why” part of the question, this is where you back up your claim with specific evidence. Tell the story of how this value came to be. Where and how did it arise? How has it impacted and shaped the person you are today? What has it led you to do or achieve? Where will it lead you in the future? This will be a study of who you are as a person as well as your ability to self-reflect deeply. This is THE place to be authentic – be honest, show your weaknesses and fears if appropriate, and be yourself, because Stanford will be able to tell easily if you are manufacturing something that isn’t coming from the heart.

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

It’s important to remember that this essay is for you to share about your future. You should address two distinct topics: (1) your career goal; (2) why/how Stanford can help you to achieve your goals.

For the first part, your career goal should be focused. Furthermore, it should be ambitious but believable and achievable. This is the time to show that you’ve carefully thought about your future career, where you want to go, what you want do, and why it’s important that you do this. Are you the type of person who might possibly change the world in some way? Stanford will look at your potential to do this at some point in your future.

For the second part, know Stanford’s unique programs, culture, student body, and mission thoroughly. Show the school that you have done your research and have thought about their school and what they offer constructively (i.e. why its MBA program is the best program for you to accelerate your career). Don’t fall into the trap of repeating what the school already knows about itself, such as its world-class academic environment, great professors, and bountiful opportunities to collaborate with classmates. Repeating these wonderful characteristics in your essay is like singing to the choir. Yes, Stanford knows it’s great. You do not need to repeat this. Rather, show how these great areas will benefit you and boost your career. Research Stanford’s MBA program, student clubs and activities, other institutes at the school that you would join or participate, and location. Make a case, with evidence, why what Stanford offers is exactly what you need right now and that you are a fit with Stanford.

Essay 3: (Answer 1 of the following 3 questions. Use only experiences within the last 3 years.)

Remember to only use experiences in the last three years. Ignoring this part shows that the applicant cannot follow instructions.

Option A: Tell us a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

This question is about leadership and teamwork and the key words are “built or developed.” Use an experience where you worked on a team and ultimately delivered exceptional results as a team. While it’s tempting to talk about how you shone as a leader here, try to use examples that show HOW you work with people (i.e. your interaction with your teammates, your collaboration and motivation skills, and your ability to empathize with team members). Highlight your understanding of the makeup of team members, how they worked together, and how you utilized each member’s strengths and weaknesses that led your team to deliver better-than-expected results. Use specific outcomes to “show” that your team 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.

Stanford looks for students who can take initiative to leave a mark on an organization. For this question, it is best to briefly explain the opportunity while spending most of the essay describing HOW you initiated and implemented the change that has improved the organization. At the end, highlight the impact on the organization by focusing on the implication of this improvement (e.g., efficiency, effectiveness, better culture/relationships, more innovation, more partnerships, etc.).

Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

This question is about innovation and pioneering abilities. Stanford wants to know if you’re the type of person who goes beyond what is expected or what is safe to achieve higher, better, more impressive results. Appropriate examples here include something that you did that was out of the ordinary but still effective, perhaps creating something for the first time, or performing at a level above your age, rank or expected responsibility. Be sure to identify the established norm and show how you went beyond that norm to achieve the desired results.

The above questions reflect Stanford’s values: humility, self-awareness, maturity, focus, the human side of management, initiative, creativity and an independent/risk-taking mindset.

Please go here (Stanford’s website) for instructions on formatting.

Reve Counselor Chi Pham holds degrees from the London School of Economics, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Wellesley College. A former business management researcher at Accenture, Chi’s works have appeared in business journals and have been used to improve leadership development programs at Fortune 500 companies. She also worked in school reform in Abu Dhabi before becoming a counselor to graduate and undergraduate applicants.

Stanford GSB Application Deadlines for Class Entering 2011

Stanford has announced its deadlines for the upcoming application season. On their website they recommend applying in R1, if you have the possibility, citing unusual competition in the 2nd round in recent years.

I include the deadlines below. Please go to their site at for further details.

Application Deadlines for Class of 2013
(Entering Fall 2011)

Application Round:  1
Submit your application by:
  October 6, 2010*
We will notify you on:  December 15, 2010**
Your reply & deposit are due by:  TBD

Application Round:  2
Submit your application by:
  January 6, 2010*
We will notify you on:  March 30, 2010**
Your reply & deposit are due by:  TBD

Application Round:  3
Submit your application by:
  April 6, 2011*
We will notify you on:  May 18, 2011**
Your reply & deposit are due by:  TBD

* Applications are due by 5:00 PM, Pacific Time

** On the decision notification date, you will be offered admission, denied admission, or offered a place in the waitpool.

Stanford Graduate School of Business Essay Questions and Deadlines 2009-10

The structure of the essay set is the same as last year (same number of required questions with the option to choose from among the shorter essays). However, most of the short questions have changed. As always, Stanford places high priority on genuine stories that are written authentically. All schools do, but Stanford seems to be the most vocal about it. In a future post I will talk about what that authentic “voice” means in essay writing.

Below are the deadlines, questions, and my analyses.

For further details from the school’s website, please go to:

Deadlines (all 17:00 PT)

Round 1: October 7, 2009

Round 2: January 6, 2010

Round 3: April 7, 2010

Essay Questions

1. What matters most to you, and why?

This is Stanford’s all-time classic question as many of you know. It is designed to get to know you as well as possible: what you believe in, what values have driven you so far, what life achievements you have accomplished. Think of this is as the bigger picture, all-encompassing essay question rather than one that is focused on your work achievements, which you will have an opportunity to respond to in the short questions below. For this question, think about what you want the admissions committee to know about you as a person. In particular, if you have experienced hardship or overcome any personal obstacles, this is the place to talk about how those experiences have impacted you.

My advice for this essay: brainstorm the various key experiences that you have had in your life and find the common theme or value that underlies those experiences. That theme or value should be the answer to “what matters most to you.” It is far easier (and more natural) than to think of the value first and then try to squeeze or force personal examples to fit it.

2. What are your career aspirations? How will your education at Stanford help you achieve them?

This is the standard goals question. Stanford, like HBS, wants you to talk not just about specific career goals (e.g., specific type of position you want to obtain) but the hopes and vision that surround them (your mission, the ultimate big picture contribution you want to make).

Be sure to be very specific when discussing how Stanford’s program can help you. Stanford has a unique curriculum (which is constantly being updated), philosophy, student body, and geographic location. How will these resources provide you with what you need to learn? They want to make sure you’ve researched their program thoroughly.

Finally, one last word about this essay. I have seen people feeling compelled to start their essays with “I want to change the world.” This is because of Stanford’s slogan “Change Lives. Change Organizations. Change the World.” which is quite lovely. However, I believe it sounds a bit hokey to quote or incorporate their words into your essays. As writers always say, “Don’t tell; just show.” Discussing your realistically ambitious goals and real experience of having implemented change will be the most convincing way to show Stanford that you want to “change the world.”

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.

They want to know about a successful leadership experience in this question. They want to know how your leadership of your team members produced better-than-expected results. This also shows the standard Stanford is holding you up to: they don’t want just good results, but results that went above and beyond.

While this is a leadership question, please be mindful of its particular focus: your ability to build or develop a team. This question is not necessarily looking for your talents in developing a plan, crunching numbers, or negotiating with outsiders. They want to know how you were able to motivate, guide and nurture your team members to deliver an impressive outcome.

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

This question also shows what Stanford is looking for: your ability to leave a mark on an organization. Even more importantly, they are looking for an example of an impact you have made that has lasted over time. They are not interested in short-term effects but long-term ones. Perhaps you invented a specific model for a product in your company which to this day is still being sold, or being modeled by other companies. Or maybe you restructured a team who continues to benefit from those changes even years later.

  • Option C: Tell us about a time when you motivated others to support your vision or initiative.

This is similar to the type of question that MIT typically asks, which has to do with your ability to persuade. This question is looking for a combination of interpersonal and intellectual skills.

Do you have an experience in which you needed to convince people to support an idea that you had? If so, how did you do it? Notice that Stanford doesn’t use the words “persuade” or “convince” but “motivate” instead. They’re looking for people who do not force or push others to see from their points of view, but rather try to inspire them into believing the same thing.

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

This is the only short question that they kept from last year. This is a question about innovative and pioneering abilities. When have you gone above and beyond? Appropriate examples could be doing something unconventional that has not been done before, creating something for the first time, performing at a level that is highly unusual because of your age, rank, etc.

Further instructions from Stanford’s site:
Essay Length

Your answers for all of the essay questions cannot exceed 1,800 words. Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate the 1,800 words among all of the essays in the way that is most effective for you. We provide some guidelines below as a starting point, but you should feel comfortable to write as much or as little as you like on any essay question, as long as you do not exceed 1,800 words total.

  • Essay 1: 750 words
  • Essay 2: 450 words
  • Essay 3: 300 words each
  • Use a 12-point font, double spaced
  • Indicate which essay question you are answering at the beginning of each essay
  • Number all pages
  • Upload all four essays as one document
  • Preview the uploaded document to ensure that the formatting is true to the original
  • Save a copy of your essays