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 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.