Stanford University (Stanford Graduate School of Business) Essay Analysis, 2009–2010

We believe that before we even begin our analysis, the following quote from Stanford Admissions Director Derrick Bolton bears repeating:

“Because we want to discover who you are, resist the urge to ‘package’ yourself in order to come across in a way you think Stanford wants. Such attempts simply blur our understanding of who you are and what you can accomplish. We want to hear your genuine voice throughout the essays that you write and this is the time to think carefully about your values, your passions, your hopes and dreams.”

At mbaMission, we constantly tell candidates not to attempt to become something that they are not—something they mistakenly believe the Admissions Committee wants them to be. The schools want a class made up of diverse individuals, and by pandering to some expectation, you are basically aspiring to create a generic application, rather than one that will separate you from the pack.

Without further ado, our essay analysis follows:

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

Clearly, because of the very personal nature of this essay, you must thoroughly contemplate your response. At mbaMission, we always brainstorm in depth with our candidates, pushing them to explore the psychological and philosophical motivations behind their goals and achievements to best help them determine their Stanford themes. We cannot emphasize this enough—you should not make a snap decision about the content of this essay. Even after candidates have identified their themes, we encourage them to discuss their ideas with those with whom they are closest; this step helps to validate deeply personal and authentic themes and thereby results in an essay that truly stands out.

Once you have challenged yourself and identified your main themes, you should not simply provide a handful of anecdotes that support your idea—or worse, recycle the ideas you used in your HBS three accomplishments essay. The best Stanford essays are true explorations of the concept or issue posed by the essay question, involving a thorough analysis of decisions, motives and successes/failures. In other words, your anecdotes constitute a recounting of moments of personal exploration and so are not ends in and of themselves. If you are merely telling stories and trying to tie in your preconceived conclusions, you are most likely not analyzing your experiences, but rather forcing a theme on the reader—and this will be transparent to the experienced eyes of Admissions Committee readers. In short, be sure to fully consider and develop your most sincere answers, outline your essays accordingly and then infuse your responses with your personality, thoughts and feelings. These are the first steps in crafting a compelling essay.

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

You will notice that Stanford does not explicitly ask about your short- and long-term career goals but instead about your “career aspirations.” Short- and long-term goals can be somewhat confining; Stanford’s “aspirations” offer a level of flexibility and allow you to provide a broader and more reasoned compendium of your objectives and the path you hope to take to reach them. Once you have provided this sketch, you must explain precisely how Stanford will help you achieve your goals. Essay 2 is not an opportunity to simply sing the school’s praises, but rather to profoundly connect with Stanford’s pedagogy and resources. You must convincingly explain how Stanford has the resources necessary for you to make your dreams and goals a reality.

Because Personal Statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the “mbaMission Personal Statement Guide.” We offer this guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today.

For a thorough exploration of the GSB’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Stanford GSB.  

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.

Although this question is somewhat straightforward, the difference between a strong and a weak essay will be contained in the cause-and-effect relationship between the actions you took to create/develop the team and the team’s subsequent effectiveness. You must be sure that your essay reveals that you played a direct and integral role in the makeup, character and performance of your team and that your intent/actions had the desired effect.

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

Again, demonstrating the “how” element in this essay is every bit as important as presenting the results. When writing this essay, consider a before-and-after scenario—one in which the distinction between the situation you inherited and the situation you created is clear, thereby establishing yourself as the catalyst for the change. Further, you must establish that your influence was not fleeting, but enduring. Your impact need not be completely revolutionary—a training initiative, a change in process that brings efficiency, a new product or service could all work—but it should be indelible.

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

In these essay questions, Stanford tends to err on the side of minimalism. You should certainly focus on how you inspired others to join or encourage your initiative; however, this is only a starting point. You must complement this with information on how you motivated this group to achieve something special. In a short essay, incorporating conflict into the narrative can be difficult, but showing that your idea(s) met with some initial resistance is important in ensuring that your story is interesting to the reader. If, in your essay, you simply put forth an argument and everyone readily agrees, you will likely not have proven that you truly “motivated” others.

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

In this essay, you can show yourself to be an independent thinker, capable of finding your own “true” path and/or adhering to morals and principles that you hold dear, particularly when those with influence are advising you otherwise. Alternatively, somewhat in the spirit of Option A, you can show that you had a bold vision and achieved ambitious goals, though in this case you may have achieved independently rather than as part of a team. In either case, by creating a clear picture of what was expected of you and then contrasting your choice—by describing your actions and outlining your reasoning and thoughts—you can present a compelling picture of yourself as a strong-minded and adventurous “hero.”

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Deadlines

  • INSEAD (Round 4)
  • UNC Kenan-Flagler (Round 3)
  • USC Marshall (Round 3)
  • Carnegie Mellon Tepper (Round 3)
  • London Business School (Round 3)
  • Cambridge Judge (Round 4)
  • NYU Stern (Round 4)

Click here to see the complete deadlines

2020–2021 MBA Essay Analysis

Click here for the 2019–2020 MBA Essay Analysis

MBA Program Updates