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2019 – 2020 Stanford MBA Essays – Analysis and Tips

Stanford Graduate School of Business has retained its iconic essay prompt, ‘What matters most to you, and why?’, for the 2019-2020 MBA application season. However, this year, it has added an optional short answer question to the mix. In this article, we take a look at how to tackle the different Stanford MBA essays and share our tips and insights on how to create a compelling Stanford MBA application essay.

Stanford MBA Essays - Analysis and Tips

Here is an outline of this article:

Since 15 years, the following Stanford MBA essay questions have remained the same for applicants:

  • What matters most to you, and why? – Essay A
  • Why Stanford? – Essay B

Every year, the admission committee filters out around 400 prospective students from a list of more than 8000 applicants, and the essays mentioned above have helped them significantly in doing so. However, this year, the Stanford MBA application essay saw a significant addition in the form of an optional short-answer question.

Before we proceed to discuss the details about specific essay questions, you must be thorough with the official guidelines for the Stanford MBA essays:

Stanford MBA Essays standard guidelines

Stanford MBA Essay Guidelines

  • Length of the essays: Try not to exceed the word limit of 1,150 words for both the essays combined. The recommended word limit for essay A is 750 words, and essay B Is 400 words.
  • Format of the essays: Stanford has strict guidelines for the format of the essays. Your essays must be double-spaced, and all the pages of the document must be numbered.
  • Uploading the essays: Both the essays must be uploaded in a single document.

Also, you must not include the optional short-answer question in the same document. There is an additional section provided on the application essay page where you are allowed to type in your answer for the optional short-answer question.

Have a look at the image below for an idea about the section where you can answer the short-answer questions:

Optiona-short-answer questions

Essay A: What matters the most to you, and why?

Stanford MBA Essay A

The essay topic may look simple and easy, but there is a reason it has been a part of the Stanford MBA application for around 15 years. The Stanford admission committee believes most of the inspirational leaders who have graduated from Stanford MBA share one quality, i.e., they know what drives them. And this MBA essay questions help them evaluate if you are capable of digging deeper within yourself to figure out what motivates you the most.

This essay is a self-reflection type of essay. For an overall understanding of how to answer a self-reflection type essay, you may want to have a look at the following article: MBA essay: 5 types of essays explained with examples.

One important thing to notice in this Stanford MBA essay is, it has two sub-questions in it – A ‘What?’ and a ‘Why?’. While the admission committee is interested in knowing what matters the most to you, they are more inclined to understand why it matters so much to you. You have a 750-word limit to answer this essay question, and you must make wise use of the words.

Let’s have a look at some tips on how you should approach this essay question.


e-GMAT tips for Stanford MBA Essay A

e-GMAt tips for Stanford MBA Essay A

Analyze what influences you

The admission committee knows that most applicants would be under the pressure of coming up with a striking and impressive answer to this simple-looking essay. However, the most appropriate response would be the one that comes from your intuition or gut.

You may consider answering the ‘What’ part of the question through one-word answers like love or success. But it is not a wise approach. While this may save you words, it doesn’t answer your calling and your unique journey.

Pause, spend time and analyze which circumstances, events, or experiences have shaped you to be the way you are now. Connect the dots between how you were before, the change in your morals brought about by the influence, or the lessons you have learned, and how do you use the morals or experiences in your present life.

Answer the following questions before you answer the essay

At first, you may be confused about what really matters to you and how it has changed your perspective. To clear this confusion, make a note of answers to the following type of questions (you may come up with more questions that can help you analyze yourself better):

  • How were you as a teenager? Were you enthusiastic about particular hobbies, sports, or other activities?
  • What role did your surrounding play in shaping your interests?
  • In which of these hobbies or extracurricular activities did you engage the most?
  • Did you continue with them as you grew up? Or did you take up other hobbies and activities?
  • What have you learned from them? How do you think they continue to influence you?
  • Are any of your interests connected with your career aspirations?
  • How have you improved on them over time?
  • How has been your career so far? Are you glad about your choices, or do you have some regrets?

Write down your gut responses to these questions. Analyze if there is an underlying theme to your responses. It may come as a surprise to you that there has always been a pattern to your interests. While you answer the Stanford MBA essay on ‘what matters the most to you, and why?’, try to incorporate this theme through a convincing story.

An instance for Stanford MBA Essay A

Here is a small example on Stanford MBA essay on ‘What matters the most to you, and Why?’:

 “During my under graduation, I devoted my weekends to teach slum kids. I have always believed that everyone must have a right to education. It isn’t just the government’s responsibility, but the responsibility of every capable person to spread the awareness on the necessities of education.

In my current job, I extend my help to a non-profit NGO, Save the Children, that has partnered with my firm. Twice every month, I get along with some friends from the NGO to teach basic English language to underprivileged kids and spread awareness on how to shape a better future through education.

Stanford’s ‘I Have a Dream’ club fascinates me, and I wish to continue the community service I have been doing for the past few years through the club.”

Common mistakes to avoid

Common mistakes to avoid in Essay A

Here are some common mistakes made by many Stanford MBA applicants in their MBA essay A:

Focusing too much on the ‘Why?’ part of the essay

While it is evident that the ‘Why’ part carries the soul of this essay, the ‘What?’ portion also needs to be given equal importance. If you write down a very generic response to ‘What’ matters the most to you, all your efforts to come up with an impressive response to ‘Why’ may fall flat on its face.

Immature responses that don’t reflect your aspirations

Your essay may seem soulless if the experiences and lessons you mention in your essay do not belong anywhere near an MBA application. While you must write the essay from your heart, you need to make sure the essay reflects your personality, journey, and connects the dots to your career aspirations.

The essay doesn’t reflect your personal style

There is no right or wrong answer to this essay question. However, there is the right tone for this essay, and that is your tone. Stanford mentions that there is a thin line between getting feedback for your essay and getting coaching. You cross the thin line when any part of the essay fails to be exclusively your own, be it the idea or the words.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

Stanford MBA Essay B

The essay A of Stanford MBA application – ‘What matters the most to you, and why? ‘seeks insights about your past and present. The essay B – ‘Why Stanford?’ is your chance to connect the dots to your future aspirations.

The second essay of Stanford MBA application takes a step back from your philosophical outsights. It looks for more practical views from your end about what are your career aspirations, how do you plan to achieve them through a Stanford MBA.

Let’s have a look at some tips to approach this essay:

e-GMAT tips for Stanford MBA Essay B

e-GMAT tips for Stanford MBA essay B

You are the hero of your story

Expressing your goals and aspirations to help the reader feel your enthusiasm is never easy. So, you can use this psychological trick to come up with a compelling essay that indulges the reader in understanding your story better. Write from a character’s point of view. Take a step back and view yourself as a character in a movie.

You need to convey your passion and your emotion related to your aspirations and attending a Stanford MBA. Develop the story of your character until the present time, and help the reader imagine how the Stanford MBA will lead your character to its climax, i.e., your short-term career goal.

A little about the past. A lot about the future.

While you must speak a little about your past experiences and situation that has led you to this point, this essay requires you to put more focus on your future. Give the admission committee a little insight about your academic and professional strengths, and a little information about the areas that you lag. This will help you lay a plot that leads to the Stanford MBA. You can explain how you have reached a particular lap in your career by yourself, but to move forward to achieve your short-term goals, you will need the help of a Stanford MBA.

Showcase your research about Stanford MBA

The Stanford MBA essay B puts a really straightforward question in front of you – ‘Why Stanford?’. The admission committee wants to check if you wish to go for an MBA or do you really understand the perks that a Stanford MBA offers.

Show the admission committee that you have done your research on business schools, and you choose Stanford MBA because of the unique opportunities it brings to the table. Talk about specific opportunities such as the dual-degree programs, clubs, offerings, etc. that sets Stanford apart from other business schools.

For instance, if you are planning to apply for both the programs at Stanford (MBA and MSx), highlight the benefits of both the programs in the context of your situation and aspiration.

To know more about Stanford MBA for your research for this essay, you can refer to the following article: Stanford GSB MBA Class Profile.

An instance for Stanford MBA Essay B

Here is a small instance on Stanford MBA essay on ‘Why Stanford?’:

I have always been a firm believer in the right to education for all. I have partnered with a couple of NGOs working towards the same in the past. I wish to make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged, for which I plan to open an NGO to contribute towards their education on a large scale.

When I was sure that an MBA is a way to achieve my goal, I started my research on the business schools that can help me with it. Stanford’s ‘I have a dream’ club inspires me, and I wish to learn from the program on how better I can contribute to the community.


Common mistakes to avoid

Common mistakes Stanford MBA essay B

Essay B tells a different story than Essay A

Many times, the applicants show inconsistency in their essays. Their essay A tells a story about their career aspirations. Still, they fail to follow it up in their essay B. As we had explained, essay A is your chance to speak about your past and present experiences, while providing hints about your career plans. Afterward, you can use essay B to expand on your near-future aspirations.

Not writing a Stanford specific essay

Writing one essay and cutting and pasting it for several business school applications is a common blunder made by many MBA applicants. There is a reason why the question essay B asks is ‘Why Stanford?’.

The admission committee would like to know if you are looking for an MBA in general, or it is specifically a Stanford MBA that can help you with your career plans. Again, here is where you can showcase your research on Stanford MBA and its USPs.

Not following the official essay guidelines

This stands true for the two Stanford MBA essays and the short-answer type question. Keeping the fonts too small, exceeding the word limit for the essays, or not following the double-spacing format specified in the Stanford MBA essay official guidelines can break your situation. Keep your readers (admission committee) in mind while writing your essays.


Stanford MBA Essay: Optional Short-answer question

Stand MBA essay short-answer questions

The optional short-answer question is a significant addition by Stanford to its MBA application 2019-20. The topic of the short-answer question is: Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or others? You are welcome to share up to three examples.

Stanford allows you 1500 words to answer this question, including a maximum of three examples from your life to support your answers. While Stanford maintains that the short-answer questions are optional, it is a good chance for you to improve your chances for a Stanford MBA admission. Let’s have a look at some tips that will come handy while answering the short-answer questions.


e-GMAT tips for optional short-answer questions

Mention one impactful action from each setting of your life

Note that Stanford provides you with a broad spectrum of settings to answer the short-answers questions. You can mention at least one accomplishment from each aspect of your life, i.e., extracurricular, academic, professional, personal, etc.

Expand on the accomplishments from other pieces of the application

It is likely that you repeat some accomplishments that you have already conveyed through your resume or recommendation letters. Expand only on your most significant accomplishments that were mentioned in bullet points in your resume or in the form of a small anecdote on your recommendation letter. Use this opportunity to go deeper, but also avoid sounding repetitive.

Come up with strategic instances

Mention the examples that belong to your Stanford MBA application. You can take about instances where you used your leadership skills or strategic thinking skills; something that will help the admission committee evaluate you as a prospective MBA student.


An instance for Stanford MBA short-answer question

Here is an example on the Stanford MBA short-answer question:

A few years ago, I was in charge of the technical aspects of my current company. The firm was yet to expand its business in the Indian sub-continent, and that is when I was given the responsibility to collaborate with the Sales team to come up with a strategic implementation plan. I lead the project with the business development, marketing, and sales teams, and made some significant tweaks to the marketing strategies according to the Indian condition.

Within the next two years, our company was able to acquire 35 percent of the customer market, which was previously governed by our main competitor.

To understand more about the importance of the essays in your MBA applications, you can refer to the following article: Importance of Essays in MBA Application

That was all about the Stanford MBA essays.

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