What Happens When You Apply to Stanford B-School

Admissions asks that every applicant limit him or herself to 1,800 words total. The school has suggested guidelines on length of each essay: 750 words for the first, 450 words for the second, and 300 words for each of the remaining two questions you need to answer in essay three.

The first essay question: ”What matters most to you, and why?”

The second essay: ”What are your career aspirations? How will you education at Stanford help you achieve them?”

The final essay is broken into two parts with options: “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 motivated others to support your vision or initiative.
Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.

ADVICE FROM ADMISSIONS DIRECTOR DERRICK BOLTON.

Admissions director Derrick Bolton has written an essay himself offering some guidance on how to approach the essay questions. Here’s his basic advice: “Rarely during our lives are we asked to think deeply about what is most important to us. Stanford professor Bill Damon’s most recent book, The Moral Advantage: How to Succeed in Business by Doing the Right Thing, contained the following passages that might help you maintain the larger context as you delve into the essay writing process.

“We are not always aware of the forces that ultimately move us. While focusing on the “how” questions—how to survive, how to get ahead, how to make a name for ourselves—often we forget the “why” questions that are more essential for finding and staying on the best course: Why pursue this objective? Why behave in this manner? Why aspire to this kind of life? Why become this type of person?

“These “why” questions help us realize our highest aspirations and our truest interests. To answer these questions well, we must decide what matters most to us, what we will be able to contribute to in our careers, what are the right (as opposed to the wrong) ways of behaving as we aim toward this end, and, ultimately, what kind of persons we want to become. Because everyone, everywhere, wants to live an admirable life, a life of consequence, the “why” questions cannot be ignored for long without great peril to one’s personal stability and enduring success. It is like ignoring the rudder on a ship—no matter how much you look after all the boat’s other moving parts, you may end up lost at sea.”

“The Stanford MBA Program essays provide you a disciplined opportunity to reflect on your own ‘truest interests’ and ‘highest aspirations.’ While the letters of reference are stories about you told by others, these essays enable you to tell your own story, what matters most to you and why, as well as how you have decided you can best contribute to society. Please think of the Stanford essays as conversations on paper—when we read files, we feel that we meet people, also known as our “flat friends”—and tell us your story in a natural, genuine way.

“Our goal is to understand what motivates you and how you have become the person you are today. In addition, we’re interested in what kind of person you wish the Stanford MBA Program to help you become. Reflective, insightful essays help us envision the individual behind all of the experiences and accomplishments that we read about elsewhere in your application.

“The most important piece of advice on these essays is extremely simple: answer the questions—each component of each question. An additional suggestion for writing essays is equally straightforward: think a lot before you write. We want a holistic view of you as a person: your values, passions, ideas, experiences, and aspirations.

Essay 1

“In the first essay, tell a story—and tell a story that only you can tell. This essay should be descriptive and told in a straightforward and sincere way. This probably sounds strange, since these are essays for business school, but we don’t expect to hear about your business experience in this essay (though, of course, you are free to write about whatever you would like). Remember that we have your entire application—work history, letters of reference, short-answer responses, etc.—to learn what you have accomplished and the type of impact you have made. Your task in this first essay is to connect the people, situations, and events in your life with the values you adhere to and the choices you have made. This essay gives you a terrific opportunity to learn about yourself!
Many good essays describe the “what,” but great essays move to the next order and describe how and why these “whats” have influenced your life.

“The most common mistake applicants make is spending too much time describing the “what” and not enough time describing how and why these guiding forces have shaped your behavior, attitudes, and objectives in your personal and professional lives. Please be assured that we do appreciate and reward thoughtful self-assessment and appropriate levels of self-disclosure.”