What Happens When You Apply to Stanford B-School

Essay 2

“In the second essay, please note that there are two separate but related questions. Answer both!
First, we ask you to describe your aspirations. What are your ideas for your “best self” after Stanford? What, and how, do you hope to contribute in your professional life after Stanford? We give you broad license to envision your future. You may find it difficult to explain why you need an MBA to reach your aims, however, if those aims are ill-defined. Be honest, with yourself and with us, in addressing those questions. Certainly you do not need to make up a path if you don’t have one, but a certain level of focused interests will enable you to make the most of the Stanford experience.

“Second, we ask how the MBA Program at Stanford will help you achieve these aspirations. The key here is that you should have objectives for your Stanford experience, whether personal, intellectual, or professional.
How do you plan to take advantage of the incredible opportunities at Stanford? How do you envision yourself contributing, growing, and learning here at the Business School? And how will the Stanford experience help you become the person you described in the first part of Essay 2? From both parts of Essay 2, we learn about your dreams, what has shaped them, and how Stanford can help you bring them into fruition.”

Essay 3: Short Answers

“Unlike the two previous essays, in which you are asked to write about your life from a more “global” perspective, these questions ask you to reflect on a specific recent (within the last three years) experience that has made a difference to you and/or the people around you. The best answers will transport us to that moment in time by painting a vivid picture not only of what you did, but also of how you did it. Include details about what you thought and felt during that time and your perceptions about how others responded. From these short-answer responses, we visualize you “in action.”

“Moving beyond the specific essay and short-answer questions,” advises Bolton, “I’d like to address a couple of myths.

Myth #1: Tell the Committee on Admissions what makes you unique in your essays.
This often leads applicants to believe that you need to have accomplishments or feats that are unusual or different from your peers (e.g., traveling to an exotic place or talking about a tragic situation in your life).
But how are you to know which of your experiences are unique when you know neither the backgrounds of the other applicants nor the topics they have chosen? What makes you unique is not that you have had these experiences, but rather how and why your perspective has changed or been reinforced as a result of those and other everyday experiences. That is a story that only you can tell. If you concentrate your efforts on telling us who you are, differentiation will occur naturally; if your goal is to appear unique, you actually may achieve the opposite effect. Truly, the most impressive essays that we read each year are those that do not begin with the goal of impressing us.”

Myth #2: There is a widespread perception that if you don’t have amazing essays, you won’t be admitted even if you are a compelling applicant. “Please remember that no single element of your application is dispositive. And since we recognize that our application has limits, we constantly remind ourselves to focus on the applicant rather than the application. This means that we will admit someone despite the application essays if we feel we’ve gotten a good sense of the person overall. Yes, the essays are important. But they are neither our only avenue of understanding you, nor are they disproportionately influential in the admission process.

“Alumnus Leo Linbeck, MBA ’94 told me something on an alumni panel in Houston a few years ago that I have since appropriated. Leo said that, in management terms, the Stanford essays are not a marketing exercise but an accounting exercise. This is not an undertaking in which you look at an audience/customer (i.e., the Committee on Admissions) and then write what you believe we want to hear. It is quite the opposite. This is a process in which you look inside yourself and try to express most clearly what is there. We are trying to get a good sense of your perspectives, your thoughts on management and leadership, and how Stanford can help you realize your goals. As Professor Damon would say, we are helping you ensure that your rudder steers you to the right port.”