Stanford GSB Warns MBA Applicants About Coaching

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business

Stanford Graduate School of Business is telling prospective applicants that if they allow coaches “to craft any part” of their application to its MBA program they could be denied admission or an admit could be revoked.

While the school isn’t explicitly banning the use of an admissions coach, it appears to be openly discouraging their use. Admission coaches rarely provide mere feedback on an application, most often guiding every aspect of how an candidate applies to a business school from what to tell admission officials and how to frame their stories. The admonition is being issued at a time when MBA admission consultants likely help a third or more of Stanford’s MBA candidates with their applications (see The Top 20 MBA Admission Consultants Of 2021).

Neither Harvard Business School nor Wharton issue a similar warning, even though HBS has an extensive explanation of its admission policies. Many business schools, in fact, have hosted the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) MBA admissions consulting trade group on their campuses and openly participate in the organization’s annual conference.


Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of admissions & financial aid at Stanford GSB

Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid at the GSB, says the school isn’t trying to discourage applicants from hiring professional coaches but trying to ensure that coaches don’t overstep and actually write the essays. “We want each applicant to have support in the application process,” says Moss. “Some may rely on our programming, others may rely on friends and family and still others may use admissions coaches. Our best advice to candidates is to reflect on their journey (past and future) and share these insights with us. Strong applications demonstrate self-reflection that only the candidate can discover and communicate.”

She adds that the school’s goal is “to help every candidate put their best foot forward in the application process. This year, we are kicking off a new program, Stanford GSB Application Week, in August to provide advice to candidates on all parts of the application process. Admissions Officers will host sessions over five days on key topics, including writing essays, selecting recommenders, and assessing applications.”

Each of the four workshops and four panels will be hosted by Stanford admission officials. Prospective candidates will be able to register for the event in mid-July.

The workshops will start on a Monday with Navigating the Application. Other workshop themes include  Starting Your Story, Writing Your Story, and Speaking Your Story. The panels will delve into Academics, Testing, & Transcripts, Letters of Reference, Connecting The Dots, and a week-ending Dean’s Office Hours session with Moss.


Most admission coaches are preferring to put a positive spin on Stanford’s coaching vs. feedback statement. “I would agree entirely with the GSB,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, one of the largest MBA admissions consulting firms in the world. “We would never advise anyone to be inauthentic. It only damages the applicant’s chances if their voice is removed from their work. Our goal is never to write an applicant’s file for them. In fact, we have fired clients who have persisted in requesting that we write their work or have engaged others to write for them when we have refused. Our goal is to elevate an individual’s voice and story, because an applicant’s authenticity and sincerity is everything. If our applicants’ ‘thoughts, voice and style’ do not ‘remain intact’ then we have only hurt their chances. In this respect, our goals, the applicant’s goals and Stanford’s goals are all aligned.”

Alex Leventhal, founder of Prep MBA Admissions Consulting, agrees. “I actually appreciate that GSB has made this clear for years, as occasionally clients will cross the line and pressure me to ‘give them the answers,'” he says. ” Of course, with GSB there are no normative answers, as their essays are asking for originality and personal expression.  What I find effective is that I’ve separated successful GSB ‘What Matters Most’ essays into 6 plus archetypes, and sharing these via case studies can open up worlds of permission for clients.  Many of them initially go as a reflex towards a career tour de force type essay—though this is understandable given they are seeking MBA admission, it often does not make for the most differentiated story.  Seeing a range of essay approaches can give clients the confidence to ring their own bell.  This is particularly helpful for technical/STEM applicants and internationals coming from traditional education systems that do not really nurture formal personal expression.”

Linda Abraham, founder of, notes that the school’s warning is not exactly new. “This language or language close to it has been on Stanford’s site for a long time, probably going back to the early 2000’s from what remember,” she says. “In terms of the difference between coaching and feedback I think Stanford does a good job of defining the distinction. The ‘coaching’ which they don’t want, occurs when an applicant’s voice is lost or when the thoughts conveyed are someone else’s. It can also occur when there is so much feedback from so many different sources that the life and guts are sucked out of an applicant’s essays. Their story is lost and never told.”


The warning is being issued as Stanford released its new 2021-2022 application deadlines. As expected, the school did not change the essay questions this year. Once again, Stanford’s essays have a combined word limit of 1050 words, suggesting clients allocate up to 650 words on the school’s iconic “What Matters Most To You and Why” essay and up to 400 words on its “Why Stanford?” essay.

Stanford set a September 9th round one deadline, exactly a day after Harvard Business School’s R1 cutoff (see 2021-2022 MBA Application Deadlines For Leading Business Schools). For applicants who file their application in R1, Stanford is promising a final decision by Dec. 9th, 2021. The school does not set an exact date for when it will invite candidates to interview with either an alum or an admissions official if they pass the first application review hurdle. All interviews are held off campus. The R2 deadline is Jan. 5, 2022, with final notification on March 31. Stanford GSB did not yet release the dates for its final round three deadline. Completed applications are due no later than 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time on the deadline date.

Unlike most other business schools, Stanford also used the opportunity in announcing its deadlines and essays to explain the the difference between receiving feedback on an application and coaching. The statement appears in the admissions section on essays.

“There is a big difference between ‘feedback’ and ‘coaching,’ according to the school’s website. “You cross that line when any part of the application (excluding the letters of reference) ceases to be exclusively yours in either thought or word.”

Stanford then goes on to describe in detail what it believes may cross that line. “Appropriate feedback occurs when others review your completed application — perhaps once or twice — and apprise you of omissions, errors, or inaccuracies that you later correct or address. After editing is complete, your thoughts, voice, and style remain intact. Inappropriate coaching occurs when you allow others to craft any part of your application for you and, as a result, your application or self-presentation is not authentic.”


Applicants who cross that line face significant consequences, the school warns. “It is improper and a violation of the terms of this application process to have someone else write your essays. Such behavior will result in denial of your application or revocation of your admission.”

Some MBA admission coaches note that they help level the playing field, particularly for applicants who come from work backgrounds where MBA graduates are in short supply. “I salute Stanford and other schools for trying to ensure that their applicants are ethical people whose applications are authentic,” says Paul Bodine, founder of who recently made Poets&Quants’ Hall of Fame for MBA Admissions Coaches. “Business schools have had occasional bad apples among alumni, so it’s a very good thing that they want to send a loud and clear message about integrity. “We have always refused to write/craft any applicant’s essay (we are only very rarely even asked) and we work hard through our process to ensure that the applicant’s application represents their own ‘thoughts, voice, and style’ via their responses to our questionnaire, their comments in multiple phone conversations, their written responses to their consultant’s feedback.

“But I do think it’s important to mention that some applicants working only on their own will have a clear edge in an essay prompt like ‘What matters most to you and why?’. Through education, upbringing, affluence, English language skills, culture etc. they already have the tools, perspective, savvy and language skills to help themselves significantly in such essays. Applicants who are not Poets; who are not from educated or Western families, who approach essays with the tool kit of the engineer/tech type can totally fail to authentically and compellingly capture who they really are, perhaps because they misinterpret essay prompts as invitations to ‘BS’ some canned response or just ‘tell a sob story’.

“My concern is that Stanford’s new guidance might discourage such applicants who don’t consider themselves ‘Stanford types’ (we’ve worked with several whom we convinced to apply to GSB and were admitted) from knowing that a consultant can actually be a partner in developing a more authentic representation of who they really are than they would have managed on their own. We wholeheartedly support Stanford’s effort to ensure it admits ethical applicants.”


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