Stanford GSB Essays, Deadlines & Analysis (Class of 2012, Starting Fall 2010)

DEADLINES: [table id=7 /]

* Applications are due by 5:00 PM, Pacific Time

Note: Round 1 deadline moved up by 3 weeks (October 29, 2008 last year)


Overview: Stanford GSB's admission criteria emphasize "intellectual vitality," "demonstrated leadership potential," and "personal qualities and contributions," which nicely capture what all MBA programs look for. However, when I read their criteria closely, the following phrases jump out at me:

"...we want to see your passion, dedication, and genuine interest in expanding your intellectual horizons throughout your application."

"...we look for evidence of your behaviors consistent with your ideals, even under difficult circumstances—a sort of directed idealism."

"...We look comprehensively at your background for evidence of your impact on the people and organizations around you, and the impact of those experiences on you."

"So the strongest applications we see are those in which your thoughts and style remain intact."

Taken together, these statements make it clear that Stanford wants applicants who can demonstrate consistent excellence driven by the highest ideals. In fact, Stanford's approach over the years has shaped my consulting approach to a large extent (even though I went to Cal ;-).

Because of the challenges of this essay set, I strongly recommend that applicants finish at least 2-3 other schools first before beginning.

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

Analysis: Your answer to Stanford's signature question can go a long way towards establishing the "directed idealism" they seek. I suggest breaking it up into two questions: 1) What ideal, value or motivation drives you and why? 2) How have you demonstrated that throughout your personal and professional life? If you've consciously lived your passion from the time you were a child, then this is your dream question. However, most of us discover our passions along the way. In that spirit, I suggest examining your best accomplishments for a common theme or underlying value that can be defined broadly enough to incorporate your examples, but narrowly enough to have real meaning. It should also have a kind of "future-focus" so the GSB adcom can sense its potential for creating positive change, most directly through your career aspirations.

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

Analysis: A typical goals essay, however your aspirations should clearly derive from "what matters most to you." If Essay 1 is the "why," then this essay is the "how," as in "How does your career plan reflect your highest ideals and values?"

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.

Analysis: I think of all of these topics as forms of leadership (please see: The MBA Leadership Essay), directed either internally towards a team (Option A), or externally towards a goal (Options B, C, D). The right two choices will depend on what aspects of leadership your accomplishments demonstrate, and what areas of your background have been covered in other essays. For bonus "consistency" points, try to pick examples that reflect "what matters most to you."

Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

Analysis: Good teamwork usually doesn't happen by accident. If you initiated an exceptional team, then you probably took pro-active steps to ensure things like good communication channels, clear roles, and flexibility. On the other hand, if you improved a broken team, then you recognized and overcame its weaknesses. Both situations require a good understanding of what makes a team function well or poorly, and the ability to influence your team members to adopt good team habits from the outset, or to overcome bad team habits along the way. Be sure to detail the actions you took and why, along with the initial goal of your team and the final result.   

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

Analysis: A typical leadership topic, but with an emphasis on the long-term benefits to your organization.

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

Analysis: A typical leadership topic, but with an emphasis on your persuasive abilities. A new vision or initiative will likely have opponents. How did you win them over or otherwise overcome their opposition?

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

Analysis: A typical leadership topic, but with an emphasis on the unusual nature of the accomplishment itself. Context is key here to show just how creatively you were thinking.   


    Essay Length Your answers for all of the essay questions cannot exceed 1,800 words. Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate the 1,800 words among all of the essays in the way that is most effective for you. We provide some guidelines below as a starting point, but you should feel comfortable to write as much or as little as you like on any essay question, as long as you do not exceed 1,800 words total.    

    • Essay 1: 750 words
    • Essay 2: 450 words
    • Essay 3: 300 words each


    • Use a 12-point font, double spaced
    • Indicate which essay question you are answering at the beginning of each essay
    • Number all pages
    • Upload all four essays as one document
    • Preview the uploaded document to ensure that the formatting is true to the original
    • Save a copy of your essays