Essay Analysis
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May 8, 2023

Stanford GSB MBA Essay B
Why Stanford?

Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.

Note: Both essays combined may not exceed 1,050 words. We recommend up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B. We often find effective essays that are written in fewer words.

Same deal as Essay A, going to borrow some KEY words from Stanford: Your aspirations. Stanford.

  • This is what I want to do—and here is why YOU should be excited about it. (This doesn’t require a ton of backstory or setup—some setup, yes—you need our buy-in. If your idea is uninspired, guess what, so too are “you.” Sell it. Give us just enough background and then in simple terms, walk us through your aspirations. With surgical efficiency.)
  • I’m confident I’m going to succeed because I’m good at it, I know what it takes to succeed, and I frickin’ LOVE the thing to death. Let me show you what I mean. This is how it’s all going to look, step by step. Notice how each step as I’ve laid it out SNAPS into place perfectly. I understand the logic behind all of it because I “get” it, I “get” my vision, only people who get it so keenly are likely to succeed.
  • This confidence comes from careful consideration of how it’s all going to go down, which has led me to recognize the importance of not just why an MBA is key, but why Stanford, in particular, supports my vision the BEST—I am, in effect, turning down Harvard, Wharton, Booth, etc., you name it, because none of these places can do XX, YY, and ZZ to catapult me toward my vision like Stanford can.

That’s the essay. In a nutshell. That’s what we call “the subtext.” Underneath the actual stuff you write, this should be communicated.

In order to NAIL this essay, you must understand Stanford and what they’re all about. This may take some research on your end, and this is what Stanford is hoping—that after a TON of research, you have determined that THIS place, unlike any other, is your best fit. Articulate THAT not just when you address the “why Stanford” piece, but even as you articulate your goal. The folks who get into Stanford demonstrate a synergy with the school in every fiber of their application. It’s gotta come through EVERYWHERE.

But so, after you’ve walked us through points 1 and 2 above, let’s dig in a bit to point 3.

How to understand Stanford well enough to approach this? Spend time on the website. Read about the school elsewhere—articles, anything written by current or former students. Talk to former students. Talk to current students. Visit the campus. Lots of ways to engage—where there’s a will, there’s a way. Read stuff by current or former professors. Notice the trends of what kinds of professors came from Stanford. Notice what kinds of companies were started at Stanford. Get a sense.

Now, whatever you do, please don’t think that there is a magical phrase or a set of classes you can name drop that will trigger a successful outcome. The demonstration of “fit” here is a wildly organic one. It’s in between the lines, never the lines themselves. Stanford’s assets have to match YOU in a way that won’t necessarily apply to the guy sitting next to you. This is the whole point about “individuality” and “uniqueness.” Stanford is curious to see how aspects of its program and culture uniquely affect your appetite for an MBA, or for your career goals. It’s not “mentioning a class,” folks. Or “a club.” Or “a professor’s name.” It’s much, much, much more than that.

It’s an argument.

An argument that PROVES connectivity. Proves that there is something about Stanford that not even a place like Harvard or LBS or Wharton or Top School X can quite satisfy in the same way. That’s a great conceit to adopt here. You have a free ride to HBS. Why would you PAY to go to Stanford instead? Convince me, as though I’m your spouse, why this is not an insane decision. A great essay here can be between 400-500 words, no need for it to live outside that range.

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May 8, 2023

What matters most to you, and why?

For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives

Note: Both essays combined may not exceed 1,050 words. We recommend up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B. We often find effective essays that are written in fewer words.

This may be the hardest of all B-school essays to write, and to write well. Why? Because it’s so open-ended. They haven’t just given you a hunk of clay and asked you to mold it. They’ve given you canvas, paint, wood, sheet metal, circuit boards, copper wire, and a hundred other elements and have asked you to “generate something awe-inspiring.” While you’re painting a blue sky on your canvas paper, the guy in the station next to you is creating a computer that can communicate with aliens. Intimidating.

What are others writing about!? What are the guys who are GETTING IN writing about?

Well, let’s start there—if that’s what you’re focusing on, you’re asking the wrong question. It has absolutely nothing to with WHAT others are writing about, but HOW they’re writing. Don’t misunderstand us here; this isn’t about writing skill. B-school essays are never about mastery of prose. The “how” here refers to the manner in which the successful candidates are able to introspect, walk around an experience, assess different points of view, offer new points of view, and reveal deeply personal tales that offer key insights into what they’re MADE of. It’s not the story itself.

Some key words from Stanford’s description: insights, experiences, people. Written from the heart. Shaped your perspective.

We’ve talked about this Stanford essay a bunch before, so this time around, we want to focus on these concepts above.

Especially that phrase “shaped your perspective.” What has shaped you? Who are you today, and what process has made you that way? If you were describing the Grand Canyon this way, don’t tell us the measurements of how big it is, instead focus on the way WATER and WIND eroded and molded it (or you!). It’s the shaping, the influencing, the MOLDING we want to know about. This is more revealing than “the result.” “The thing.” “That you are awesome.” It’s all in how you got there.

Consider the following statement. “I just landed a commercial jet containing 300 passengers.” Impressive? Maybe.

Let’s consider two authors of that statement. Author 1—a 58-year-old veteran pilot with military experience, and 20 years of experience as a professional pilot. Author 1 has flown hundreds of flights every year for the past 20 years. Let’s consider the same statement, but introduce a new author, Author 2. Author 2 is 13 years old, scared of heights, and has a crippling fear of flying. He needs to be sedated every time he flies, in fact. One day, he wakes up mid-flight, due to his sedation unintentionally wearing off. He notices all of the passengers beside him unconscious, the captains of the plane incapacitated, and he turns out to be the only person on board who can communicate with air traffic control. The kid puts on the headset, now fueled by a will to survive that trumps all of his phobias, is guided by folks on the ground, and successfully lands the plane, saving the lives of hundreds on board.

Now ask yourself, which “landing of the commercial jet” feels cooler, and more revealing about THE PERSON WHO PERFORMED THE FEAT? The answer is obvious, and the example was purposely absurd to demonstrate a point. The stuff Stanford wants to know about isn’t the “landing of the aircraft.” They wanna know about the phobia. The decision to walk into the cockpit in spite of the phobia. They wanna know how someone with these fears, with zero experience, etc. etc., could pull this thing off. They wanna know about the WATER and WIND folks… that shaped the Grand Canyon. Not the canyon itself.

So, let’s bring this back down to Earth. When you’re figuring out what matters most to you, think about competing influences in your development. The strongest stories are the ones that have the most intense and compelling “arcs” where your starting point is here at point A and then somehow, things, people, circumstances, experiences, etc. SHAPED you… MOLDED YOU (like water and air) to travel to point B where you ended up—essentially—an entirely different person. We need to understand all that CONTEXT. If you’re talking about an experience that “changed” you, or that “made you who you are,” it’s only as effective as our understanding of who you were BEFORE that experience so we can contextualize the change. If a person affected you significantly, same deal—we need to know who you were BEFORE that person affected you.

“Before & After” is an incredibly powerful tool for MOST B-school essays, and never more powerful than here for Stanford’s famous essay.

Grand Canyon, ladies and gentlemen. But not the canyon itself—water and air. Water. And air.

June 11, 2020

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 to others? You are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1500 characters, approximately 250 words, for each example)

The two required essays shed light on who you are and how you imagine Stanford will help you achieve your aspirations. We are also interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you. In this section, we provide an optional opportunity to go beyond your resume to discuss some of your contributions more fully.

Please do not include your short-answer response in your essays upload; use the text boxes provided in the application.

Most people applying to Stanford GSB have had a positive impact somewhere. So no matter what your story is, there’s a version of that story that most other capable ‘born MBAs’ would have done in your exact same situation. Think about what those stories would be. You should be able to imagine variations in both APPROACH (leadership style, methodology, vision, etc.) but also results (big/small, more/less impressive, whatever). For now, mentally score all versions as AWESOME, GREAT, A+. “More or less the same.” Anyone would be happy with any of those versions.

Now, consider your version of the story. Your version includes an extra little something. A little harmless-looking egg that over time cracked open to become a fierce “dragon” of “additional impact.” Lasting, permanent impact. The gift that keeps on giving.

What we want to get into is WHAT WAS IT you saw that “above and beyond what those other MBA candidates would have”? Was it, indeed, above and beyond? Or in your mind, was this the only logical approach? Why do you think YOU saw this unique path, where others might not have? What is it about the way you thought through this challenge (or think through “any” challenge) that CONSIDERS lasting, positive impact in a way that others do not?

The key to impact stories is the “above and beyond” portion. The stuff you didn’t need to address, and the project would have STILL been a success—but maybe not as impactful. Here’s a rough structure for each 250-word response:

  • Establish the “good enough” version … the “If I had addressed the challenge with THIS solution, it would have been an A+.” Establish that first.
  • Next, tell us what in your estimation was MISSING from this “good enough” solution. What did you see that no one else saw? Why bother with this extra step? who would benefit? And why would that be important in the long term?
  • Was there a risk to addressing this “extra” piece? If so, explain the cost-benefit that led you to go for it. If it didn’t come with risk, explain why no one else thought to do this. There must be SOME “friction” here. Usually, it’s either (a) Perceived as too hard, not worth the risk, but you disagree and found a smart way to tackle it; or (b) Others just never realized the opportunity, but you did (perhaps due to some rare/unique aspect of your background or leadership approach).
  • Tell us what you did and how you did it. Tell us how it worked, why it worked, and why it’ll continue to be valuable.
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