Guide to MBA Essays and Interviews in the US • MBA

How to Write the Stanford GSB Essays: Analysis, Examples and Strategies That Work

POSTED ON 06/27/2022 BY The Red Pen

How to Write the Stanford GSB Essays: Analysis, Examples and Strategies That Work

The Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) looks for candidates with ambition, confidence and empathy to visualise outcomes that impact humanity and change the world. Ask yourself:

  • Are these traits well represented in your application?
  • How have you impacted communities or even countries?
  • Do your interests and career trajectory demonstrate your intellectual curiosity?
  • Does your resume reflect your demonstrated leadership qualities (whether through leading a team or enabling outcomes for organisations)?
  • Do your personal qualities and achievements shine through during your diverse engagements with other individuals and society?

While applying, you need to speak of instances where you stood by your values, demonstrated a knack for building connections and made a lasting impact.

Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) Essay Analysis

A crucial part of the application process; Stanford GSB clearly defines what it expects from your essays. The essays section of the application page starts with a clear mission statement – “Essays help us learn about who you are rather than solely what you have done.”

Current Stanford GSB admission director Kirsten Moss once said, “The only common mistake I can think of is not taking the time to read the guidance we offer on our website and in the application.”

The Red Pen offers a variety of services that can help you stand out in the competitive MBA application process. Learn more here

How to Tackle the Stanford GSB MBA Essays

Essay Prompts – Essay A

“What matters most to you and why?” (Recommended Maximum Word Limit – 650 words)

Essay A is a challenge because it is open-ended. Unlike other schools, you are not expected to talk about what you will contribute to the school or why you want to pursue an MBA. In an interview, Kirsten Moss said that Essay A “…is the best assignment we could ever give as it will help you guide your trajectory from this moment forward”.

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

1) Reflect deeply: John Dewey, the American philosopher and education reformist, said, “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience”. Writing this essay requires consistent and mindful reflection. A great habit to foster deep reflection is maintaining a journal where you note significant events, behaviours and values that have impacted your life. Start the process of reflection by thinking about positive and negative experiences in your life. Ask yourself:

  • What was it like living that experience?
  • Did it leave an impact on you?
  • Did you learn a lesson that will stick with you for life?
  • Did it result in a perspective shift for you?
  • Think about the people involved – how has your relationship with them evolved?
  • What impact did they leave on you and vice-versa?

For example, you may have experienced a pivotal moment as a child with the death of a beloved grandparent. While such an incident is bound to have an emotional impact, it may have also caused you to reflect back on the time you spent with the person and how you learned important life lessons that shaped your outlook and your core beliefs, thereby influencing how you interact with and interpret the world around you.

During such focussed self-reflection, carefully identify what matters the most to you. This is a tricky part. If you have not engaged in self-reflection for a while now – it is never too late. Making detailed notes of your journey will lead to the emergence of behaviour patterns and values that guide your actions and interactions. You now have the building blocks of your essay.

2) Write from the heart: Now that you have the essential elements to describe what matters to you – put pen to paper. The Stanford GSB admission committee’s advice is to write from the heart, which simply means that you need to be personal. Your self-reflection has shown you what values you hold dear and what matters to you. Now think about how it has shaped you and helped you evolve personally. Communicate what you are passionate about through examples and experiences and use them to illustrate your personality to the reader. By giving your thoughts direction, you will be able to write from your heart in a manner that gives your essay substance and a clear focus on the future.

3) Identify what matters most to you and tell them why: Think beyond the admission committee’s advice here. Now that you have identified what matters the most, you are ready to write from the heart. But, do not merely focus on TELLING the reader “why”. Rather, SHOW them why your essay subject matters to you. Instead of stating that you evaluate situations scientifically, you will be better served by providing an example of how you took your bicycle apart as a child, built simple periscopes in school and found solutions to a problem your peers were facing by breaking down the different elements of the problem. Building your narrative adds layers to the story with multiple examples that demonstrate the evolution of a core part of your personality. Examples from your life will bring immense depth to what matters most to you and make your assertions more personal and nuanced.

Suggested Essay Structure With Word Count Breakup:

For this essay, stating what matters to you should be around 50 words. To support your assertion, you need to use the rest of the allocated word count to provide examples from your life experiences. This is ample space to show an evolution of your thought with two or three critical examples. Use 50 words in your conclusion to indicate how you see the theme playing out for you in the future.

The Red Pen offers a variety of services that can help you stand out in the competitive MBA application process. Learn more here

Essay Prompts – Essay B

“Why Stanford?” (Recommended Maximum Word Limit – 400 words)

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

1) Describe your aspirations: At this point, Stanford GSB knows you from Essay A; they now want to know your vision of the ‘future you’. In Essay B, talk about your career aspirations; what is your dream career? There should be a natural progression from the core value system you have described in Essay A to your post-MBA ambitions and why the school plays an integral part in this journey. Consider your aspirations from the lens of the impact you want to create. In a nutshell – be ambitious! For example, you may have spoken about how eradicating poverty is what matters most to you in Essay A. In Essay B, you should build on that thought to provide specific details of the impact you want to make – by finding a solution that provides employment to [X] million people in the Indian subcontinent and impacts the country’s GDP by [X] per cent.

2) State how the Stanford GSB experience will help you realise them: To answer this part of the essay, research the school to narrow down on what, for you, is the most compelling about the GSB experience. For example, researching the SEED programme may inform your ambition to participate and gain valuable insight into your vision of impact with your own long term entrepreneurial journey. Some key elements to keep in mind while researching the school are:

  • What is the curriculum structure; what excites you about it?
  • What specific classes appeal to you and how do they connect with your aspirations?
  • Is the school involved in academic research in your area of interest?
  • What other activities/clubs does the school offer that interests you?
  • What did the alumni have to say about their experience at Stanford GSB?

If you are applying to both Stanford’s MBA programme and MSx (1-year master’s) programme, use Essay B to address your interests.

Suggested Essay Structure With Word Count Breakup:

Use around 100-150 words to describe your ambition for the future and the rest of the available word count to describe specific resources in Stanford GSB that relate to specific elements of your post-MBA journey.

Finally, use the Additional Information section of the application or the three optional essays to:

  1. Explain extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
  2. Expand on academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere
  3. Provide the admissions committee with additional examples of impact that could not be accommodated elsewhere. 

Do not mention these elements in Essays A and B. The two essays need to showcase you as a self-aware applicant willing to understand yourself better.

The Red Pen’s team-based approach will help you reflect meaningfully to present your case clearly to the Stanford GSB admission committee. Contact us here to begin your MBA admission journey.