Stanford asks you to write two personal essays, so as to enable its admissions officers to get a glimpse of your character and aspirations. It wishes to hear your authentic voice, rather than your ‘packaged’ voice that tells them what you think they want to hear.
Essay One: What matters most to you and why? (750 words)
This has not been Stanford’s first question for the last sixteen years without good reason. In fact, it is a question that has achieved an almost iconic status. Obviously, it has served Stanford well in helping them gauge the character and values of its applicants. How you answer the question, therefore, is crucial to your admission into this elite and highly regarded b-school.
There are a few guidelines that come with the essay. Stanford wants you to examine yourself deeply and show how, in the context of what matters most to you, you have grown as a person over the years. What are the experiences you went through, and the lessons that they taught you? How have these shaped you into what you are today?
It is an essay that the school wants you to write from the heart. It also wants you to focus more on the ‘why’ – why a certain thing matters most to you – than the ‘what.’ The school has already warned you not to go about the essay thinking of it from the adcom’s point of view. For instance, you shouldn’t be saying to yourself, “Sustainability is a big thing at Stanford, so I’ll say sustainability is what really drives me.” This would be like putting the cart before the horse. Your feelings will be superficial and artificial, and it will inevitably show. This is an essay calling for passion, and passion is a trait that is difficult to pretend.
So your best approach would be to be true to yourself, and write about what actually matters most to you. You may suppose it has nothing to do with b-school, but you would be wrong. What matters most to you is an integral part of who you are, and there is hardly anything that you do in life that will not be influenced by it. What you will need to do is to connect the dots. We will illustrate this through an example.
You are an orphan. All through your life, what you have sought for most is love – both to love, and to be loved. It is the motive power behind all your efforts. It is why you studied hard at school – so that your teachers may love you. And because you were a wonderful student, they did. You worked hard at your favorite game, football, because you wanted the love and respect of your peers. You got it, because you became one of your school’s ace footballers. Through college and your firsts few jobs, the same inspiration kept you going. You learnt how to win others over by excelling in whatever you do, by caring for others, and by honoring your friendships. Your interpersonal and communication skills developed significantly in the process. Now you are a successful young man with a vast network of friends and well-wishers.
You might have said to yourself, “How can I talk about my need for love – it’s such an intimate thing to say, and what connection does it have with b-school anyway?”
Remember two things: first, what Stanford is looking for here is an intimate, passionate essay; and, second, you can always link your notable achievements in life to what matters most to you.
Essay Two: Why Stanford? (400 words; for both the MBA and MSx programs: 450 words)
You had best begin this essay with a declaration of your ambitions, and why a graduate education in management is essential for you at this stage of your career. Next, you can get down to the topic of what special opportunities Stanford will provide you towards realizing your professional aspirations. In the event that you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, this is where you have to address you interest in both of them.
You will have to go beyond saying the usual things. Of course, Stanford will empower you with the requisite knowledge and skills, enable you to build a powerful network of highly accomplished colleagues, and offer you wonderful internship opportunities by virtue of its proximity to Silicon Valley. But beyond that, what?
You have to differentiate yourself by establishing a close connection between your needs and Stanford’s offerings. You could also name members of faculty you would be particularly interested in interacting with. Here is how one applicant, whose field is sustainability, explained why Stanford’s curriculum and clubs were the right mix for him:
Energy Markets and Policy will familiarize me with the current state of regulations pertaining to energy; Strategic Philantrophy will acquaint me with how companies can adopt new profitable ways of working that will simultaneously create positive value in the world; and New Business Models in Developing World will enlarge my vision on sustainability and strategic management. It will also be a great privilege to study under eminent faculty like Frank Wolak, Laura Andreessen, and Mathew Bannick.
I would like to leverage the experience I have gained in the Sustainability Board at Company XXX to create new projects – especially with regards to Food and Living and Energy – in the Sustainable Stanford Team. I believe that it is a lack of empathy and the inability to connect harmful industrial and economic practices with issues like real hunger, as experienced in Africa, for instance, that keep businesses uninterested in sustainability. I wish to bring about a behavioral change in people, and equip myself with the expertise that this mammoth task calls for. Being a member of clubs like the Big Ideas Club and the Sustainable Business Club, which engage in cutting edge research on the subject, including new ways of conducting businesses in future, will prepare me for the role I wish to take on as my life’s mission.
Founder and Director of MBA Essay Consultant. Author of the best selling books such as “Admission Guide for Indian IT Applicants“, “How to Dazzle Admission Officers in MBA Interview” etc. Guided thousands of applicants globally for Full Time, Executive, Part Time and Online MBA applications.
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