Stanford GSB MBA Essay Topic Analysis 2017-2018
Since the Stanford Graduate School of Business just released its essay questions for the 2017-2018 admissions season, we are following up with some advice for GSB applicants on how to approach Stanford’s essays. Stanford has asked applicants to respond to the same two questions it has asked the past few years, maintaining the 1,150 word limit from last year, with the allowance of 50 more words for those applying to both the MBA and MBx programs.
Stanford GSB MBA Essay Analysis 2017-2018
Let’s take a closer look at each of Stanford’s required essays.
What matters most to you, and why? (Suggested Word Count: 750 words)
For this essay, we would like you to:
- Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are.
- Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
- Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.
- Focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
Stanford’s “What Matters Most” essay is one of the most challenging prompts from a top business school. An answer to this essay has the potential to be profound and reveal a side of an applicant that the admissions committee cannot find anywhere else in the application, which is why Stanford has asked this question for more than a dozen years. However, the question can be quite intimidating in the context of a strategic application.
Part of the reason that so many applicants struggle with this topic is because they opt to begin their brainstorming by searching for a direct answer to the question of “what matters most” – rifling through common themes like ‘helping others’, ‘the pursuit of knowledge’, ‘revolutionizing an industry’, and any number of textbook replies. With each passing idea, candidates find themselves losing steam and fearful of getting lost in the shuffle of applicants who espouse similar views. While starting with an answer to “what matters most” and working into the body of the essay does seem tempting (and even quite logical), our years of experience advising Stanford GSB candidates tell us that this is often a dead-end. The good news is that we have another approach that has been wildly successful for more than 10 years.
The advice we are about to offer here may seem counterintuitive, but we actually encourage applicants to ‘work backwards’ when crafting this essay via a simple exercise (outlined below). In short, since the purpose of this question is to let the admissions team get to know you better, you should start with who you are and all that you have experienced and accomplished, and then work backwards to find the overarching theme of “what matters most.” Keep in mind that your direct ‘answer’ to the question here is NOT what is going to make you stand out (it may even be somewhat pedestrian), rather it is the series of anecdotes and supporting evidence you provide around that theme that will help you convey your unique candidacy to the admissions team.
So in short, if you find yourself struggling with how to answer this question, try this simple exercise:
- Write down the 15 to 20 most important events, accomplishments, interests, or experiences in your life. Include the good, the bad, the astounding, the ugly, etc. Also, remember that no time frame is off limits–think of events from your early childhood to the present day.
- Look at the list you have generated and try to determine the themes that unify the important events, interests, and ideas in your life.
- Select a small number of diverse items from the list that best support a given theme and use them to define your approach and kick off the drafting process for the essay.
This exercise of working backwards allows you to not only arrive at a “what matters most” theme that really resonates with you, but also helps you find specific examples and anecdotes to help you show how you have explored what matters most to you in your life.
Why Stanford? (Suggested Word Count: 400 words; 450 for applicants to both the MBA and MBx programs)
Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
- Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
- Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.
- If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
Stanford’s second essay steps away from the philosophical to focus on the candidate’s career goals and reasons for going to Stanford. Although this essay is more specific than Essay A, the “Why Stanford?” prompt is far less specific than the career goals questions of other top business schools. Instead of mapping out a specific career path in this essay, applicants should focus on defining the broad impact they hope to make on a service, a sector, or society at large through their chosen career. Essay B is strongest when it connects with Essay A. Essay A is your opportunity to lay out a philosophical explanation of what matters most to you, while Essay B gives you the opportunity to show how you would use your time at Stanford and your career to further what matters most to you.
In Stanford’s additional prompting for this question, the admissions committee asks you to “explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford.” The key word in that sentence is distinctive. In this essay, you need to show the admissions committee that Stanford offers you benefits you can’t find at any other schools. Talk about specific classes, programs, collaboration with other parts of the school, dual degree offerings, clubs, conferences, or other offerings that set Stanford apart from other top business schools. Learning about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities–whether through a visit to campus, conversation with alumni or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Stanford–will help you craft a response to Essay B that really stands out.
Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s GSB MBA essay topics. As you work on your GSB MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Stanford offerings:
Posted in: Admissions Tips, Application Tips, Essay Topic Analysis, Essays
Schools: Stanford GSB
Education is important to me in two distinct ways: firstly, I believe that it is the best tool to enable people to take responsibility for their lives. I believe strongly in the old Chinese saying: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”. Secondly, although history has shown that even educated people can hate, I believe that good education is still the most effective tool we have to reduce unfounded hatred.
I devoted myself at an early age to teaching young people because I wanted to encourage social responsibility and community contribution. From age 10 to 18, I was a member of a youth movement that taught strong democratic values and social responsibility. At the age of 15, I was sent for a two week youth leaders’ training course, following which I became a volunteer youth leader in the movement. From age 15 to 18, I led groups of 30 children in weekly activities. For 2 years, I also served as Chief Editor of the movement’s newspaper, managing 10.
In high school, I initiated and edited my school’s first newspaper, because I felt it was important that students would have a platform to publish their ideas. I also volunteered as a Big Brother for an economically disadvantaged child for 2 years, a child who had never been taught by his parents to value education. I worked hard to help him understand that education is the key to independence in his future life and was thrilled to see him graduating from high school with excellent grades that enabled him to apply to any local university.
I educated in the army too, when I was selected to be the Platoon Commander for the Intelligence Corps’ leadership program training course. For 6 months, in an enclosed facility with no access to the outside world, and with limited vacations, I was responsible for every aspect of my 15 young cadets’ lives, being to them commander, teacher and father, instilling in them the importance of responsibility and initiative in their future leadership roles.
I believe strongly in ‘first-hand’ and ‘hands-on’ learning. This is one reason I decided to continue with full time work and community service even during my undergraduate studies. As a student, I volunteered weekly for two years with the “Youngsters Build a Future” organization, tutoring groups of 3-4 fourth grade children from disadvantaged backgrounds and serving as their role model.
In my current job, I participate bi-weekly in a corporate-non-profit partnership between my company and a local youth cultural center, teaching groups of children from low-income families from the surrounding neighborhoods how to utilize education to build a better future, and strengthening their confidence to do so. I want to continue the community service I’ve been doing for 5 years through Stanford’s “I Have a Dream” Club, which is similar to the programs I participate in with my company.
I think that encouraging education should be the task of every capable person, not only a governmental task. When I achieve my goal of becoming a CEO, I would like to create at my company a corporate-non-profit partnership similar to the one I participate in now. The program will encourage employees to volunteer to teach disadvantaged youth, and youngsters who remain dedicated to the program will be given scholarships. I intend to use Stanford’s “Education” and “Social Venture” Clubs to brainstorm this idea with other Stanford students, and Stanford’s “Social Entrepreneurship” course to gain exposure to similar programs that might help me make this partnership a reality.
When I realized that I was gay, at the age of 20, education took on a new importance for me. I realized that I now have another personal reason to promote education. Lucky for me, I was born to an open-minded family in a democratic country with an open society. However, I felt strongly that it is my duty to somehow help prevent other gay people from suffering unfounded hatred—and I knew that education is the most effective tool.
I acknowledged that, although I am not a public figure and not involved in political activities, I can set an “educational” example for my close friends and family, some of whom had incorrect stereotypes about homosexuals. Although it took some time, I decided that I will not be embarrassed about who I am and came out, telling all my family and friends, but otherwise not changing my lifestyle in any way. The real significance of my example struck me when a brother of one of my friends approached me discreetly and told me that he thought he was gay. He said that, looking at me, he realized that a person can be both gay and live an “ordinary” life. I understood that, in addition to my educational work, I can educate and contribute to a better society just by living true to myself. I hope that I can continue to set this example not just in Stanford’s Out4Biz Club, but simply by being who I am at Stanford.