Stanford GSB Essay Tips

If Stanford GSB is your dream school, you may already be thinking about how to craft perfect essays. We’re here to help! Read on for Stanford GSB essay tips to ensure your submission stands out from the (very crowded) pack.

If you’re applying to Stanford GSB, here is what you need to know.

Stanford GSB Application Run Down

Stanford GSB Application Deadlines
  • Round 1 – September 9, 2021*
  • Round 2 – January 5, 2022*
  • Round 3 / Deferred Enrollment – April 12, 2022

*Note: while Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines have passed for 2022 matriculation, we don’t expect much change for the upcoming application cycle.

Stanford GSB Essay Prompts*
  • Essay A: 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? An MBA is as much about personal growth as it is about professional development. In addition to sharing your experience and goals in terms of career, we’d like to learn more about you outside of the office. Use this opportunity to tell us something about who you are… (Minimum 250 words, no maximum.)
  • 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.

Both essays combined may not exceed 1,050 words. Stanford GSB admissions recommends up to 650 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B.

*Note: These essay questions apply to the 2021-2022 application cycle. We expect any updates to be released early summer.

Stanford GSB Essay Tips

What Does Stanford GSB Look For?

Before you even think about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as the case may be), it’s critical to take the time to truly understand Stanford GSB and what it looks for in successful applicants. To us, the best encapsulation of this can be found in the GSB’s mission statement: “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.”

While many business schools aspire to educate leaders that will make a difference in the world, there is a reason that ‘change lives’ comes first in this motto. There is a strong belief that change originates from people. People with different perspectives interacting, challenging each other, and ultimately joining forces to push the limits of what seems possible. No man or woman can create change in a vacuum.

In practice, we find that successful applicants personify this mission statement by displaying the following characteristics:

  • A belief that EQ and people are just as important as IQ and profits – While demonstrating impact is critical, Stanford GSB seeks those who deliver it through collaboration with and/or for the benefit of others.
  • Strong self-awareness – The essay prompt says it all, Stanford GSB cares what matters to you and how it has influenced your choices in life. Scratching the surface of self-awareness is not enough; beyond articulating your emotions in a given situation, they want to see that you can connect situations to your core values and underlying motivations.
  • A willingness to take risks – Change is impossible without some level of risk and change is the crux of the GSB’s mission. They want to see that you don’t let fear stand in the way of progress – for yourself and for others.
How Do I Uncover ‘What Matters Most to Me’?

Attempting to crystallize what matters most to you is incredibly intimidating! If you’re digging deep enough, figuring this out is not something that can be done in a day or even a week. That’s why starting early is critical.

To begin, we love suggesting that clients read two great books, True North by Bill George and What You’re Really Meant to Do by Robert Kaplan.  Give thought to where you dream of taking your career (and life more broadly) and why.

From there, it can be helpful to think back to each major decision you’ve made in your life and reflect on why you made the choice you did. Are there any commonalities? Lastly, think about influential people or events in your life stretching back to childhood. What or who has made you who you are and why?

Once you’ve done all this reflection (and written it down!), look for points of intersection and interrelation. Sometimes another set of eyes from a trusted friend or family member can be helpful here. More times than not, there is a common passion, motivation, value, or trait that connects what you’ve done in the past and what you hope to do in the future. This common thread can serve as your overarching theme and answer to ‘what matters most to you’.

How Do I Structure Stanford GSB Essay A?

The essay itself should prove that this ‘thing’ is truly what matters most to you by laying out 2-3 stories and describing how they connect back to it. While the stories are typically told in chronological order, the essay should not read as your memoir. Be thoughtful and strategic, choosing only your most powerful examples.

Many times, successful essays begin with what we refer to as a ‘superhero origin story’. By this we mean the time in your life or experience that first brought your ‘thing’ (i.e., what matters most to you) into play for you. It is the defining moment that triggered a shift in your thinking or approach in a way that has stuck with you from then on out, influencing who you’ve become and who you hope to be in the future.

The balance of the essay should focus on one or two other situations from your life since the ‘superhero origin’ where the thing that matters most to you influenced your actions or choices. One of these (or a third topical area if you have space) can be devoted to your vision of the future. You have space to further spell out your plans in Essay B, but you should lay out, in broad strokes, how your ‘thing’ influences where you want to take your life in Essay A.  

Once you have the backbone of your essay in place, our advice is to go back and add stylistic nuances that demonstrate you possess the characteristics the GSB seeks. Describe interpersonal dynamics within each story and how you successfully navigated them. Layer in emotion and insights about yourself that demonstrate self-awareness.  Importantly, write so that the adcom feels your authentic passion for the topic you have chosen to discuss.

If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. Writing a strong Stanford essay takes upfront investment in introspection and time to iterate (and then iterate again). It’s not uncommon for us to work through 10-20 drafts of this essay with clients because, even with professional help, that’s how long it takes to make it perfect.

What Does a Strong Stanford Essay A Look Like?

To demonstrate how our advice can be put into practice, here is a successful Essay A from a past client (privatized and with permission of course).

The thing that makes me most unique is that, genetically, I am not unique at all. Like 0.3% of the population, I am an identical twin. And although my brother and I cannot read each other’s minds, growing up so close did teach me to better empathize with those around me. From a lifetime of practice as a twin, I’ve come to appreciate how empathy – the ability to share the feelings of others – has influenced the way I connect with those around me. Ultimately, empathy matters most to me because it has taught me to leverage diverse perspectives and it has driven me to collaborate more effectively. These skills have not only made me a better teammate, but also empowered me as a leader to motivate others and build stronger teams.

Growing up, I developed a deep sense of empathy by witnessing every behind-closed doors moment of my brother’s vulnerability. Whether he was bullied or enduring a breakup, it was like looking in a mirror: I felt his pain as tangibly as my own. For example, during our sophomore year of college, my brother suffered a serious eye injury. I could feel his anxiety as his voice trembled while he explained to me he’d have to study for final exams without his right eye. Driven to help, I called him each night to read his study guides aloud so he could prepare without straining his vision. Then, when I put down the phone, I studied for my own exams late into the night. From a lifetime of experiences like this, I learned not just to feel empathy, but to harness it to help others succeed.

At [undergraduate institution], I was proud to leverage empathy as Captain of [undergraduate institution’s] co-ed, student run Club Tennis Team to unlock the diversity of passions of my teammates and inspire greater engagement. Elected as a sophomore, I initially struggled to figure out how to motivate my peers to practice during midterm season or miss homecoming to play in a tournament. For example, [name redacted] was a talented freshman from Greece, but she only attended five practices one semester. Tennis wasn’t her passion, so I needed to empathize with her to figure out what actually made her tick. Taking her out for lunch, I discovered that we shared a passion for community service. Bingo! I swiftly created a Service Chair role and nominated [name redacted] to fill it. We then collaborated to initiate a partnership with ACEing Autism, a charity that develops the motor and social skills of autistic children through tennis. Win-win: DC’s community was strengthened while our team gained a high impact leader. My strategy to leverage the diverse passions of my teammates paid dividends, as attendance and tournament results both skyrocketed. That year, the United States Tennis Association even recognized our team as the National Club of the Year.

At [current firm], I again had the opportunity to leverage empathy as a leader, but this time to save [current firm’s] premier, bi-annual Equity Conference by more effectively collaborating with others and catalyzing innovation. When I volunteered to spearhead the event, I was both excited and nervous: managing a cross-functional team of bankers and corporate access professionals was very different from my “day job.” However, I quickly discovered a problem: conference speakers (senior bankers and lawyers) felt they were “too busy” to innovate with their presentations. Because content was stale, clients were disengaged, manifesting in declining satisfaction scores. As a junior banker, my challenge was to connect with overwhelmed senior bankers to inspire change. Having balanced rigorous academics with extracurricular leadership at [undergraduate institution], I empathized with feeling “too busy.” From this vantage point, I tactfully approached each banker with pre-researched topics that I knew were relevant to conference attendees and interesting to them, proactively making it easier for them to innovate. Ultimately, this strategy proved successful in inspiring change. Reenergized, the conference boasted record turnout of 33 CEO and CFOs, and [current firm] was engaged by several attendees as an advisor, representing millions of dollars in potential revenues.

In both my personal and professional lives, I have actively harnessed the empathy I developed as twin as a powerful leadership tool to bring people together. At Stanford, I know that I will continue developing as an empathetic leader as my peers and I embark on our collaborative journey towards a better world.

If we can be of assistance with your Stanford GSB essays, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Applying elsewhere? We also have articles devoted to:

The HBS Essay: Where to Start – Vantage Point MBA

Essay Advice – University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School – Vantage Point MBA

Essay Advice – Columbia Business School – Vantage Point MBA

Essay Advice – Kellogg School of Management – Vantage Point MBA

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