Stanford’s Graduate School of Business admissions office isn’t only interested in your previous education and work experience.
They want to know who you are. That includes your personality, values, and motivations, says Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, which helps clients earn admission to top MBA programs.
To find out what defines its applicants, Stanford asks two open-ended essay questions. And applicants have to get right to the point – the combined word count is just 1,150 words.
Here are the two questions Stanford asks, and the best way to answer each:
1. What matters most to you, and why?
Stanford recommends applicants use roughly 750 of their allotted 1,150 words for this response, Blackman says. The key here is to focus on the “why” rather than the “what.”
“Do some deep self-examination, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be the person you are,” Blackman says in her Stanford MBA Essay Guide. “Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.”
This question gives you a golden opportunity to prove who you are and what motivates you, and it doesn’t even have to be career-related. In fact, the strongest answers aren’t, Blackman says.
“Your accomplishments and achievements are part of why you’ve developed into the person you are today; however, it’s far more important to explain your influences, lessons learned, and motivations,” she says.
While brainstorming ideas for your response, consider asking yourself the following questions: What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life, what will you admire and regret about your choices?
“Though the question may seem open-ended, answering with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced ‘what matters most’ throughout your life,” Blackman says.
2. Why Stanford? Enlighten us on how earning your MBA at Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.
Don’t waste your remaining 400 words with generic responses like “Stanford is a great school because…”. This is a chance for you to “explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford,” Blackman says.
It will take research. “You should know everything about the aspects of that program that most appeal to you,” she says, including information about current students and alumni, professors, and programs that will be unique and helpful for your career.
“When you discuss how Stanford will help you achieve your ambitions, consider that Stanford likes to see applicants who dream big and have the credibility to achieve their goals,” Blackman says. “Be bold with your aspirations.”
Identify your dream career, and picture your life in 20 years, she suggests. The key is to prove yourself as an ambitious candidate and back it up with how Stanford can help you accomplish your goals and aid in your development.
“Though you should think big, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you are already perfect with no development needed,” Blackman says. “Remember that MBA programs want to help promising candidates reach their goals and be a step on an ambitious career trajectory.”