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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

May 30, 2020

Columbia MBA Essays for 2021 Admission

Columbia Business School has, as they do every year, modified their MBA application essay set for 2021 admission to the January term Class of 2022 and the regular August term Class of 2023.Given Columbia's overall rank as well as the unique nature of both January (J-Term) and Early Decision for August (ED), it has been very common for me to work with clients who apply only to that school. In this sense, the only school with a similar level of sole school focus is INSEAD.  Columbia certainly rewards those who make it their first or sole choice as both J-Term and ED seem to be significantly easier to get admitted to than  Regular  Decision (RD).  Columbia is also one of the most reapplicant friendly schools both in terms of the reapplication process for those who reapply within one year of their initial application and in terms of acceptance rates. For my post on re-application to Columbia, see here. For my analysis of recommendations , please see here. For my analysis of Columbia Business School application interviews, please see here.
You can find testimonials from my clients admitted for Columbia Business School here.  Since 2007, when I established my own consultancy, (I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001) I have been fortunate to work with 56 clients admitted to Columbia Business School.


The Unique Admissions Process at Columbia Business School
Before discussing the essays, I have provided a discussion on the application process itself. If you already understand it, you can skip ahead to the essay section.
The admissions process at Columbia Business is so unique, that Before discussing the essays for 2021 entry, I will discuss who J-Term (January Entry) is for and differences between Early Decision and Regular Decision for August Entry.

Rolling Admission
The first thing to keep in mind about admission to both J-Term and August Term (ED and RD) is that Columbia uses a rolling admissions system unlike the fixed deadline system used by most other schools.  While there are final deadlines, since applicants' files are reviewed and decisions are being made as they apply (hence the rolling nature of the process), by the time that that the final deadlines for August Term have arrived most seats are already filled.  Rolling admissions works just like buying assigned seats for an airplane, movie, concert, etc.  When they are gone, they are gone. Columbia's rolling admissions system is a differentiator from other top US MBA programs because only Columbia uses this system. Rolling admissions is commonly used by EMBA programs worldwide.

J-Term
The Accelerated MBA, J-Term, can be a great program for those who don't need an internship.  J-term is not for career changers, it is those looking to enhance their position within their present career trajectory and/or entrepreneurs. The program is designed for those students who do not want or need an internship and don't require merit fellowships. The principal advantage of the 16-month program is its accelerated format, which allows members of the smaller January class to network quickly and effectively and return to the workplace sooner. You need to make the case in Essay 1 (Goals essay) and/or the Optional Essay that you meet the special criteria for this program and that an internship is not something critical for you. For those who don't need a summer internship, this is really a great program. Internships for J-Term? Based on what former clients tell me, it is common for J-Termers to do part-time internships in NYC while studying.  Actually, this is often true for those attending August as well.   These are not the same as summer internships but such part-time internships can surely serve the same function.

Here are some common issues that arise when considering J-term:

Is J-term easier to get into than August entry?  I have always thought so.  The lack of merit fellowships, an internship, and the nature of who the program is designed for, clearly indicate that it is going to attract fewer applicants, so my assumption is that it is surely easier.  Happy to proven wrong if CBS admissions provides data showing otherwise.  All I know for sure is that relatively late application to J-term has not prevented my clients from being admitted. With the exception of 2020 entry due to Coronavirus, late application to RD is a real problem simply from a seat availability perspective. In one way, J-term is clearly easier: Unlike an August entry RD and (and to a lesser extent ED) applicant, someone applying to Columbia J-term can really be assumed to prefer Columbia over all alternatives. This can make interviews a bit easier in the sense that August entry Columbia alumni interviewers are notorious for being particularly aggressive at determining whether the interviewee's first choice is really Columbia. Since J-term has no real US rival, this topic can be easily dispensed with in an interview.

Program Alternatives to J-term:   There are no US alternatives to J-term worth mentioning if someone wants a January 2021 start. Cornell, Cornell Tech, Kellogg and NYU Stern (Tech and Fashion & Luxury) offer one year MBAs, but none start their programs in January, Cornell Tech and NYU are specialized degrees, and both Cornell and Kellogg are accelerated programs in terms of the number of courses taken. Only J-term makes it possible to do two years of courses on such an expedited basis. In addition, the Kellogg program is extremely restrictive, since one has to have taken many core business courses to apply to it. Cornell is also restrictive (Graduate degree or specialized professional certification is required), while Columbia has no such prior education restrictions.  There are a number of European programs with a January starts but really only INSEAD could be said to be at a similar rank, at least as perceived by my clients.  I have had clients who apply to J-term and  INSEAD  and, less often, IMD, as both have January entry. Still J-term is an incredibly different program in terms of length and content from either of these top non-US programs. LBS, which does not have a January start, would also be another alternative to CBS in the sense that it can be completed on an accelerated basis, but it has no January start. There are many other programs in the Europe that can be completed in around 16 months or less.

Can an August entry applicant reapply to J-term? Yes! You could be rejected from ED or RD for 2020 entry and reapply for J-term 2021 entry. If you entered in J-term 2021, you would graduate in the Class of 2022 with those who entered in ED/RD 2020. I have worked with  a number of reapplicants who were admitted to J-term after being dinged from the August entry for the same graduating class. In that situation, the key issues for the reapplicant essay are explaining why J-term is now a better choice and you are a better candidate.


 ED Versus RD
Applying for Early Decision (ED) is ideal for anyone who considers Columbia to be their first choice and is ready by the application deadline. Columbia takes ED very seriously, so I suggest you do as well. CBS ED really is unique among top MBA programs and the decision to commit to it should not be taken lightly. Every year many applicants to Columbia Business School have to deeply consider whether to apply to the ED or RD round. First, keep the official statement from Columbia regarding ED in mind:
 
  • Candidates have decided that Columbia is their first choice and must sign the following statement of commitment within their applications: I am committed to attending Columbia Business School and will withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools upon admission to Columbia Business School.
  • Applicants must submit a nonrefundable $6,000 tuition deposit within two weeks of admission.

In my experience, there are two types of applicants for ED. The first are people who really consider Columbia as their first choice and sometimes make or hope to make no other applications. For this type of applicant, choosing ED is easy. The second type of applicant likes Columbia, but it is not necessarily their first choice. This type of applicant applies to ED because it is perceived as easier to get admitted to than to Regular Decision (RD). This type of applicant treats the $6000 deposit as an insurance policy in the event that they are not admitted to HBS, Stanford, and/or Wharton (I don't know of any cases of applicants forfeiting $6000 to go to other top programs, but I suppose someone has done it). If they do get into HBS, Stanford, or Wharton and break their commitment to Columbia, they lose $6000. Can Columbia do anything aside from keeping the money? No. For those who have no problem breaking oaths and losing $6000, treating ED as possible insurance is a rational decision through clearly not an ethical one. As an admissions consultant, my sole concern is helping my clients reach their admissions objectives, so I don't pass judgment one way or another on this issue.

I do recommend applying before the January Merit Fellowship deadline for RD.  While you can consider the Merit deadline to be kind of a "Round Two Deadline," I recommend you apply as soon as you are ready to do so. I would especially encourage those coming from groups with large numbers of applicants (Especially Asian American and White American males in finance and Indian males), to make their applications to RD early. That said, RD takes applications until April (For 2020, it was extended to June 1), so applications are still viable for some applicants until quite late in the admissions cycle. In general, applying late in RD is best for those with highly unusual backgrounds, stellar backgrounds, no need for merit scholarships (For example, those sponsored by their companies) and/or a love of gambling.  In other words, if you are not exceptional, applying late in RD to Columbia is a very high-risk activity (less so for those who applied in the Covid round this year, but this is probably a one-time thing).

How to leverage RD to your advantage when applying to other MBA programs in the First Round.  If you are applying in the first round, an ideal time to apply to Columbia is after you have completed all the applications that were due in September.  Assuming you are relatively freed up while you are waiting for your R1 invites, apply to Columbia. This means you will be considered early in RD and that is an advantage because there will be more seats available.

How to leverage RD to your advantage when applying to other MBA programs in the Second Round.  Since most R2 applications are due in January, applying to Columbia in November or December will still give you a relative advantage over those applicants that apply right before the Merit Deadline.  Again, the earlier, the better your chance for an available seat.


The Essay Questions and the Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
I was emailed the essay questions for 2021 entry on May 29th prior to their launch on the website.  So, as of May 30, 2020 , I have not taken the essay questions from the website.  If these essays change once the application is up, I will alter accordingly. The only question that changed from 2020 admission was Essay 3.

Immediate Post-MBA Goals Statement
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Examples of possible responses:
“Work in business development for a media company.”
“Join a strategy consulting firm.”
“Launch a data-management start-up.”

Remember this is 50 characters, not words! This would be about 5-10 words. The question itself, fortunately, includes the above examples to make it clear what Columbia is looking for here. Given the length, you can't possibly expect to explain what you want to do short-term.  That is what Essay 1 is for. In fact, it is best to simply write this little statement after you have a good working version of Essay 1.  CBS is looking for a short, but a very clear statement of what you intend to do after your MBA. If you have difficulty explaining your immediate post-MBA plans in the space given, I think that is likely an indication that your plans are too complex, vague, or otherwise not well thought out. What you state here should be backed up by what you discuss in Essay 1 and 2 (or the reapplicant essay for reapplicants).
If you can be clever or catchy in formulating this response that is fine, but it is a completely secondary consideration to simply stating something that is very clear and that is completely consistent with what you write in Essay 1 and 2. Being clever is not critical here, being clear is.
 
Essay #1: 
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

Since I have found it necessary to make this clear to clients:  THIS ESSAY IS COMPLETELY FUTURE FOCUSED. That is why they say they "have a clear sense of your professional path to date."  This is actually one of the most basic types of MBA essays: What do you want in the future and how can the MBA program help you achieve THEM?  I have capitalized THEM because the point is that Columbia is looking for both your immediate post-MBA goal and your longer term goals.  Any statements you make about your past experience should be analytical rather than descriptive and for the sole purpose of explaining what you want to do in the future and why. If they wanted a detailed past history, they would not have worded the question the way they do.

Be strategic and thoughtful about why you are wanting a Columbia MBA now:  Given the importance of being able to state your post-MBA goal clearly in 50 characters or less as well as the need in Essay 2 to explain why you want a Columbia MBA, it is critical that you be strategic and thoughtful in presenting your post-MBA plans in Essay 1.
If you are having problems clearly articulating your goals either in Essay 1 or in the 50 character statement,  I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.


The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here.

(A Google Docs version of this matrix can be found at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WobczFFLHBzQRxUeuwBRNmGQ3q-RKP_94iGHuLlXXEs/edit?usp=sharing)
 
 
Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Career." What roles and responsibilities have you had in clubs, part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc.? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?
Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
Next, analyze your situation in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?
 

Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-MBA" future after you have earned your graduate degree. If you cannot complete this step you need to do more research and need to think more about it. I frequently help clients with this issue through a process of brainstorming.

Step 3. If you could complete step 2, then you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?  THIS IS WILL HELP YOU ANSWER ESSSAY 2
 


Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4, then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals?

Be informed about your goals. Columbia Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.

Those applicants who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Additionally, I suggest conducting informational interviews with at least one peer level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well. Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center. No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future.
 
 
The point is to come across to Columbia Adcom as someone who is not only well informed but has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge. Look at ideas@work,  and  Chazen Global Insights. Some other great general sources for learning what is hot: Harvard Working KnowledgeHarvard Business ReviewUniversity of Chicago GSB's Working PapersThe University of Chicago's Capital IdeasStanford Social Innovation ReviewKnowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review. You may also want to do a search on iTunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant) Net Impact, Chicago GSB Podcast Series, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts. Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

If at the end of the above process you feel as though you are uncertain about whether you need an MBA, please see Do You Really Need an MBA?
 
 
 
Essay 2:
Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)

Keep in mind that this question is focused on why Columbia Business School is the right MBA program for you. That is to say what does its curriculum, community, and network offer you that will help you reach the professional objectives you have mentioned in Essay 1?   For a more general discussion about the whole issue of academic fit, see here.
Balance and integrate Goals and Why Columbia?
A good version of Essay 2 will connect goals with Columbia. If you use the table above, Step 3 relates directly to the content of this essay. That is to say, the objective is not merely to explain why  Columbia fits you, but why it aligns with the goals discussed in Essay 1.  Your objective is to write an essay that shows Columbia why it is the best possible place for you to achieve your career goals. If your goals are not showing themselves to be particularly well supported by Columbia, you may need to either change your goals or decide to apply elsewhere.

Beyond  Goals
Beyond direct goals reasons for why Columbia is right for you, consider what aspects of its curriculum or community support your personal and professional interests. This might be a club or activity that you want to engage in. For more about CBS clubs, see here.
 
The resources available at CBS and Columbia University are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school as you will need to discuss that. The program is flexible, so identify your needs from Columbia as specifically as possible. After all, you want to show them you love and need them For learning about what is hot at Columbia, I suggest taking a look at their  Ideas and Insights Homepage.  You will likely want to write about taking a Master Class. I also recommend learning about the Cluster system as it core part of the CBS experience.  Japanese applicants should most certainly visit https://www.jbacolumbia.com/.  All applicants should attend online chats and reach out to alumni and current students if they have not done so.  Since visiting will most likely not really be an option for 2020-2021, the school will be expecting all applicants to engage online.  Do it!
 
 
 
Explaining your learning needs: 
 
 
WHAT NOT TO DO
An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  "I want to take Capital Markets & Investments because I am interested in learning about capital market investing."
This kind of circular reasoning is so common. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. They actually convey nothing about the applicant.  They are just abstract needs and will have limited impact on your reader.  The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program.
 
 
WHAT TO DO
An example of an explanation for why:  "While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank of Joy, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of capital market investing that I will need to succeed as an investment analyst and I know I can gain at Columbia."  A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Columbia.  By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one's goals and/or past experience, the admissions reader will be learning about you.

While in recent years, the school emphasized its New York City location in Essay 2, it no longer does. You need only discuss that if it is especially useful for making the best possible argument for why CBS fits you. In general, such arguments are often dumb cliches and since they are not what the question is focused, don't waste words on the topic.


 Essay #3:
 
Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)
 
This old gem of an MBA essay question is one that been around for a good long time.  UC Berkeley Haas was using a song-only version of this one for quite a while. You can find some great songs in my 2016 analysis of that essay set. I recall it from the beginning of my now almost 19 years as an MBA admissions consultant.   CBS seems to change this essay topic every year.  The last one was on  a leader who the applicant admires and why, but this year's question is more open-ended. Generally when a school asks a more open-ended and can literally be connected to any theme.
 
 
I have Four Rules for answering this question:
 
RULE 1: ANY QUESTION IS REALLY ABOUT YOU.
While this question certainly requires writing about something else, whatever book, movie, or song you discuss and why you discuss them is a reflection on you.  Bad answers to this question take the form of extended summary/analysis of the book/movie/song  that fail to focus on the WHY THIS RESONATES WITH YOU part of the question.  The point is to show that connection. Focus on your own values and/or experience to make this an effective answer.
 
 
RULE 2:  TRY TO COME UP WITH SOMETHING INTERESTING
The book, movie, or song need not be famous to be interesting. In fact, mention the obviously famous and frequently mentioned,  is BORING AND CLICHE.  This is less an issue with songs and movies because there is no inherently obvious answer, though I would tend to Stay away from the films Wall Street and The Big Short if you are a finance person because that is too boring and obvious.  The key point is that whoever you select, you make it clear why this resonates with you. For songs/books/movies that are not English, there is no real difference between them and those that are.  The point is all about your interpretation.For example, your song selection does not need to have lyrics and does not need to have lyrics in English. Even if the song has lyrics, my suggestion would be only briefly explain the meaning of those lyrics because  you should really using most of your word count to explain why the song resonates with you.

I think the advantage of a song without lyrics, say a jazz instrumental or a classical composition (Western, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, whatever), is that it allows for easily focusing on what the song means to you. For example, I might use a song by India's master violinist L. Subramaniam to discuss how the way the music resonates with me from a spiritual dimension. I might discuss 2-3 qualities about myself that are reflected in his music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTdNA5oyFgE&feature=related

Clearly with compositional works, you have great freedom to attach any meaning you want it to it.
 
 
RULE 3: CLEARLY EXPLAIN WHY
The why aspect of this question is the most critical part of the question. Anytime you are given a question where you are asked to give something  meaning, the first thing to do is think about what you want to express through the song. For example, if your objective was demonstrate your commitment to peace and social justice, you might pick Bob Dylan’s Blowin' In The Wind:
How many roads most a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWwgrjjIMXA

In this case, you might explain when Dylan’s first caught your attention. What it means to you and how it relates to actions you have taken in your own life.  This is just one possible way of answering this question.

RULE 4: WHY DO THEY NEED TO KNOW?
The very nature of this question is that it could be answered in so many ways.  The point is to focus on something about yourself that you really want Columbia admissions to know about you.  Don't discuss something already covered in the other essays. They want to learn about some aspect of you as a person. I think most professionally related topics will not work here. What aspect of yourself will really help Columbia understand you as person?  Help them learn what sets you apart as an individual through this essay.
 
 

Optional Essay:

Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)
 
 
As with other school's optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don't bother writing about it. For example, if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don't bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don't waste the committee's time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Columbia and not an obvious essay for another school?
If you can answer "Yes!" to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about.
 

Columbia Loves to Be Loved
One thing that is consistent about Columbia Business School is that they want to know that their school is your first choice. If you have an alumni interview you can be expected to be asked about that very directly. See here for my advice on Columbia interviews. Best of luck for gaining admission to the Columbia Business School Class of 2023!

May 29, 2020

Stanford GSB MBA Essays and Application for the Class of 2023

In this post, I analyze the Stanford GSB MBA (also MBA and MSX) essays and additional information/resume/employment history/activities for Class of 2023 Admission. My analysis of Stanford GSB interviews can be found here. For an overall  quick analysis on M7 schools essays see here (Will update to a 2020-2021 version when all the schools post their essays).

You can find results and/or testimonials from my clients admitted to  the Stanford Classes of 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 here. My clients admitted to Stanford GSB have come from China, Europe, India, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States and have had extremely diverse professional and educational backgrounds. The advice I provide below is based on that experience.  Additionally,  in terms of India, three of my admitted clients received the Stanford Reliance Dhirubhai Fellowship including one for 2021 and one for 2022.

While the online  application is not opening till mid-June, Stanford has indicated that the essays will not change. Should anything change, I will update this post once the application opens.

Stanford's admissions director is Assistant Dean Kirsten Moss. You can read about her here .  She has an HBS MBA and a PhD in Psychology (leadership psychology) from William James College and has experience in admissions at both HBS and Stanford GSB. She has also been a Touchy Feely Facilitator.  From my perspective, that makes for someone who can critically evaluate candidates beyond the surface level, which given nature of the Stanford essay set and the extreme competition for entry, make her ideal for her role.

Applicants can apply to both the MBA and MSX at the the same time. For candidates that fit the MSX work requirements of 8 years minimum by July 2018, this is a good option.  My advice would be to explain in a couple of sentences in The Why Stanford essay why both options would be ones that you would consider. Regarding MSX, if you are interested in attending that program, I highly recommend getting in direct contact with the admissions office for that program. They are likely to provide you with much more personalized feedback on whether you are good applicant for the program.

Initially I provide some overall comments about the Stanford GSB MBA essay set for admission to the Class of 2023, an analysis of the centrality of demonstrating Stanford GSB's three central admissions criteria- Intellectual Vitality,  Demonstrated Leadership Potential, and Personal Qualities and Contributions-, and some suggestions for how to proceed in order to put together a great application for Stanford GSB (including the short .  I will discuss the optional essay after discussing the two main essays. Here are the complete essays and instructions from the Stanford GSB website:
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Essay Questions

We request that you write two personal essays.
In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, aims, and dreams. There is no “right answer” to these questions—the best answer is the one that is truest for you.

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?

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.

Length

Both essays combined may not exceed 1,150 words. We recommend up to 750 words for Essay A and up to 400 words for Essay B. We often find effective essays written in far fewer words.

Formatting

  • Double-spaced
  • Number all pages
  • Upload one document that includes both essays
Be sure to save a copy of your essays, and preview the uploaded document to ensure that the formatting is preserved.

Optional Short-Answer Question

The two required essays shed light on who you are and how you imagine Stanford will help you achieve your aspirations. We are also interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you. In this section, we provide an optional opportunity to go beyond your resume to discuss some of your contributions more fully.
Please do not include your short-answer response in your essays upload; use the text boxes provided in the application.
Optional Short-Answer Question:
Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? You are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1500 characters, approximately 250 words, for each example)
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Please review the website for the full instructions and advice Stanford provides and I think it is really important to actually read the whole thing. Especially note that you can decide how to divide your 1150 words amongst the two essays and the emphasis on providing your own essays.


INTELLECTUAL VITALITY
The simple reality is that Stanford is for really smart people and specifically for people who want to think and explore: This is a school fueled and surrounded by innovation and collaboration. If you have ideas, there is no better place than Stanford GSB to explore them.

My clients who get interviews and most certainly those who are admitted are, without exception, objectively smart people. One primary way, but not the only way, to measure these criteria is by looking at the key numbers.  For the Class of 2021, the GSB site provides the following:
GMAT Average: 734
GRE Average: 165 (Verbal) and 165 (Quantitative)
GPA Average: 3.7
These numbers reflect the fact that Stanford is the most difficult MBA program to get admitted to. When I am talking with a client or potential client, if I have somebody with a really strong academic background and I see a real sense of purpose and focus to their academic and professional career, I might advise them to apply to Stanford. And in the last few years, I have literally convinced three of my clients to apply to Stanford because basically I said, "Hey, you’re perfect, you’re what they are looking for."  And that’s a sense.  It’s not objective.  And so, it’s just based on my experience. I am not always right about this, but I am right about it enough of the time to think I know when I have an applicant who is right for Stanford.  There are also times, where I have the opposite conversation. If your academic performance at university (both in and out of the classroom) was not outstanding, Stanford will be extremely challenging to enter. I have had clients get in with GMAT and GRE scores that were significantly below average and GPAs that were not excellent but they were truly outstanding candidates. If instance I had someone whose academic performance was solid but not excellent but whose leadership and impact at university was exceptional. This client's personal story and professional impact were also exceptional.


DEMONSTRATED LEADERSHIP: THE CENTRAL ROLE OF LEADERSHIP AT STANFORD
Stanford should, like HBS, be associated with a leadership-focused education, which is reflected in its mission statement:
Our mission is to create ideas that deepen and advance our understanding of management and with those ideas to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world.Our mission is to create ideas that deepen and advance our understanding of management and with those ideas to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world.
The three new impact essays that were added for 2019-2020 (Class of 2022) are certainly the ideal place to highlight your  leadership potential.  But beyond that, what you write in the two essays, resume, and application form should also take your   leadership potential into account.  It is also important to advise your recommenders on the importance of discussing your leadership potential.

PERSONAL QUALITIES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
I think reading what Stanford says about  Personal Qualities and Contributions is the best place to start when thinking about this third criteria.  In essence, Stanford wants to know why should be a part of the 6%-7% of the applicant pool that they will be admitting.  What makes you stand out?  How will you contribute?  What is it about your experience and attitude that will not only make you a good fit for Stanford but will give you the potential to make an impact to the Stanford community?  This does not just come out in one particular place, but is something that will come out of your entire application as well as in an interview.

STANFORD IS LOOKING FOR HONESTY
In my analysis of Essay 1, I will discuss the critical importance of providing honest answers to Stanford's questions. I think that what has always made a winning set of essays for Stanford is the ability to commit to making an honest and insightful presentation of yourself. Based on my experience I can say the following are not effective:
1. Over-marketing: While I believe in the value of the marketing metaphor to some degree, I also believe you have to be able to understand that a crude, over-determined approach to doing so will not work here (For more about this, click here).   If you are not real, assume a good reader will figure out that you are not.  As mentioned above, I think Dean Moss is someone ideal for determining whether you are telling the truth or slinging bullshit.
2. Not writing your own essays. If your essays are not written in your own voice and don't reflect your English ability, don't expect to make it past Stanford's team. My own approach to helping my clients does not involve me writing their essays but instead I act as a coach, a close reader, and someone who can benchmark their work against those who have been admitted. I make the assumption that overly cooked essays that look like they were written by a professional journalist when you are not one or by a native English speaker when you are not one or similar inconsistencies are unlikely to succeed.

IS STANFORD RIGHT FOR YOU?
Stanford really does provide great advice about both the Stanford GSB essays and about how to handle your applications. Just start exploring their website!  Also, see my discussion of Stanford GSB in my analysis of Essay 2. Don't make assumptions about what Stanford GSB is or based on what someone told you it is. Instead, make that determination yourself after sufficient research. If you are thinking about Stanford GSB and have not yet attended one of their Admissions Events, I suggest doing so if you can. Visiting when school is in session is ideal though likely to be impossible for at least Academic Year 2020-2021 because of Coronavirus. Most importantly try to talk to current students or recent alumni. In the present environment all schools are making great attempts to have a variety of online ways of learning about the school and connecting with students.

THE ESSAYS
SHOULD I WRITE ESSAY A OR B  FIRST?
Applicants often ask me this question. I think it is important that knowing why you want an MBA, Essay B, be clearly established first. Therefore, at least at the conceptual level, you should have a clear answer to Essay B initially. You might do the writing in either order, but as I will discuss below, what matters to you most, Essay A,  must be consistent with and complimentary to your rationale for pursuing an MBA. Stanford does not specifically ask you to write about your post-MBA goals in Essay B, but I would argue that it is impossible to explain why you need an MBA without explaining what you need an MBA for.  And a major part of what you need an MBA for is what you will do after you finish at Stanford.  Now it is possible that what matters most to you might actually relate directly to your goals, so the amount of detail about your goals need not be extensive in Essay B, but explaining why need you an MBA is at the core of this essay set.


Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
This is the classic Stanford GSB essay question. If you want to enter into the MBA Class of 2023, you will need to find your answer to it.
WHERE DO SUCCESSFUL ANSWERS TO ESSAY A COME FROM?
In my experience, answers to this question that result in acceptance come from the HEART and the HEAD. The two combined will allow you to tell your story about what matters most. I suggest beginning with no fixed assumptions about what Stanford wants here. One of the easiest ways to write a bad version of Essay 1 is to have a theme that does not directly relate to your actual experience: Round pegs do not fit into square holes.
 
 
Heart: The admits I worked with found that what matters most to them by looking inside of themselves and finding something essential about who they are. No one is reducible to a core single concept, a single motivation, or any other sort of singularity, but certain things do make each of us tick. Beyond the most basic things of survival, what motivates you? What do you live for? What do you care about? How do you relate to other people? Are you driven by a particular idea or issue? Where do you find meaning?
 
 
Head: Once you think you have identified that essential thing that matters most to you, begin analyzing it. What is its source? WHY does it remain important to you? How? How does it relate to the career aspirations you discuss in Essay B? The heart will tell what it is, but the head must explain it. From my perspective, great answers to this question combine a very strong analytical foundation-A FULL ANSWER TO WHY AND HOW IS MANDATORY- and specific examples. Avoid the common mistake that Derrick Bolton mentions above of ignoring the "Why?" and the "How?" by focusing too much on the "What?"If you are having difficulty answering Essay A to your own satisfaction, I have few suggestions:
 
 
If you are feeling totally blocked and making no progress on this essay, write some other schools essays first. In the process of doing so, you may discover the answer. This has worked for a number of my clients while others prefer focusing on Stanford first.
 
 
Stanford admissions states that there is no one right answer. Some applicants become paralyzed because they want THE RIGHT MESSAGE. You need to fully account for who you are and what you have done, but should not try to overly sell yourself to Stanford because that is simply at odds with the way in which the school selects candidates. Therefore don't focus on finding THE RIGHT MESSAGE, instead, be honest and give an answer that is real. If you are having some more fundamental difficulties with this question, one book I suggest taking a look at is Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. This classic is worth a look for anyone who is thinking about what their life is about. Frankl makes us think about meaning from the most extreme of perspectives, inside a concentration camp, and in the process helps us to understand that meaning itself is deeply tied to our own survival. If you need to engage in some self-reflection, Frankl’s book is one place to start. I might also suggest reading Plato or doing some meditation, but in my experience those take more time and Frankl's book has the advantage of being short, inexpensive, available at many libraries, and has been translated from the original German into at least twenty-two languages.

The answer may be real, but is it a good one? If you are not sure, look critically at Stanford GSB's mission statement discussed above in this post.  Does what matters most to you fit within this mission to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world? Think about this statement in the widest possible way. Given the small class size and the highly collaborative nature of the program, admissions will only be doing its job right if they select students who fit into Stanford GSB's mission. Stanford is looking for leaders, but leaders come in many forms and the values and ideals that inform them vary greatly. In my experience, Stanford highly values "Thought Leaders" as well as those who demonstrate more standard forms of leadership. If what matters most to you is something that admissions can clearly connect to informing your ideals as a leader and your professional goals then you are on the way to forming an effective answer to what is Stanford's most unique essay question.

Some Common Types of What Matters Essays
While I am not known for giving examples or sample answers, I would like to discuss three common types of answers.


Abstract and metaphorical: Abstract and metaphorical answers can produce very creative responses. An example (Note all examples I will use here are not from my clients) would be "What matters most to me are the doors in my life."  Using the whole concept of entering and exiting, this essay concept might work very well, but could easily generate a series of disconnected stories that don't leave the reader with a really clear answer.  I have had clients use such answers effectively, but more often than not, the more abstract the answer, the harder it is to make into something really convincing.  Remember that writing MBA essays is not primarily a literary exercise, so be careful with this approach.

Core value: A core value response might involve a very simple answer to the question, such as "What matters to me most is love."  Applicants frequently stress out about giving simple answers to the question because they worry that the answer will be too common.  I think it is a mistake to worry that your core conceptual answer is too common because you should assume that Stanford admissions has seen almost every possible answer to this question already.  What is ultimately important is not the what, but the why and how you explain that why in the essay.  Simple can work exceptionally well if it is a way to connect key aspects of yourself effectively.  I have had a number of clients who were admitted with one to three-word answers to the question.

The Mission: A mission version of the answer works exceptionally well if your stated mission is really backed-up by your resume and other aspects of your application. An example would be "What matters most to me is protecting the Earth's environment for future generations."  I have seen many answers like this that were truly excellent and resulted in admission for candidates who could really prove they had the mission in the past and would be continuing  it in the future.  On the other hand, I have seen so many bad answers that lacked believability because the applicant's biographical details did not align with the answer, and/or lacked a clearly stated mission with a scope that was clarified in Essay B.

While I have seen all three types result in admission, I have seen more Core Value and The Mission type answers work successfully.

Make a choice! All successful versions of this essay that I have read involve making a choice. That is to say, you must actually clearly indicate something that matters most. As someone who is frequently contacted by those who have failed to obtain admission to Stanford and want to know why, I often find that they don't make this choice. Their "what matters most" lacks clarity and unity. Make a clear choice and really explore it. This will best reveal your self-awareness and your passion.

Leverage the optional impact essays:  The impact essays give you a place to tell detailed stories of leadership, teamwork, and accomplishment, so don't focus on such stories in Essay 1. Instead of focus on explaining yourself and what you most value.  Let the impact essays show how you live out what matters most to you.

Finally, the map is not the territory: You are more than whatever you write in an essay.  This is essay is just a slice of who you are. It is not everything, so don't expect you will  have that one theme that explains everything you care about. You have to make a choice of topics here, but this is ultimately not an existential choice, it is a marketing choice. You are deciding what core message(s) about yourself will ultimately best give you a chance of admission to Stanford.  The question itself is ultimately absurd for most people as what matters to them is one more than one thing. We have competing commitments: Often more than one thing matters most to us so we are constantly reprioritizing. We are complex and contradictory. Our beliefs and actions are not always in alignment.  We worry about our choices. We have inner struggles. All of this is true and yet ultimately in terms of this essay you have to provide a clear answer to the question. Getting at what matters most is often determined by struggling with competing commitments and ultimately stating what is rhetorically most defendable and strategically most appealing.


Essay B: Why Stanford?
Your objective in the essay is to demonstrate why you would greatly benefit from a Stanford MBA education.  Stanford is proud of what they are and what they can offer. They can reject anyone and they do reject a higher percentage of applicants than other schools. One thing I think that separates great versions of Essay B (the ones that get applicants an interview) and mediocre versions (the ones that usually don't get applicants an interview) is the extent to which the applicant is able to show that Stanford is not a mere afterthought or an option, but actually a necessity to accomplish one's aspirations. Fully account for that in your essay. Learn as much as you can about Stanford and think deeply about who it will impact you.
 
If you are applying to both MBA and MSX, make sure that whatever you say about Stanford applies to both programs. Explain why you would be happy to attend both programs if offered admission. Don't express a preference for one or the the other in the essay. Just use the additional word count to explain why both options would benefit you.
 
 
Stanford views itself as a change agent. Show in you essay how it will change you. In my experience,  a good answer to Essay B  will do the following;
 
 
1. Shows how the applicant intends to be an agent of change in whatever career he or she pursues after his or her MBA. Stanford is looking for innovative change agents, so make sure that you demonstrate that in this essay. Your answer should be consistent with Stanford's mission to "Change lives, Change organizations, Change the world."  This really does matter.  Stanford takes 400 people a year  and is typically admitting approximately 6% of those that apply. It is a precious opportunity to go there and hence giving a spot to someone whose goals are simply mundane and not focused on impacting the wider world is not what Stanford admissions is interested in doing.  Whatever your objectives, whether it is to be a partner at a consulting firm, a leading investment banker, a social entrepreneur, a global marketer, an executive in the energy industry, a politician, etc., you need to provide a sense that you have the capability to have wide impact in your chosen field.
 
 
2. Shows connectivity with Essay A.  Whether the connection is extremely direct or relatively abstract, the reader should feel a sense of synergy between these essays. For those who have a mission (see above) type answers in Essay A, Essay B is an opportunity to explain how an MBA will help you carry out that mission. For  those with other types of Essay A answers, the connectivity will be more indirect, but should still be intuitively obvious to the reader.
 
3.  Consistent with the applicant's biography.  That is to say, applicants have facts in their past experience that must make their goals believable.  I work with reapplicants to Stanford and for those who are dinged without an interview, I frequently find their goal essay lack this consistency. For instance, someone who says they want to go into social entrepreneurship, but has no history of getting involved with non-profit organizations, lacks significant recent volunteer experience,  and/or has no significant entrepreneurial experience, simply lacks credibility
 
 
 
4.  Does not just make a series of dumb lists of classes or tell Stanford about itself, but explains what the applicant wants from Stanford.  Go review Stanford's curriculum,  course catalog, and faculty and research. The resources available at Stanford GSB and Stanford University as a whole are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school as you will need to discuss that. While you should be explaining why you need an MBA, you need to make sure that your reasons align well with Stanford. You need not mention the names of particular courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your learning needs align well with Stanford's curriculum. For example, it is really a waste of word count to mention the names of particular finance courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your finance skills. Every admissions officer at Stanford is well aware of the programs major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it might be worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning;
 
 
 
An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  "I want to take Accelerated Corporate Finance: Applications, Techniques, and Models  because I am interested in learning advanced corporate financial techniques."
This kind of circular reasoning is so common. Usually, it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. They actually convey nothing about the applicant.  They are just abstract needs and will have limited impact on your reader.  The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program.
 
 
 
An example of an explanation for why:  "While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank of Joy, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I will need to succeed as an investment banker."  A complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Stanford.  By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one's goals and/or past experience, the admissions reader will be learning about you.
 
 
THIS IS A FUTURE DIRECTED QUESTION
Unlike some other "Why MBA" questions, Stanford is not asking about the past.  You have Essay A, your resume, and the application form to discuss the past. This essay is about who you want to become. While Stanford does not require you to elaborate on your short and long term goals in this essay, without some consideration to your post-MBA future, it will not be very easy to write an effective answer to this question.  You need not have an elaborate plan here.  You hardly have the space for it.   Instead of focusing on your goals,  focus on your personal mission:
-How will you make a difference and how can Stanford  help you do that?
-What impact do you want to make on the world that an MBA will help facilitate?
-What do you need to learn at Stanford in order to transform yourself for your future?
You need to be ambitious. Simply stating what your goals are and why Stanford is the best place for you to accomplish them is not exactly what you need here. Instead, you need to articulate a rationale related to why you want an MBA  that is connected to Stanford's mission to train global leaders. For more about being ambitious and visionary, see here. While the Stanford essay may not require goals, you will need them if you are interviewed by an alumnus.  Most Stanford interviews involve a discussion of goals.  So having a well thought out set of goals, even if they are not written about extensively in Essay B is something that you should have in place. While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), communicating aspirations requires going beyond the typical.

When formulating goals, the necessary prerequisite for formulating aspirations, I suggest going through a formal process of goals analysis. If you are still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, you can use the following grid.
The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here. Click to enlarge it.
How to use this matrix:

Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Career." What  roles and responsibilities have you had in clubs, part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc.? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?
Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
Next, analyze your situation in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?
 
 
Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-MBA" future after you have earned your graduate degree. If you cannot complete this step you need to do more research and need to think more about it. I frequently help clients with this sort of thing through a process of brainstorming.
 
 
Step 3. If you could complete step 2, then you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?
 
 
Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4, then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the  relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.
 
 
The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals?
 


The Essay B writing process
After going through a process of reflection and analysis, prepare versions of Essay B that includes everything you want to say. Next, begin the process of revision. Here are a few key things to consider when revising:
1. Think about the most important thing you need admissions to know about what you want to do after your MBA and why Stanford MBA (or MBA/MSX)  is the best place for you to do that. Begin your essay with that. Chances are good that on your initial draft the most important thing is somewhere in the middle or end of your essay.
2. Prioritize the rest of your content: What do they really need to know? Chances are you have lots of details that can be cut.
3. Make a formal argument: Your essay should be neither a set of disembodied points or a summary, instead, it should be a formal statement. Effective forms of this statement vary. The important part is that the reader should be able to understand it clearly and be convinced by it.
Once you have put together Essay B, consider how the rest of your application supports what you say in it. Without over-marketing yourself or even necessarily writing it directly in the essays, make that your other essays and other aspects of your application show how your potential will contribute to your future aspirations.

SURE IT IS  AN "OPTIONAL ESSAY" BUT ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD NOT ANSWER IT!
Optional Short-Answer Question:
Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? You are welcome to share up to three examples. (Up to 1500 characters, approximately 250 words, for each example)
This is the second year that the impact essays have been part of the application. All the clients that I worked with who were admitted and/or interviewed by Stanford for the Class of 2022 wrote the impact essays. You should too!
Calling this an optional essay is just a confusing message to send to applicants because (1) it is not like a typical optional essay related to critical information or problems that have not been accounted for, which is the common topic for optional essays (Stanford has it, it is called Additional Information and is discussed below) and (2) anyone can and should answer this question! If you cannot identify 1-3 specific ways you have had impact in ANY SETTING (professional, extracurricular, academic, or other setting = ANY)  that you have not covered elsewhere in detail in application (including the essay in the application, see below), there is a problem.  I don't recommend writing about something you are covering in detail elsewhere in the required essays or application form but, of course, some overlap is likely (especially with respect to the application form content). Given that Stanford is looking for people who will have high impact throughout their careers, the essay is a great way to showcase your potential to be a high impact leader in the future.  it is also an opportunity to show how you will add value at GSB.  It is also a great chance to elaborate on a story that you could not include or fully discuss in your required essays.

Effective answers to this question will clearly state the activity engaged in, identify the impact, and explain why it was significant (made a difference) to your yourself or others.  This chart will help you brainstorm impact essays:
Essay OutlineWhat was your role?What does it mean?Why will this essay sell them on you?
Situation:
When?
Where?
Who?
What?
How?
Effective answers to when, where, who, what, and how should all relate directly to your role in the situation. You are the hero or heroine of your story.Your reader should have a clear understanding of the situation. They are not reading a mystery story, a poem, or some other form of writing where withholding information will be valued.The situation needs to be one that the reader will believe, consider to be important, and hopefully be impressed by.
Action Steps:
What actions did you take?Action Step 1:
Action Step 2:
Action Step 3:
Stories break down into steps. For each step, make sure you are clear about what you did.Each action step should be meaningful and demonstrate your potential. This is the core of the story and it is important the rationale for your actions be stated as clearly as possible. Effective essays involve both description and interpretation.If you are actions are clear and their value is clear in terms of your leadership, analytical, engaged community citizenship, or unique background, you will be on a firm basis for selling your story to admissions.
ResultResults should be stated as clearly as possible. Your relationship to the results should be clear.Explain the significance of results clearly.Make your results meaningful so that they will be impressive.
I would suggest writing these  short essays after determining the content for your required A & B essays as well as completing the application form, so you can see what has not been fully accounted for in your background that you really want Stanford to know.  Aligning the content of impact essays to connect to theme of Essay A  and/or to show your potential to accomplish your goals as mentioned in Essay B is something that I consider critical for making a great essay set.


THINK ABOUT THE REST OF THE APPLICATION
There is nothing more depressing to me than to look at an MBA application that is hastily put together. Worse still if it is a school that is hard to get into. Worse yet if it is Stanford, where there is a very rigorous approach to application review. The application form, transcript, and resume all play a significant role in the evaluation of your suitability for admission.  Given  that Stanford GSB is evaluating your intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, personal qualities, and qualifications, you can be certain that beyond your essays, the rest of the application will be highly scrutinized to determine how you benchmark against these criteria. Some people look at application forms as mere forms. I look at them as opportunities  to provide admissions with as complete and impressive presentation as one can. The reason admissions made the application was because they need the information to make a decision about you, so don't provide something that is done at the last minute. Stanford expects that you will take the application seriously. The worst thing you can do is treat this section as a last minute thought.
In the employment section, clients frequently ask me about the question, "What is your most significant professional achievement?" which is required for each position held.  I suggest you focus on the situation at work where you had the greatest impact. Where did you add value above and beyond what would normally be expected of you?  Sure you may have participated in some engagement that was big but if your role was routine, that is not what you want to mention. Focus on something that required you to take initiative and/or where your impact was beyond the expectations of your organization.

ONE PAGE RESUME PLEASE

Stanford really does prefer a one-page resume!

"Please attach your one-page resume. Unless you have a very compelling reason, do not submit a resume that is longer than one page."
For a one-page resume template, see here.   This is the resume template that many of my clients admitted to Stanford and other top programs have used.

Along with the essays, the Resume and Employment History are the most critical documents that you control. Both should present you as effectively and honestly as possible. These two values are not in conflict: Be honest, be thorough, and do not be humble. You are being judged by your professional experience and this is where they get your complete record of it. Since Stanford generally prefers a one-page resume, my suggestion is to provide that if at all feasible. You can always provide any supplemental information in the Additional Information upload section of the application.

THE BRIEF GOALS STATEMENT IN THE APPLICATION FORM
Please write a sentence or two about what you aspire to do after graduating from Stanford GSB. (Limit 255 characters.) 
The answer here should be consistent with whatever you are writing in Essay B.  It may simply overlap with content in Essay B or provide a bit of detail that you did not have the word count for. Obviously you cannot get much in 255 characters, so don't worry if this is just a restatement of what is in Essay B.  As far as the answer goes, be as clear and specific as possible.
 
THE ESSAY IN THE APPLICATION: Give them a new perspective on you!
"More About You: Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background influenced your participation at work or school."  (1200 characters)
Unclear why they don't call this an essay! All my admits certainly treated it like an essay.  However 1200 characters is about 300 words, which is essay length.  This is a behavioral question  (See my MIT interview post for a full discussion of behavioral questions).  I like this kind of question because it asks an applicant to apply something from their background to something they have done recently.  Stanford gives the following advice for this question: "We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. We would like an example of how one factor in your background has had an impact on your life." Please don't tell a story that overlaps with the content presented elsewhere in your application and especially not with your essay content. The point of Stanford's analysis of this question is just the opposite: Tell us about something else in your background and how it has impacted what you have done in some recent situation.  For those who have been out of school for more than two years make it work related. For those still in school or who graduated within the last two years, you can make it work related or school related, whichever suits you. Stanford has seemingly excluded extracurricular activities for the very reason that work and school are more high stakes since what you do at school or work is more likely to directly impact you. That thing in your background could be a value, a lesson you learned, an activity or interest. The possibilities are endless. Whatever that background thing is, show how it impacted your participation in terms of the actions you took and/or the values you upheld.  Make sure you put time into this and don't write it as an afterthought.


Transcripts
At a Stanford presentation in Tokyo, the admissions officer emphasized that the admissions committee closely reads transcripts. While you don't control the content at this point, you have the possibility of impacting how the transcript is interpreted. Scrutinize your own transcript. If your GPA is high, this is easy. You can relax. If on the other hand, your transcript reveals an unimpressive GPA, some very low grades, gaps in study, or anything else that concerns you, you had better figure out how to address in the Additional Information section.


Additional Information: Use it or don't use it, but don't abuse it.

"Additional Information

If there is any information that is critical for us to know and is not captured elsewhere, include it in the “Additional Information” section of the application. Pertinent examples include:

  • Extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
  • Academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere"
If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background or to provide additional information that did not fit in the space provided elsewhere. DO NOT USE IT FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE. Yes, you may have written a great essay for Tuck, Wharton, Harvard, Chicago, NYU, MIT, INSEAD, Columbia, or London Business School, but don't include it here. I don't think the categories above require interpretation as they are clear.

If you really have no explanation for something negative, don't bother writing about it. For example, if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don't bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don't waste the committee's time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.

ALMOST EVERYONE HAS SOMETHING THEY WANT TO EXPLAIN. It might be small or it might be large, but if you don't give your interpretation of something that may look odd in your application, why assume that someone reviewing it will interpret in a manner favorable to you?   Your objective is to always provide the admissions reader with an interpretation, especially of something you think is relatively obvious and potentially negative.

Activities
This section is important. Of course, some applicants will not have much here, while others will have a plethora of things to mention. In any case, provide the best answer you can. Use your judgment about what to include. The above instructions make it very clear that Stanford GSB is not looking for quantity. Give them quality and don't mention anything that will show your lack of commitment: If you joined a lot of organizations for a really short time and did nothing, I don't think that it will help you to mention it. Please keep in mind that there is no perfect applicant, just like there is no perfect human being. If you have had to work 100-plus hours a week since graduating from university and your idea of extracurricular activity is sleep, don't assume that not having any great activities will hurt you. Admissions will evaluate your whole application. I have had the opportunity to work with great applicants who were admitted to Stanford GSB, and I can say none of them were perfect, but what they were able to do was present themselves as honestly and effectively as possible. Some had amazing extracurricular activities while others really did not have much worth mentioning.

Finally, I plea with you to give yourself enough time to do a first class job on the entire application. I can't guarantee that doing a great job on the application form will get you into the Stanford Class of 2023, but if you make it part of your overall approach to applying, it will not hurt either.  Given the central importance of the resume to the interview process at Stanford, it is critical that you give that document the time and attention that it deserves. Getting into Stanford GSB is simply harder than getting into any other MBA program, but if it is where you want to go and if you think you fit there, commit to putting a significant amount of time into making a great application. Best of luck!


May 25, 2020

Will 2021 acceptance rates go up or down at top MBA programs?

Will 2021 admission rates go up or down at top MBA programs?
This is the question I am being asked continuously from fall 2020 admitted and new/potential clients.  For those already admitted for fall 2020, the issue is whether to defer and/or just try again for 2021. For new/potential clients, they are just trying to figure out how difficult admissions for 2021 is likely to be as this directly effects school selection, expectations about results, and the whether to wait a year or more.  My answer is ambiguous and informed  by the greater economic and political impact of the Coronavirus which  I have previously discussed economic and visa impacts related to Coronavirus and provided advice to applicants here, here, and here. Below are further thoughts related to an admissions-level view of the situation.
Increased level of new client inquiries: Judging by the number of initial consultations I have been doing since February, my answer would be that the acceptance rates for 2021 are likely to go down because the number of applicants seems to be increasing. Hence 2021 admission will be more difficult  This was certainly the prevailing view I heard during the Association of International Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) Virtual Conference (#aigac2020) on May 18th and 19th. It was clear enough that other consultants worldwide are seeing no negative impact to their business due to the ongoing crisis but the vast majority  are seeing an increase.  This might simply be due to applicants having more on their hands and starting the process earlier and hence, we might see a decreased volume later this year.
MBA Admissions Officers: Without disclosing the specifics (as that would violate disclosure rules), what I heard at #aigac2020 was MBA admissions officers from Top US schools expressed optimism about application volume for 2021 entrance based on the fact that their app volume was up because of an extended R3/R4, because of deferred 2020 admits, and because of the typical pattern of applicants increasing during a recession. Let's consider each of these factors.
Late application now for 2020 could be a positive signal for 2021 application volume or it could be false signal: Extended deadline enables R1 applicants to apply in extended deadline so they need not apply for 2021 if admitted for 2020. Assuming enough admits, it could result in a drop in the number of applicants for 2021. It could also signal that many applicants are undeterred by the crisis and that we should anticipate an increased difficulty of admission.  It could also signal that some applicants focused more on the degree than the experience see the opportunity to apply right now and are taking advantage of the situation.  Whatever the case, we can't assume that it tells us what applicant behavior will actually be like for MBA application season 2020-2021.
There is no question that many admits are deferring/withdrawing from 2020 because of the possibility of programs being online and/or visa issues and concerns about internships and job recruiting. It is easy to imagine a net increase in application volume produced by such previously admitted applicants applying again. And, unless schools increase the number of seats, it means that deferred applicants will be taking up seats that would otherwise not be available.   For me, this is one factor that more or less unambiguously points towards a net increase for the difficulty of admission, but externalities (see links to my prior posts above) could undermine this factor. 
//By the way, for anyone considering deferment for fall 2020, US B-schools have a work around to make sure that any international student regardless of when they can get to the US can get a paid internship. Schools have now or are making internships part of the curriculum which means that as long as someone gets to the US by summer 2021 even if they had been attending online for the first academic year, they could still intern in the US assuming the student can get to the US by summer 2021. Check with the school(s) you have been admitted to regarding this issue.//
GMAT and GRE testing:  While a temporary issue if test centers open relatively soon, given the unpopularity of the online test, it is imaginable that extended center delays could have a negative impact on the number of applicants though this would be irrational. I say irrational because  admissions officers are aware of the issues regarding the online test and would take it into account. However I can easily see applicants ignoring that and not taking the online test. Certainly such delays could easily reduce the number of R1 applicants but subsequently have no significant net impact on total application volume if the online test improves and/or if test centers open (and stay open) worldwide soon.   However if countries go into a second round of lockdown due to the pandemic getting worse again in the fall, the lack of test taking availability could have a net negative impact on the number of applicants. I know I will be telling my clients to take the online test if that is the only option and I am sure that schools will stating that too so I don't think this will be a huge factor one way or the other.  Another reason why I don't think this will be a huge factor is because GMAC also has the online Executive Assessment test.  EA is used by EMBA programs and since the 2019-2020 admissions cycle by Columbia Business School and NYU Stern for the MBA, could become a reasonable substitute if other MBA programs start to accept it. Since the EA takes 90 minutes instead of 3 hours and 7 minutes, it would certainly be easier for GMAC to proctor since they could administrate 2 EA sessions in the time it takes for 1 GMAT session. This would give applicants at least the option for taking more online tests. I think GMAC is pragmatic enough to make sure that they provide test takers with sufficient options.
Recessions increase the number of applicants to MBA programs but what about depressions?  At #aigac2020 and elsewhere the common sense assumption based on past MBA admissions cycles would be that a recession in the US causes a net increase in the number of applicants because a weak job market makes graduate school look more attractive. And, if we only have a recession, I think it is reasonable to assume a net increase in applicants for fall 2021 admission. But what about a US and/or global depression? We don't know because we have not had one since 1929. Just like we have not had a global pandemic since 1918, we
would be dealing in unknown territory and cannot easily assume how things will work based on past precedent. That said, I can easily imagine a situation were the number of applicants plummets because the risks of leaving a paying job, reduced level of financial support from families, and a massively increased level of fear/panic/stress result in a significant decrease in the number of applicants. Such a deeply awful scenario is not unreasonable to consider given the potential for Covid-19 to become even worse in fall 2020 (See here regarding that scenario). In such a s scenario,  2021 admissions could become significantly less difficult if the number of applications drops significantly enough.
Finally, as I have discussed in earlier posts, in such uncertain times my advice for applicants to be flexible and pragmatic by having multiple winning options. The situation right now is just simply too unpredictable to do otherwise.
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