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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

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

June 16, 2016

Wharton adds a new question for Class of 2019 Application

Well, Wharton added a new question!  My full analysis will come soon but here are the qs taken from the Wharton Blog:

Essay 1:  What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

Essay 2: Teamwork is at the core of the Wharton MBA experience with each student contributing unique elements to our collaborative culture. How will you contribute to the Wharton community? (400 words)

 

Essay 1 is the same as last year.  Essay 2 replaces the optional essay on something positive.

 

My analysis for Essay 1 can be found here, which I will update when I do my post on this application.

Regarding Essay 2, the funny thing is that many of my clients admitted to Wharton more or less wrote on that topic using the optional essay.  It is an easy topic to write on and the nature of the question is such that any applicant would need to answer it for purposes of preparing for an interview.

More about all of this in about a week.

 

 



-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

May 25, 2016

MBA Interviews: Gauging Client Attitudes and Experiences About Interviewing

Below is an edited version of a paper I wrote for INSEAD’s Executive Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change. I believe that it will be of interest to those who are applying for MBA programs and for other MBA admissions coaches.  I explain why I think understanding a client’s prior experiences at interviewing is extremely useful for tailoring training to meet a particular client’s needs.  Hopefully, it will also be helpful for anyone who wants to understand a bit more about the interview coaching methods I use and to get an admissions coaches perspective on helping a client overcome some personal challenges. I want to again thank all the clients from 2015-2016 who participated in this study and agreed to me utilizing this information publically.  Except for client’s results, gender, and in some cases, nationality, all other potentially identifying elements have been removed.

Executive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change
Adam Markus
Practicum 3
An Early Intervention in MBA Admissions Interview Coaching: Gauging Client Attitudes and Experiences About Interviewing at an Early Stage

 Originally Presented  in November 2015
Edited & Updated in May 2016

Intervention Background: My work as an MBA admissions consultant and coach consists of working with applicants on their applications and then preparing them for interviews at top tier schools. A critical part of the MBA application process is the interview. At top US MBA programs (like Harvard Business School, Wharton, Stanford), which provide a high degree of transparency on their admissions numbers (By contrast INSEAD and most other non-US programs don't make their admissions data public), the acceptance rate amongst those invited for an interview is approximately 50%. Getting an invite dramatically increases chances of admission. In the standard process for preparing applicants for MBA admission to programs in the US and worldwide, the interview is handled last. Most top tier US MBA programs (Duke, Kellogg, and Tuck are the exceptions) and all top tier international MBA programs do interviews by invitation only after the submission of the application. Most applicants don't often start preparing for interviews until after they have submitted an application and maybe not until after they receive an interview invitation. Once an invite is received, depending on the school, interviewees may have a few days to over a month  to prepare, but 1-2 weeks is the most common.  For those who are good at interviewing 1-2 weeks presents no significant challenge.  For those with English language issues, some will do extensive preparation even prior to invitations to try to overcome the language challenge. However, applicants will face a variety of challenges that cut across nationality, profession, educational background, and English ability, which include interview anxiety, negative self-talk, poor presentation skills, poor listening skills, low affect, and narcissism. For years, I have encountered these behaviors but, usually, when I do become aware of these issues there is not so much I can do in a short time.  Instead of wait ing for interview practice, which would typically begin in October, I contacted my clients in early July while they were preparing Round 1 applications (Due from September 9th for HBS through early October for other top US schools and INSEAD and LBS) and made the following offer:

"As you may know, I am a student in INSEAD's Executive Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change, a program that focuses on clinical and organizational psychology, organizational behavior, coaching, and leadership development.  As part of my program, I required to prepare and execute a client intervention based on what I have learned in the program.  In addition, I am required to eventually write a thesis. My intervention and thesis will be focused on MBA interviews. I would like your participation in my research in exchange for some value added services to you at no additional cost:  I would like to ask your cooperation for participating in the client intervention.  The intervention consists of an Interview Experience Self-Assessment, which then becomes the basis for a free 30-minute counseling session focused on creating an individual MBA interview preparation plan."

I sent this email to 28 clients and 19 ultimately fully participated in the process. All participants were assigned codes based on when they responded and will be referred to throughout this paper as 1501-1519.  Rather than focus on all participants, I will use examples primarily related to 1516- a European male who applied to HBS, Wharton, and Stanford in Round 1- so that the reader can follow how the intervention worked with a single client.

The intervention consisted of the following:
  1. Interview Experience Self-Assessment (IESA) Survey, which clients completed and returned to me.
  2. Pre-Session Attitude Analysis, which provides feedback on the attitude survey in the IESA, was sent to participants before the 30-minute session.
  3. A 30-minute session with me to discuss the questionnaire and to come up with a plan for addressing any concerns they may have. These sessions took place in August to early September.
  4. Feedback on Interview Experience Self-Analysis, which summarized the 30-minute session and focuses on suggestions for an individual MBA interview preparation plan.

Note: I hope that three appendices that follow the paper are not necessary to read, but may prove helpful for understanding the intervention more specifically as the above-mentioned documents for 1516 can be found there.)

In addition, when applicable I had interview practice sessions with participants that took account of the intervention. In what follows, I will discuss each step of the intervention and evaluate its effectiveness.

IESA: The IESA consists of two parts. The first part is an attitudinal survey on characteristics that I would identify as relevant to interview skills. The sample size involved made it impossible to norm the data, so I treated it as an instrument for measuring self-perception and rather than focusing on differences in ratings between participants, I focused on looking at the variation in response by each participant to understand what they perceived as their relative strengths and weaknesses. Inevitably, I compared participants based on overall experience and attitudes but did not share these comparisons with the participants. For example, 1516 rated himself neutral in regards to "I enjoy public speaking," but had much more positive feelings in regards to other aspects of communication/interaction related to interviewing. The second part of IESA asks for a lifetime summary of the participant's interview experiences as well as what they like best and least about interviewing and their best and worst experiences as an interviewee and whether they have had any experience as an interviewer. The summary of his experience shows that 1516 has been very successful at interviewing, but had limited interview experience. He focuses very much on the interviewer in determining what is a good and bad interview. While that seems reasonable enough, his best and worst experiences and what he likes best and least, relate to what interviewers do and not to his own performance. Many other participants had very different answers, which focused on their own performance as well as their treatment by interviewers. From my viewpoint, this indicated that 1516's ability to perform well was too dependent on the interviewer and not focused sufficiently on his individual performance. I have seen this become a problem for clients, especially when faced with a neutral or aggressive interviewer and it is exactly the kind of thing my intervention was designed to identify. I view both parts of the IESA as useful because it is possible to compare how the participant answers each part. In the case of 1516, someone with neutral feelings about public speaking, the fact that he does not focus on how own performance in the second part of the IESA is rather consistent and something that would, in fact, become an issue when we began his actual interview practice, though I was not aware at the time of the intervention  of how much of an issue it would be.

            Pre-Session Attitude Analysis: Just as with other forms of coaching which utilize an attitudinal instrument, prior to having individual sessions with participants, I wanted to give them a document to serve as feedback and for framing the conversation. This document explains the categories used on the attitude assessment and scores them. I am not sure how useful this document was because of the fact that data could not be normed, so I treat the data with extreme skepticism.  At a minimum, it provided an explanation for the attitude survey, but I don't plan on using it again until such time as I have statistically useful data to work with (Should that ever be possible). In the sessions that I had with respondents and subsequently in their interview practice in October and November, it was the case that the 2nd part of the IESA, which the Pre-Session Attitude Analysis does not cover, provided to be much more valuable. I would surely ask some more attitudinal questions like the ones found in first part, but for my purposes of rolling this out to all my clients (started this in January 2016),  based on what I saw a narrative response/history would prove more useful.

            A 30-minute session and Feedback on Interview Experience Self-Analysis: The 30-minute session was an opportunity to confirm and clarify the respondents' answers to the IESA and to formulate suggestions, as needed, for interview preparation. These suggestions varied greatly depending on the applicant. In the case of 1516 (See Appendix 3), a core issue for 1516 was his need to really believe in what in he was saying and feeling comfortable with the interview environment. As with all the sessions I had with these participants, I tried to use myself as an instrument, for example, I considered how his experiences and behaviors make me feel. 1516 and I share a strong need to believe in what we are saying and have feelings of ambivalence if not outright nervousness about public speaking even though we both have done it. We also both prefer small familiar group settings. I could easily empathize with 1516. However, going beyond em pathy, I communicated to 1516 that he had to be prepared to deal with a great range of interviewers (Not just friendly ones, but the most common alternative, neutral interviewers) and to have a more performance rather than interviewer focused strategy to prepare for interviews.
            Interview Sessions that Refer Back to the Practice: This is the point at which I utilized the results of the intervention in paid client sessions for interview practice. In the case of 1516, he received an invite from HBS, so we should have had extensive time to prepare as he received his invitation on October 7 and did not interview until November 17. HBS sends out invites earlier than other schools and there is usually two-three times as much time between the invite and the actual interview compared to other schools. After doing some initial self-prep (Something I strongly advocate and provide materials for), 1516 and I had our first practice on October 25. He had previously canceled the week before. What occurred in that session was completely unexpected. Instead of becoming more comfortable with his responses through self-practice, he was extremely unprepared and began struggling for answers. He broke down in the first session, which simply involved going over his answers to typical questions in an open style (not a mock interview). My intervention did not predict this. It was though if an answer was not perfect, he fell completely apart. I had had not understood that 1516 was not only dependent on how the interviewer acted, he had immense anxiety about performance. As with many clients, I suggested he do mock sessions with one of my colleagues in order to get a different experience and a perspective. When someone has performance issues I typically send them to my colleague who is particularly good at the performance aspect of interviewing and who has extensive experience as a professional interviewer. She experienced the same thing with him on November 7th. Her comments confirmed my observations: "He seems like a nice guy and his experience is very interesting, but that was literally one of the worst interview sessions I’ve had in recent memory." We had 3 subsequent sessions. Normally, o ne of my standard practices for HBS involves being a very neutral interviewer because this seems to be the worst case interviewer experience for those who have HBS interviews (and from what my respondents told me, no one likes neutral interviewers), however I did not do this with 1516 as it simply would have enhanced his anxiety, since the IESA indicated the extent to which he was focused on the interviewer. Instead, we briefly discussed how to handle this. Prior to EMCCC, I might very well have been that neutral interviewer, but doubling down on someone's anxiety is just the kind of thing I wanted to avoid. Instead, I tried to create a safe space for him to practice a full range of questions in order for him to feel comfortable with his answers.  Fortunately, his interviewers (there was an observer) were friendly, which is the style I used for our mock sessions.  He reported that, "I left the interview with a very good feeling. I didn’t get stuck on any question and I just went with the flow." He was admitted.

What I learned from my intervention is that gaining a client interview history and understanding their attitudes was useful, but as the example of 1516 shows, I can't say it or my ability to read the client history was sufficient to predict the anxiety that 1516 had. Going beyond 1516 and to get a sense of the range of respondents, the issues I encountered, and how I have tried to address them, please see the following table:




As you can see, the intervention did not necessarily identify specific issues with everyone who took it and that is a good thing. I was not trying to find problems where I could not perceive them. The intervention was to serve as an early warning system for more serious issues. It did that to a large extent. For those who participated, I think it can be said that they fall into two groups, those that had no specific issues and those that did. What seemed to unite them was (1) a desire to help me and (2) the fact that I was asking them about an area of experience that they probably had not ever analyzed in this way and that is relevant to MBA applications as well as future employment. For those who had serious issues, the intervention made it possible for me to be aware of their issues at an early stage and make sure they were as well. In the cases of 1501, 1506, 1512, and 1513, they all engaged in extremely high levels of interview self-prep from a very early stage.  I do think understanding my client's interview experiences prior to having an interview session with me is immensely valuable because it helps me place the way they act in a greater context: Their role biography as interviewees (and sometimes interviewers). It becomes another part of the client's attitudes and experiences that I can draw on when coaching them

Finally, I have begun using the intervention in a greatly modified form since January 2016.  I provide a brief questionnaire related to prior interview experience, which I review for free and briefly respond to. It then helps me know what kind of interview preparation to use with a particular client. Based on what I saw with the intervention, having clients report on their prior experience at interviewing is sometimes enough to make the client aware of issues they have. I think it certainly increases my ability to positively intervene.


Appendix 1

IESA 1516

Section 1: A brief attitude survey
For each statement place a  "Y" in whichever box is most applicable.
Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statements


AGREE
SOMEWHAT
AGREE
NEUTRAL
SOMEWHAT DISAGREE
DISAGREE
I enjoy public speaking.



Y
I'm a good listener.



Y
I am confident when I am an interviewee.
Y
I tend to speak often in groups and classrooms.
Y
People enjoy listening to me talk.
Y
I'm a good storyteller.
Y
I'm good at speaking spontaneously on a wide variety of subjects.
Y
I often lead conversations with others.
Y
Performing well in front of others comes naturally to me. 
Y
I'm good at convincing other people.
Y

CONTINUE TO NEXT SECTION
Section 2: Brief Biographical Information
Nationality:
EU

Country of Residence:
HIDDEN EUROPE

English Ability:  Place a "Y" in whichever box is most applicable.
Native English Speaker Very Advanced (Extensive Work/ Education Conducted in English) Advanced
(TOEFL 109 or higher)

Intermediate (TOEFL 100-108)
Y


If English is not your native language, what is?
 HIDDEN

Gender (Male/Female):
Male

Age:
Late 20s

Section 3:  Summary of your experience as an interviewee
Provide answers for each category. For any answers not applicable to you, mark "NA."
INTERVIEW CATEGORIES Number of interviews What is your estimated success rate?  What year was your most recent successful interview? What year was your most recent unsuccessful interview? Percentage of Interviews Conducted in English
Undergraduate and Graduate School Admissions Interview Experience


NA
%


%
Internship Interview Experience (University age or older)



6
100%
2011

0%
Job Interview Experience (Both Initial positions and internal company transfers)



5
80%
2013

40%
Other Selective Interview Experience (Scholarships, special educational programs, clubs, organizations, etc.)
NA
%


%


Section 4: For the following please write answers of any length.
What do you like best about being interviewed?
When I see that the interviewer:
-       Is passionate about the company and understands its real needs
-       Has a clear vision of what he or she wants from an employee
-       Makes sure that the interviewee knows what to expect (i.e. avoids surprises for the interviewee)
-       Makes the interview a conversation (does not stare into his/her notebook and constantly takes notes, instead actually tries to engage the interviewee)
-       Knows when to pause to give the interviewee time to think his/her answer through
-       Follow-ups and is clear about next steps

What do you like least about being interviewed?
When I see that the interviewer:
-       Is not passionate about the company
-       Is disinterested in actually having a conversation with the interviewee and does not make eye contact
-       Is just checking off points on a list
-       Is not actively interested in uncovering the potential of the candidate

What was your best interviewee experience like and when was it?
It was my first interview with the company I currently work for, which was actually a series of 6 interviews, each with a different set of 2 interviewers – this took place in 2011. All interviewers were passionate about the company, believed in the values, were actively interested in uncovering the true potential of each candidate, they engaged in conversation and had a clear understanding of the purpose of the job I was interviewing for; they were visibly interested in finding the right balance between raw qualifications, potential and fit with the company values and culture.

What was your worst interviewee experience like and when was it?
It was an interview in my home country, in late 2010, with a senior manager of a top global CPG company. The interviewer was completely disengaged, seemed uninterested in the position itself and did not seem too passionate about the company either. All questions were scripted (i.e. read from a list of pre-defined questions), there was no real conversation, apart from a monologue at the beginning of the interview when he unknowingly started reading the resume aloud and comparing his own academic achievements to mine (with no interaction with me).
Overall the interviewer managed to significantly decrease my interest in the company and consequently this led to a very bad interview experience.

Have you ever been an interviewer?  When?  How often?  What was it like to be an interviewer?
NA

If you experienced any MBA interviews, please discuss how you think they went and what if anything you would do differently the next time you interview.
NA

Section 5: OPTIONAL QUESTION
Now that you have answered the above questions is there anything else you think I should know about your interview experience?
Even though my track record might be good, I consider that I have limited interview experience overall and even more so when considering an academic interview.

The only interviews I have had in English were for the company I currently work for.

THANK YOU FOR COMPLETING THIS DOCUMENT.
NOW PLEASE RETURN IT TO adammarkus@gmail.com








APPENDIX 2
Pre-Session Attitude Analysis for IESA 1516

Dear Participant,
This document takes the six core indicators (Presentation, Listening, Confidence, Impactful, Spontaneous, Interesting) and uses them as a partial basis for analyzing your past interview experience in order to provide recommendations for enhancing future performance.
This document includes a score report and guide on the Brief Attitude Survey, which we will discuss during the 30-minute counseling session.
After the counseling you will get another report, which includes, a summary of our discussions regarding these indicators, your prior experience at interviewing, and suggestions for enhancing your performance.

A Note Regarding Interview Performance Indicators, Evaluation Design, and Value of this Study
The performance indicators I have utilized here are based on my experience doing interview preparation since 2001. There are certainly other ways of looking at the skills, attitudes, and experiences that effect interview performance.  That said, I think the factors I am focused on capture core aspects of the interview process. In the case of a fully develop self-evaluation that you may have encountered previously, such as 360°, statistically valid benchmarking against other participants may have been utilized, but given my sample size and the preliminary nature of this study, that is not possible.
For you as a participant, the value in this kind of study is that it  (1) provides feedback about your self-perceptions, (2) based on that feedback provides advice for improving interview performance in order to gain admission, and (3) hopefully an opportunity to enhance your subsequent performance on interviewing more generally.
For me as an interview coach, this study provides an opportunity (1) to systematize the way I provide advice, (2) attempt to intervene early in the application process in order to maximize positive impact on clients, and (3) further develop my coaching skills by applying a clinical and organizational psychological approach.


 THE SIX INDICATORS EXPLAINED

PRESENTATION Performance Indicator:  While most interviews don't require making presentations, those who feel comfortable and/or are skilled presenters are often effective at interviewing. In particular, good presenters know how to communicate information, often are good at memorizing stories and data, and can be effective communicators.  Thatsaid, since presentation often relies upon a script or slides, those who consider themselves to be effectiveat presentation, but are not spontaneous, maybe particularly rigid and scripted in the way they interview.
LISTENING Performance Indicator:  An interview is a conversation and hence listening skills are a key measure of performance. Good listeners hear the question being asked to them in all its nuances and are more sensitive to the person they are talking to. Those who rate themselves lower in this area need to consider why that is the case: What behaviors are you in engaging in that reduce your effectiveness as a listener? Note for non-native English speakers:  If English is not your native language and you are factoring this into your self-evaluation, we need to discuss the difference between being a good listener regardless of the language and your ability to listen in English.

CONFIDENCE Performance Indicator:  Confidence or its absence can make or break an interview. Lack of confidence, which often is reflected in the voice and body language of an interviewee, can be a serious obstacle to effective performance. Confident interviewees have the capacity to make a strong impression even sometimes when their answersare off target and/or their English skills are not perfect.  That said, those who are over-confident might underestimate the extent to which they need to prepare for interviews that are fast paced or non-standard. The overly confident may also come across as arrogant, especially in the context of a group or team-based interviews.

IMPACTFUL Performance Indicator: If you influence or persuade others, your words are impactful.  An impactful interviewee is someone who has the ability to make effective arguments that persuade the interviewer.  If you don't perceive yourself as impactful, why should anyone believe you or agree with you?  Those that rate themselves as highly impactful can come across as overbearing especially in the context of group or team interviews, especially if they rate themselves as very interesting to others and/or are extremely confident and/or are not good listeners.

SPONTANEOUS Performance Indicator:  Spontaneity is a key aspect of effective performance in an interview especially when the questions being asked are ones that cannot be easily prepared in advance for.  A spontaneous interviewee has the ability to answer any question even if their answer is not perfect. They don't freeze up, but can keep their end of the conversation up and don't create awkward pauses. On the other hand, if an interviewee is spontaneous and not thoughtful in their responses they may very well say something completely inappropriate. Those who lack spontaneity tend to pause, freeze up, and otherwise stumble when they are asked something they are not prepared for.

INTERESTING Performance Indicator:  An interesting interviewee is someone who engages and entertains the interviewer.  To be interesting is to not only have something worth saying but the ability to say it in a way that the listener can become excited by. An interesting interviewee is someone whose stories are likely to make a strong impression on the interviewer. The opposite of an interesting interviewee is a boring one. Those that rate themselves as very interesting can come across as overbearing especially in the context of group or team interviews, especially if they also rate themselves as very impactful to others and/or are extremely confident and/or are not good listeners.
SEE NEXT PAGE FOR ATTITUDE REPORT.  In our session together we will discuss the meaning of these scores.

IESA1516
Attitude Statements
AGREE
SOMEWHAT AGREE
NEUTRAL
SOMEWHAT DISAGREE
DISAGREE
INDICATOR
5
4
3
2
1
I enjoy public speaking.
Y
  Presentation
I'm a good listener.
Y
Listening
I am confident when I am an interviewee.
Y
Confidence
I tend to speak often in groups and classrooms.
Y
Spontaneous
People enjoy listening to me talk.
Y
Interesting
Spontaneous
I'm a good storyteller.
Y
Interesting
I'm good at speaking spontaneously on a wide variety of subjects.
Y
Spontaneous
I often lead conversations with others.
Y
Impactful
Performing well in front of others comes naturally to me. 
Y
Confidence
Presentation
I'm good at convincing other people.
Y
Impactful
Confidence
Indicator TTL Point Total %
PRESENTATION
10
3
4
7
70
LISTENING
5
5
5
100
CONFIDENCE
15
5
4
4
13
87
IMPACTFUL
10
4
4
8
80
INTERESTING
10
5
4
9
90
SPONTANEOUS
15
5
5
5
15
100


APPENDIX 3
Feedback on Interview Experience Self-Analysis for IESA 1516
Dear Participant,
This document includes a summary of our discussions regarding your experience in interviews and suggestions for future development.
Suggestions for future development:
You do well speaking in situations where you feel comfortable with the atmosphere. You use listening skills to gauge what is going on before speaking if possible. This works well in small groups when there is time to figure out the atmosphere, but in interview situations you will have to be able to perform without that level of comfort.  This means knowing what you want to say regardless of the atmosphere of those who are present.  If the interviewer does not create an atmosphere you like you still need to have a strategy to perform.  Fortunately, your confidence should not be impacted because interviews will not happen suddenly and are always in small groups.  You should also be able to approach interviews with high impact because I assume you believe and understand your own story.  It is critical that everything you put into the application is something you believe, especially for schools like HBS, where anything you mention in the application can become a basis for an interview question.

You need to be as interesting, spontaneous and driven about your own message as you are about any message you deliver at work. The point of preparation is to get you comfortable discussing yourself in as wide a range of topics as possible.

If you have a Wharton Team-Based Discussion interview, it is critical that you attend the cocktail party/social gathering for interviewees that occurs before the actual interview at most overseas locations. Don't do a TBD on campus because it will not give the same opportunity to meet your fellow interview teammates before the team based interview.

Finally, I know you are relatively untested in interviews solely conducted by English native speaking interviewers, but based on your English ability, I don't think this will be much of an issue for you. Mock interviews with me and/or my colleagues will give you a vital opportunity to gain some further experience in this area before having a real interview.
—————–


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

May 18, 2016

HBS Class of 2019 MBA Admissions Application

In this post, I will be analyzing the essay question and key components of the HBS Application for the Class of 2019.   At this time, the online application is not live yet but the essay was released on the HBS Director’s Blog on May 11, 2016. In addition to discussing overall HBS application strategy and the required essay, I will discuss key parts of the application form, resume, and transcript (SUBJECT TO REVISION AFTER THE ONLINE APPLICATION GOES LIVE IN EARLY JUNE). I also provide some advice at the end of this post for HBS reapplicants.  For my posts on recommendation, please see my Key Posts on recommendations. For my post on HBS interviews, please see here.

My comprehensive service clients have been admitted to HBS for the Classes of 2018,  2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005. My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help additional candidates with HBS interview preparation.  Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have worked with 34 successful applicants from Canada, Europe, India, the Middle East, Japan, South Korea, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application. I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS. l I can tell you is that HBS takes a truly diverse range of people. Some had high GPAs and great GMAT scores, others had GPAs and scores well below the 80% range for HBS, but what they all had in common were strong personal professional backgrounds that came out in their essays.

THE ESSAY
"As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA Program?"
“No word limit and no right answers.”

Based on the above, you should be asking yourself: Given the question, what do HBS admissions need to know in order to offer me an interview and then admit me?  My answer would be to take a deep dive into HBS’ criteria for admission and consider how they can apply to you. You will need to take two deep dives. One into HBS and another into yourself.  HBS introduced this more open style of question for the Class of 2016. I had 6 clients admitted to that Class, 10 to the Class of 2017, and 7 to the Class of 2018, so the advice here is based on helping a very diverse range of clients gain admission to HBS.

If you are trying to understand the diverse range of essays that gets someone admitted to HBS, I do recommend  The Unofficial Harvard Business School Essay Book.  In fact, one of my clients admitted to the Class of 2016 contributed his or her essay to it, which made me really happy.  I can’t tell you which one. I do highly recommend reading this book because it will give you a really good idea about the range of possible answers and dispel any myths about needing to submit something that is professionally written. I would also recommend the old book that contained HBS admits essays. That collection is still a good read for understanding how to put together an MBA essay though the specific questions are no longer being asked by HBS. Combined, both books are really great guides for someone looking to see sample successful MBA essays. Beyond those essay books, a piece of absolutely required reading for HBS admissions is Poets & Quants' John Byrne's interview with Dee Leopold, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School. If you are looking for one article to give you overall insight into how HBS makes admissions decisions, John Byrne has done an exceptional job of asking Dee Leopold the right questions.


Four Ways HBS Evaluates Applicants
My objective when working with each of my clients is to help them identify the best content in their essays, resume, interview and other application components to show fit for each school they apply to. My approach is to understand the audience that is being communicated to because the only objective of your application is to communicate effectively to your audience, the admissions committee. We can summarize what  HBS is looking for in terms of three stated values-Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship- plus Diversity. These four core ways, which I discuss in detail below,  that HBS evaluates applicants need to be communicated in your application and one or more of them should be used in your essay. The following summarizes what HBS is looking for in terms of three stated values (Habit of Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite, and Engaged Community Citizenship) plus Diversity and the possible places where you can demonstrate these in your initial application (Interview and post-interview not considered below):


These four core ways that HBS evaluates applicants need to be communicated in your application and one or more of them should be used in your essay.
In addition to those four elements, other possible common topics for inclusion here would be:
-Your wider post-MBA career vision that you could not explain in the 500 character answer on the Employment page. Some applicants will not touch on this topic at all in their essays.
-Why you want an MBA in general? Again, some will address this, others will not. Since there is no place in the application to indicate this otherwise, it would reasonable to explain your rationale for doing an MBA, whether you state this in general and/or terms of HBS in particular is your choice, but my bias is certainly for being HBS specific.
-Why HBS?  I don’t think one has to necessarily write in detail about why you want to go to HBS, but providing your overall rationale for why you want to go HBS now is certainly reasonable.  If your career vision is something you are writing about and there are particular aspects of HBS that really relate to it, feel free to mention them.
For a discussion of career vision,  why an MBA? or how to explain why you want to attend a particular program, see my analysis of Stanford Essay B.

Now I will discuss those four ways in detail in order to elaborate how you might utilize them in your essay:

Habit of Leadership
The mission of HBS is to educate leaders.  All my clients admitted to HBS had a diversity of educational, extracurricular, and professional backgrounds, but were united by one thing: In one or more aspects of their lives, they demonstrated this habit of leadership. HBS takes a very broad view of what they are looking for:
Leadership may be expressed in many forms, from college extracurricular activities to academic or business achievements, from personal accomplishments to community commitments. We appreciate leadership on any scale, from organizing a classroom to directing a combat squad, from running an independent business to spearheading initiatives at work. In essence, we are looking for evidence of your potential.

HBS does not explicitly ask you to show your potential for leadership in your essay,  but it may very well be something you decide to write about, ask one or both of your recommenders to write about, and certainly show in your resume and application form.   Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it always obvious. If you leadership is fully obvious from your resume and then perhaps your essay need not discuss it, but the worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that position. While some applicants will have held formal leadership positions, many will not. Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having a significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without h aving a formal title. If you are having difficulty really understanding leadership, one great place to read about leadership, and business in general, is Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

Some clients I have worked with have never really considered themselves as leaders. I think it is critical that if you are applying to HBS that you have  an idea about what kind of leader you are.  While there are number of ways to describe leadership, I particularly like this formulation of leadership types that INSEAD Professor Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries has used in one of his Harvard Business Review blog posts (Disclosure I am a student in an INSEAD  program that he co-directs):

I have previously suggested that applicants who are having difficulty really understanding leadership find out what kind of leader they are by taking this quiz based on Lewin’s classic framework.  While leadership  is more complicated than Lewin’s framework, the quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively. However, I think the 8 archetypes above provide a much better guide for those who both have extensive leadership experience and those who think they lack it.  Think of these 8 archetypes as aspirational images of certain kinds of leader. You may fit into more than one category. You may find you don’t feel like you are really good at any of the above in comparison to the descriptions above, but that is OK because you are trying to identify your potential even if it seems based on relatively little “objective evidence.” If leadership is not obvious from your resume or likely to be a topic your recommenders will focus on, you should certainly consider how you show your leadership potential. I have never worked with anyone who could not demonstrate potential in at least one of the categories above.
Some types of leadership experiences that make for effective content in essays, recommendations, and interviews:
-A time you convinced someone or some group.
-A time you led others.
-A time you demonstrated courage.
-A time you made a difficult decision.
-A time you were innovative.
-A time you formulated and executed a strategy or tactics.
-A time you turned around a situation, overcame an obstacle.
-A time reformed something.
-A time you changed something.
-A time you effectively negotiated with someone.
-A time created something.
-A time you managed or organized something.
-A time you mentored or coached someone.
-A time you represented an organization in public.
-A time you managed up, down, or across an organization.
Some of these are simply derived from the archetypes above, but  all reflect what I have seen in my clients’ essays over the years.

Engaged Community Citizenship
While "Engaged Community Citizenship" might take the form of leadership, it is quite distinct:
So much of our MBA experience – including the case method, section life, and student-organized events – requires the active collaboration of the entire HBS community. That’s why we look for students who exhibit the highest ethical standards and respect for others, and can make positive contributions to the MBA Program. The right candidates must be eager to share their experiences, support their colleagues, and teach as well as learn from their peers.
HBS and other MBA programs are looking for students who will make a contribution. This really makes sense because of the collaborative nature of MBA education. While professors play an important role in the classroom, students learn from each other on a continuous basis both inside and outside of class. An MBA education is very much one based on relationship building. One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates. The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alumni who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Given that two of the major takeaways from an HBS education are the relationships that a student forms during the program and access to the alumni network, HBS is looking for candidates who will fully engage with others.  It is important to show engagement with others in your HBS essay, in your interview, in your post-interview essay, in your application, and/or in your resume.  You should also make it a point to get your recommenders to discuss how you add value to the team, to whatever "community" (A workplace is a community) they worked with you in.
Engagement in a community may take many different forms.  Over the years, I have found the following types of activities to be very effective for MBA applications:
-Volunteer or social activities at work, whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them.
-Volunteer or social activities at school, whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them.
-Volunteer or social activities outside of work or school, whether it is actually organizing them or participating in them.
-A volunteer activity related to your post-MBA goals
-A volunteer activity that allowed for the development of leadership and/or teamwork experience
-A volunteer activity that put you in contact with people who are quite different from you in terms of nationality, income level, and/or educational background
-An international volunteer or social activity
-Active involvement in an alumni organization
-Active participation in a sports team
-Active political involvement (Not just voting or knowledge of politics, but actual activities)
-Participation in an orchestra, band or other musical groups
-Participation in drama or dance or other types of group performance
-Organizing trips or other activities for a group of friends
-Serving as the leader, organizer, or active member of a team-based educational activity such as a seminar, project, or overseas trip
The above are just some possibilities.
Some people will no doubt worry that they lack extracurricular activities to demonstrate such community citizenship, but in my experience, there is always some way to demonstrate this. Part of my job is to help my clients identify such activities and communicate about them effectively. If you have demonstrated extensive community citizenship in your resume, you may very well not need to write about in the HBS essay, but you might still find that explaining your motivation for such activities is something you want to convey to HBS.  For those with limited objective resume content in this area, if there is an effective way to get some positive aspect of your community citizenship into the essay, do so.

Analytical Aptitude and Appetite
Harvard Business School is a demanding, fast-paced, and highly-verbal environment. We look for individuals who enjoy lively discussion and debate. Our case and field-based methods of learning depend upon the active participation of prepared students who can assess, analyze, and act upon complex information within often-ambiguous contexts. The MBA Admissions Board will review your prior academic performance, the results of the GMAT or GRE, and, if applicable, TOEFL iBT and/or IELTS, and the nature of your work experience. There is no particular previous course of study required to apply; you must, however, demonstrate the ability to master analytical and quantitative concepts.
HBS is a highly competitive and challenging academic environment. It is not for anyone.  "Analytical Aptitude And Appetite," what can more generally be thought of as academic potential, will be very easy for some candidates to demonstrate without ever writing an essay on the topic. You must demonstrate your analytical intelligence somewhere in your application. Yes, a solid GPA and GMAT are enough for that purpose, but if you think your academic record and GMAT are weak, I do suggest demonstrating your high analytical aptitude and appetite in your essay. Also, whether you address your analytical abilities in your essay, for most applicants, it would also be very useful to have one or more recommenders discussing this.
Some effective ways to demonstrate analytical intelligence include the following:
-Solving a complex problem at work, school, or elsewhere
-Discussing the successful completion of complex analytical tasks
-Breaking down a complex problem that you solved and communicating it a very brief and clear way
- Demonstrating great personal insight into one’s weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes
-Showing the ability to learn from weaknesses, failures, and/or mistakes
-Showing the ability to learn and master something highly complex
-Demonstrating a high level of creativity
Those with truly outstanding academic background and test scores need to likely focus less attention on this area. If you think you have weaknesses in this area, consider how to use the essay and Additional Information section to mitigate them. The above list provides some effective ways to do that.

Diversity
A truly diverse student body — in background, nationality, interests and ambitions — is the foundation of the HBS experience. Indeed, these differences are critical to the HBS learning model, which thrives on the many perspectives and life experiences our students from all over the world bring to their classes. From academic assignments to casual conversations, the unique qualities of individual lives enrich the education of the entire community.
This overall intention to create a highly diverse class significantly impacts HBS admissions’ decisions. The critical thing is that you demonstrate why you are unique and how you will add to the diversity of the class.  In your essay, you need to show what makes you stand out. Especially if you think your academic, personal, professional, and/or extracurricular experiences are not inherently unique, it is very important that your essay demonstrates what makes you stand out.
Some ways of demonstrating diversity that my clients have used successfully include the following:
-Being the first person or kind of person to do something
-Being the youngest person to do do something
-Making an original contribution to something
-Having an unusual family, academic, personal, or professional background
-Unusual skills or talents
-Extensive international experience
-Receiving prestigious awards or scholarships
-Even post-MBA goals might be used for this purpose if your goals help to make you stand out.
Keep in mind that diversity is a matter of interpretation and presentation and it is each applicant’s responsibility to best demonstrate how they will add value to their classmates. One of my jobs as a consultant is to always help my clients identify ways that make them distinct even if they think they are not special. I operate on the assumption that everyone is unique.


WRITING
So far I have discussed on topic selection.  I think it is useful to think about what makes for a good essay and in particular, I think about stories. When it comes to telling stories, I think it is most important to think about your audience.  You are not writing these essays for yourself, you are writing them to convince your audience. How to convince them?

The following grid connects the parts of an essay (the first column) to three core aspects of writing an effective essay. The table should help you see the relationship between the components of a story and what I would consider to be three major questions to ask about any story.

Essay Outline What 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.
Result Results 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.

The grid above is based on the following assumptions, which I consider to be basic for writing effective essays:

Your reader must understand you.   Provide a clear interpretation of what you have done. Write in simple language, even about complex things. Assume your reader has a basic business background, but don’t assume any expertise. Cause-effect relationships should not be merely implied where possible. Showing your actual action steps is critical. A full explanation might be impossible because of word count, but if you tell things in sequence, it usually provides that explanation.

You reader must believe you.  If your reader is not convinced by your story, you are dead.  I am all in favor of telling the best version of a story that you can, provided it is also believable. Bad self-marketing is frequently based on lies that can be seen through. I have met many admissions officers and while not all of them were brilliant, all the good ones had finely tuned “bullshit detectors.” If your essays have a seemingly tenuous relationship with reality, you are likely to be setting yourself up for a ding.

Your reader must be engaged.  If a reader does not become interested in what they reading, there is a problem.  The problem may be that the essay is simply generic or it might be the way a story is being told is boring or it maybe a lack of passion in the writing.  Whatever the case, it needs fixing.  One of my roles as a consultant is to coach my clients on writing essays that will be engaging.


You must sell your reader on your high potential for admission. Great essays don't just need to be believable and interesting, they have to be convincing. You are trying to get admissions to take a specific action after they read your file: admit you or invite you for an interview. Thus, essays must convince them to take action, they have to see why you should be admitted.  I help my understand how to do this and give very specific advice on how to do so.
Your reader should be interpreting your essay the way you intend.  In writing, there is always room for misinterpretation.  If you have not effectively interpreted yourself, there is always the possibility that your reader will draw opposite conclusions from what you intended.  I help my clients make sure that they understand and correct for all such negative interpretations.


And finally…
My final point is that HBS is looking for people who want to be leaders, not mere managers. They are looking for people who will use their “one precious and wild life” to achieve great things, not those who will be satisfied at being mediocrities.  If you can’t show the potential for that now, when will you?
HBS REAPPLICANTS: Reapplication as a topic in the Essay
If you are a reapplying to HBS, I do recommend addressing that issue either in the essay or, if you only need a brief amount of  words, in the Additional Information section (see below). If you are reapplicant, please see here.  It is usually the case that one tries to show growth since the last application. Whatever form(s) this growth takes, you might need a brief amount of word count or significant word count.  Common topics:
1. Changes in career goals since the previous application. Feel free to alter your goals, just explain why.
2. Why you are a better candidate now. This could be everything from a career change to increased GMAT scores to improved English ability to taking courses to overcome an academic weakness to a valuable extracurricular activity.
3. Why you have a better understanding of how you will use an MBA education from HBS.  This could be based on learning more about the school and talking with current students and alumni and then show how the program will really help you.
If you only use the Additional Information section (See below) to discuss reapplication  I know 500 characters (not words!) is not much, so use the 500 characters here to highlight positive changes that you especially want HBS to take into consideration when evaluating you. On the other hand, I think it is perfectly fine to address reapplication in the main essay, which is a change from last year (Class of 2018) when the question made the topic of reapplication hard to fit into the essay.
For more about reapplication, please see the Reapplication section of my Key Posts page.
PLEASE NOTE: THE ONLINE APPLICATION IS NOT YET LIVE SO THIS SECTION IS BASED ON THE APPLICATION FOR THE CLASS OF 2018. IF CHANGES OCCUR I WILL ALTER THIS POST ACCORDINGLY. 

RESUME
“Instructions: Please provide a current resume or CV.  Ideally, this would be about 1-2 pages in length.”   
The resume has always been an important part of any HBS application.  You can find a resume template I have linked to on my blog here.  That resume template can also simply serve as a checklist for what to include.  While many schools prefer a one-page resume, HBS really does not care.  Depending on a client’s background, I will recommend 1 or 2 pages.  I think it best to think of a resume as a record of accomplishment. If you have sufficient accomplishments, 2 pages is fine.  Some applicants try to a use an MBA student’s recruitment resume format as the basis for their own resume, but I generally don’t consider this a good idea as such resumes serve a very different purpose.  An MBA resume should really designed to focus on you overall, that is your academic, professional, and personal accomplishments and key facts. A recruiting resume is mean t for a different kind of audience, recruiters, and typically focuses on a much more narrow range of information.

When I first start working comprehensively with any client, whether they are applying to HBS or not, I always start with the resume for a couple of reasons:
1.  It is a great way for any applicant to summarize the most important information about them and  their accomplishments. It sometimes helps applicants actually remind themselves of what they have done.
2.  For me, it is a way I learn about a client so that I can better understand their background.
One key thing to remember about what you include on your resume:  Anything that is there, just like any component of the application, may become the basis for a HBS interview question. Therefore if you don’t want to talk about it and don’t need to write about it, leave it off the resume.

EMPLOYMENT
 There is also an Employment Section of the application that provides space for you to discuss two positions in detail including providing  brief descriptions of your professional accomplishments and challenges.  To some extent this information will overlap with the resume. This is nothing to worry about. That said the challenge question (“Most Significant Challenge” 250 characters) in particular is very possibly something you would not be covering in your resume. Stanford has a similar detailed employment section in their application, which they seriously.  I assume  HBS does as well, so  just as with the resume, make sure your answers in the application are as effective as possible. Don’t treat it like some form you do at the last minute.



ACADEMIC TRANSCRIPTS
First, keep in mind that admissions officers read transcripts and are trained to know what they are reading. They don’t just look at GPA  (If your school calculates it).  If there is something really bad on your transcript (a fail, a withdrawal, etc) or odd, you really do want to explain it in the 500 character (not word) Additional Section. If is just a C and you have no specific excuse, don’t bother trying to explain it.  If your academic performance varied greatly from year to year (or semester to semester), was there a reason for it?  Is it one that you want to provide? I don’t recommend discussing how you became depressed after your boy/girlfriend broke up with you, but if, for example, you were taking a major leadership position in a student organization, running a start-up, working a lot to pay for school,  doing major research, experienced a major illness or misfortune,  or playing a varsity sport, you do have a topic worth discussing. Fi nally, If your transcript,  GMAT/GRE, or resume don’t indicate that you have solid quantitative skills, you should explain why you do if you can. The proper place to provide that explanation is in the additional section or the essay.

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
“Instructions: List up to three extracurricular activities in order of importance to you (i.e., list the most important first).  Please tell us about the things you did (or do) while you were (or are) attending your college or university.  Include other activities, like community service, here as well.  Please limit this to three activities, but don’t worry if you don’t have a list of three.  We use this section mostly to get a sense of how you spent your time in college as well as the sort of leadership roles and activities that attract you. “

Given HBS’ instructions on this, I do highly recommend including your best extracurricular activities with perhaps 2 out of 3 being focused on college/university activities, unless you have some particularly impressive post college/university activities, where I might see including only 1 activity from college/university. If you have done nothing impressive extracurricular-wise after graduating and have 3 good activities from university, feel free to just use use this section for those activities. If you did nothing but study during college or university and really have no activities, hopefully you have three post-college things to include.  If you have any activities that are directly relevant to your professional goals or to your personal story and you really want to emphasize them, use this space accordingly. While I would surely emphasize the most impressive activities in terms of leadership or engagement, if you need to focus on personal interests that wer e not group focused (running for example) because you simply don’t anything better, put it here.  Activities that show you are well-rounded, civically engaged, artistic, athletic are all possibilities here.

Keep in mind that extracurricular activities can (and usually should)  also be fully accounted for on the resume and given the fact that you can submit a two-page resume, there is no reason that can’t account for an activity.  Also, if you are not using the space for anything else, the 500 character additional information section could be used for elaborating on anything you consider really important, but could not include in this section or in the resume.

AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
“Instructions: Were you on the Dean’s List? Did your apple pie win a blue ribbon at the state fair? Tell us about it here. List any distinctions, honors, and awards (academic, military, extracurricular, professional, community) in order of importance to you (i.e., list the most important first). You may list up to three awards.”

For some applicants this section is really easy to fill out because they have won a number of awards, distinctions, or honors and just need to prioritize them. Other candidates will freak out about this section because they never won anything that they think fits.  While, it is sometimes really the case that I will have perfectly great applicant who has nothing to report in this section, most applicants are actually likely to have something.  HBS is not asking you a narrow question here, so think broadly.  It is possible that this section will overlap with the resume, employment, essay, or extracurricular section of the application.


INTENDED POST-MBA CAREER GOALS
Please enter your Intended Post-MBA goals below.


Accounting/Auditing
Advertising/Marketing/Public Relations
Aerospace/Aviation/Defense
Agribusiness
Arts/Film/Music/Culture
Automotive/Transportation Equipment
Beverages/Food
Biotechnology
Broadcasting/Cable Television/Multimedia
Chemicals
Commercial Banking
Community/Economic Development
Construction
Consulting
Consumer Products
Diversified Financial Services/Insurance
E-Commerce
Education
Energy: Alternative Energy/Renewables/Cleantech
Energy: Oil/Gas
Government: non-U.S.
Government: U.S. (Federal/State/Local)
Health Providers/Services
High Technology Electronics/Equipment/Networking
Highly Diversified Manufacturing & Service
Hospitality: Lodging, Restaurants, Tourism, Theme Parks, Gaming
International Development/Relief
Internet Services
Investment Banking
Investment Management
Legal Services
Machinery and Heavy Equipment
Medical/Health Care Devices
Military
Mining/Extractive Minerals/Metals
New Media/Social Networking Media
Other Non-profit
Paper and Forest Products
Pharmaceuticals
Printing/Publishing
Private Equity
Real Estate
Retailing/Wholesaling
Software
Sports & Sports Management
Telecommunications
Trading/Import/Export
Transportation Services & Logistics
Utilities
Venture Capital


Accounting/Control
Consulting
Engineering
Finance: Investment Management
Finance: Investor Relations
Finance: Lending
Finance: Mergers and Acquisitions
Finance: Research
Finance: Sales and Trading
Finance: Treasury/Analysis
Finance: Underwriting/Advising
Finance: Wealth Management
Fundraising/Development
General Management
Human Resources
Information Services management
Investment Advising
Legal Services
Logistics
Manufacturing/Operations
Marketing: Brand/Product Management
Marketing: Communications
Marketing: General
Marketing: Research
Marketing: Sales
Medical Services
Other
Product Development
Professional Advising-Religion
Project Management
Public Relations
Purchasing
Research and Development
Software Engineering
Strategic Planning
Teaching


500 characters remaining
You don’t have to perfect post-MBA plan, but you need to have a plan. You most likely will spend more time thinking about what you are going to write here than writing it. I think it is fine to include the longer term here if it helps to explain the rationale for your short-term objectives. Keep in mind that your wider vision is a perfectly acceptable topic to discuss in the essay (if you think it will really help your section mates understand who you are)  and not here. Also, since this question does not ask about HBS, you should  not necessarily include any why HBS content here. If you are having difficulty with your career goals, see my analysis of Stanford Essay B for a method for thinking about goals.  I frequently work with my clients on their goals.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
“Instructions: Please only add additional information here if you need to clarify any information provided in the other sections of your application. This is not meant to be used as an additional essay.Please limit your additional information to the space in this section. We’ll know you’ll be tempted, but please don’t send us any additional materials (e.g., additional recommendations, work portfolios). To be fair to all applicants, extra materials won’t be considered.” (500 characters, not words)
Use this space to explain anything that can be effectively explained in the space provided. This is a great place to explain your choice of recommenders, a problem in your past, or to add in information about something you really think HBS needs to know. It is completely fine to leave this space blank if you have nothing you need to add.  See above in this post for using the additional section if you are a reapplicant to HBS.

Best of luck to everyone applying to HBS.




-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

Stanford GSB MBA Essays and Application for the Class of 2019

In this post, I analyze the Stanford GSB MBA essays and additional information/resume/employment history/activities for Class of 2018 Admission. My analysis of Stanford GSB interviews can be found here. In addition to the Class of 2019 post, I also recommend reading and/or listening to my presentation, So you want to get into Stanford GSB?” which was made to a Japanese audience in March 2011. That presentation focuses on issues that are applicable to all applicants as well as some issues specific to Japanese applicants.

You can find results and/or testimonials from my clients admitted to  the Stanford Classes of 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 here. For the Class of 2018, I had a client admitted in R3 for the first time since I have been helping clients get admitted to Stanford GSB since 2002.  My clients admitted to Stanford GSB have come from China, Europe, India, Japan, Mexico, 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.

Initially I provide some overall comments about the Stanford GSB MBA essay set for admission to the Class of 2019, 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. Here are the complete essays and instructions from the Stanford GSB website:
—————————————————————————————
Essay Questions for the Class of 2019
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
Essay B: Why Stanford

Length

Your answers for both essay questions combined may not exceed 1,150 words (1,200 words if you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs). Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate these words between the essays in the way that is most effective for you. Below is a suggested word count, based on what we typically see.
Essay Suggested Word Count
Essay A 750
Essay B 400
Essay B (if applying to both the MBA and MSx programs) 450
  • Double-spaced
  • Indicate the question you are answering at the beginning of each essay (does not count toward the word limit)
  • 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.
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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.  The only change from last year is that the application is now set-up for those who want to apply both Stanford GSB and Stanford MSX.  I will discuss applying to MSX in a later post.



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 2017, the GSB site provides the following:
GMAT Average: 733
TOEFL Average: 112
GPA Average: 3.75
In addition, the GRE average is 164 on both Quant and Verbal.
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.

The Curriculum: Hard!
Consider what my former client, a member of the Class of 2010, said in an interview with me:
Adam: How hard was the first year?
Yukihiro: The first year in GSB was very tough! Especially in the first quarter, students must prepare hard for each class and deal with tons of readings and assignments. Actually, if there is one thing I have to complain about the program, it is that there is a risk that the understanding about each subject might be become halfway due to the lack of time. Even American students said the first quarter was very tough. Also, there are a lot of parties, networking and recruiting events in MBA. The students must manage their time efficiently to tackle the academic requirements.

When I visited GSB in May 2010, I had the opportunity to meet with Yukihiro as well as a former client who is a member of the Class of 2011, both expressed that the program was challenging. Please also see my interview with that member of the Class of 2011 as he also discusses this issue.

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.
However, there is no specific essay that is  focused on assessing leadership potential.  As a result, what you write in the two essays, resume, and application form really must account for leadership potential.  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, but the following comments from Derrick Bolton apply to the essay set as a whole:
Please think of your Stanford essays as conversations — when we read files, we feel that we meet people, also known as our "flat friends" — and tell us your story in a natural, genuine way.

I can confirm 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, you fail as one of Derrick Bolton’s “flat friends.”
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 Derrick Bolton’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. Most importantly try to talk to current students or recent alumni.


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 2019, you will need to find your answer to it. Essay 1 for admission to the 2016 entering MBA class has not changed and it would have been big news if it had.
WHERE DO SUCCESSFUL ANSWERS TO ESSAY 1 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. GSB’s Admissions Director, Derrick Bolton, makes this very clear in his advice regarding the question:
In the first essay, tell a story—and tell a story that only you can tell.This essay should be descriptive and told in a straightforward and sincere way. This probably sounds strange, since these are essays for business school, but we don't expect to hear about your business experience in this essay (though, of course, you are free to write about whatever you would like).Remember that we have your entire application—work history, letters of reference, short-answer responses, etc.—to learn what you have accomplished and the type of impact you have made. Your task in this first essay is to connect the people, situations, and events in your life with the values you adhere to and the choices you have made. This essay gives you a terrific opportunity to learn about yourself!Many good essays describe the “what,” but great essays move to the next order and describe h ow and why these “whats” have influenced your life.The most common mistake applicants make is spending too much time describing the “what” and not enough time describing how and why these guiding forces have shaped your behavior, attitudes, and objectives in your personal and professional lives.
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 Derrick and his team have 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.


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. Keep in mind what Derrick Bolton, the Director of Admissions, says about Stanford Essay B:
In the application form, we ask you what you aspire to do after your MBA. In this essay, we ask you "Why Stanford?" Given what you hope to achieve, how will your education and experiences at Stanford help you turn your dreams into reality? We give you broad license to envision your future; take advantage of it. The key here is that you should have ideas for your best self after Stanford, and related objectives for your Stanford education. How do you plan to take advantage of the incredible opportunities at Stanford? How do you envision yourself contributing, growing, and learning here at Stanford GSB? And how will the Stanford experience help you become the person you aspire to be? You do not  need to make up a path if you are uncertain, but a level of focused interests will enable you to make the most of your Stanford experience. Be honest with us, and especially with yourself , in addressing this question. 
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 the program and think deeply about who it will impact 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 7% 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 Dean Bolton and his team are interested in doing. I had known this before meeting Dean Bolton when I was part of a group of admissions consultants who met with him in 2011, but I am even more convinced of it now. Whatever your objectives, whether it is to be a partner at a consulting firm, a leading investment ban ker, 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 GSB 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 GSB 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.


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, under Derrick Bolton, 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. I have heard Dean Bolton specifically indicate that he takes the short, but substantive answers in the Employment History  section of the application seriously.

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.


Transcripts
At a Stanford presentation in Tokyo back a few years ago, 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 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
“We do not expect you to be involved in activities outside the classroom or workplace. But if you are, this can be an excellent way for you to demonstrate leadership. In this section of the application, you may share more about your interests and experiences. Examples of activities in which you are/have been involved may include athletic, charitable, civic, community, or professional.
In the application, report your activities and interests in order of their importance to you, with the most important listed first. A sustained depth of commitment in one or two activities may demonstrate your passion more than minimal participation in five or six organizations.
Be sure to:
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.
Finally, 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.


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 2019, 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!


-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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