Go to a better blog!


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.

November 02, 2018

Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2021

In this post, I discuss how to prepare for Wharton Interviews for fall 2019 entry.

There are two parts to the Wharton interview, the team-based interview and one-to-one interview.  Each part can be prepared for. I am assuming anyone who is reading this post has actually been invited for a Wharton interview and has reviewed the official information regarding it.

TEAM-BASED DISCUSSION
I will not disclose the contents of the specific team-based question that Wharton has asked  interviewees to prepare. I do know the question and it changes every year, but the question itself  is not really that different: Different topic, but requiring the group to reach consensus on a proposed topic related to Wharton curriculum.   I do provide analysis of the TBD discussion question to my own clients, but will not do that here.  

Here are some basic group interview strategies to keep in mind:
1. Be someone who makes clear and effective points in the conversation, but does not dominate the conversation.
2. Don’t be rude to others. Rude jerks are the easiest people to get rid of when evaluating participants in a team based discussion. I had such clients and they were dinged. I warned  them.  Stanford Professor Bob Sutton’s No Asshole Rule surely applies here:  CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT IF YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE. If you are, take corrective action.  Of course, most assholes wouldn’t check this out.
3. Listen closely enough to others in order to say something that builds on or reacts against what other people are saying. Refer to what others are saying in order to build consensus. Those that actively listen seemed to have a better outcome in previous years of the TBD.
4. Try to provide constructive communication that moves the discussion forward to a positive conclusion. Make an effort to include others in the conversation.
5. Don’t be afraid to make a less than perfect point. If  you were about being perfect, you will never get enough speaking time and perceived as shy and ineffective in team situations. That will get you dinged.
6. Synthesize and summarize the team’s conversation in order to move the conversation forward.
7.  Use hedging language and other forms of consensus building language. Try to avoid being dismissive of the views of others.
8. If you are having difficulty understanding someone because of their accent or because of your poor English listening skills, still engage in non-verbal demonstrations that you understand what they are saying.  Non-verbal communication will surely be observed, so if you look confused or frustrated that could be used against you.
9. Smile and show eye contact with other people.
10.  Make sure that you don’t slouch in your seat, but are sitting tall and look like a positive and engaged person.
11. Be willing to serve as the group in a functional role: timekeeper, notetaker, or facilitator.  Making a contribution is of bottom line importance.
12.  If possible make every effort to bond with or at least meet your fellow participants prior to the actual interview.  On campus, this can be done by arriving early and doing the tour/info session or just coming early to the actual TBD.  At Hubs, this can be done by doing preps with others in  your country (works well in South Korea and Japan), attending any social events organized for those being interviewed, or just arriving early to the TBD.


How I prepare my clients for the team discussion: The main thing I can do is go over the question and make sure my clients are prepared for the topic.  The nice part of the Wharton team discussion is that you do have the question ahead of time.  I assess their content on the following basis:

1. Does the suggested answer address the topic directly?
2. Is the suggested answer one that other group members and the interviewer can easily understand?
3.  Can the answer be communicated very briefly? Given time limits you will need to communicate it very briefly.
4.  Is the answer interesting/original/creative?
5. Are there any negative aspects to the proposed answer?
6. Are they providing an effective 1-minute opening statement?
 
I can't effectively prepare someone for the actual dynamics of a group conversation on a one-to-one basis, but by at least making sure my client's opening is solid, I know they will at least be well positioned to start strong.


SHORT INDIVIDUAL DISCUSSION (ONE-TO-ONE POST TEAM-BASED DISCUSSION INTERVIEW)
Based on what my clients reported to me and the public reports on Clear Admit, the 10 minute one-to-one interview is likely to consist of 4-6 questions, which I have divided  into the following two categories.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE  TEAM BASED INTERVIEW
It appears that all applicants were asked both of the questions below.  Be prepared to provide your feedback on the team-based interview.  Assume that this is a test of your self-awareness of group dynamics, an opportunity to explain the role you took in the group, and a chance, hopefully to correct any misperceptions of yourself on the part of the interviewer.
1) How do you think the team-based interview went?
2) Was your behavior typical of how you work in a team? / Was your behavior in the Team-Based Discussion representative of the way you typically act in group settings?
How I prepare my clients for this part of the interview: I can’t really do that because it is based on what actually happened in the interview.  The only thing I can do is make sure that my client realizes that they will be asked such questions and that they should be mindful of the role that they performed in the group. For example,  if the interviewer perceives you, as say, overly reserved or overly aggressive, you need to be ready to discuss that issue.

TYPICAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (Assume 2-4 such questions)
This is the standard part of the interview. If you are doing more standard interviews, it will be easy to prepare for this part.  For advice on more standard interviews, please see my MBA Application Interview Strategy. I highly recommend reviewing your resume and Wharton essays as part of your preparation.  You should surely be able to explain why Wharton in particular is the ideal place for you to study.  You  should have 1-2 questions available. If you are interviewing off-campus, you should have questions ready for an admissions officer. If you are interviewing on-campus, you had better be prepared to have questions ready for both an admissions officer and a 2nd year student.
Do you want to highlight anything in your application?
Introduce yourself
Discuss your career progress
Tell me about a time when you worked in a group in which everyone did not agree and how did your team resolve the situation?
What is your post-MBA goal?
Why MBA?
Why Wharton?
Do you have any questions for me?
Anything you want to add?

How I prepare my clients for the individual interview: I would typically ask my clients these questions in a mock interview.  It would not be completely realistic because I would go over all the above questions just to make sure that my client was covered for all the above topics. If we were preparing for more standard interviews (Booth, Columbia, Kellogg, Haas, etc.), it might not really be necessary to go over this part of the interview for Wharton. For more about my interview services, please see http://www.adammarkus.com/services/.
Best of luck with your Wharton interview. I hope that you get admitted to the Class of 2021!
Cheers,
Adam


-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.

October 19, 2018

Booth Pre-Interview Essays for Class of 2021

For my overall suggestions on Chicago Booth MBA  interviews, please see here.  However Booth started asking for essays for those who receive interviews.In addition to the essays required for applying to Booth, my R1 clients received the following:

There’s still more we want to learn about you! Please respond to one question from Group A and Group E {two responses in total] in 250
words or less. Be sure to submit your responses by October 26 at 11:55 pm. {CT}.
Group A
I started to think differently when…
How do you define success?
What is the first thing your Classmates will notice about you?
Group B
What would the future you say to the present you?
What you title your autobiography and why"?
What is your favorite word and why?


Overall suggestions:

Given that Booth has already asked a lot about you in the main essays, you should certainly give answers that are consistent with what is found there.  However this is an opportunity to give them new perspectives and/or elaborate on themes found in your essays.
I would certainly provide either new stories or new analysis or both.  There is likely to be some inherent overlap between this content and your essays. Still they are asking to learn more about you.

Given the length of  250, obviously you cannot write in huge detail, rather think of these as one-point or two-point answers. That is to say try to make one or two clear points when providing the answer.

While these questions are not directly connected to the interview as the interviewer will not have access to them, do keep in mind that they will be analyzed in relationship to your application and the interview report.  It is also possible that Booth interviews will include these questions and that they may be used for the purpose of determining consistency and depth of response.  As this is the first year that these questions have been used, until I see interview reports for this year, I will not assume there is no content connection to the interview. I do suggest you have answers to all of these questions even for the ones you don’t answer because of this situation. 


Regarding the questions themselves, see below.

Group A
 I started to think differently when…
This is a situational question and is about a time when your thinking changed.  Since it can be on any topic, I would suggest writing about something not covered in your application.
How do you define success?
A common enough values question.  A good definition includes a simple answer to the question plus an example. Whatever your definition make sure it is consistent with your goals but obviously success may not necessarily relate to goals at all.  Success can be about how a result is achieved, it can also be about what one thinks about a result after the fact.
What is the first thing your Classmates will notice about you?
What kind of first impression do you think you make?  This is a chance to emphasize a personal characteristic of yourself.  Of course, you could mention a physical characteristic if you wanted but I would only do that if you can use that physical characteristic to symbolize something important about you.
Group B
 What would the future you say to the present you?
This is a chance to say how you hope to improve. The future you  is not specified, so determine when that future you is looking back at present you.  You may factor in Booth and  your career goals into the answer.
What you title your autobiography and why"?
This answer may or may not relate to your goals. If it is not about goals, it should most likely relate to something else you did, your background, or your personality.
 What is your favorite word and why?
Another question that certainly may not directly relate to anything in your application to Booth. This one is a good opportunity to give Booth a deeper understanding of something you value.

I know I am giving rather brief analysis above but these questions are the kind that don’t require long explanation but instead require some reflection.  Don’t treat them casually but given the deadline, think quickly and deeply. Then, write fast.
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.

July 14, 2018

Tokyo August 11th Workshop: MBA ESSAY QUESTION ANALYSIS: ANALYZE, ANSWER, GET IN!

This is the second in a new series of workshops that I will initially deliver in 2018 in Japan.  The Tokyo-based workshops are being run in collaboration with Affinity, one of Japan’s top graduate test preparation companies.  My objective is to take some of the ideas that I work with on my blog and in individual counseling sessions to a workshop format.

The details are as follows.

Affinity英語学院&協催

MBA ESSAY QUESTION ANALYSIS: ANALYZE, ANSWER, GET IN!

対象

2019年秋に欧米のトップMBAプログラムへの入学を目指す方々

概要

MBA ESSAY QUESTION ANALYSIS: ANALYZE, ANSWER, GET IN!
The objective of this presentation is to help you better understand MBA Admission Essay Questions in order to write effective essays and gain admission. While examples will be drawn from the M7+INSEAD+LBS, the objective of this presentation is that you learn how to effectively analyze the essay questions for any school.

PART 1

What is an Essay Question? 
Isn't an essay question just one the school defines as an essay? Well, actually no. This might seem like a strange conclusion but given that some applications include video essays and very extensive application form content, the answer is less obvious. For our purposes an essay will be considered any application component except the resume, which is prepared by the applicant, and requires an interpretive and not just fact-based answer. Such an inclusive definition is useful when things like video essays and extended application form content are used instead of and/or in addition to essays.

PART 2

Primary Types of Essay Questions. 
In this section we will look at the types of essay questions using actual examples. Types covered will include goals, accomplishment, failure, leadership, personality, and contribution. The objective will be for you to understand how to identify and address a range of questions.

PART 3

The Essay Set. 
In this section we will see how an entire set of questions connects together to understand that that an essay component never is isolated but always part of a bigger whole. We will compare two different essay sets. The objective will be for you to understand how to build a complete portrait of yourself that is focused on what each school is looking for.

PART 4

Trends in Essay Questions for 2018-2019. 
In this section we will look at the current trends. In particular we will look at video essays and shorter essay sets. The objective will be for you to know how to handle these trends effectively.

PART 5

Questions.
I want to leave plenty of time for questions, so please be ready to ask questions related to the above, your individual concerns, or essay questions that I will not have covered.

受講料

16,000円(税込、教材費込)
  • 入学金は不要です。

担当

Adam Markus (Graduate Admissions Consultant)

日程

2018年8月11日(土)16:00-18:00

定員

16名(最少催行人数6名)


-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.

Wharton MBA Essay Questions for Class of 2021

In this post, I analyze the essay questions for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for Fall 2019 admission. You can find testimonials from my clients admitted to Wharton in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018  here.  For my most recent posts on Wharton interviews, please see here and here.
My clients have been admitted to Wharton every year since 2002. Since I started my own counseling service in 2007, I have had 58 clients admitted to Wharton (50 admitted to Wharton and 8 admitted to Wharton Lauder), which is my biggest total for any school (HBS, INSEAD, Columbia and Booth follow, in that order, in terms of highest totals). My clients’ results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on Wharton, I regularly help additional candidates with Wharton interview preparation.

A few initial thoughts about Wharton
The thing I like most about Wharton is that they really do admit a very diverse class. The class size certainly helps in that respect. But beyond that, I have really found Wharton to be a school where applicants are evaluated holistically and one need not be perfect to gain admission.  Such factors as a less than stellar GPA, a less than super GMAT, an older age or work experience in companies that are not necessarily prestigious are not inherent barriers to admission to Wharton’s MBA program.  I have worked with clients who had such issues, but also other amazing strengths which helped them gain admission. This could also happen at HBS or only rarely at Stanford, but it happens more at Wharton.  The school’s diversity is also shown through the range of courses offered and the many international programs.  Some people think of Wharton narrowly as a finance school, but to do so is to ignore the course catalog, clubs, and recruiting results.< /strong>

The thing I like the least about Wharton is the location. I wish it were just me but I know I am not alone. Philadelphia was a great American city in the 18th century. The location of the University of Pennsylvania is certainly not ideal as the neighborhood is not particularly safe and crime is relatively high.  Wharton is as much as commuter school as Booth (the commute for the Wharton students is shorter, but the Booth students have a better city to be in).  Its primary advantage location wise is that one can get to New York City quickly and with no classes on Fridays,  it is even possible to go intern in NYC. The location is ideal for those who want to work in the pharmaceutical industry given that industries’ presence in the area.  On the other hand, i f Wharton’s location were better it would likely be a harder school to get into.


Essays Class of 2021:
“First-time applicants and re-applicants are required to complete both essays.
The Admissions Committee wants to get to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, candid and succinct. Most importantly, we suggest you be yourself.
Essay 1: What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (500 words)
Additional Question (required for all Reapplicants):
  • Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)*
*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

The Required Essays
Essay 1:  What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)
 WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM WHARTON?
Wharton is continuing to ask this question. An excellent answer to the Wharton essay question would identify those specific aspects of Wharton that you will most benefit from. It is a future focused question.  A general characterization of Wharton- data driven, but also a place with a commitment to experiential learning, East Coast focused but with a San Francisco campus that is now become integrated into the MBA program, highly international, highly flexible with strengths in a large number of areas, including healthcare, finance, real estate, and marketing- is  helpful to keep in mind when writing this essay. Wharton has a lot to offer and, while some have characterized it as a CFO school, a finance school, a Wall Street school, all too some extent true, this is not so helpful when you consider that, for example, Sundar Pichai, Google’s guy in charge of Chrome, Android, and Google Apps, is a Wharton alumnus. Wharton is a huge program with so many strengths that the point is not to think about some big overall image of the school, but to focus on what you want to get out of it. Which specific resources you want to use and why. Keep in mind that Wharton is much bigger than HBS because of the undergraduate program. The range of courses, research, and opportunities is huge. The point is to provide a specific game plan on how you will use Wharton for your professional and personal growth.
An effective essay here will do the following:
1.   Professional means providing Wharton with a clear understanding about what you want from your professional future.  In other words,  what do you want to do and/or how do you want grow as a professional?
2.   Think widely about what you want from a Wharton MBA.  The point is to give Wharton a sense of the best of who you are so don’t limit yourself too narrowly, but if you try to cover too much, you will end up not covering anything effectively. Focus on specific factors that will help you achieve your professional objectives.
If you are having difficulty determining what your goals are and/or why you need an MBA in general, please see my analysis of  Stanford Essay B. In that post I provide a detailed method for thinking about goals and need for an MBA. Except for length, there is little difference between Stanford Essay B and Wharton Essay 1 as both questions ask what one wants from the school.

Make the assumption that an MBA from Wharton will be a transformative experience for you.  If you don’t make this assumption, you will likely find it particularly hard to explain what you want from the experience and will also probably come across as rather dull.  Your job is to engage the admissions reader so that they understand what you want from Wharton for your future.

What are your aspirations?  You need to give Wharton admissions a very clear image of professional objectives for attending the MBA program.  You might include a clear post-MBA career goal and a longer term vision/goal, but depending on how you answer the question, you might express what you want from Wharton more in terms of the kind of person and kind of professional you want to become. You might express it in terms of your present situation and how you hope to be transformed by your Wharton experience.  A purely abstract dream or visionary statement could easily come across as unrealistic or ungrounded if not handled carefully, so be careful to connect your aspirations to  your past actions and/or clearly defined goals. Career changers (those planning on  changing industry and/or function after MBA) should explain why they want to change their careers and how Wharton will enable that. Career enhancers should explain how an MBA will enhance their careers t o continue along the pathway that thy are already on.
You should be explaining why you need a Wharton MBA in  particular. You should  learn about the curriculumclusters / cohorts/ learning teamsLearning @ Whartoncommunity involvementclubs, and WGA in order to determine what aspects of Wharton really relate to your professional objectives. You need not mention the names of particular courses as long as it would be clear to your reader that your aspirations align well with Wharton’s offerings. 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 Wharton 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 Advanced Corporate Finance because I am interested in developing advanced corporate finance skills.” This kind of bad circular reasoning is so common in early drafts I see from my clients and in the failed essays of reapplicants that I am asked to review. Usually it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. These sentences actually convey nothing about the applicant. The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program. If you don’t explain what you need and why, you are not actually answering the question, you are just writing something dull, surface level, and without positive impact.
An example of an actual explanation:  “While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I want to master at Wharton to succeed as a future leader of cross-border M&A.” By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, admissions will be learning about you and really be able to understand what you need from Wharton. Mentioning a course name is not important if the learning need is already something obviously obtainable at Wharton. A more complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Wharton.

Finally, remember that if you have something that you really want to discuss about what you contribute to Wharton or wish to mention particular classes, clubs, and events at Wharton that you could not fit into the essay, you can always discuss that in the optional essay.

Essay 2: Describe an impactful experience or accomplishment that is not reflected elsewhere in your application. How will you use what you learned through that experience to contribute to the Wharton community? (500 words)
WHAT CAN YOU GIVE TO THE WHARTON COMMUNITY?

This question is different from last year’s question with respect to the fact that you now need to focus on how a single experience or accomplishment will enable you to contribute to Wharton and that it is a learning question. It is similar to last year’s question because it is also a contribution question. I have been an MBA admissions consultant since 2001 and the contribution question is one that I could explain to a client in my sleep.  I have done it on this blog many times before. Here is one of my old (2008) favorites, which includes a table that you can easily modify based on what I have written below (Sorry I am too busy to do that).

You must focus on a single story not covered elsewhere in your application (app form and resume) and must have learned something from the experience/accomplishment that will be the basis for one or more contributions at Wharton:

1.  A story not covered elsewhere in your application.  Whatever experience or accomplishment you mention, it should not be directly connected to something else in your application. This should be easy given that it surely would not be covered in Essay 1 and the only other options are the resume and application form. Since you are not seeing the recommendations, no way for you to know what is in them but it is surely not a good idea for a recommender to discuss the topic you would be writing about here.  Interpersonal accomplishments related to mentoring or leading others, pre-university accomplishments, highly personal accomplishments could all be possible topics.  Certainly many personal learning experiences would be outside  of anything covered in the rest of the application.  The key issue is finding a story that involved you learning something and that learning itself must be the basis for a good contribution(s) at Wharton.

2.  One Story with Distinct Contribution(s).  You must  focus on a single story.  It is possible that the story will show multiple ways you can contribute to Wharton or might only focus on one way.  Contributions are, at their heart, selling points based on something. It might be a professional or interpersonal skill, a value (ethics, morality, belief about how to interact with others, etc.),  or a unique experience (First person in family to go to college, experience on the battlefield, acting in a movie, etc.).  You will need to tell a story related to the selling point in order to convince the reader that you have something to contribute.  In general, the longer the story, the less contributions you will cover in the essay.  Less is not bad. Be convincing is good so 1-3  contributions that are distinct and interesting is better than 5 that are purely surface level.

3.  A story where you learned something. One requirement for this essay is that the contributions be based on something you learned from the experience or accomplishment.  Learning means discovering something new about yourself, other people and/or the world. It is about gaining a new perspective, insight into to how things work, possibly becoming more mature. It is about growth.  BEWARE OF FALSE LEARNING: False learning is any situation when you indicate that you learned something  but actually it was something that you already knew or others are likely to assume that you know. False learning tends to undermine the credibility of applicant in terms of their intelligence and honesty. It is thus best avoided. To avoid it, simply ask yourself whether you actually learned something new and were not merely obvious or the sort of thing you have learned while in kindergarten or soon thereafter.

4. How will what you learned contribute to the Wharton community? One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will add value to the community.  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 alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school. Your contribution(s) need to clearly connected to the community. Maybe it will be through the way you work with others, the knowledge you share, or the activities you organize but make sure the reader can fully understand how this be a contribution at Wharton.

Additional Question (required for all Reapplicants):
  • Explain how you have reflected on the previous decision about your application, and discuss any updates to your candidacy (e.g., changes in your professional life, additional coursework, extracurricular/volunteer engagements). (250 words)*
*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”

First for reapplicants, an effective answer here will do the following:
1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Wharton is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see “A guide to my resources for reapplicants.”

*First-time applicants may also use this section to address any extenuating circumstances. (250 words)”
Second, for addressing any extenuating circumstances: As with the school’s other optional question, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don’t bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don’t bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don’t waste the committee’s time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it. In addition to GMAT/GRE, TOEFL, and GPA problems, other possible topics include issues related to recommendations, serious gaps in your resume, concerns related to a near total lack of extracurricular activities, and  major issues in your personal/professional life that you really think the admissions office needs to know about.

Best of luck with your Wharton application!
-Adam Markus


-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.

July 04, 2018

Stanford GSB MBA Essays and Application for the Class of 2021

In this post, I analyze the Stanford GSB MBA essays and additional information/resume/employment history/activities for Class of 2021 Admission. My analysis of Stanford GSB interviews can be found here. In addition to the Class of 2021 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. While old at this point, the core content remains useful.

 

You can find results and/or testimonials from my clients admitted to  the Stanford Classes of 2020, 2019, 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010 here.  My clients admitted to Stanford GSB have come from China, Europe, India, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States and have had extremely diverse professional and educational backgrounds. The advice I provide below is based on that experience. Given that the questions are the same, this post has only been updated in small ways.

 

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

 

Since last year applicants can apply to both the MBA and MSX at the the same time. For candidates that fit the MSX work requirements of 8 years minimum by July 2018, this is a good option.  While I have not worked with any clients who applied to both programs at the same time last year, my advice would be to explain in a couple of sentences in The Why Stanford essay why both options would be ones that you would consider. Regarding MSX, if you are interested in attending that program, I highly recommend getting in direct contact with the admissions office for that program. They are likely to provide you with much more personalized feedback on whether you are good applicant for the program.

 

Initially I provide some overall comments about the Stanford GSB MBA essay set for admission to the Class of 2021, an analysis of the centrality of demonstrating Stanford GSB’s three central admissions criteria- Intellectual Vitality,  Demonstrated Leadership Potential, and Personal Qualities and Contributions-, and some suggestions for how to proceed in order to put together a great application for Stanford GSB (including the short . Here are the complete essays and instructions from the Stanford GSB website:
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Essay Questions for the Class of 2021

Essay Questions

  • Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
  • Essay B: Why Stanford?

MBA: Essay Length

Your answers for both essay questions may not exceed 1,150 words (in total). Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate these 1,150 words between your essays in the way that is most effective for you. Below is a suggested word count, based on what we typically see, but you may write as much or little as you like in response to either question (as long as you do not exceed 1,150 words total).

  • Essay A: 750 words
  • Essay B: 400 words

MBA & MSX: Essay Length

Your answers for both essay questions may not exceed 1,200 words (in total). Each of you has your own story to tell, so please allocate these 1,200 words between your essays in the way that is most effective for you. Below is a suggested word count, based on what we typically see, but you may write as much or little as you like in response to either question (as long as you do not exceed 1,200 words total).

  • Essay A: 750 words
  • Essay B: 450 words

 

Essay Format

Remember, there are real people reading your essays. Please follow these guidelines.

  1. Double-spaced.
  2. Write the essay question you are answering at the beginning of each essay. The question does not count against your 1,150 word limit.
  3. Upload both essays as one document.
  4. Number all pages.
  5. Please preview the uploaded document to ensure that the formatting is true to the original.
  6. Save a copy of your essays.
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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 1150/1200 words amongst the two essays and the emphasis on providing your own essays.

 

 

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

 

My clients who get interviews and most certainly those who are admitted are, without exception, objectively smart people. One primary way, but not the only way, to measure these criteria is by looking at the key numbers.  For the Class of 2019, the GSB site provides the following:

GMAT Average: 737

GRE Average: 165 (Verbal) and 164 (Quantitative)

TOEFL Average: 112

GPA Average: 3.74

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.

 

 

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. I think that what has always made a winning set of essays for Stanford is the ability to commit to making an honest and insightful presentation of yourself. Based on my experience I can say the following are not effective:

1. Over-marketing: While I believe in the value of the marketing metaphor to some degree, I also believe you have to be able to understand that a crude, over-determined approach to doing so will not work here (For more about this, click here).   If you are not real, assume a good reader will figure out that you are not.
2. Not writing your own essays. If your essays are not written in your own voice and don’t reflect your English ability, don’t expect to make it past Stanford’s team. My own approach to helping my clients does not involve me writing their essays but instead I act as a coach, a close reader, and someone who can benchmark their work against those who have been admitted. I make the assumption that overly cooked essays that look like they were written by a professional journalist when you are not one or by a native English speaker when you are not one or similar inconsistencies are unlikely to succeed.

 

IS STANFORD RIGHT FOR YOU?

Stanford really does provide great advice about both the Stanford GSB essays and about how to handle your applications. Just start exploring their website!  Also, see my discussion of Stanford GSB in my analysis of Essay 2. Don’t make assumptions about what Stanford GSB is or based on what someone told you it is. Instead, make that determination yourself after sufficient research. If you are thinking about Stanford GSB and have not yet attended one of their Admissions Events, I suggest doing so if you can. Visiting when school is in session is ideal. 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 2021, you will need to find your answer to it.

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. 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 f orming an effective answer to what is Stanford’s most unique essay question.

 

Some Common Types of What Matters Essays

While I am not known for giving examples or sample answers, I would like to discuss three common types of answers.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Essay B: Why Stanford?
Your objective in the essay is to demonstrate why you would greatly benefit from a Stanford MBA education.  Stanford is proud of what they are and what they can offer. They can reject anyone and they do reject a higher percentage of applicants than other schools. One thing I think that separates great versions of Essay B (the ones that get applicants an interview) and mediocre versions (the ones that usually don’t get applicants an interview) is the extent to which the applicant is able to show that Stanford is not a mere afterthought or an option, but actually a necessity to accomplish one’s aspirations. Fully account for that in your essay. Learn as much as you can about Stanford and think deeply about who it will impact you.
If you are applying to both MBA and MSX, make sure that whatever you say about Stanford applies to both programs. Explain why you would be happy to attend both programs if offered admission. Don’t express a preference for one or the the other in the essay. Just use the additional word count to explain why both options would benefit you.
Stanford views itself as a change agent. Show in you essay how it will change you. In my experience,  a good answer to Essay B  will do the following;
1. Shows how the applicant intends to be an agent of change in whatever career he or she pursues after his or her MBA. Stanford is looking for innovative change agents, so make sure that you demonstrate that in this essay. Your answer should be consistent with Stanford’s mission to “Change lives, Change organizations, Change the world.”  This really does matter.  Stanford takes 400 people a year  and is typically admitting approximately 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 Stanford admissions is interested in doing.  Whatever your objectives, whether it is to be a partner at a consulting firm, a leading investment banker, a social entrepreneur, a global marketer, an executive in the energy industry, a politician, etc., you need to provide a sense that you have the capability to have wide i mpact 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 parti cular finance courses if the main point you are simply trying to make is that you want to enhance your finance skills. Every admissions officer at Stanford is well aware of the programs major offerings.  If you have a particular interest in a more specialized course or studying with a particular professor, it might be worth mentioning it as long as it is an explanation of why you want to study the subject and not based on circular reasoning;
An example of circular (tautological) reasoning:  “I want to take Accelerated Corporate Finance: Applications, Techniques, and Models  because I am interested in learning advanced corporate financial techniques.”
This kind of circular reasoning is so common. Usually, it takes place within a paragraph consisting of many such sentences. They actually convey nothing about the applicant.  They are just abstract needs and will have limited impact on your reader.  The admissions reader wants to learn about you, not about their own program.
An example of an explanation for why:  “While I have been exposed to finance through my work at MegaBank of Joy, I presently lack the kind of comprehensive understanding of corporate finance that I will need to succeed as an investment banker.”  A complete explanation would include additional details about the kind of issues that the applicant is interested in learning about and/or specific ways the applicant intended to apply what he or she would learn at Stanford.  By focusing on very specific learning needs and explaining those needs in relationship to one’s goals and/or past experience, the admissions reader will be learning about you.

THIS IS A FUTURE DIRECTED QUESTION
Unlike some other “Why MBA” questions, Stanford is not asking about the past.  You have Essay A, your resume, and the application form to discuss the past. This essay is about who you want to become. While Stanford does not require you to elaborate on your short and long term goals in this essay, without some consideration to your post-MBA future, it will not be very easy to write an effective answer to this question.  You need not have an elaborate plan here.  You hardly have the space for it.   Instead of focusing on your goals,  focus on your personal mission:

-How will you make a difference and how can Stanford  help you do that?

-What impact do you want to make on the world that an MBA will help facilitate?

-What do you need to learn at Stanford in order to transform yourself for your future?

You need to be ambitious. Simply stating what your goals are and why Stanford is the best place for you to accomplish them is not exactly what you need here. Instead, you need to articulate a rationale related to why you want an MBA  that is connected to Stanford’s mission to train global leaders. For more about being ambitious and visionary, see here. While the Stanford essay may not require goals, you will need them if you are interviewed by an alumnus.  Most Stanford interviews involve a discussion of goals.  So having a well thought out set of goals, even if they are not written about extensively in Essay B is something that you should have in place. While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals (“I want to be a consultant because…”), communicating aspirations requires going beyond the typical.

 

When formulating goals, the necessary prerequisite for formulating aspirations, I suggest going through a formal process of goals analysis. If you are still trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, you can use the following grid.

The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here. Click to enlarge it.

How to use this matrix:

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

 

 

The Essay B writing process

After going through a process of reflection and analysis, prepare versions of Essay B that includes everything you want to say. Next, begin the process of revision. Here are a few key things to consider when revising:
1. Think about the most important thing you need admissions to know about what you want to do after your MBA and why Stanford MBA (or MBA/MSX)  is the best place for you to do that. Begin your essay with that. Chances are good that on your initial draft the most important thing is somewhere in the middle or end of your essay.
2. Prioritize the rest of your content: What do they really need to know? Chances are you have lots of details that can be cut.
3. Make a formal argument: Your essay should be neither a set of disembodied points or a summary, instead, it should be a formal statement. Effective forms of this statement vary. The important part is that the reader should be able to understand it clearly and be convinced by it.

Once you have put together Essay B, consider how the rest of your application supports what you say in it. Without over-marketing yourself or even necessarily writing it directly in the essays, make that your other essays and other aspects of your application show how your potential will contribute to your future aspirations.

 

 

 

THINK ABOUT THE REST OF THE APPLICATION
There is nothing more depressing to me than to look at an MBA application that is hastily put together. Worse still if it is a school that is hard to get into. Worse yet if it is Stanford, where there is a very rigorous approach to application review.
The application form, transcript, and resume all play a significant role in the evaluation of your suitability for admission.  Given  that Stanford GSB is evaluating your intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, personal qualities, and qualifications, you can be certain that beyond your essays, the rest of the application will be highly scrutinized to determine how you benchmark against these criteria.
Some people look at application forms as mere forms. I look at them as opportunities  to provide admissions with as complete and impressive presentation as one can. The reason admissions made the application was because they need the information to make a decision about you, so don’t provide something that is done at the last minute. Stanford expects that you will take the application seriously. The worst thing you can do is treat this section as a last minute thought.

 

ONE PAGE RESUME PLEASE

Stanford really does prefer a one-page resume!

Please attach your one-page resume. Unless you have a very compelling reason, do not submit a resume that is longer than one page.

For a one-page resume template, see here.   This is the resume template that many of my clients admitted to Stanford and other top programs have used.

 

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

 

THE ESSAY IN THE APPLICATION: Give them a new perspective on you!

“More About You: Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.”  (1200 characters)

Stanford added a new essay last year but they did not call it an essay. However 1200 characters is about 300 words, which is essay length.  This is a behavioral question  (See my MIT interview post for a full discussion of behavioral questions).  I like this kind of question because it asks an applicant to apply something from their background to something they have done recently.  Stanford gives the following advice for this question: “We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. We would like an example of how one factor in your background has had an impact on your life.” Please don’t tell a story that overlaps with the content presented elsewhere in your application and especially not with your essay content. The point of Stanford’s analysis of this question is just the opposite: Tell us about something else in your background and how it has impacted what you have done in some recent situation.  For those who have been out of school for more than two years make it work related. For those still in school or who graduated within the last two years, you can make it work related or school related, whichever suits you. Stanford has seemingly excluded extracurricular activities for the very reason that work and school are more high stakes since what you do at school or work is more likely to directly impact you. That thing your background could be a value, a lesson you learned, an activity or interest. The possibilities are endless. Whatever that background thing is, show how it impacted your participation in terms of the actions you took and/or the values you upheld.  Make sure you put time into this and don’t write it as an afterthought.

 

 

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

 

 

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

Additional Information

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

  • Extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
  • Academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere”

If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background or to provide additional information that did not fit in the space provided elsewhere. DO NOT USE IT FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE. Yes, you may have written a great essay for Tuck, Wharton, Harvard, Chicago, NYU, MIT, INSEAD, Columbia, or London Business School, but don’t include it here. I don’t think the categories above require interpretation as they are clear.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Finally, I plea with you to give yourself enough time to do a first class job on the entire application. I can’t guarantee that doing a great job on the application form will get you into the Stanford Class of 2021, 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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