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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.

October 26, 2007

Stanford GSB MBA Essay Questions for 2007/2008 & Tokyo Event

Click here for my analysis of Stanford GSB's essay questions for 2008/2009 if you want to apply for the Class of 2011.

In this entry, I discuss how to approach the Stanford GSB essays generally, provide specific advice for Essays A and B, and discuss the 9/30/07 Tokyo Outreach Event. I discuss Essay C along with MIT Sloan's essay questions here. In an another post, I will provide some additional comments about looking a the Stanford application and essays in their entirety.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Tokyo Outreach Event. I say pleasure because in all honesty, after attending admissions presentations for years, this one was great. Eric Abrams, Director of Outreach at MBA Admissions Office gave an incredibly informative and humorous presentation using the best set of Power Point slides that I have seen at any school's session. If I were to judge business schools on the basis of their ability to put together and deliver presentations that work, Stanford would rank #1 and Chicago GSB would rank #2. Sorry, if you don't care about this stuff, but hey this a blog, I go to a number of these events, have become something of a critic about them, and you can skip ahead to my essay analysis if you want. The alum panel was particularly impressive because everyone on it was able to give specific and real ways that they had benefited from Stanford GSB. They showcased, better than many alum panels I have seen, the transformative potential of an MBA, not just in terms of impact on one's career, but in terms of impact on one's personality. They also demonstrated the very openness and freethinking that is a hallmark of Stanford GSB and California more generally. As a Californian born and raised, it made me a bit homesick.

If you are thinking about Stanford GSB and have not yet attended one of their Outreach Events, I suggest doing so. If you can't attend one of their events, you most certainly should learn more about the curriculum and admissions process by reading the about the new curriculum and listening to podcasts.

Now lets, turn to the essays. Here is the entire set of questions with the very useful advice that is included with the questions:


Essay Questions for 2007/2008

Editing Your Essays

Essay Format and Instructions

Additional Information

I know that was rather long, but it contains some really great advice both about the Stanford GSB essays and about how to handle your applications.

Based on my experience as an MBA admissions consultant who has helped clients get into Stanford GSB, I can say that from what I see, the people who get in, do write their own essays and use my advice in the manner in which Stanford intends. Actually that is the way I advise and the way other great and ethical consultants do as well. Our job is help our clients fully articulate their best possible and real selves, not tell them what to write or to write their essays.
If you want to learn more about who to get application advice from and how to use the advice you receive, see my earlier posts on mentors, admissions consultants, editors, and ghostwriters.
NOT SO LONG ANYMORE. Successful Stanford essay sets used to often be 8 to 14 pages in length, but not anymore. The page count was initially reduced last year, but now is even more constrained and specified. Clearly you should follow the above guidelines as indicated.

It was the case that I would tell applicants not to write the Stanford essays first. And even now, to be honest, I still think it is not the best one to start with. In the past, the problem was the open-ended nature of Essay A and the fact that it would be somewhere around 4 and 8 pages long and that except for Essay B, there were no other questions. Since last year, this issue has been eliminated, but still there is a major obstacle because Essay A is still a difficult question. Also if you think about it, you will realize that the first set of essays you write is likely to be the most flawed, but progressively you will get better at it. Given the difficulty of getting into Stanford, it seems like a bad idea to me to give them your rawest stuff.

Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
From my experience, successful applicants to Stanford do at least one or two other schools first. While they are doing those other schools, they have already started THINKING about Essay A. Which raises the following question:

In my experience answers to this question that result in acceptance, come from the HEART and the HEAD. Just as Stanford admissions says there is no formula and certainly no magic one way for writing a great answer to this question.

HEART: At least the admits I worked with, found what mattered most to them by looking inside of themselves and finding something essential about who they were. 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?
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 IS MANDATORY- and specific examples. Eric Abrams emphasized the importance of "Why?" during his presentation.

If you are having difficulty answering this question to your own satisfaction, I have few suggestions:

1. 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.

2. Stanford admissions repeatedly emphasizes that there is no one right answer. Some applicants become paralyzed because they want THE RIGHT MESSAGE. In his audio interview, Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean & Director, MBA Admissions Office argues against the idea that the application process is a marketing exercise, but rather he thinks of it as an accounting exercise. 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.

3. The answer may be real, but is it a good one? If you are not sure, look critically at Stanford GSB's 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.
Does what matters most to you fit within this mission? Think about this statement in the widest possible way. In his presentation, Eric Abrams emphasized that fit is a very important consideration at Stanford GSB. 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.

4. 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 mediation, but in my experience those take more time and Frankl's book has the advantage of being short, very cheap, available at many libraries, and has been translated from the original German into twenty-two languages.
Essay B: What are your aspirations? How will your education at Stanford help you achieve them?
As a Stanford MBA student, you will be assigned a team of advisors who will guide both your academic experience and your personal development. Your team will include a faculty advisor, a career counselor, and a leadership coach.
Use Essay B to help you prepare for your first conversations with these mentors.

Commenting on Essay B, Eric Abrams said to think beyond goals, he suggested thinking of aspirations in terms of the following question: "What do you hope to become?" Given the amount of personal attention you will receive, how will you leverage that attention and your opportunities at Stanford GSB to become as Abrams said, "your best self."

THIS IS A FUTURE DIRECTED QUESTION. Unlike some other "Why MBA" questions, Stanford is not asking about the past. You will write about that in the other essays. Instead focus not just on your goals, but on your mission. How will you make a difference on this earth and how can Stanford GSB help you do that? You need to be ambitious.

Consider using the GAP, ROI, and SWOT Goals analysis methodSWOT than on standard goals. S(trengths) and W(eaknesses) are about assessing your own strengths and weaknesses in order to identify where you need to grow. O(pportunities) and T(hreats) are about understanding your relationship to the world around you. What opportunities do you see in your future and how will Stanford help prepare you for them? Also consider, possible threats to your mission that a Stanford GSB education can help you overcome.
Click here for my analysis.
Additional Information
You should follow Stanford GSB's directions on this. This is the same as Chicago GSB's optional question.
Putting it all together.
Next week, I will provide advice on seeing the application holistically, which is the way Stanford GSB looks at all applications.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.

-Adam Markus
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