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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:

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.
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.



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.



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.


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.


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.



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.




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.

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.

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.




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.



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.



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.


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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