How To Get Into Stanford GSB | Essential Advice From An Admissions Expert

Calling all those applying to Stanford GSB! If you’re currently seeking Stanford MBA success, why not take five minutes to listen to some Stanford business school application advice from an MBA admissions expert?

Angela Guido is back on this week’s #MBAMonday with some insights on how to tackle your MBA application to the world’s most competitive business school. You’re going to love this unique approach to figuring out how to write about what matters most to you and why? Angela shows you how to read between the lines of the Stanford GSB application and essay questions to tell your unique story. Follow her guidance to show the Stanford admissions committee you’re a Stanford kinda person! 

#MBAMonday #StanfordGSB

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

It’s Not Just About the Main MBA Essay Questions

What matters most to you and why? It's a big, big question. And one you're going to have to answer if you're applying to Stanford.

Welcome back to MBA Monday! This is Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol, and today I'm talking about Stanford MBA admissions secrets. OK. I hate the concept of secrets because, as you'll see when you get in to look at the essay questions, there really are no secrets. The schools tell you exactly what they want to know about you. What are the things that Stanford wants to know about you? Let's start there. They have two main essay questions:

  • What matters most to you and why?
  • Why Stanford?

And then another part of the application that a lot of people miss, but that is really, really important are the short answer optional questions where you're asked to describe a way in which you've made an impact. These optional essays came on the scene a few years ago as a signal from the Stanford admissions committee that they care genuinely about the kind of impact that you've had. They want to know that you're a rock star, that you've accomplished stuff and that you've made a difference. But they want to hear about that, not in the mean essays. Because if you make the “What matters most to you and why?” essay all about the amazing ways that you had an impact, how you've been a leader, how you've accomplished stuff, then you drown out the possibility of being able to show them something truly meaningful about your character, which is actually what they're interested in and that first main essay.

So the first thing you need to know when you're applying to Stanford is that you want to make sure that your resume and those short answers, optional essays, talking about the ways in which you've made an impact are as strong as they can possibly be and loaded with information about what a rock star you are. Because the essays are not going to be about what a rock star you are. The essays are going to be about how intellectually vital you are, how much heart you have, where your values have come from, and what made you the person that you are today and who you want to be in the future.

Focus On the “Why”, Not the “What”

Now, let's talk about how to tackle those two main Stanford essays. “What matters most to you and why? and “Why Stanford?”. I like to think of these questions as a continuum of the same question, which is, in essence, “Who are you?”. What kind of a person are you? What matters to you? What's important to you? How do you define yourself? And then how has that looked in the past, how do you want that to look in the future, and how is Stanford going to play a role in helping you manifest that future that you want to have as the person that you are? So really, in a way, these two questions are very closely linked. And when I think about how I help my clients answer the Stanford question, you know, there's a lot of talk about how it's not the what matters, it's the why that's most important. And Stanford even says this in their instructions that they are much more interested in why something matters to you than just what it is that matters. So a lot of people get caught up in trying to come up with a “what matters” that's really unique and really well framed and just like a really brilliant “what matters most”. What I found is that putting attention on this aspect of the essay is a total waste of time. Because the bottom line is, as human beings, there really only a handful of things that matter to us. It's other people. It's making a difference. And, you know, having our lives matter. At bottom, we all care about that. We all care about the same things. I've also found that the “why” is not unique. When you look closely at human motivation, you see that at the bottom of absolutely everything we do, we are trying to seek pleasure and avoid pain. That's it. So the real reason why you do anything is because you think it will feel better. It's like Plato said, humans can only pursue the good. The question is, what is the good to you?

And so that leads us back to the question of what matters most. But like I said, even that we're pretty non differentiated. You might start with the word family, but it comes down to relationships. Other people making a difference, having an impact. That's kind of the spectrum of things that matter to Stanford applicants. You look at Stanford's three evaluation criteria: it’s intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership – which again, is mostly going to be covered in those optional essays and in the resume – and then personal qualities and characteristics. So, it's this last dimension that they're trying to evaluate in your essays. So rather than getting caught up in the “What matters most to you and why?” – because, again, there's really nothing unique under this on there – you want to look at how. How has that thing that matters most to you come to matter to you? How has it shaped your choices in life? How has that value been tested over the course of your career? Maybe, how have you failed occasionally to live up to your own commitment to that thing that matters most to you? How has your understanding of what matters to you evolved over the course of your life? And how have you already changed the world consistent with what matters most to you? And last but not least, how will you honor that thing that matters most to you throughout your post-MBA career?

How Will Stanford Help Get You To Where You’re Going?

And this is the segue to Stanford’s second question, “Why Stanford?”, where again, I think you really need to ask yourself, how. How do you want this value to play out in the rest of your career? And how can Stanford play a role in your success, in your achieving the vision that you have for a world changed these of you? What matters to you? Stanford is looking for innovative leaders. Their whole mission is to develop innovative leaders who change the world. They're looking for people who change lives, change organizations and change the world. So, do your best to show them that you've already done that throughout your career and how you plan to do it going forward by asking yourself the question “how?”. And you're going to have a much easier time standing out and differentiating yourself in the what matters most and why I say have fun. I'll see you next week. And if you're applying to business school, you're probably thinking about, I don't know stuff. I don't know how to even get started. I'm so I'm so rusty right now.

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Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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