Ace the Stanford MBA Essays in 2022

The Stanford GSB MBA essays HAVE JUST BEEN RELEASED! It’s happening! No surprises with the questions in 2022 (I mean, what does matter most to you and why?), but as you knuckle down to complete your Stanford MBA application we have some great tips to maximize your chance of MBA admission.

Angela Guido has been coaching MBA applicants to Stanford GSB for over a decade and the Stanford admission essays are a favorite of the entire Career Protocol team: we’re going to help you get through this. But just maybe, you’ll also be able to learn about yourself and your motivations along the way.

YouTube video

Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Hello and welcome back to MBA Monday! It's time to apply to Stanford GSB. I'm talking about how to approach the Stanford GSB essays in 2022. My name is Angela Guido and I'm the founder of Career Protocol. I'm a Career Coach and an MBA Coach, and I am here to help you shine in your Stanford application. This is MBA Monday. All right, before you dig into this video, I really recommend you watch three other really important videos that are going to help you prepare to write the Stanford Essays. The first one is how to get into Stanford. Click this link and head on over to that video and go ahead and watch that one first. The second video to watch is our Wednesday workshop on the Stanford Essays, which is right here. It's a lot longer, it goes into a lot more detail than this video will. I think you'll find it very informative and useful. And then the last video to watch is my Five Questions You Need to Answer Before You Write Your MBA Essays video, which is, you guess it, right here.

Start With The Short Answer Questions

Okay! Now, what matters most to you and why? That's the Everest you'll be tackling in your Stanford applications. But before you even start to look at your answer to that question, I'm going to make a potentially slightly controversial recommendation here in the strange little world of MBA essays, and that is save that essay for last. First, you want to start with the short answer questions. So a few years ago, Stanford added to their application beyond “What matters most to you and why?” and “Why Stanford?”. They added short essays that ask you to talk about impact. Here's the question: Think about times you've created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact and what made it significant to you or to others? They give you a fairly constrained character limit on these essays that allows you somewhere in the ballpark of 200 words to talk about the times you've had an impact, or in other words, your proudest achievements. That's what these essays are about. It's about the times in your career and in your life where you had an impact. The times you were awesome. The times you accomplished something. They do care. They care about what you've achieved beyond what you'll put on your resume, but by adding these three extra opportunities to talk about impact, they are signaling very clearly that they do not want you to talk about how awesome you are in the “What matters most you and why?” essay. What matters most to you and why is about your character, it's about who you are. That may or may not touch on achievements, but it's not the place to tout your impact and achievements. The place to do that is any short answers. So I really recommend that you tackle those first. Tell a short story about three times you've had an impact. Just get it all out of your system so that you feel confident that Stanford has enough information about how great you are and what you've achieved, that you can focus on the softer side of who you are as a person in that main essay.

There’s another short answer question that asks: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project. This question is kind of getting around the edges of diversity, around what makes you different, and what about your past and your circumstances is shaping how you show up in interactions at work and beyond. That's another important part of what Stanford wants to understand about you but again, they're giving you a special dedicated area to talk about that. So your main essay does not have to be about your background. It can be! For sure, for a lot of people, where they came from, the circumstances of their upbringing and what you would call your background, however you define that, is part of who you are and it definitely shapes how you show up. So, it's not that that won't be a part of the main essay it's just that Stanford is really giving you a dedicated area to talk about that so that it frees up the main essay to cover a very different kind of question. So, I really recommend that you tackle these short answer essays first and feel confident that you've presented a cohesive picture of someone who is contributing meaningfully based on where they're coming from and having an impact, so that when you shift over to the bigger two essays, you're a lot freer to talk about those questions really directly. Okay, so that's piece of advice number one.

Then Move On To “What Matters Most to You and Why?”

The second piece of advice I have for you is now to talk about what matters most to you and why. Now, a lot of people get tripped up by this question, and they get tripped up by two things: what and why. So the first thing to understand is that what matters most to you will not be unique. It will not be something that they haven't already heard a thousand times, and that's because as human beings, we have a lot more in common than we have that separates us and makes us different. We mostly care about the same basic set of things. We care about other people and we care about improving their lives. If you look at what matters most to you, the what (whatever it is) can probably be reduced to one of those two things in some form or another. And if it can't, if you drill down one level deeper or a second level deeper, you'll find you're going to hit bedrock. It's like as humans we care about other humans and about the impact that we're able to have on them. So at that level, you probably aren't going to have anything very unique to say. The more you drill down on the why, whatever that thing is that matters to you, the more you're going to find what truly does differentiate you from everyone else. But the why is not also going to form the bulk of this essay because the answer to why is always also going to be something quite simple. So you need to include what matters most to you and you need to also include a direct answer to the question of why that thing matters to you. But the bulk of the what matters most to you and why essay, I believe, if it's done right, will neither be the what or the why. It'll be the how. This is really an essay about how what matters to you has shaped your life, how did they come to be the values that mattered most to you, and how are they shaping your future, your vision for leadership, and your intentions for your post-MBA career?

“What matters most to you and why?” & “Why Stanford?” Are The Same Question

If you look at it this way, you can start to see how “What matters most to you and why?” and “Why Stanford?” are actually, in some ways, one uniform question. Because what matters most to you should reflect the vision you have for your career. Whether you talk about your career directly in essay A or save that all for essay B, there should be a consistency between what matters most to you and where you're headed in the future, and therefore why Stanford is an essential step en route to where these values are taking you. So again, back to this question of how. As you're unpacking your stories and as you're deciding how to approach this question, you really want to talk to Stanford. Imagine that you're speaking to one person on the admissions committee and you're just going to open up to them about how what matters most to you came to matter to you, and then how it has since shaped your life. The best Stanford essays are really the recounting of a journey to shape your persona and your character around the principles or the single core principle that has defined your life and will define your future, and the substance of it is really much more about how than about what and why. So don't trip yourself up trying to come up with a wildly original “what” and don't worry if the “why” boils down to something very, very simple. What you want to show in that essay is how. How the values that you hold dear have shaped your life and are shaping your future, how they came to matter to you, and the experiences that have brought those values and those things that matter to you into the foreground of your life, where you may have struggled with them, where you adhered to them, and lived up to them, and where you're still discovering how what matters most to you is shaping you into the person you're meant to become.

Self-Reflection Is Key!!

I realize this was a slightly more philosophical, less tactical pragmatic video than my usual MBA Monday videos, and that's because Stanford is really a unique program, culturally. If I contrast it with, say, Harvard, which, as I said, is a more extroverted culture, Stanford culture is much more introverted. They're much more interested in the essence of who you are on the inside and not just how you want to be seen and that requires a very deep level of self-reflection, most of which is actually beyond words. So do the work. Do the work to understand yourself and how you came to be the person that you are and show Stanford that. That's going to give you the best chance of standing out from the incredibly talented pool of applicants that apply to Stanford. If you want to talk to us about working together to uncover your best story and reveal it in this essay and beyond, please be sure to sign up for a free MBA strategy call. We love helping people tell their story, and especially helping them tell the story of what matters most to them and why. And while you're down there, leave me a comment. Tell me what matters most to you. I'm actually curious. This is our favorite part of the process, uncovering the values of the people who are going to be shaping this world in the next 50 years. So, yeah, leave me a comment, tell me what matters most to you, and I promise to reply. Good luck. Have fun with your Stanford GSB application and may what matters most to you guide you in your MBA journey and beyond. I'll see you next week. Bye!!

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Angela Guido

Angela Guido

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

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