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MBA Application Essay Questions & Tips | Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford Graduate School of Business, along with being one of the top three schools in the world consistently, is a pioneer in MBA applications.

The essay question “What Matters Most to you, and Why?” is discussed in every MBA forum. While many business schools allow MBA applicants the opportunity to share their accomplishments and other incidents from their life, Stanford focuses on the applicant’s mindset.

By your answers on the Stanford Essays, the school is interested in understanding who you are instead of solely focusing on what you have done.

Stanford GSB rules to keep in mind while answering the MBA Essays

The Stanford GSB admissions committee encourages MBA applicants to write authentic and introspective answers. They clearly state “There is no “right answer” to these questions”.

Besides, the Essay questions for Stanford’s MBA applications are open-ended. This gives the applicant ample space to work with and write an answer true to their beliefs and as per their understanding.

Since Stanford presents the applicants with broad questions, they do have certain guidelines that help them maintain some basic uniformity during submissions.

Length & Word Limit of Personal Essays

Unlike other business schools, Stanford does not allocate specific word limits to particular essays. They allow students to decide on the word limit for each essay while providing a combined word limit of 1050 words for both the personal essays.

According to Stanford’s site, the ideal distribution of this 1050 word limit is 650 words for Essay 1, and 400 words for Essay B

However, a student isn’t judged upon switching these numbers around. The Stanford admissions committee also suggests that most effective essays are concise. Thus, don’t try to fill up a word document to meet the 1050 word limit. Just ensure you have shared all the elements of your answer as you had planned.

Formatting Rules

Once you upload your essay to the Stanford MBA application portal, you will have the option to preview it. Make sure you preview the essay and double-check the formatting as per the following rules:

  1. The essay should be double spaced.
  2. Each page should be numbered.
  3. Both the essay answers should be uploaded in a single document.

Terms of Editing for the Stanford MBA Essays

Like all its competitors, Stanford takes the authenticity of an MBA application very seriously. The only things on your MBA application that should not be written by you are your letters of recommendation.

The admissions committee encourages students to get feedback on their essays. They suggest having a friend, a family member, or a mentor read your essay answers to give you feedback. Since these are people who have known you a while, they will be able to help you identify if your essays don’t do justice to you as a person or your values. They can also help you identify whether your expression is transferring well on paper.

However, if you get someone to write your Stanford essay, you are in direct violation of Stanford’s terms of the application process and will have your application denied or admission revoked.

Additional Information

In case there is a part of your profile that you wish to shed more light on or explain further, you can use the additional information section on the MBA application to do so.

However, do not use this section to simply list down more accomplishments. Use it for accomplishments that are significant to you but couldn’t be mentioned in any other place in the MBA profile. Or talk about any extenuating circumstances that affected your performance academically or professionally.

Stanford Essay Questions and Tips

Stanford has two types of Essay Questions.

Personal Essays

Personal Essays are compulsory essay questions that every MBA applicant has to answer while submitting their MBA application. These questions are for the admissions committee to understand the person behind the MBA application. The answers to these questions focus on the applicant’s dreams, passions, values and are highly introspective.

Essay A: What Matters Most to you, and Why?

If it isn’t the question of the decade. On first glance, this Stanford essay question looks like something that the protagonist of a Nicholas Sparks novel would ask someone rather than a business school.

That’s exactly what makes it a brilliant question.

Finding the answer to this essay question requires deep introspection but once you find the answer, you might find 650 words to be too short a word limit to fit your answer. But this is where you get to showcase an MBA mindset. Can you fit this expansive answer in just 650 words and still share a vulnerable and authentic account?

Here are a few tips to answer the Stanford GSB essay question “What Matters Most to you, and Why?”

  1. This answer is not about your writing style. Stay clear of the flourishes in writing and focus on the meat of your story.
  2. Share a difficult choice you made to stand by “What matters most to you”. This question is not about simply stating a value that matters to you. Show how strongly you believe in it by sharing a significant sacrifice you’ve made for it.
  3. Focus on the “Why?”. Now that you have shared details about the thing that matters most to you, what will really create an impact is why it matters to you. It will show the admissions committee your mindset and thought process, and how you decide your priorities.
  4. Make your answer vulnerable and emotional. Don’t try to inject emotion into your story. But be real with what you felt. If your answer to this question is though out and true to you as a person, the good news is you won’t have to try to showcase vulnerability, it will come into your writing automatically.
  5. Don’t be stubborn about sharing your accomplishments. The Stanford admissions committee already has your resume to see all your accomplishments. You even have an additional optional essay to share the same. This question isn’t the place to show off what you have achieved. Instead, share your lessons throughout life.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

This is the staple business school question. Every business school wants to know why you have picked them for your MBA education. They know their ranking and post-MBAcompensation must have played a huge part in your decision. But is that all? Is your decision to choose Stanford based solely on superficial factors?

Stanford wants to know whether you have invested enough time and research in understanding how a Stanford education would elevate your career. For this answer, you need to have a strong networking game. You need to know about the Stanford MBA program, school environment, and faculty in such detail that you can show them having direct connections to your professional growth.


Tell the admissions committee the professors whose courses you’re looking forward to. Talk about the various aspects of the Stanford culture that excite you. Is there a particular elective you are super interested in? Share that as well.


Optional Essays

Unlike many other business schools, the Stanford GSB optional essays are truly optional. For most other business schools, students are advised to not leave out optional essay questions as it shows a lack of effort on their part.

However, Stanford’s admissions committee showed that they meant for the optional essays to be purely optional by admitting students that submitted the optional essays along with those who skipped them.

Optional Question 1:

Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others?

Since the mandatory essay questions were more introspective, this question can really help applicants that want to share examples of their leadership skills with the admissions committee.

This essay can also be used to share how your skills helped you create a lasting and significant impact on your organization. However, make sure whatever skills you share as you write this essay are coherent to what your supervisor has shared in your letters of recommendation.

You do not have to stick to work experiences though. Leadership isn’t a skill that is only visible in the professional environment. In fact, leadership practised in personal life can be more impressive.

Optional Question 2:

Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.

To Stanford, your background is a very broad concept. It includes things like your academic background, family, work, gender identity, so on and so forth. This answer might not come easy to everyone but fortunately, it is completely optional.

You should only attempt this question if you have faced a situation where a part of your background affected your life significantly. Do not rummage through all your life experiences from the past three years and find experiences that you can stuff into this answer. It would only hamper your chances by creating in-authentic expression in your MBA Profile.

For over 15+ years as an Entrepreneur, and India’s Top Educationist, Jatin has led a range of initiatives in the Education Industry. In this role, he has created many successful educational services and products geared towards generating success for professionals aspiring to join IVY League and global Top Tier Universities for MBA Programs, Masters Programs, and undergraduate courses. He is the Founder and CEO of PythaGURUS Education, and has been recognized as a thought leader in the Higher education sector. Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Times of India, India Today, Business Today, Tribune, and many other national newspapers have recognized his work, and have given him numerous opportunities to be a regular columnist. He has also served as a panelist for NDTV, and other national news channels.

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