Essay Examples

& Writing Guidance

Essay Examples


& Writing Guidance

I Overview HBS Essay

Stanford GSB has two core programs: the traditional 2-year MBA and its MSx program. While I’m sure you’re familiar with the MBA, if you have 7+ years of work experience, you may be interested in learning more about MSx and other full-time 1-year MBA programs for mid-career professionals and executives here. While MSx delivers a Master of Science degree, it’s Stanford’s equivalent of an EMBA program for candidates with at least eight years of work experience. If you’re applying in round one or two, you have the option of submitting a single application to both the MBA and MSx programs.

Whereas HBS relies equally on the written application and interview in making admission decisions, Stanford uses alumni interviewers and therefore places more weight on the written application. For that reason, I’d suggest putting as much effort as possible into Stanford’s written MBA application – making sure your resume, recommendations, and essays work together to convey a memorable story about you. A great written application doesn’t merely focus on achievements but leverages achievements to reveal the person behind them.

Stanford’s two core MBA essay questions have remained virtually unchanged for years (Essay A: What matters most to you and Essay B: Why Stanford?). The school eliminated a third, behavioral essay during the 2014-15 application season (below).

  • Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
  • Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
  • Option C: Tell us about a time when you generated support from others for an idea or initiative.
  • Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.

In option B, the Stanford GSB wasn’t interested in just impact…they wanted to hear about lasting impact. They didn’t want to hear about a mere leadership or team-building experience from applicants….they wanted a story that ended with expectations being exceeded. Generally speaking, Stanford is looking for MBA and MSx applicants who are capable of exceptional performance…so exceptional that they’re redefining and then going beyond what mere mortals have ‘defined’, ‘established’ or ‘expected. It’s clear that Stanford was leveraging the third essay to hear about concrete examples of applicants engaging in behavior that aligned with the school’s mission statement:

To develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who change the world. Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.

The mission statement itself is very similar to MIT Sloan’s and like Sloan, Stanford is an entrepreneurial, hands-on, down-to-earth sort of place. The prompt ‘Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond?‘ is a reference to the STAR or SHARE method that Sloan still uses in its easy questions and interviews.

One of my takeaways from essay three is that Stanford looks for MBA candidates who go beyond. Stanford is not looking for people who do their jobs. Nor are they looking for people who do their jobs exceedingly well (about 70% of applicants to Stanford fall into this category but only 7% are offered admission). Stanford is looking for people who demonstrate a natural inclination and talent for going above and beyond (in college, in their extra-curricular activities, and in their professional lives).

Although the aforementioned behavioral essay was eliminated in 2014-15, Stanford reintroduced it via the optional essay question:

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? You are welcome to share up to three examples.

Applicants can submit up to three (approximately 200-word) essays in response to the prompt. Stanford stresses that this is an optional essay (but all of my clients have felt obligated to complete this aspect of the application). So I consider it optional in the same way that a networking event your boss invites you to is ‘optional’. One approach to developing three short optional impact essays is to try responding to the OLD essay prompts rather than trying to think of something ‘impactful’ which is an abstract concept and can be more difficult to brainstorm.

  • Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
  • Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
  • Option C: Tell us about a time when you generated support from others for an idea or initiative.
  • Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.