So you want to go to Stanford.
The thing with Stanford is that it’s pretty impossible for anyone to say if you have an honest-to-goodness chance to get in or not… except for Stanford.
We often can tell when it’s likely a no-go — as in, someone has little to no hope at all. If we see little evidence of achievement and distinction, if you’re a good candidate, even a strong candidate — even one that’s likely to easily make it in the door at a school like Columbia or Tuck — we still may have reservations on whether you’ll see the same fate at Stanford. We’ll tell you that when we do a Comprehensive Profile Review. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try for Stanford, but it also means that you need to put together a well-rounded full-spectrum strategy.
However, even if there’s evidence that you might make it into Stanford, even then, we honestly cannot have too much confidence in our predictions that you WILL make it into Stanford.
In other words: We can pretty easily predict someone’s chances at almost every other school.
Nobody can say for sure if you’re going to go to Stanford except Stanford.
We’re usually spot-on when we predict that someone might have a shot, where they often at least make it to the interview. But from there, it’s anybody’s game.
We cannot say how Stanford will respond to a given profile. Everyone is unique, and it’s up to you as the candidate to present that uniqueness in a way that resonates with the reader and shows the GSB why a Stanford MBA is the right next step for you. It would be professional negligence for us to tell anyone that they do NOT have a chance. (This is why we react so strongly to what we’ve called in the past ‘the adcon’ — those admissions consultants who give you a “hot or not” verdict on whether you’re going to make it into H/B/S based on only a cursory review of some basic stats. Those folks are not doing anybody any favors, in our mind.)
Anyway. What does all of this have to do with the title of this post, “Setting the stage”?
Here’s what it has to do with it:
We can sit here and say, “Yes, you have the raw material to make it into Stanford. You have a chance. With what we’re seeing, there’s a possibility.”
What you do with that chance is 100% up to you, and it almost always comes down to the execution of the essays.
The only way we can say “You have a chance at Stanford” is when the raw material of someone’s profile is showing evidence of differentiation, of motivation, of interest in the world, of achievement. That rare bird who does not settle, who is willing to work hard, who overcomes obstacles or has done something unique. Or maybe was just born into unusual circumstances, that makes them stand out from the sea of other similar profiles.
So we tell you that you have that X-Factor, or whatever it is. And we’re sitting here in May, when the whole MBA admissions season is in its infancy, when you have the whole world as your oyster, and you can do anything with this opportunity.
What you do with that is fully up to you.
Do you start thinking about essays now?
Do you do the introspection and self-reflection that is required for insights that make a Stanford application sing? Yes definitely, whether it’s starting it now, or soon. (Shameless Plug: Our Stanford MBA Application Guide is chockfull of help for that part of the process.)
When you write your essays, do you take control of your messaging and own the process, so that you’re intentionally managing the impressions that you’re constructing in your reader’s mind as they go through the answers you offer to the prompts that they’ve given?
Oh yes, Brave Supplicant, yes. You do that.
You do that in spades.
What makes a great candidate turn into a Stanford GSB student is all about how they handle themselves in the application itself. It’s how they present. It’s how they step up to the opportunity that the world has given them, in the actual words on the page and what they want the reader to know.
You can write your Stanford essays the same way that everyone else writes their Stanford essays. If your profile is indeed distinctive enough, then some standard essays could very well still earn you the interview invitation.
But the stellar application is the one where the real person comes through. Where every single word, sentence, paragraph, intro, body, argument, and conclusion are all fully considered, both individually and as a whole.
This is why we say never to attempt to write your Stanford (or Harvard) essays as your first writing project. They are much (much!) too difficult.
You will likely write your Stanford essays multiple times, and multiple more times than that. We’ve had BSers go to like draft number 15 on their GSB apps.
It’s not just about getting an answer down, in a way that you think will impress somebody.
It’s in what you are literally saying in response to the question.
Stanford does not yet have their Class of 2022 app details available yet, and we actually believe that they may be making some changes to their essay questions this year, for the first time in awhile. However, no matter what direction they go, whether they change them or not, they will still be looking for the same thing: Distinction. Authenticity. The unique individual who has had a life that stands out, in some way or another, by circumstances or more valuably by choice.
The very first sentence of the first paragraph of your first essay will be where you start to establish this for your reader. You are in control of the message you will send to your Stanford GSB admissions reviewer. Every word counts – for every school, but especially this one. You will need to come back and sweat the opening, and most likely, rewrite it more than any other part of any other essay.
SETUPS COUNT. That’s true for all schools but it’s incredibly important for Stanford. We can read the first sentence or two and already have a sense if it’s going to be a winner or not. The way you set the stage for the essay can pretty much always determine whether it’ll be a win or a fail.
Or maybe not a fail but a flounder.
No fish essays, please.
For Stanford, you need to have an essay that soars. The first sentences are where you establish that credibility with your reader, where you give them the confidence that you are in control of your message, that you are applying with a purpose. You will not be able to come up with first sentences that serve this purpose in the beginning; you won’t even know what your message is until probably Draft #8. That’s why we exhort you to start this process so early, and begin thinking about your application, and understanding why you want an MBA even before it’s time to begin writing.
An essay can convert a good candidate into an OMG we must have this person candidate in the adcom’s eyes. It’s the main place you have complete control over the end product (and many people underestimate how much time and difficulty it requires to write good ones — at least as challenging as the GMAT for many).
You want to go to Stanford. Okay, well, how bad do you want it?
The keys to the kingdom are already in your hands. You just have to go inside, figure yourself out, and write about it.
If all of this fancytalk about messaging and flight and figuring-yourself-out has you flummoxed, don’t worry. Writing essays is hard! Yes! BUT!! We’re here to help! We will be cheering for you through the pages of this blahg all summer long, and we have plenty more resources to assist — for example, we can support you in a step-by-step process through the Complete Essay Package if you feel like you don’t know where to begin. We know you can do it, Brave Supplicant! /end-shameless-self-promotion