How do you know if what you’re written for the Stanford GSB MBA application is any good? How do you know if you’ve communicated something valuable, and authentic, to your admissions readers? This technique was inspired in part by the “pizza essay” that we blahgged about in May where we stated this about some remarks…
Today we’ll tell you a story.
This one time, EssaySnark was coming home from a business trip, and we were on that little bus that takes you to the airport after you drop off your rental car. Right when the bus driver was about to close the door, a woman came running up behind. EssaySnark said to the driver, “Hold up, here’s someone else.”
The driver closed the door. We said louder, “Hey, wait a sec, someone’s coming.”
Some of the woman’s friends were already on the bus. “Please wait,” they said. “Our friend.”
The driver started to pull away from the curb. EssaySnark stood up in the aisle – surely he must’ve heard us? – and yelled over the engine noise, “HEY! WAIT!”
He looked back in the rear view mirror. Eye contact. Looked away. Kept driving.
EssaySnark went up to the front of the bus. “Didn’t you see her? That lady was trying to catch the bus.”
“Please take your seat while the bus is in motion.”
Couldn’t believe it.
When we got to the terminal, we called the car rental company, and we narked off the bus driver. We asked for a manager to come talk to us. The bus waited too. The airport was not that busy.
A second shuttle bus arrived with the supervisor, and also the woman who’d been left behind, who was reunited with her friends.
You know what the supervisor said? That he’d done it before. That it was against training.
We were like, “Yeah, you used to have that little recorded message saying something about customer service is important but when you don’t play that anymore then we were wondering if new management took over or something.”
She was all, “We do have a recorded message that plays on the bus.”
We were like, “No, there was no recorded message that played.”
The bus driver had disconnected it. Why? Maybe because the little “Welcome to the airport” recording had an invitation to fill out a customer satisfaction survey at the end of it.
Pretty sure that driver was separated from his job that day.
This is a VERY small and VERY insignificant story — not at all comparable to protesting Nazis — but it’s an incident we remember vividly. Somebody was being mistreated, and we stood up and said something. We had planned to share this with you in the context of essays this week. We expanded this post considerably after what happened this weekend.
You don’t have to be out in the streets protesting. Yet we’re sure you have similar stories.
These are how you can reveal your character.
If you want to be very task-focused: These are the types of stories that, sometimes, when heartfelt and told with conviction*, can move an adcom reader in an essay.
When we talk about values, we’re talking about stuff like this. It’s the small moments that make up your life. Our values let us know when we’re being true to ourselves. They help us make decisions.
Now before you get all indignant: “OMG EssaySnark, you got that guy fired!!” We’ll counter with some advice that we heard from a career coach a long time ago: When you get fired, it’s a gift. Your company is freeing you to go find something you’re happier in. Because clearly, it was not working out, and you weren’t listening to the evidence that was trying to tell you so. If your job is to pick people up and take them to the airport, then that’s what you do, to the best of your ability. You don’t leave them at the curb.
If in your job, you find yourself leaving people at the curb, then hey, that’s a pretty big sign that you’re not happy!! Either change yourself, or change your job!
We’re telling you this today not just because maybe it’ll help you think of new topics for your essays.
We’re telling you because WHEN YOU SEE SOMETHING THAT’S F*CKED UP, YOU MUST SAY SOMETHING.
We’re living in a world where a lot of f*cked up things are happening.
Did that Google engineer deserve to get fired for what he wrote?
Not sure. That’s a hugely complicated situation. His argument about women engineers has some sound science at the beginning (there are indeed biological differences between men and women) but then the reasoning he used to get to his conclusions is twisted (it is not true that those differences are why there are fewer women in tech). The argument is fatally flawed; it is not logical. Is he entitled to his opinion? Sure. Did he make other valid points about the current environment in Silicon Valley tech companies? Yes. Is a company in California allowed to fire at will? Indeed they are.
Should anyone be resorting to threats or acts of violence to defend their point of view? NO — yet the firing of the engineer provoked many on the alt-right to do just that, and now some Google execs are afraid.
That’s the world we’re living in now.
So what’s the connection to that and the shuttle bus driver and your essays?
It’s that some things are black and white. Some issues are easy to see. Some problems do not require debate or “further study” which is what the President said about the Charlottesville violence on Saturday. WTF?
When you see something that is not right, say something.
Let’s all look at how we respond to everyday life.
“Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
That is the Law,
ancient and inexhaustible.”– The Buddha
The airporter bus driver was not spewing hate.
But what he did was not right.
The Google engineer was expressing his opinion. However that view of the world would not exactly create a welcoming environment for women who had to work with him. What’s more, that kind of faulty reasoning is the basis for much of the alt-right’s indignation about being victimized by others (you certainly see massively bad logic and effed-up reasoning on the left, too; this post is not about right or left, it’s about right or wrong).
It’s not your job to change people’s minds. We’re not saying to proselytize or preach.
But what you do owe yourself, and to all of us as a society, is to speak up when you see something going down.
What moments do you remember, however small, where you know what you did was right?
Some schools invite you to talk about that in your essay.
EssaySnark invites you to live that in your life.
The story we shared today is admittedly very “small”; we also used a lot of words to tell it. But it (we hope) reveals a small slice of character. That’s what stories do. That’s why they’re so powerful to use in your essays.
We also hope that you’ll consider the power of words. If you currently are in the habit of posting inflammatory comments on anonymous forums or you like to rile up others by being intentionally combative in how you respond on social media, we ask that you pause. Look at yourself. Ask why do you do it. Strong views are fine, and commendable; it’s good to believe in something. It is not necessary to hurt other people through verbal attacks, no matter how much “fun” you think it is. Getting a rise out of someone by saying something shocking and rude is a very low form of entertainment. That buzz of adrenaline can become addicting, but is that who you want to be? If you’re doing it online, you’re doing it. Doesn’t matter if you think nobody knows. You are as bad as your worst online habits. What you do on the internet is who you are. All of it. If you currently do anything out there on the web that you don’t want someone to know about, we invite you to face up to that, and ask yourself why. And please, NEVER PARTICIPATE IN DOXING. Or revenge-posting of photos. None of it. Seriously harmful. Seriously not cool.
You could be spending your energy on something so much more valuable.
Like working to get into bschool.
Finally: We debated whether to post this. There’s been plenty of posts about values here lately and a charge against us of virtue signaling could have merit. We also like to believe that most BSers reading the blahg don’t need to be preached to about lying or cheating or ramming cars into crowds or taking a gun to an early-morning practice at a softball field. We welcome all belief systems and political views here. Deadlines are coming, and we’ve got plenty to say about apps!
Yet, damn, we just can’t help it. This is a BIG MOMENT in our country’s history. We refuse to say nothing.
Our “new normal” is not normal.
This country has problems, yes. We are also lacking any real leadership that might solve them. Each person individually must stand for their values; after all, you’re interested in the MBA to change the world. Well, this is EssaySnark’s small platform to do that. We hope that someday soon, we’ll be able to go back to talking only about MBA essays.
That UVA Darden essay question sure takes on new significance today:
“When preparing for class at Darden, students formulate an opinion on each case before meeting with their learning teams and class sections. When encountering different views and perspectives from their own, opinions frequently shift. Tell us about a time when your opinion evolved through discussions with others.”
* Please just make sure that the story you’re telling is a fit to the essay prompt.
Hello BSers! It’s time! We have a submission for a Class of 2020 essay for the Stanford GSB that we’re going to discuss today, sent in by an earnest Brave Supplicant who’s undoubtedly thinking that this is a good essay. 🙂
We hate to be the one to dispel the illusion, but…
Here’s what we got:
What matters most to and why?
A few years ago, I was taking a pre-dawn stroll along a beach in northern France. As the sun rose, I tried to envision myself on this same beach, only 70 years prior, in an attempt to understand and appreciate the sacrifices that were made by America’s “greatest generation”. It was June 6th and I was standing on Omaha beach in Normandy.
Listening to the waves wash ashore, I was musing on that infamous day when an elderly French woman, her son, and grandson approached. I was wearing my flight suit because I had to work later in the day, so I had assumed that they just wanted to say good morning or talk (military) shop. In actuality, the lady came up to say ‘thank you’ and wanted to tell me a story. She didn’t speak any English, and my French doesn’t extend far beyond “merci”, so her son played translator.
She was just a young girl during World War II and vividly remembers German soldiers visiting her house numerous times – the Germans’ presence easily identifiable by the loud banging on the door, their distinctively black boots and the screaming and chaos that followed their entrance. She quickly sought out a ‘safe spot’ that provided a view, yet offered her some protection from the harassment. One day, however, there was a lighter knock on the door. To be safe, she still ran to her secret hiding spot, which ended up being underneath her parents’ bed. To her surprise, she didn’t recognize the all-too familiar German boots nor the language that the men were speaking. Instead, these men had brown boots on and spoke with a softer tone. There wasn’t any screaming and her parents seemed relatively calm. After gaining the courage to come out (with her parents’ help), she soon realized that these were the ‘good guys’; they were Americans.
She then thanked me, of all people, for rescuing her and for my service to protect liberty and freedom around the world. We then hugged, cried, and hugged again. After a few more stories and some small talk, I graciously thanked her for sharing her memories and then we parted ways. Although there have been many, that moment alone validated my decision to serve my country in uniform and is a perfect example of what matters most to me.
It wasn’t until I was invited to a week of introspection and study at the Aspen Institute’s “Seminar on Leadership, Values, and the Good Society” did I realize that the majority of my adult life decisions have been motivated by a similar theme; having a significant impact, providing opportunity, and making a difference by positively affecting lives through service and community.
Alrighty then, we’ll stop right there. That’s about 450 words, of an essay that Stanford suggests be around 750 words total.
We ask all of you reading this: WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THE APPLICANT FROM THIS ESSAY?
Go ahead. Read back over it. We’ve got some of our own thoughts, comments and observations we can offer after the jump, but the best way for you to take advantage of this opportunity is for you to put on your thinking cap and analyze it for yourself.
Then continue on reading what we have to say.
Yesterday we offered a rule of thumb for recency in your MBA applications. We explained why keeping your content and the stories that you tell in your essays within a range of, say, something like the past two or three years is ideal. Of course, there are always exceptions. The big one is when you’re…
In Spring 2016 we got this very happy note from a BSer we’d been working with the prior December for Round 2 and, well, we’ll just let them tell you about it themselves.
I am writing to share great news!
I was accepted into HBS, Stanford, and Wharton this week and I am still letting it sink in…Never in my wildest imagination that I’d imagine I’d get this far, especially given I was dinged at HBS and Stanford last year.
I wanted to thank you for your no-bs feedback on my GSB and HBS apps. For GSB, based on your feedback, I did toss away that whole original essay – it’s a monumental story for me personally, but you were spot on, why would the GSB care and invest in me as a person?? I recreated a whole new positioning and a theme that worked much better and tied my background together nicely. And it worked! You told me I never answered the question on what matters most to me, and again, I made it clear in my new essay in the new version and I was so glad that Derrick resonated with the piece since he actually wrote down in the offer letter on my deep sense of emotional solidarity (i.e. what matters most to me) will allow me to contribute, learn, and grow at the GSB. In short, I’m so glad I took your advice!
As for HBS, we already chatted briefly, I went with many more rounds of edits for the essay and my interviewer actually told me before I started the interview that she was really impressed by my story and can’t wait to ask more questions. I walked out of that room feeling I had a fabulous conversation with the interview board and am so excited when she called to congratulate me on the acceptance on Wednesday! Again, I couldn’t have made it without your feedback on my essays – I was trying too hard to make myself look impressive, when in the end it’s the non-professional stories that I truly enjoyed writing and sharing about.
Also, your Wharton guidebook was very helpful and I definitely leveraged it for my career goal essay.
All in all, I cannot express how thankful I am in getting to where I am today, and I am so glad that I was able to take your advice (very harsh for sure. 🙂 ) and just restart from scratch when I had 2 weeks left before deadline. Hell of a ride for sure, but I made it!
So THANK YOU ES!!
Obviously we LOVE getting reports like that! This was a Round 2 candidate who was reapplying to these schools. If you’re reapplying, please don’t wait till Round 2! There are only a very few reasons why that would be more strategic – and if you do decide that Round 2 is better for some reason, please don’t wait till December to start working on things. Obviously this person pulled it off but it was a crazy time as they scrambled to get it all done in extreme pressure, and it’s unlikely you’ll be producing your best work under such circumstances.
So we’re posting this today to say yes, schools like Harvard and Stanford do accept reapplicants – and yes, you can expect to have to throw out your first ideas and start all over again as you wrestle with what to present!
If you’re thinking of getting started, then hopefully this is enough encouragement. We’re prepared and ready to support you!
One of the hardest things about developing a strong application to business school is figuring out what to write in your essays. Good essays take time to develop, not just in deciding on a topic but in executing a full argument around that topic once you have it. Hardest of all is Stanford’s essay on “what matters most.” One of the best ways to facilitate the entire creative process is journaling.
Keeping a journal as part of your bschool application process helps in more ways than one. If the term “journal” is a turn-off to you and feels too intimate (too much like “diary”) then you can switch this suggestion to just “keeping notes.”
You’ll want to capture the facts and details that you pick up on each one of the schools that you’re learning about. The risk of course is that they start to blur together, and you forget which detail is from which. What school has the GIX1 thing again? Which one does MAP2? Keeping notes on the different programs will help you keep them apart. A journal (or just a notebook where you’re jotting down what you learn) will let you do that.
The harder part about essays, though, is presenting stuff about YOU. Most applicants stay at a surface level in what they write on their topics, even on essay questions that invite you to go deep. Brainstorming and recollecting significant events from your past is one of the best ways to identify meaningful topics for certain essays. Getting in the habit of writing about the events of your day-to-day life — even the mundane and the routine — is a smart thing to do since it’s so effective in helping you to generate ideas without having to try so hard to do it.
Want to know the real secret about keeping a journal, though?
Finally, writing a daily journal (or just keeping notes on your bschool research activities) is an excellent way to counteract the tendencies of BSers towards procrastination. If you commit to something simple like writing a little every day in a journal, then you’ll be setting a stake in the ground in this daunting MBA application project. You’ll be actually GETTING STARTED. One of the biggest risks to your apps this year is putting off the essays. Procrastination is your worst enemy. By beginning a journal then you’re starting with baby steps; painless ones. You’ll be sneaking up on yourself, doing something productive and tangible in the overall process of applying, yet without hardly noticing it. Keeping notes and maintaining a journal – or just capturing ideas that come up for you in an informal way – will let you sneak up on yourself and get started with something that is often intimidating. Many people don’t start their work on their essays until really late because they just don’t know where to start. They put it off and they put it off, until finally it’s August and they’re up against a wall and they panic and start to scramble. Talk about stressful.
It’s still early – but not so early that you can’t begin. Keeping a journal – or if you don’t like that term, then just starting a systematic process of note-taking, where you capture info on schools and your thoughts and experiences on a regular basis in one place – can be an excellent entry point into the overall project of starting your essays. It’s a great way to sneak up on yourself and make yourself begin something that’s otherwise daunting and tough to tackle, and it will let your subconscious start to ruminate and marinate on ideas about what you’re going to write in those essays.
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It definitely means going beyond the obvious. Nowhere is “don’t tell us what you think we want to hear” more applicable than in your MBA essays for the Stanford GSB. If we read one more Stanford essay about “what matters most is helping people” then we’re gonna scream (j/k. if that’s what you wrote we’re…