Oh hey look here! You can view all EssaySnark blahg posts tagged for Stanford in one place!
Stanford needs to know you as a unique individual — but don’t overthink it!
The 2020 Stanford MBA essay questions are likely going to be among the hardest that you’ll write — especially when they reduced the word count! (eek!). Our Stanford MBA Application Guide is ready to support you!
Your presentation across all components of your GSB application will need to be authentic, personal, and real — and yeah, we get it, nobody sets out to write essays that aren’t all of those things. It’s just that actually executing on that set of instructions is more difficult than you might currently expect. Stanford’s essays always require significant effort in introspection. It’s almost guaranteed that the first drafts you try won’t be very good.
Here’s a good starting point: REFLECTION AND INTROSPECTION AS MANDATORY FIRST STEPS!
2020 Stanford MBA Essay Questions & Recommendations
Class of 2023 GSB MBA Application
Stanford Round 2 is in 1 month, 0 weeks, 2 days (January 6).
Two essays, 1,050 words total, allocated any way you wish:
- What matters most to you, and why? (650 words suggested)
- Why Stanford? (400 words suggested)
There are also two “optional” questions — which we really don’t think you should consider as “optional”!
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 get to share up to three stories, approx 200 words each. Oh hey! We blahgged about Stanford’s optional “impact” stories here!
At least as important is the second opportunity:
Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.
They’re asking about how you might bring an element of diversity to their class! And, they’re asking how that differentiation in your background has made you into the person you are today. Lots to work with here! And, not much space. This one only permits up to ~180 words (which is ridic, given that it’s got two questions bound up in there! ugh!)
Jump down this page to a list of EssaySnark posts on these Stanford essay questions! Includes real essays we’ve reviewed for actual real-life BSers!
How do you answer them?
Given the highly competitive nature of this school, and the uniqueness of their questions, then (apologies for the upsell but) we really encourage you to pick up our full application guide for Stanford – it’s got gobs and gobs of advice, and exercises, and brainstorming ideas. We can’t toss out a pithy set of bullets here and have that be sufficient for how to answer these questions.
We will offer this, though: That first essay needs to be PERSONAL and you need to back up your answer with ideally two STORIES that prove why the answer is true. An essay is an argument, and nowhere is that more true than Stanford Essay A! The perennial Stanford essay question has been “what matters most” and so yeah, you need to go deep! And prove it! And don’t write you think will impress them. Write what you really care about in your guts.
The caution on Stanford Essay B: Gosh it’s hard to do this well. You may end up writing an essay that is technically sound, that answers the question, that includes references to Stanford stuff — which doesn’t even make the admissions folks take a second look at your application. The quality of a “why MBA/why this school” essay that could get you in almost anywhere else is unlikely to move the needle at Stanford. Here’s a trick: Everything that you say about Stanford in Essay B? Go one level deeper. Ask yourself “Why?” on each and every one. If you can capture that, then you may be operating in the right dimension for this to be a success.
Then for the short-answer questions, Stanford is inviting you to back up your claims about the big things you’re setting out as goals for yourself in Essay B, by sharing more details than you could elsewhere in the app on your achievements and the important ways you’ve added value in other contexts of your life. Pro Tip: Focus on the last three years. There might be exceptions to this (but they would be rare). The best way to advocate for a spot in the Stanford Class of 2022 is to show how you’ve made big stuff happen in the recent past. (Here’s a secret: The items you carve out in these three short examples could work awesomely great in a Harvard essay! And Wharton as well. Lots of opportunity for repurposing your big stories across these three schools.)
Our Accomplishments & Achievements App Accelerator can help you identify your best stories and learn the right structure to present them — you’ll end up with five polished nuggets of goodness that you can potentially use in all of these apps!!!
Our Stanford MBA essay guide has lots of insights around this school and the thinking that needs to go into this application.
2020 Stanford MBA recommendations (or “Letters of Reference” in their lingo)Stanford has been using mostly the same recommenders’ questions as other schools ask. In recent years, how they required the info be entered in their system was not exactly the same as other schools.
The Stanford info is here — the basics are:
- Two Letters of Reference
- Both from a direct supervisor; current manager strongly preferred, plus another one from the past or some other person who’s had access to your work product. They both can be from one company or from different companies.
- Two main questions plus one optional for your recommenders to answer; note that Question 1 is not identical to the phrasing used by other schools, and they’ve designated different word limits:
- How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (E.g. what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (500 words)
- Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (500 words)
Definitely get a recommendation from your actual boss if you can — and if you think you can’t, reconsider. The recommender’s title does not matter to the adcom; it adds no value to have your CEO write about you if the first time he met you was when you asked him to write your recommendation. You want someone who knows you well and can speak in detail about the questions they’re asking. You have a lot of leeway in who to choose for both of these but it’s definitely quite easy to make a strategic misstep. Pro Tip: Coach them to be DETAILED yet CONCISE. Longer recommendation letters are not better!
There are lots of resources for choosing your recommenders available through posts on the blahg; if you want more help, our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator walks through the specifics of various scenarios and tricky situations and lets you submit your recommenders’ strategy for feedback from EssaySnark.
Stanford 2020-2021 Dates and Deadlines for the MBA Class of 2023
- Rd 1 2020:
INTERVIEWS: The general pattern at Stanford has been that interview invites will go out for a one-month period from about the end of October through end of November, when they have Round 1 release day and set the no-luck applicants free into the wild. You can expect a similar sequence this year. Final decision is mid-December.
- Rd 2 2021: January 6
INTERVIEWS: Round 2 interview invites are typically released in a one-month window, expected to begin somewhere around the first of February. In early March, they usually have a “release”, at which time anyone not moving forward says bye-bye. Final decision is end of March.
Our SnarkStrategies MBA Guide for Stanford GSB,
available in an easy access online version.
EssaySnark Stanford MBA Essay Reviews and Advice!
Study these – but please don’t try to copy what someone else wrote about in a ‘matters most’ essay! We hope the reason for this caution is obvious. The reviews we post on the blahg for essays are much more limited than what you get with the full (and private!) Essay Decimator!
A selection from the ‘snarchive…
- Stanford GSB optional (not optional!) stories of impact (August 2020)
- A tip for Stanford Essay A – “What matters most?” (September 2019)
- An example of not answering the question. (Also: Stanford.) (September 2019)
- Setting the stage: A post about writing an essay for Stanford and then the follow-up: essay critique! The hardest essay in the world, aka Stanford “What matters most?” (May 2019)
- A test for your answer to Stanford’s “What matters most?” essay question (August 2018)
- essay critique: Stanford “What matters most and why?” (January 2017)
- Inside-out and outside-in stories (essays for Berkeley, Kellogg, Stanford) (December 2016)
- Yet another tip on writing Stanford Essay B: “Why Stanford?” (December 2016)
- Tips on Stanford Essay B: “Why Stanford?” (November 2016)
- essay critique! Stanford Essay B: “Why Stanford?” (November 2016)
- No whitewashing (relates to Stanford Essay A) (July 2016)
- A BSer wonders about applying to Harvard vs Stanford (July 2016)
- Stanford essays are out – thank you Stanford! (May 2015)
- Your first idea and your best idea (with a tip for Stanford’s “What is your favorite…?” short-answer question) (November 2015)
- essay critique: Stanford “What matters most” (March 2015)
- Stanford essay critique: “What matters most to me is sports” (September 2014)
- Stanford Essay 1: “What matters most?” (July 2014)
- Stanford Essay 1 – matters most – part 2 (July 2014)
- Stanford Essay 2 and Wharton Essay 1: Are they the same or not? (July 2014)
- Stanford and career goals (December 2013)
- Stanford’s “What matters most and why?” (May 2013)
- Three GMAT Club essay reviews:
- Essay 1: “What matters most” (August 2013)
- Essay 2: “What do you REALLY want to do?” (August 2013)
- Essay 3: “Went beyond what was defined or established” (September 2013)
You might also want to check out:
- November 2016: What makes Stanford so great?
- June 2016: Stanford’s “save the world” culture
- August 2015: A common mistake when writing essays for Stanford
- July 2015: What we recommend you don’t do when writing your essays for Stanford (huh, we have a lot of “don’t do this” posts for Stanford this year!)
- July 2015: Seeing sample essays will not help you be authentic
- June 2015: A memo to Derrick Bolton (about applicants using admissions consultants)
- June 2015: More about applicants and admissions consultants
- November 2014: Applying to H/S/W? Why “Is my GMAT good enough?” is not the right question
- November 2014: What if Stanford asks, “What other schools have you applied to?”
- November 2013: Stanford and admissions consultants
- November 2013: It’s Stanford and only Stanford for me
- September 2012: Essay advice from the one who matters most
- November 2011: Why do people’s Stanford drafts suck so much?
For Reference: Stanford’s Past-Season Questions
Included for historical purposes, in case you want to study what they’ve asked in the past – which has been largely the same for many years, though there have been some changes and tweaks each season. Be sure to check what this year’s requirements are before proceeding!Click to view last year's questions
[The essay questions for the Class of 2022 were the same as they were for the Classes of 2021, 2020 and 2019, with minor tweaks in word count and phrasing.]
What matters most, and why Stanford?
Take a cue from the way that they’ve phrased these questions and focus on personal content for Essay A — truly, make your main GSB essay show who you are. (This is where all that advice about “authenticity” comes in.) The advantage of this year’s application to the GSB is that they’ve carved out “impact” as a separate question, which signals to you that they really truly want personal content in the main essay. (PS: This is exactly the advice we’ve been offering to Brave Supplicants trying for Stanford for, like, a generation, and there are successful BSers wandering the breezeways at the GSB every year who follow this advice.)
Essay B is all about how you’re a fit to Stanford, slanted towards your appreciation for what they can do for you and showcasing why the MBA is the mandatory next step, given your interest in doing something new and important with your career — and explicitly why you feel that you MUST go to Stanford to make your dreams a reality.
If you’re thinking of trying for Stanford, please keep in mind that the average GMAT score for the GSB Class of 2019 held steady at – gulp! – 737. We’re nervous to see if it went even higher for the Class of 2020, as has happened at many other places. Stanford doesn’t admit based on GMAT score, however a high GMAT is correlated with other qualities that they care about.
Two essays, 1,150 words total, allocated any way you wish:
- What matters most to you, and why? (750 words suggested)
- Why Stanford? (400 words suggested)
The word count suggestions were slightly different for candidates doing the simultaneous MBA + MSx app (1200 words total).
In 2019, they also offered an opportunity to write on an optional (not optional!) question: Give them three soundbite statements of impact! Which, frankly, is essentially the advice we’ve been providing for applicants to Stanford for a generation, as laid out in our Stanford Essay Guide from its very first edition.
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.
[End recent years’ questions section.]
Click to view 2017 questions
2017 Stanford MBA Essay Questions
(look familiar? 😉 )
Two essays, 1,150 words total, allocated any way you wish:
- What matters most to you, and why? (750 words suggested – you will need this much space to tell your story)
- Why Stanford? (400 words suggested – which is really not much! but you’ll be able to work with it)
New this year: No peer recommendations anymore for Stanford.
[End 2017 questions section.]
Click to view 2016 questions
2016 Stanford MBA Essay Questions
- What matters most to you, and why?
- Why Stanford?
[End 2016 questions section.]
Click to view 2015 questions
2015 Stanford MBA Essay Questions & Recommendations for the Class of 2018
Stanford has made some applicant-positive changes this year AND WE HOPE OTHER SCHOOLS WILL FOLLOW SUIT. (Oh look! MIT has done so!)
Our 2015 predictions for the GSB were on target:
- Essays: Stanford is – mostly – maintaining status quo from last year, keeping the same two questions (see below).
- However GOOD NEWS! They’ve expanded the length limit!!! And, Stanford allows you to allocate the word count any way you like (this is not new, we’re just pointing it out since it’s very unique among all the bschools and their essays). Your total allocation is now 1,150 words for these two essays, which is up 50 words from last year – that is not a lot, but any little bit will help. This is positive.
- Another plus? They’ve adjusted their deadlines in a way that is HUGELY BENEFICIAL TO ALL OF YOU. It’s almost like the Stanford adcom read our recent post with suggestions on that – or maybe we’re just oddly prescient these days. 😉
- They’ve also – sort of – kept the two standard recommenders’ questions but they’ve added one more! Another big ‘yay!’ This is an optional “anything else you want to say?” question. It may sound trivial but honestly, it lets your recommenders talk in greater detail about you – so they can make a stronger case for your admission. This is a plus.
- The one downside? They actually changed the wording of the first “standardized” question – don’t these schools realize that CHANGING THEM means they’re NO LONGER STANDARDIZED?? Sheesh.
The Stanford 2015-’16 Essay Questions
Same prompts as they’ve had for awhile – and you have plenty of resources available to tackle these on this site.
EssaySnark **knows** what makes for a strong app, and (finally!!) the Stanford admissions peeps are openly saying the same things. It’s all covered in this guide. Get a head start on what to expect with this very challenging application. You’ll want to give yourself as much time as possible to work on these essays (but please don’t start writing until after you’ve figured out what to say!!! this guide explains how).
Our Stanford essay guide has been expanded for 2015 to cover more tactical angles (previous editions of this guide have been largely strategic).
And yet another plug for these guides: Stanford has recently tweaked the instructions on its website for this season, being more direct and clear with what they’re looking for in terms of essays and recommenders. Every one of these angles was already covered in our Stanford guide.
[End 2015 questions section.]
Click to view 2014 questions
2014 questions – these are OLD
There was no behavioral question in 2014, as there had been for many many years. They announced the Class of 2017 app changes on their blog on May 15, 2014.
In 2014, also Stanford streamlined the number of letters of reference that they need, down to just two, from the three that they had asked for before. They require one from your current direct supervisor (there are certain situations where it’s acceptable not to get one from your current manager, but you should do so if you possible can). The second you have flexibility with; can be a former supervisor, or a peer, though we suggest a former supervisor as typically the best option. Choose wisely, Brave Supplicant!
The Stanford MBA Admissions Blog was closed down in late 2014. Why a school would shutter its blog, we do not know. It used to be at http://www.stanford.edu/group/mba/blog/ (anyway, it was updated infrequently, even when it was live).
[End 2014 questions section.]
Click to view 2013 questions
2013 questions – these are VERY OLD
The essays are exactly the same as last year, with one teensy tiny change:
- What matters most to you, and why?
- What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?
- Choose one:
- Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
- Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.
- Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.
Essay length limits: 1600 words, divided up among the essays as you see fit. (EssaySnark recommends you stick with their suggestions, though: 750 / 450 / 400.)
The teensy-tiny change is, there’s a few “Just for Fun” questions within the application about your favorite place; last year, they asked about your favorite food.
[End 2013 questions section.]
The EssaySnark Stanford MBA guide for the 2020 application is packed with useful insights and actionable tips for how (and how NOT!) to approach your task. Brave Supplicants this year have even more help in understanding how to build a compelling set of essays and impact statements for the GSB!