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A Conversation with Kirsten Moss of Stanford GSB

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For those who may not have looked at our essays, we really ask two key questions. The first is, “What matters most and why?” And the second is, “Why Stanford?”

The essays focus on some very big questions – what you value and how Stanford will enable you to realize your ambitions.. We believe that reflecting on the answers to these questions is critical for a leader to be successful. The key thing to keep in mind as you sit down to write the essays is to answer them for yourself – not for us. These essays are compelling when they speak your truth. And if you do not know your truth yet, there is no better moment than now to figure it out.

Common mistakes in what matters most and why is speaking about the people and events that have impacted you – but not taking the additional step of letting us know how they have shaped who you are, how you behave, and what you want. We are looking for the entire package to get a real understanding of who you are.

I have asked our admitted students how they went about figuring out their answers to our essay questions. And one of the common responses is journaling. You can jot down some bullet points before you go to bed at night. Perhaps write down what you think you value. And then each day after that, go a little bit deeper. If you wrote down you value your hometown, why did you choose that? What’s underneath that choice? How has that hometown shaped who you are today? What aspects of your hometown are most compelling to you? And once you ask yourself why four or five times, you’ll start to get to the heart of what really matters. By the way, you can’t do this journaling the week before the deadline. Hopefully you start several weeks before, if not a month or two.

I also personally believe if you can start with the stories that you’re most proud of, you may be able to find a common theme. There is likely a reason you’ve worked hard on these achievements or these outcomes. There’s some motivation that ties them together. If you look at how you’ve been spending your time and what you’re proud of, that could give you some clues to help you articulate your values.

I have read thousands of essays throughout my career, and luckily at Stanford GSB, I have the great fortune to be reading what I think to be the most important story you can tell me about yourself. I learn what you care about and what experiences have shaped you as a human.

When I meet a student at admit weekend and get to finally put the essay to a human face, it is especially meaningful to me. While I likely won’t remember a student’s GPA or test score, I often remember what matters most to them. No two essays are the same. No one else can paint a picture of you in the way you can.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.