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Stanford GSB Essays & Analysis 2023-2024

Stanford gsb essays

The following essay topic analysis examines Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB) MBA admissions essays for the 2023-2024 admissions season. You can also review essay topic analyses for other leading MBA programs as well as general Essay Tips to further aid you in developing your admissions essays.

Stanford has asked applicants to respond to the same two questions it has asked the past several years, maintaining the 1,050 word limit from last year, with the recommendation of using 650 words for Essay A and 400 for Essay B. Two optional essays regarding candidate’s impact and background are also included in the application and Clear Admit encourages applicants to address them.

Stanford GSB Essays & Analysis 2023-2024

Let’s take a closer look at each of the Stanford GSB essays.

Stanford GSB Essay A

What matters most to you, and why? (Suggested Word Count: 650 words)

For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?
Stanford’s “What Matters Most” essay is one of the most challenging prompts from a top business school. An answer to this essay has the potential to be profound and reveal a side of an applicant that the admissions committee cannot find anywhere else in the application, which is why Stanford has asked this question for more than a dozen years. However, the question can be quite intimidating in the context of a strategic application.

Part of the reason that so many applicants struggle with this topic is because they opt to begin their brainstorming by searching for a direct answer to the question of “what matters most”–rifling through common themes like ‘helping others’, ‘the pursuit of knowledge’, ‘revolutionizing an industry’, and any number of textbook replies.  With each passing idea, candidates find themselves losing steam and fearful of getting lost in the shuffle of applicants who espouse similar views.  While starting with an answer to “what matters most” and working into the body of the essay does seem tempting (and even quite logical), our years of experience advising Stanford GSB candidates tell us that this is often a dead-end.  The good news is that we have another approach that has been wildly successful for more than 10 years.

The advice we are about to offer here may seem counterintuitive, but we actually encourage applicants to ‘work backwards’ when crafting this essay via a simple exercise (outlined below).  In short, since the purpose of this question is to let the admissions team get to know you better, you should start with who you are and all that you have experienced and accomplished, and then work backwards to find the overarching theme of “what matters most.”  Keep in mind that your direct ‘answer’ to the question here is NOT what is going to make you stand out (it may even be somewhat pedestrian), rather it is the series of anecdotes and supporting evidence you provide around that theme that will help you convey your unique candidacy to the admissions team.

So in short, if you find yourself struggling with how to answer this question, try this simple exercise:

  1. Write down the 15 to 20 most important events, accomplishments, interests, or experiences in your life. Include the good, the bad, the astounding, the ugly, etc.  Also, remember that no time frame is off limits–think of events from your early childhood to the present day.
  2. Look at the list you have generated and try to determine the themes that unify the important events, interests, and ideas in your life.
  3. Select a small number of diverse items from the list that best support a given theme and use them to define your approach and kick off the drafting process for the essay.

This exercise of working backwards allows you to not only arrive at a “what matters most” theme that really resonates with you, but also helps you find specific examples and anecdotes to help you show how you have explored what matters most to you in your life.

Stanford GSB Essay B

Why Stanford? (Suggested Word Count: 400 words)

Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
Stanford’s second essay steps away from the philosophical to focus on the candidate’s career goals and reasons for going to Stanford. Although this essay is more specific than Essay A, the “Why Stanford?” prompt is far less specific than the career goals questions of other top business schools. Instead of mapping out a specific career path in this essay, applicants should focus on defining the broad impact they hope to make on a service, a sector, or society at large through their chosen career. Essay B is strongest when it connects with Essay A. Essay A is your opportunity to lay out a philosophical explanation of what matters most to you, while Essay B gives you the opportunity to show how you would use your time at Stanford and your career to further what matters most to you. In this essay, you need to show the admissions committee that Stanford offers you benefits you can’t find at any other schools. Talk about specific classes, programs, collaboration with other parts of the school, dual degree offerings, clubs, conferences, or other offerings that set Stanford apart from other top business schools. Learning about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities–whether through an online event or conversation with alumni–will help you craft a response to Essay B that really stands out.

Optional Short Answer Question A

In this section, we provide an optional opportunity for you to discuss some of your contributions more fully.

What do we mean by “optional”? We truly mean you have the opportunity to choose. In evaluating your application, we want to know about who you are and how you think Stanford will help you achieve your aspirations. We are also interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you. If you feel that you’ve already addressed these questions well in other areas of the application, congratulations, you’re done!

If you would like to discuss your contributions more fully, this section is the place to do so. Perhaps you would like to expand upon a bullet item from your resume and tell us more about the “how” or “why” behind the “what.” Or maybe you have had impact in a way that doesn’t fit neatly in another part of the application. You are welcome to share up to three examples (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words, for each example).

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?
Unlike other optional essays, this Stanford GSB essay is clearly an opportunity to showcase your impact, and therefore should be completed. This question is a classic in terms of MBA essays; adcoms are interested in people who make an impact, whether at work, or in other avenues of their lives. They want to know you’ll make an impact while on campus at Stanford and as an alumni, as you pursue your career and life goals.  That said, this is also an optional exercise. Given the preamble to the question, you will want to be selective and ensure that you are adding meaningful content beyond that already in your application.

Whether you choose an example (or examples) from your professional or personal life, it’s important to share all the background a reader will need to appreciate the story before clearly outlining the actions you took and the results you achieved. The more detail you’re able to provide about your role in achieving a positive outcome, the easier it will be for you to accurately demonstrate your leadership skills. It would also be worth commenting on why the impact was meaningful to you or others, as this could help you show how you value Stanford’s mission statement of “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” Perhaps you are lucky enough to have a strong example for each—lives, organizations and world—but it would make sense to keep this mission statement in mind as you reflect on your impact.

Optional Additional Context

We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. With this question we provide you with an optional opportunity to elaborate on how your background or life experiences have helped shape your recent actions or choices. (1,200 characters, maximum)
This question appears in the Personal Information section of the application after applicants need to fill-in and check-off “facts and pre-defined categories.” With this question, the adcom is trying to understand how your background has shaped your perspective. In reflecting on what to potentially share, consider what you were able to cover in the required essays. Truly effective applications will find a way to make this response work in conjunction with Essays 1 and 2, reinforcing themes, complementing the ideas already presented, and completing the picture of who you are. With a limit of 200 words, it would behoove applicants to be concise about their motivation, touching on the defining category that Stanford mentioned in the preamble. Then, connect this background information to the recent situation, interaction or project. Be explicit about how your background influenced your recent actions.

Optional Additional Information

We are deliberate in the questions we ask. We believe that we get to know you well through all of the elements of your application. Complete this section only if you have critical information you could not convey elsewhere on your application (e.g., extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance). This section should not be used as an additional essay.

The admissions committee provides some clear guidance about “allowable” topics for this Stanford MBA essay, indicating that it will be best used to address liabilities in one’s application. It’s possible that there are other elements of one’s background that would be appropriate and not covered elsewhere in one’s application—for example an anticipated promotion—though the wording of this prompt suggests that it should be used sparingly (i.e. that applicants should make an effort to fully represent their candidacies within the required elements of the application).

Clear Admit Resources

Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s GSB MBA essay topics. As you work on your GSB MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Stanford offerings: