Stanford GSB Essay A: Five Tips to Help Craft Your Essay

Stanford GSB Essay A: Five Tips to Help Craft Your Essay

August 10, 2020

For more than a dozen years, Stanford's GSB admissions essay A has been a short, open-ended prompt that applicants mull over before writing and crafting a narrative that they think, hope, and pray meets the mark. The question: “What matters most to you, and why?” seems fairly simple at first glance. Several things might come to mind as you start writing this essay - family, tackling climate change, eliminating poverty, ending child trafficking. All of these are noble responses, but herein lies the challenge – although there are no wrong answers, some might certainly be more underwhelming than others. The more you think, the more frustrating it becomes. 

But here's the good news; since it has been the admissions essay question for so long, there are some tried-and-true tips. These tips will make it easier for you to come up with your answer and help you write a great essay that will "wow" the essay readers. 

Here are five tips to craft your Stanford GSB admissions Essay A: 

1. Start by listing 5-7 accomplishment that you're proud of

Grab a pen and paper and write down the things that you've done and are most proud of whether they be finally overcoming struggles with dyslexia and developing a love of reading at age 12 to being selected to lead a team of colleagues in developing a new product for your current employer.

There is no time frame, so dig deep in your memory.You might be surprised at what all you remember, and the story that can be told about it. Start off with a nice long list. Then narrow it down to a dozen, and then down to six. As you list and narrow these achievements, think about ‘why’ they were important. Eventually, a theme will emerge.

2. Don't focus on achievements in the forms of accolades

This essay isn't meant to be an expansion of your business school resume. It's a closer look at you as a person, the real,live person behind the resume. It's to show the application’s readers what you value most and the 'why' behind it. It is about an influence or experience in your life that has shaped you into the person you are today.

3. Include rich anecdotes that evoke emotion

This essay is meant to be real, honest, and open. Once you know the central theme of your essay, you need to craft the story around it. This narrative will show your emotion,your pain, your happiness, and your success, which will be instrumental in walking the reader through your thought process and personal development.

Anecdotes are essential to this and will help the admissions team get a more holistic understanding of you. They will give the reader context, help them understand your actions and the reason why the topic matters so much to you. Remember that for this essay, nothing is off limits. Poets & Quants reports that Derrick Bolton, a former Stanford GSB admissions director once said, “Essay A should be so personal that if you were working on it at 2 AM and accidentally printed a copy to your office printer, you would break out in a cold sweat, grab the keys, floor it and drive as fast as you could to the office to snatch the essay before anyone could read it.” Aim for that level of personalization. 

4. Don't forget: there's no right answer

The beauty of an open-ended essay question like this one is that there's no perfect response. The story you choose to tell, along with how the experience has influenced you as a person, your career path, or your future dreams, is the right one.

You'll know if it's the right one for you by the way you write it. If your draft comes together naturally and you don’t feel the need to overthink and analyze each sentence because it is honestly reflecting you and your background, then you’re on the right track. Once you've come up with a rough draft, share it with others and ask for their feedback. Choose someone who knows you well. They will be able to tell you if they see your passion in your essay or not. If there's no passion, you are probably better off switching to another story. 

5. Brainstorm with family and friends

There's no reason to write this all alone, nor should you. Ask for the input of your family and friends who can not only help you come up with ideas of things you might have forgotten but also provide a different perspective. They can help you ensure that it is a true reflection of who you are. After you spend hours writing and editing they can help with the blind spots and ensure that you have a strong and cohesive voice.

Now it's time to start thinking about your Stanford GSB admissions essay. Expect to put in the work on this, but we promise that if you follow these tips you’ll be able to write a powerful and moving essay that shows who you are and why you deserve a place at Stanford GSB.

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