Applicant begins writing their Stanford GSB essays.

How to Write the Stanford GSB Essays

November 17, 2023
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Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. What are the Stanford GSB EssaysPart 3. What is the Purpose of the Stanford GSB Essays? Part 4. What Is Stanford GSB Looking for in the Essays?Part 5. Step by Step Guide on Writing the Stanford GSB Essays Part 6. Stanford GSB Essay Examples and What Made Them SuccessfulPart 7. Top Tips for Creating Memorable Essays Part 8. Stanford GSB Essay FAQsPart 9. Excel on the Stanford GSB Essays, Ace the Application


Now that you’ve decided you want to apply for an MBA at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford GSB), you need to craft an application that will demonstrate your professional skills, experience, and academic record. You will also need to showcase your skills as a writer, your aspirations, and your individuality. 

The Stanford GSB essays are a crucial component of your Stanford application; they will illuminate your voice and authentic self to the admissions committee. Although writing the Stanford GSB essays can seem like a daunting task, this guide will help you understand, execute, and perfect your essays.

What are the Stanford GSB Essays?

The Stanford GSB essays are two personal essays you'll complete as part of your application to Stanford. The infamous ‘essay A’ asks applicants, “What matters most to you, and why?” 

Stanford’s website encourages applicants to “write from the heart” and be genuine about what matters most to you and to make an argument for why it is so important. 

Essay B, on the other hand, asks applicants, “Why Stanford?” 

This essay provides the opportunity to describe your personal aspirations and how Stanford fits around them. 

Stanford also allows you to submit several optional short answer essay questions. These questions are completely optional and provide you with more words to discuss topics you may not have been able to address elsewhere in your application. The first prompt reads: 

“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?” 

This prompt allows you to provide up to three examples to discuss your resume further. 

The other optional short-answer Stanford GSB essay question asks you to:

“Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project.”

This essay facilitates discussion about your background, like education, work, skills, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender identity. 

Stanford GSB Essay Length

Both Essay A and B together should not exceed 1,050 words. 

Stanford recommends writing no more than 650 words for essay A and no more than 400 words for essay B. Stanford asks that all essays are double-spaced and submitted in one document with numbered pages. 

For Stanford’s optional question A, you can provide up to three 200-word responses. You should write around 200 words for Stanford’s optional question B essay. 

This length constraint may seem restrictive, but being concise and adopting the “less is more” approach can make for a particularly effective essay. As Stanford notes, “We often find effective essays that are written in fewer words.” 

What Is the Purpose of the Stanford GSB Essays? 

The rest of your application includes everything you need to make a good impression: adequate work experience, high grades, a lengthy list of extracurriculars, and a stellar resume

Stanford understands that you are more than the sum of your total experiences and credentials laid out on these pages. The Stanford GSB essays humanize your application and demonstrate to the admissions committee what makes you unique. 

Stanford GSB Essay A

Essay A is a deeply personal and subjective essay. There is no such thing as a perfect topic to write about here. 

The question, “What matters to you most, and why?” is purposefully tricky to answer as it forces you to delve deep into yourself and choose something that is most important to you. That is easier said than done, especially when so many of us have many great things in our lives that are important to us, like our families, friends, and jobs. 

Some may take the route of writing about big-picture ideas like eliminating poverty, ending world hunger, or halting climate change. But essay A is not the space to write what you think Stanford wants to hear, and doing so would be doing yourself a disservice. 

Derrick Bolton, the former Stanford admissions director, said that your essay 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.” 

Some applicants write about controversial or uncomfortable topics, whereas others write about how they want to impact the world, or how their weaknesses have helped cultivate their strengths. 

Ultimately, how you want to portray your individuality and what you choose to write about is entirely up to you. 

Stanford GSB Essay B

Essay B reflects your personal reasons for applying to Stanford. This writing demonstrates why Stanford is the best fit for you and how completing your Stanford MBA will help you achieve your goals. 

Although you have a tight word limit to explain why Stanford is the school for you, you want to be specific to show that you researched the school and program. You also need to explain how Stanford’s program is a significant stepping stone to achieving your career and personal goals. 

You should have an understanding of your industry and what your working life could look like post-MBA. The other purpose of this essay is to demonstrate how your admittance will enrich Stanford’s class. 

Stanford Optional Short Answer Question A 

The optional question A is focused on uncovering more about you beyond your resume. 

Specifically, Stanford is “... interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you.” While you can write about your most impactful experiences in the Stanford GSB Essay A, this prompt allows you to go beyond your resume. 

Perhaps you didn’t have enough words to discuss your love of photography in Essay A. In that case, this optional essay allows you to discuss your contributions more fully. 

Of course, you shouldn’t use this essay to ramble on about why you love Stanford. Write about that in your “why Stanford essay.” Instead, answer the question’s main focus — what positive impact did you create, and what made it significant? 

Write about your impact on a situation and emphasize your skills and abilities that will help you achieve academic and professional success. If you can point to your stellar leadership skills, you will show you are ready for an MBA.  

Stanford Optional Short Answer Question B

Stanford’s optional short answer question B asks you to discuss your background. “Background” is purposefully defined broadly. So, you can write about almost anything, ranging from your socioeconomic status to gender identity. 

Perhaps you chose to pursue a part-time job in college because of your gender identity. In that case, explain how and why your background influenced your decision. Self-reflection is key here.

What Is Stanford GSB Looking for in the Essays?

Stanford’s admissions team uses your Stanford GSB application essays to get to know you beyond your academic achievements. 

Specifically, they want to read about your experiences and hear your “genuine voice.” Each Stanford MBA essay is designed to allow you to open up to the admissions committee. Being authentic is vital here; Stanford’s admissions officers can tell if you are not genuine in your responses. 

There is no “right” or “perfect” answer to Stanford’s prompts. As Stanford says, “... the best answer is the one that is truest for you.” 

Looking at Stanford example essays is helpful, as they show you how other applicants have written about their lives. But they are written by other applicants with different experiences. 

Reflect on your own experiences in your Stanford business school essay, and you’ll increase your chances of admission. 

Step-by-step Guide to Writing the Stanford GSB Essays

Writing the Stanford GSB essays can be a daunting task; you may be asking yourself, “How can I effectively convey all that I want to in so few words?” 

Writing an effective essay about yourself can feel challenging, especially with such a low word limit. These essays are quite different from essays you may have done as an undergrad, where long essays are part of the curriculum. 

Remember that these essays are designed to be challenging, and it’s OK to find them difficult. This step-by-step guide will help get you started and provide tips to write a great essay. 

Stanford GSB Essay A

1. Pick Your Topic 

The first step to any essay is to pick your topic. 

For the Stanford GSB essay A, the best course is to brainstorm; think about all the things that are important to you and why you consider them important. Also, think about your achievements and why you set out to achieve them. 

2. Create an Outline 

After you’ve compiled a list, you can narrow down your topic and begin writing. A bullet-pointed list outlining your Stanford MBA essay’s rough structure will help you develop an overall framework.

3. Start Writing 

You can build upon the points you want to touch on and use supporting points as the foundation of your essay. Your essay should be easily separated into three parts:

  1. Introduction 
  2. Body paragraphs
  3. Conclusion 

Your introduction will introduce the topic, the body paragraphs will provide evidence to support your writing, and your conclusion will wrap up your essay neatly. 

4. Create Your Introduction 

Your introduction should captivate the reader immediately. The introduction is often where candidates introduce a relevant anecdote. 

Many people find it helpful to complete their introduction after the main essay is complete. It’s suitable to begin with your introduction or dive right into the body of your essay.

5. Write the Body 

The body of your essay should provide specific examples related to your anecdote. You should discuss what you’ve learned or gained from your experience. 

6. Write Your Conclusion 

Your conclusion should summarize your main points and reference the future you want. It should also leave the reader feeling satisfied that Stanford will help you toward that future. 

Stanford GSB Essay B

1. Brainstorm Why You Want to Attend Stanford 

With the “why Stanford” MBA essay, because you already have your topic, you will want to work out your specific reasons for why Stanford is the school for you. 

Again, brainstorming reasons will help you develop the framework of your essay. Does the school culture excite you? Are you looking to make connections within Silicon Valley?

2. Create an Outline 

Jot down every reason you can think of to narrow down your argument. Similar to essay A, your essay should have an identifiable introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. 

3. Create Your Introduction

Your “why Stanford” essay introduction should immediately explain your interest in Stanford. Why is Stanford the school you want to go to? Alternatively, you can start writing the body of your essay first and return to the introduction after.

4. Write the Body 

The body of your essay should highlight some of your achievements and what you have learned from your experiences. You can also relate your background to classes offered in the program and how they would help you grow. 

5. Write Your Conclusion 

Your conclusion should leave the reader satisfied that Stanford is the only school for you. Be passionate, and be specific. 

For both essays, remember to revise, revise, revise. Your essays should be free of all grammar and spelling mistakes and should flow well. Be sure to read your writing aloud to see how it reads as this can help identify possible errors or substantive issues.

Stanford GSB Essay Examples and What Made Them Successful

Reviewing Stanford essay examples is a great way to understand how your writing should generally look, feel, and flow. Below are two compelling essay examples of Stanford GSB essays that worked. 

These are paragraphs taken from full examples of Stanford essays that worked and are not complete essays alone. To better understand the essays’ makeup, the introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs are labeled. 

Stanford What Matters Most to You and Why Essay Example

What matters most to you, and why?

Sample Introduction:

One evening during a winter break in college, I was driving home and saw my disabled neighbor on our street, slumped over in his driveway, sobbing. I jumped out of my car and ran. 

The ramp to his house was obstructed by a few recently dropped off packages, and he badly needed to use the restroom, having been stuck there for almost an hour. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and former breadwinner, dehumanized by his disability and utterly helpless in this moment. 

Sample Body Paragraph:

I’m driven by finding answers to the most complex, most challenging problems faced by humanity; the ones that are too daunting, or those that go unrecognized. I had to do something. 

So, I rallied a friend, and together we built a low-cost, AI-driven speech-recognition platform that enabled voice-activated control over electronic systems in a household, thus affording increased independence to individuals suffering from ALS and multiple sclerosis. 

It was an exercise in creativity and persistence, and quite daunting at the outset. But, in the end, our solution worked, and cost a fraction of a now commercially available solution like Alexa.

Sample Conclusion:

In the long run, by proving the benefits of AI-driven healthcare to the world, I want to build an enterprise that not only develops sophisticated technology that improves quality of life but also molds the underlying fabric of healthcare policy. 

Like Uber or Airbnb, I dream of leading an organization that fundamentally shifts the contemporary regulatory paradigm in healthcare to one that appropriately reflects both the medical and psychological needs of the modern patient.

We’re all companions on a journey through life; the same random forces that imbue me with good health compel countless others to live in a state of constant suffering. Humanity is a gift, and I have a social and moral responsibility to empower others to live life with passion, dignity, and hope. It is a mission I am dedicated to for the rest of my life.

What Made This Essay Effective?

  • The beginning of this Stanford MBA essay sample immerses the reader immediately into the story the student is telling. The rich anecdote is an excellent starting point to lead the rest of their writing, and we instantly want to know more about their journey. 
  • The student’s motivations and passions are illuminated and supported throughout the essay. 
  • The student demonstrated how they have worked with their passions and motivations creatively to develop a tool to increase independence for individuals living with disabilities.
  • The student’s conclusion articulates their long-term goal and restates their passion. The student explained how they plan to dedicate themselves to their cause and improve others’ quality of life.
  • The essay leaves the reader satisfied due to its genuineness.

Why Stanford Essay Example

Why Stanford?

Example Introduction:

Silicon Valley is the cradle of global innovation, a melting pot of creators and visionaries. Its one-of-a-kind community paces the world in invention, creativity, and impact. Stanford is at the nucleus of this ecosystem. 

I dream of building a company that pushes the frontiers of AI to fundamentally reshape the global health paradigm, and the GSB MBA offers unparalleled opportunities to explore myself and my passions on that journey.

Example Body Paragraph:

One important lesson I have learned through my experiences as an inventor is the importance of creativity in navigating constraints and creating lasting impact. I once spent months in rural [Country], with limited materials and guidance, building a [medical device]. Only much later, following conversation with a colleague, did I realize I was intuitively applying design thinking and frugal innovation principles in solving challenges. 

I now want a structured education in accessible, cost-effective, and human-centric design through courses such as Design for Health, which will be invaluable in realizing my mission of improving the quality of life for the disabled.

Example Conclusion:

Steve Jobs once famously said that you can only connect the dots in hindsight. I plan to spend my future creating impactful, long-term change in healthcare. When I reflect on life down the road, I am confident I will see my time at Stanford GSB as the brightest dot along the journey.

What Made This Essay Effective? 

  • The student immediately states why they’re interested in attending Stanford and discusses how they will fit into the school. 
  • They discuss what they’ve learned in their experiences. This shows that they are mature, reflective, and self-aware. 
  • They link their experiences to a specific course at Stanford. This shows that the student has researched the program and is excited about Stanford’s course offerings. 
  • This is an exciting and confident conclusion. The student summarizes where they expect to be in the future and how Stanford will help propel them to that goal.

Top Tips for Crafting Memorable Essays 

You want to make sure that your essays stand out for their exceptional quality; it’s not enough to develop pieces that get your point across but come off as formulaic and uncreative. 

Below we have compiled a few top tips for Essay A and B to ensure your essays help you stand out in the best way possible. You can also use these tips if you are struggling to understand how to write the Stanford short essays.

Be a Storyteller

Stanford GSB admissions readers are looking for rich anecdotes and well-crafted stories in essay A

Your unique experience is important — and a story worth telling. These elements will entice the reader to want to know more about you and your passions. These stories can be emotional and humanize you and your aspirations to the admissions committee. 

Think about the central theme for your essay, and relay a supporting anecdote. Be sure to give context to help the reader understand why this topic is so important to you. Don’t be afraid to get personal

Watch the Length and Keep It Fairly Simple 

When you’re writing about yourself, it can be tempting to write pages and pages to make sure you’re getting your point across. After all, you’re the only expert on the subject! But keep things concise, easily digestible, and confident. 

This assignment is not the space to show off your long-winded creative writing skills and detailed description. It’s also not the space to impress the admissions committee by writing what you think they want to hear. 

Your writing shouldn’t have any frills that can dilute or muddle your answer. Remember to keep things simple, be genuine, and be confident — these are the best ways to set yourself up for success. 

Do Not Focus on Your Accomplishments 

Your essays are not meant to be an opportunity to expand or regurgitate your previous work experience. Your essays can highlight things that you haven’t already discussed. Your resume and letters of recommendation already summarize your professional experiences — this an assignment to show your vulnerability and thoughtfulness. 

If there is an accomplishment that encompasses your passions that you haven’t previously discussed, that is OK. Talk about a person, event, or place that has shaped you. Your essay should give the admissions committee a glimpse at the real person behind the accolades.

Do Your School Research 

Stanford GSB essay B calls for you to do adequate school research. Think about why Stanford is the perfect school for you, and let your research support you. Are there classes, clubs, events, or program elements that will help you realize your goals? 

Be as specific as you can to demonstrate that you have done more than casually surf the school’s website. Your research will help you craft a stellar essay. 

There are No ‘Right’ Answers 

There are no right or wrong ways to write both of your Stanford GSB essays. Your story is yours to tell in whatever way you see fit. If your writing honestly reflects your passions, motivations, and dreams, you are on the right track. 

If you feel yourself agonizing and poring over every line, your essays may not be your brand of “right” quite yet. It sounds a little scary to rely on your intuition and to open up, but you will reap the rewards. 

Stanford GSB Essay FAQs

Writing the Stanford GSB essays isn't easy. However, we’ve put together several questions and answers to help you write killer MBA essays. 

1. How do I submit my Stanford GSB essays? 

You should upload essays electronically in one document. Preview the document to make sure that the formatting of your writing does not change. 

2. What’s the best way to go about editing my essays? 

Beyond checking your essays for plagiarism issues and spelling and grammar mistakes, you should also reflect on your essays’ flow and voice. 

Read your essays aloud and see if they sound and feel right.  An unbiased professional opinion is the best way to polish your essays. The experience of a professional review of your essays would be priceless. 

3. What if I want to exceed the word limit on my essays to fit in everything I want to say?

Exceeding the word limit is not recommended. Stanford is looking for MBA candidates who can write concise and compelling essays about themselves and their aspirations. Try to stay within the recommended 650 words for essay A and 400 words for essay B. 

4. Am I allowed to receive feedback on my essays from consulting services? 

Yes. You are allowed to have your essays reviewed after completion — appropriate feedback is when omissions or errors are addressed and you correct them after. Your thoughts and voice should remain the same. 

Inappropriate coaching occurs when someone else has crafted any part of your essay for you. If this happens, your essays are no longer an accurate representation of you and violate terms. Your application will then either be denied or revoked. 

5. What are the optional essays? 

There are two additional optional essays that candidates can complete as part of their application. The first is, “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?” This essay gives you the chance to discuss your resume further. You can provide up to three examples for a total of 600 words, or 200 words per example. 

The second optional essay asks, “Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation at work or school.” This essay facilitates discussion about your background, like education, work, skills, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender identity. The word limit for this essay is approximately 200 words. 

6. Will it hurt my chances if I do not write the optional essays? 

The optional essays are just that — optional. If you feel that you’ve already addressed these topics in your application, there is no need. 

But if you want to expand on something that you may not have discussed already, feel free to complete these optional essays. Stanford has accepted applicants who have not completed these additional essays and has not accepted applicants who have completed them.

Excel on the Stanford GSB Essays, Ace the Application

Writing the Stanford GSB essays can be an intimidating task, but this guide should help you polish your essays to perfection. Remember to keep the purpose of both essays in mind as you write. Make sure that your writing is answering the questions that Stanford is asking. 

The step-by-step guide above can help you to complete your essay. The sample Stanford essays that worked illustrated above will help give you an idea of what makes a great Stanford GSB essay. The tips shared in the article will assist you in the memorability of your essay. 

Remember to tell your stories authentically and be genuine in your Stanford GSB essays, and you will be on the path to success.

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