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Essays help us learn about who you are rather than solely what you have done. Other parts of the application give insight to your academic and professional accomplishments; the essays reveal the character of the person behind those achievements.

When writing your essays, resist the urge to “package” yourself into what you think Stanford wants to see. Doing so will only prevent us from understanding who you really are and what you hope to accomplish. The most impressive essays are the most authentic.

Essay Questions for the Class of 2016

You are required to write two personal essays and one short-answer essay. The personal essays tell us who you are; the short-answer essay tells us about an experience that shaped you and what you aspire to do. In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, hopes, and dreams prior to writing them.

Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

A strong response to this question will:

  • Reflect the self-examination process you used to write your response.
  • Vividly and genuinely illustrate who you are and how you came to be that person.
  • Share the insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspectives, rather than focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished.
  • Be written from the heart, and will illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.

Essay 2: What do you want to do — REALLY — and why Stanford?

Use this essay to explain your view of your future, not to repeat accomplishments from your past. You should address two distinct topics:

  1. Your career aspirations
  2. Your rationale for earning your MBA at Stanford

A strong response to this essay question will:

  • Express your passions or focused interests.
  • Explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management.
  • Explain the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at the Stanford MBA Program.

Essay 3: Short-Answer Essay

Answer one of the three questions below.

  1. Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
  2. Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.
  3. Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

Your response should focus on an experience that occurred within the last three years and should include:

  • What led to the situation.
  • What you did and how you did it.
  • What the outcome was.
  • How others responded.


Your answers for all of the essay questions combined may not exceed 1,600 words. Below are suggested word counts per essay, but you should allocate the maximum word count in the way that is most effective for you.

Essay Suggested Word Count
Essay 1 750
Essay 2 450
Essay 3 400


  • 12 pt. font size
  • Double spaced
  • Recommended font types: Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman
  • Indicate the question you are answering at the beginning of each essay (does not count toward the word limit)
  • Number all pages
  • Upload one document that includes all three essays

Be sure to save a copy of your essays and preview the uploaded document to ensure the formatting is preserved.

Editing Your Essays

Begin work on the essays early to give yourself time to reflect, write, and edit.

Feel free to ask friends or family members for constructive feedback, specifically if the tone and voice sound like you; they know you better than anyone. If they feel the essays do not capture who you are, how you live, what you believe, and what you aspire to do, then surely we will be unable to recognize what is most distinctive about you.

Feedback Vs. Coaching

There is a big difference, however, between ‘feedback’ and ‘coaching’. You cross that line when any part of the application (excluding the letters of reference) ceases to be exclusively yours in either thought or word.

Appropriate feedback occurs when others review your completed application once or twice and apprise you of omissions, errors, or inaccuracies that you later correct or address. After editing is complete, your thoughts, voice, and style remain intact. Inappropriate coaching occurs when you allow others to change your application for you and, as a result, your application or self-presentation is not authentic.

It is improper and a violation of the terms of this application process to have someone else write any part of your Stanford MBA Program application. Such behavior will result in denial of your application or withdrawal of your offer of admission.

Last Updated 29 Aug 2013