Posted on June 11, 2020

Stanford GSB Essay Tips and Deadlines: 2020-21


Stanford's Graduate School of Business, the top Silicon Valley B-school, is one of the most selective business schools in the world. The school prides itself on innovation in the classroom and emphasis on new ideas and cutting-edge developments.

From the Stanford website, "Our global reputation is hard-earned. Stanford GSB offers unparalleled opportunities that will help you launch a meaningful career and make an impact."

Application Deadlines:

The deadlines for the 2020-21 season are listed below.

Round Application Deadline Admissions Decision Posted
Round 1 September 15, 2020 December 10, 2020
Round 2 January 6, 2021 April 1, 2021
Round 3 April 6, 2021  May 20, 2021

Applications are due by 4 p.m. PST on the day of the deadline. For additional information on applying, please visit the Stanford GSB admissions website.


Like previous years, the  Stanford Graduate School of Business asks MBA applicants to submit the same two required essay questions. It has reduced the word limit from 1,150-words to 1050 words, with the recommendation of using 650 words for Essay A and 400 for Essay B. All of you have your own story to tell, so please allocate these words between the essays in a way that is most effective for you. We often find effective essays written in far fewer words.

Stanford GSB offers guidelines and advice on its website for writing essays, "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 person behind those achievements. In each essay, we want to hear your genuine voice. Think carefully about your values, passions, aims, and dreams. There is no "right answer" to these questions—the best answer is the one that is truest for you."

Explicit instructions for formatting are given on Stanford Website. The essays should have double space with a number on all pages. Only one document that includes both essays is to be uploaded. The short-answer response will not be uploaded in your essays upload; use the text boxes in the application for the optional essay.

When writing Stanford essays, our best advice is simple: answer the question. Resist the urge to 'package' yourself into what you think Stanford wants to see. Doing so will only prevent you from understanding who you are and what you hope to accomplish. The most impressive essays, after all, are the most authentic ones.

Here is MER's analysis of Stanford GSB's essays:

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

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?

This is one of the most challenging essays asked by the business schools, and Stanford has asked applicants this essay question for a long time now. This essay requires you to introspect and reflect on your experiences and lessons learned along the journey. The answer to this question will reveal the undisclosed profound side of the applicant that cannot be found anywhere in the application. This essay is an opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what motivates you, and why. We would like you to do some deep self-reflection, so you can genuinely illustrate who you are and how you became the person you are. Instead of focusing merely on what you have done or accomplished, share insights, experiences, and lessons that shaped your perspective. Write from the heart, and illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you. Focus on the 'why' rather than the 'what.'

We are who we are because of the experiences and events that we have gone through in our life. To brainstorm ideas for this essay, you will need to look back and reflect on your past experiences - growing up years, schooling, college, professional life, volunteer activities, general interests, etc., and look for some common thread that runs through some or all of them. Since there is no direct answer to this essay, do not try to write a response right away. Prewriting your experiences to identify a unifying theme would be of great help. Try to focus on life experiences that have shaped your values and priorities all these years. Don't shy away from sharing the challenging experiences– often tough experiences make us stronger and instill a zeal in us to fight. Whatever stories you choose, focus on their impact on your life and your values.

As you recount your experiences, make sure to share your thought process- how you felt, thought, and reacted at that time and what lessons you eventually learned. I suggest providing a chronological account of events that have influenced your thoughts, values, and beliefs and have shaped you into a person you are now with your firm belief system and priorities. Please remember this essay is not directly about your accomplishments; it is about your values and perspectives that you have developed over the years. So, your focus has to be on the events, people, and anecdotes that made you the unique person you are today. Also, elucidate here how you have translated your values into actions. This way, your accomplishments will naturally stem from your values and priorities.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

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.

The second essay concentrates on the candidates' career goals and reasons for pursuing a management degree at Stanford. After you have explained in the first essay what matters most to you in life, you need to tell why your next step is a Stanford MBA. Explain why you are interested in pursuing an MBA, and why you specifically want to attend Stanford GSB. You need to have clarity regarding your goals and the additional training you require, which a Stanford MBA can provide.  Thorough research of the school's resources and curriculum will help you determine how the Stanford MBA program aligns with your aspirations. Instead of mapping out a specific career path in this essay, applicants should focus on defining the broad impact they aim to make on a service, a sector, or society. While Essay A is your opportunity to explain what matters most to you, Essay B allows you to show how you would use your time at Stanford to further your career and what matters most to you. In a way, Essay B picks up from where Essay A ends.

Be as specific as possible in your response to provide evidence that you have done your research. You should know everything about the aspects of the program that interest you the most. Talk about specific classes, programs, collaboration with other parts of the school, clubs, conferences, or other offerings that distinguish Stanford from other top business schools. Are there any particular courses that appeal to you most? Have you met current students and alumni? Have you attended any admission events that offered you additional insights about the programs and confirmed your decision to apply to Stanford? Are there any professors whose classes you are most excited about?

Stanford likes to see applicants who have big dreams and have the potential to realize those dreams. Be bold with your aspirations, but at the same time, be realistic in showing that you have the ability to fulfill your dreams.

Additional Information:

If there is any information that is critical for us to know and is not captured elsewhere, include it in the “Additional Information” section of the application. Pertinent examples include:

  • Extenuating circumstances affecting academic or work performance
  • Academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere

As directed in the essay prompt, you may use this essay question to address a weakness in your profile, such as employment gap, low GPA/low GMAT, completion of supplemental work, or unusual choice of the recommender, academic experience not noted elsewhere. Your weakness may also bring out a positive aspect of your personality

Common Myths about AdmissionsFinally, please go through the  video by Kristen Moss, Assistant Dean of admissions at Stanford wherein she talks about common myths that some students have about admission to Stanford and what is most important in the application process:

Free Resources:

10 Key Essay Tips with Examples

 Interviews of  Successful MER Students

Case Studies

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped many applicants get accepted into the top 20 MBA programs, including Stanford. (Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

Do you have questions about your application for the 2020-21 admission cycle? E-mail Poonam at or sign up here for a free consultation.