What matters most to you and why: Stanford GSB Essay

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Stanford GSB seeks outstanding and diverse people who seek a transformative experience at Stanford GSB and in turn, seek to transform lives, organizations and the world — that is, to make a significant impact. The GSB is looking for people who will make a big difference and have a better shot than most in being able to execute. Stanford GSB students often have an ‘unexpected’ trait, talent, or experience. The Stanford application essays are essential to showcasing character and experiences as well as the key evaluation criteria of leadership, intellectual vitality, and personal qualities.

SBC has three former Stanford GSB Admissions Officers and multiple GSB MBA graduates who deeply know the nuances of applying to the GSB successfully. If you’d like to speak with one of our Principals about your candidacy, please request a free analysis here.

Successful Examples of Stanford GSB Essays

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team .

HBS Admissions Board at Harvard Business School HBS MBA

HBS Admissions Board at Harvard Business School Kellogg MBA

Director HBS Admissions at Harvard Business School MBA, the Wharton School

HBS Admissions Board at Harvard Business School

Director HBS Admissions at Harvard Business School HBS MBA

Admissions Officer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB) MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB)

Asst Director MBA Admissions at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB) Director MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

MBA, Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB) Minority Admissions, the GSB Diversity Programs, the GSB

Associate Director MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

Associate Director MBA Admissions and Marketing at the Wharton MBA’s Lauder Institute

Director, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania Professional Writer

Assistant Director MBA Admissions at Columbia Business School (CBS) NYU Admissions

Assistant Director MBA Admissions at Columbia Business School (CBS) M.S.Ed, Higher Education, U of Pennsylvania

Associate Director MBA Admissions at Columbia Business School (CBS)

Ashley is a former MBA Admissions Board Member for Harvard Business School (HBS), where she interviewed and evaluated thousands of business school applicants for over a six year tenure.  Ashley  holds an MBA from HBS. During her HBS years,  Ashley  was the Sports Editor for the Harbus and a member of the B-School Blades Ice Hockey Team. After HBS, she worked in Marketing at the Gillette Company on Male and Female shaving ...

Kerry is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS). During her 5+ year tenure at HBS, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a wide range of backgrounds across the globe. She also led marketing and outreach efforts focused on increasing diversity and inclusion, ran the Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP), and launched the 2+2 Program during her time in Admissions. Kerry holds a B.A. from Bates College and  ...

A former associate director of admissions at Harvard Business School, Pauline served on the HBS MBA Admissions Board full-time for four years. She evaluated and interviewed HBS applicants, both on-campus and globally.  Pauline's career has included sales and marketing management roles with Coca-Cola, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, and IBM.  For over 10 years, Pauline has expertly guided MBA applicants, and her clients h ...

Geri is a former member of the Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS).  In her 7 year tenure in HBS Admissions, she read and evaluated hundreds of applications and interviewed MBA candidates from a diverse set of academic, geographic, and employment backgrounds.  Geri also traveled globally representing the school at outreach events in order to raise awareness for women and international students.  In additio ...

Laura comes from the MBA Admissions Board at Harvard Business School (HBS) and is an HBS MBA alumnus. In her HBS Admissions role, she evaluated and interviewed hundreds of business school candidates, including internationals, women, military and other applicant pools, for five years.  Prior to her time as a student at HBS, Laura began her career in advertising and marketing in Chicago at Leo Burnett where she worked on th ...

Andrea served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.  In this role, she provided strategic direction for student yield-management activities and also served as a full member of the admissions committee. In 2007, Andrea launched the new 2+2 Program at Harvard Business School – a program targeted at college junior applicants to Harvard Business School.  Andrea has also served as a Career Coach for Harvard Business School for both cu ...

Jennifer served as Admissions Officer at the Stanford (GSB) for five years. She holds an MBA from Stanford (GSB) and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Jennifer has over 15 years experience in guiding applicants through the increasingly competitive admissions process into top MBA programs. Having read thousands and thousands of essays and applications while at Stanford (GSB) Admiss ...

Erin served in key roles in MBA Admissions--as Director at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Assistant Director at Stanford's Graduate School of Business (GSB). Erin served on the admissions committee at each school and has read thousands of applications in her career. At Haas, she served for seven years in roles that encompassed evaluation, outreach, and diversity and inclusion. During her tenure in Admissions at GSB, she was responsible for candidate evaluation, applicant outreach, ...

Susie comes from the Admissions Office of the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she reviewed and evaluated hundreds of prospective students’ applications.  She holds an MBA from Stanford’s GSB and a BA from Stanford in Economics. Prior to advising MBA applicants, Susie held a variety of roles over a 15-year period in capital markets, finance, and real estate, including as partner in one of the nation’s most innovative finance and real estate investment organizations. In that r ...

Dione holds an MBA degree from Stanford Business School (GSB) and a BA degree from Stanford University, where she double majored in Economics and Communication with concentrations in journalism and sociology. Dione has served as an Admissions reader and member of the Minority Admissions Advisory Committee at Stanford.   Dione is an accomplished and respected advocate and thought leader on education and diversity. She is ...

Anthony served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise. During his time as a Wharton Admissions Officer, he read and reviewed thousands of applications and helped bring in a class of 800+ students a year.   Anthony has traveled both domestically and internationally to recruit a ...

Meghan served as the Associate Director of Admissions and Marketing at the Wharton MBA’s Lauder Institute, a joint degree program combining the Wharton MBA with an MA in International Studies. In her role on the Wharton MBA admissions committee, Meghan advised domestic and international applicants; conducted interviews and information sessions domestically and overseas in Asia, Central and South America, and Europe; and evaluated applicants for admission to the program. Meghan also managed ...

Amy comes from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania where she was Associate Director. Amy devoted 12 years at the Wharton School, working closely with MBA students and supporting the admissions team.  During her tenure at Wharton, Amy served as a trusted adviser to prospective applicants as well as admitted and matriculated students.  She conducted admissions chats with applicants early in the admissions ...

Ally brings six years of admissions experience to the SBC team, most recently as an Assistant Director of Admission for the full-time MBA program at Columbia Business School (CBS).  During her time at Columbia, Ally was responsible for reviewing applications, planning recruitment events, and interviewing candidates for both the full-time MBA program and the Executive MBA program. She traveled both internationally and dome ...

Erin has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU's Stern School of Business. At Columbia Business School, Erin was an Assistant Director of Admissions where she evaluated applications for both the full time and executive MBA programs, sat on the admissions and merit scholarship committees and advised applicants on which program might be the best fit for them based on their work experience and pro ...

Emma comes from the MBA Admissions Office at Columbia Business School (CBS), where she was Associate Director.  Emma conducted dozens of interviews each cycle for the MBA and EMBA programs, as well as coordinating the alumni ambassador interview program. She read and evaluated hundreds of applications each cycle, delivered information sessions to audiences across the globe, and advised countless waitlisted applicants.

Respect is the one word that sums up my life’s passions. At first glance, this simple word may seem a bit vacuous to describe something so profound to my being. But respect has truly been the guiding principle in my life: the one that I learned at an early age, the one that has influenced my decisions, and the one that drives me today.

As the son of American expatriates, I was raised abroad in a sea of diversity. To foster our development, my parents immersed my brother and me in local culture. We attended bullfights and visited flea markets tucked into the hillsides of the Andes Mountains. Living and interacting with residents of these distant lands taught us to respect those different than us. Through active involvement with the local heritage and customs, we learned that people are people everywhere and that all initially deserve my consideration and respect.

As I matured, this worldview guided my social interactions and ultimately shaped my diverse group of friends. The lessons of respect, taught from my experiences abroad, have given me an open and accepting personality. When I meet new people, I consider their circumstances and try to appreciate their point of view. As we learn about each other, it’s those select occurrences when a new person treats me with the same regard – considers my feelings and returns the respect I bestow – that we initiate the bonds of true friendship. This dogma has helped me forge a diverse band of brothers that serves as a foundation in my life. I met one of my adopted brothers in high school. He was a Russian immigrant whose parents had forsaken him at age 16. He worked the night shift at McDonald’s to support himself, but was kind enough to buy me, a stranger, dinner. A man who would offer so much when he had so little, especially to a stranger, earned my respect. He represents a fraction of my extended family. While each of my companions holds different and important beliefs, our underlying respect ties us together.

My grandfather furthered my lessons on respect. Born in Russia in 1927, he immigrated to the United States at age 21 as the Communist Party planted its roots. As a displaced immigrant, he arrived without friends and knowing little English. Nevertheless, he held two jobs, attended night school and completed his mechanical engineering degree in nine years – all while supporting a growing family of five. My grandfather’s life story and his sacrifices have instilled a strong work ethic in me. More importantly, the admiration I have for his achievements has engendered my deepest respect. His accomplishments taught me to respect my past and seize opportunities to honor those who came before me. While not an explicit lesson, I have applied these values to the core of my decision-making process. To dismiss what was surrendered for my well-being is to disrespect my heritage.

Respect drove my decision to attend the University of Alabamaon a merit-based scholarship. Although I had other options, I felt that my family had worked very hard to support me, and the opportunity to earn my education at minimal cost would, in some small way, repay my family. I remembered my grandfather’s teachings as I earned my degree. Given my free tuition, I crammed my schedule with courses in biological engineering and finance. I joined a prominent fraternity and established a tutoring program for struggling members. Using my personal computer, I formed a small online business to generate revenue for personal expenses. Having the luxury of some free time, I invested myself in community service activities. Teachings of respect have guided my life. They influence the way I interact, the way I make decisions, and the way I want others to treat me. Respect is at the heart of my friendships, and it is respect that gives me my drive to succeed. I strive to respect myself and earn respect from my family, friends, and co-workers, as well as from those who I have yet to meet. My values of respect have shaped me and will continue to define me.

When I was a little girl, my dream was to grow up and marry the king of Morocco. Yes, I admit, I wanted to be a queen, wear beautiful clothes, and live in a marvelous palace. But deep inside of me, I think I also wanted to play a role in Morocco’s destiny, to help lead it into an era of modernity. For me, the king of Morocco represented the Moroccan people and, as such, was the person who could do the most for our country. To my young mind, he seemed like the ideal partner to accompany me in my crusade. Growing up, I became more realistic and gave up the marriage goal. (Both the king of Morocco and I are married, so there is not a big chance of it happening anyway!). However, I still maintain dreams of helping Morocco develop. Accepting responsibility for these dreams has meant accepting that the path that best enables me to accomplish them may actually require me to live outside Morocco for some time. What matters most to me is keeping in touch with my Moroccan roots and doing what I can to give back to where I came from.

?My first sixteen years in Morocco contributed to my deep love for its rich traditions, varied culture, and contradictions. The Moroccan people are very warm and friendly. Strangers are welcomed into private homes and invited to share meals from the same plate. The Moroccan idea of family is much broader than in the West: it encompasses parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbors, even friends. In fact, following custom, I call my mother’s girlfriends “aunt.” Since a typical family gathering may include 100 people, I usually bump into a lot of aunts. ?The Moroccan cuisine, cooked in terracotta containers, mirrors the country’s diverse origins. Spices from different origins–saffron, curcuma, cumin, cinnamon—are mixed into a savory blend that is often cited as one of the most appreciated in the world. Morocco’s unique geographical position, between the Western and oriental worlds, between the North and the South, also makes it a historical crossroads of cultures: the Berbers from the Atlas Mountains, the Spanish from Andalusia, and the Arabs from the Middle East. As a result, each region of the country possesses its own unique identity, which contributes to the national culture as well as its own legacy. For example, since I am from Rabat, the capital of Morocco, at my wedding I was proud to wear the wedding dress specific to the “Rabati’s bride.”

?At the same time, Morocco is a true melting pot of world religions. It is perhaps one of the few places on earth where Muslims and Jews live in perfect harmony. On his deathbed, King Mohamed the Fifth, who led Morocco to independence from France, told his son, the soon to be King Hassan the Second: “take care of my Jewish people.” I was educated to live among all religions, and my best friends were Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We respected their holidays, and they respected ours. We learned their principles as they learned ours. This multidimensional education taught me one of my most important principles, tolerance, especially essential for someone destined to live abroad. This principle has always helped me to understand others and respect their opinions even if it completely contradicted my own.

?As I grew up, I also became more aware of Morocco’s contradictions: the great differences between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the illiteracy (50% of the population can’t read), the disturbing plight of many women (in rural areas, 90% of women are illiterate), and the weak economy. Yet, despite all this, I believe that Morocco can find growth and prosperity by investing in information technology, particularly since every year Morocco trains many high-quality engineers eager to be part of its economic development.

?Some of my optimism for Morocco stems from my pride in the accomplishments of my own family. During the 15th century, my ancestors, engineers and sailors from Spain, fled from religious persecution into Morocco (specifically, Fez and Rabat) where they became ship builders and traveled the seas. This heritage of travel fits well with my sense of myself today as a multicultural person–I too am driven to seek out challenging international experiences. As a young girl, for example, I traveled all over Europe, South Africa, and along the Mediterranean Sea. Later, I lived in France for seven years and have lived in the United States now for two.

?Naturally, I have inherited my family’s interests and skills. From my father I inherited quantitative strengths and the problem-solving temperament of an engineer. He is a reflective but independent man who owns his own carton manufacturing business. I spent many hours in his factory learning about operations and managing people (my father has 70 employees, from factory workers and engineers to salesmen and administrators). From my father I also inherited my love of nature. The country is still where we both go to find calm away from the pressures of life. Some of my favorite memories are the hours we spent discussing the hazards and pleasures of agriculture on the country property where he grew strawberries.

?My mother, however, has been my true role model, and it was from her that I inherited my drive and leadership skills. She is Morocco’s first dermatologist and first female professor of medicine. She has always been a great inspiration to me and a great source of emotional support. The grand lesson she taught me is that if a woman wants to be successful, she has to be the best, better than any male. This is a rule she has always applied to herself.

?Even my mother embodies Morocco’s contradictions. She is a very modern woman who assumes great responsibility in her professional and private lives, but a traditional woman as well. While she supports my loftiest ambitions she also insists that I learn how to cook and learn more housekeeping skills! So, during my vacations, at her insistence, I took cooking classes to become the more “perfect” housewife.

?Throughout my childhood, family conversations often focused on Morocco’s problems and ways to solve them. My mother’s concern for Morocco led to her election as director of the education and healthcare department of Forum 21, a not-for-profit organization that proposes situation analyses and makes recommendations to Morocco’s legislators. Like my mother, I also attend the Forum 21 sessions to discuss Morocco’s problems with other participants. Part of my patriotic impulse to help Morocco stems from my parents and the socially focused environment they created.

?I was educated in a French school in the capital of Morocco, Rabat. Not only did I have both French and Moroccan professors, but the French school also attracted all the foreigners living in Rabat. As a result, it has always seem perfectly natural to me to have classmates or co-workers from all over the world: Europe, Japan, China, Africa, the U.S.. ?At the French school, we were taught French history, French literature, French civilization, and even France’s civil rights and laws! It’s no wonder that I became eager to discover this country from the inside, and perhaps other challenges as well. I also wanted to study in the engineering field because I was not only attracted by quantitative disciplines but also because I knew Morocco needed all kinds of engineers (mechanical, chemistry, software…) to build its developing economy. After my high school graduation, my excellent grades enabled me to obtain my French high school diploma with the highest honors, ranking first among 300 senior students. In 1994, I was admitted to the most selective Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles, the preparatory classes for scientific and engineering French schools, at the Lycee Louis Le Grand in Paris. My peers were all the best students of their high schools, and the competition was tougher than anything I had known. The only things that mattered to me then were mastering math, physics, chemistry, philosophy, and the next subject so I could be among the 5 percent who made it into the best schools. At Lycee Louis Le Grand, students are called “taupes” (“moles” in English) because the study program is so intense you have to bury yourself in your books with little chance of ever seeing daylight. After a few months, many students feel like giving up and leaving the program (30% actually do after the first year). I found myself in a radically new environment, facing the additional challenge to adapt to a harsh competitive process. Fortunately, my determination saved me from becoming discouraged by the workload. At the end of these grueling preparatory classes, I took competitive exams for France’s scientific schools. I was admitted to all the best French Grandes Ecoles and joined Ecole Polytechnique (whose acceptance rate is around 3%) as the only female foreigner admitted out of 6,000 applicants!

?While I was a student at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, I met my husband, a Moroccan national who was born in France and has lived in France, Turkey, and the United States. This encounter was another kind of cross-cultural experience for me as my husband is a Moroccan expatriate who has never lived in Morocco. Our visions of Morocco are clearly different, and this has always put some spice in our relationship! He is also passionate about negotiation and psychological impacts of interpersonal relationships.

?After 4 more years in France, where I worked as a Business Analyst for Arthur D. Little, My husband and I decided to start from scratch and begin a new life on the west coast of the U.S. For him, it meant fulfilling an old dream, an academic career (in fact, he is now a third-year Ph.D. student in the Organizational Behavior Department of the Stanford Graduate School of Business). For me, it meant Silicon Valley, the “Mecca” of new technologies, start-ups, and entrepreneurs; the home of brilliant young technology “freaks” and billionaires; and a legendary place of advanced knowledge. In the Valley, I could learn even more about telecommunications and the Internet, my practice area at Deloitte and the industry in which I am determined to build my career. Three months after transferring to Deloitte’s Palo Alto office, I began to realize that staying in consulting, where one is by definition more an observer than an actor, would prevent me from being at the center of things. To be at the leading edge of technology advances, I decided instead to work in a research & development position and joined France Telecom R&D.

?Since 1994, then, I have lived the “expatriate’s life” outside Morocco for more than a third of my young life. It might seem natural for me to have distanced myself from my Moroccan preoccupations and my crusade for Morocco’s development. But my extended absence from my homeland has actually intensified my love for it, and I still return to Morocco four times a year (whether I am in France or in the U.S.).

?I express my love for Morocco in many ways. In my personal life, I have maintained most of my close friendships in Morocco, and visit each of them as much as I can when I return there. I also fast during the month of Ramadan and observe the same Ramadan traditions that I would if I were in Morocco (I cook the traditional soup, Harira, for example, and I gather with friends for the traditional breaking of the fast).

?I also express my love through community service. As a student at Ecole Polytechnique, I joined the AMGE, the Moroccan French Grandes Ecoles Students Association. In particular, I was in charge of organizing the annual job fair, which invited Moroccan companies operating in France to meet with and recruit Moroccan students studying in France. In 1998, I convinced ten of these companies to spend around $2,000 each to participate in the fair, and they eventually hired seven Moroccan students for entry and mid-level positions. ?In 1999, I also led the organization of a festival at Ecole Polytechnique that AMGE sponsored to help Paris-area French and European students discover Moroccan music and food. I arranged to have Moroccan belly dancers perform and served Moroccan specialties and mint tea. The event was a total success: more than 500 individuals attended, and since then, the Moroccan festival has become an annual institution organized every year by the AMGE in a different Grande Ecole.

?As an Ecole Polytechnique student, I also joined the humanitarian association, Action Sociale de la KES (ASK), which organized tutoring sessions in the poorer suburbs of Paris. Through ASK, I began tutoring Malika, a nine-year-old Moroccan girl who, knowing only Arabic, could not understand her classes. For a year and a half I tutored her in French and math for two hours every week. She opened up to me personally and told me stories about her life and her dreams. At her end of year party, I was happy to be able to meet her family and congratulate them in Arabic for their daughter’s accomplishment. She was admitted to the next grade.

?These first experiences at helping Morocco “from a distance” were intensely satisfying and inspired me to think of bigger, more ambitious ways to help. Two years ago, my father and my brother created a company called that promotes Moroccan handicrafts by selling them all over the world via a web site. I was closely involved from the beginning as a shareholder, and I was particularly responsible for selecting the pieces of Moroccan handicraft we sold and transforming part of them to make them more appealing for the western market, like changing colors and materials while keeping the original features. I spent my vacations traveling around Morocco, meeting with craftspeople and convincing 60 of them, representing more than 15 corporations, to become our partners in showing off the beauty of Moroccan crafts. My challenge was to have them agree to sign off on our “quality charter,” which requires them to respect copyright laws and satisfy Western quality standards. Today, it is a successful company with revenues of over $500,000 in 2004, mainly in Europe. At Stanford, I would like to work on a project to learn how to promote the company in the United States and write a business plan toward this goal.

?In Morocco, I am also one of the founders and since 1999 have been the president of a small association that is dedicated to improving Morocco’s educational system. We publish a quarterly journal on the status of education in Morocco, and we fund 20 scholarships a year for Moroccans aged 8 to 12 who lack family or resources, so they can study in Morocco’s best schools. From my own finances, I also personally sponsor two of these scholarships (amount in Moroccan currency : 15,000 DH, which represents $1,500) and meet with my two young scholars every time I return to Morocco. At Stanford I would to give this association an international dimension by building new relationships with similar U.S. associations, either through a summer internship or through the Africa Business Club. We would ask for support from U.S. companies that deal directly with Morocco. With these funds, we would also organize immersion trips to Morocco for U.S. high school students and to the U.S. for Moroccan high school students.

?I have also integrated my love for Morocco into my professional life. I am the project manager in San Francisco for Studio Creatif, France Telecom R&D’s futurist lab for thinking imaginatively about the future of the organization. I am in charge of designing new concepts of telecommunication services to be offered by France Telecom to CEOs in 2012. In 2002, I interviewed 30 CEOs and would-be CEOs in France and in the United States to understand how they picture themselves in the future. To enrich the study and give it a stronger international dimension, I decided to include Moroccan CEOs in my sample since it is important to me to look at the other, developing world side of the “globalization” coin. So, during one of my vacations in Morocco I interviewed five leading Moroccan CEOs. Finally, I have also integrated my love for Morocco into my professional long-term goals. As I elaborate in essay B, I plan to take advantage of my position at the international division of a global telecommunications company to contribute to help North African countries develop telecommunications and Internet industries.

?My ability to deepen my contribution to Morocco’s future will not rely only on my professional experiences and skills, however. My broad international experiences—in France, Europe, Africa, and the U.S.–have given me interpersonal skills and a sense of perspective that will be essential as I implement my ambitious my dreams of helping Morocco.

?Seeking out multicultural experiences is one of my joys. When I was a Research Assistant at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, in 1999, I had an American roommate and an Indian roommate. Though I considered myself, as a Parisian and Moroccan, to be a cosmopolitan person, Anuradha was the first Indian I had ever met. We quickly began sharing our stories and experiences about our countries, and exchanging our favorite dishes. We both realized that though Morocco and India are distant geographically, our cultures and traditions were very similar. For example, we both had a henna ceremony in our weddings. This instinct to share and learn will help me build partnerships as I work toward Morocco’s brighter future.

?Today, as a Product Manager at France Telecom Research & Development, I am in charge of pitching eBusiness-related R&D project proposals to internal sponsors in France in order to win budgets for our research and manage these R&D projects. This requires me to play the role of intermediary between ours labs in France and San Francisco. As such, I often have to switch fluently from one culture to the other. Because of the time difference, the American team frequently uses email to send proposals, exchange comments, and obtain approvals. Even though I was not a huge fan of emails in France, I quickly adopted it as a primary means of communication since the San Francisco office prefers written to oral exchanges. In fact, I became so immersed in American office culture that I almost forgot that the French still prefer direct, phone-based exchanges for in-depth discussions. Learning how to work comfortably and well in the style that is most appropriate for a given culture has helped me to obtain the research budgets I need to achieve our goals.. These intercultural skills will also help me help Morocco.

?Though it looks like I may never have the chance to become Queen of Morocco, I will gladly settle for having a big impact on the future of Morocco.

Sharing a makeshift cake with strangers at the Charlotte airport as the clock strikes midnight on my birthday. Meeting with a Partner on the mountains of Park City, so breathless by the elevation I can barely get a word in. Dashing from an anniversary dinner to catch an impromptu flight to London for a project kick-off. My resume will have detailed my professional experiences to-date, but underneath each of the bullets are dozens of memories like the above. Upon reflection of these memories, one thing I know for sure is that I am not the typical Consultant. I have chosen adaptability to define me above other characteristics that may have hindered me from pursuing this path.

My favorite personality test will tell you that I am introverted, intuitive, a thinker, and a planner. Growing up, I was markedly different from my sisters, and you could typically find me reading in the clothing racks as my mother took us shopping, or out loud in the back seat of our family car while my sisters tried to listen to their favorite N*Sync song. As I considered my future career, my instinct told me that an introverted bookworm should not pursue a client-facing, heavily social and unpredictable career filled with endless experiences like the above.

Three years later, I am thankful that I overcame these fears and insecurities and adapted myself to the life of a Consultant, fully embracing these experiences. For others, adaptability might mean something else, but everyone will have to embrace some version of adaptability in the near future. At X, my focus has been building a market around the Future of Work – how technology, demographics, and globalization will change the nature of work. I have become a leader in this space, crafting our response to clients’ questions for dozens of discussions, pursuits, and conferences. I have succeeded at developing compelling thought leadership, but the fundamental challenge of driving this point of view in market is similar to the fears I once held as I embarked on my career.

I believe the central theme of the Future of Work is the concept of adaptability – the need for companies and individuals alike to be agile and willing to engage in lifelong learning to keep up with today’s constant rate of change. In the same way that I overcame my fears to pursue my passions, millions of workers (and their leaders) will have to overcome theirs in order to succeed in a future that is increasingly uncertain and irrevocably different – and that is a difficult pill to swallow.

Adapting to uncomfortable situations does not come naturally to many. Fortunately, my personal journey and background has accelerated this skill for me. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and the daughter of a failed small business owner who reinvented himself at 50. The epitome of strength and adaptability, my grandparents came to America after being liberated from the camps, started a family in Queens and opened a small Jewish bakery that was eventually passed on to my father. By the time I was born, the business was being overrun by supermarkets and my father’s lack of passion became its downfall. I grew up in an environment of uncertainty, but also with a role model who learned an entirely new trade after a 25-year career and found a job that excites him every day.

The time came for me to embrace the strength and adaptability of my forefathers this past November, when my mother suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack. Moving forward seemed inconceivable, but the following year turned out to be the highlight of my career to-date. The same week that my mother passed, I was offered a role directly supporting a Human Capital Partner in building a new practice grounded in the thought leadership I helped to develop in the Future of Work space. Despite my personal hardships, I could not pass up the opportunity to be involved in transforming the face of Human Capital. I took on the role, and was immediately immersed in setting the strategy for the new business that will deliver large-scale transformations following Future of Work discussions. This has meant gaining experience with cognitive technologies, considering how they will fundamentally change jobs, and developing new ways to transform the workforce for the future. It has been a fast-paced role, vastly different from traditional Consulting client work. Adaptability has revealed itself not only in the wake of life’s hardest moments, but also during exciting times like these, pushing me to take on ambiguous and advanced roles at X.

My insight into adaptability has been a personal journey that impacted not only my professional focus, but also my community work. Much of the struggle my father experienced in changing his career path came from not having a college degree. As a first generation college graduate, my passion for literacy and education access has steered me to become a leader in my community as a founding Board member of X and a volunteer high school mentor. I try to instill adaptability in the students I mentor and the non-profit leaders and school administrators I have the pleasure of working with, sharing the opportunities afforded by the same disruption my clients face such as rethinking the skills we teach our students, crowdsourcing global expertise to the classroom, and augmenting the physical classroom with digital tools. Adaptability in this context does not only mean prevailing over hardship to pursue your passions, but also fundamentally changing the way we think about delivering education in the future.

Grounded in the concept of adaptability, my personal, professional and community experiences have informed my dream of becoming an eminent strategist on transitioning Fortune 500s to the Future of Work and a Board member of innovative education NPOs transforming how we develop the future workforce. In pursuing an MBA from HBS, I will be able to bring my own unique perspectives and ability to adapt to the unparalleled case method, peer and alumni network and global community. This will accelerate and broaden my thinking on how to instill adaptability into organizations and our future workforce, ultimately deepening my ability to lead through the transition to the Future of “X”– work, education – you fill in the blank.

Being a part of the growth story for both my nation and my family’s business is what matters most to me. My experiences have led to my strong attachment to home and family, and I feel a strong responsibility to develop a legacy for Brasil and for Mendonca Propriedades, our family real estate development firm.

In retrospect, growing up in Sao Paulo was an experience of tremendous exposure to both wealth and poverty. Through our family business I interacted often with both middle class people like my own family, and those who had trouble paying their rent. This was just life as I knew it, and the culture and vitality of the city was what I focused on as I enjoyed international cuisine and celebrated Carnaval every year. My mother and father enjoyed art and culture and often took us to museums and events. My experience of Sao Paulo and Brasil was one of excitement and color.

When I attended University in the United States I was exposed to the stark contrast between my colorful, tropical city and what life was like in the US. While I was accustomed to the visual contrast between rich and poor in Sao Paulo, Ithaca New York was a city where most people lived a similar life. When I hosted friends in my home in Brasil they were shocked by the favelas (slums) visible through my high rise apartment windows. I was able to see my city with new eyes, and I wanted to do something about it.

Brasil is poised to be the economic powerhouse of South America, and I want to be part of this development and be a force for greater economic equality. The new opportunities in Brasil should be available to everyone – and the key is both access to sanitary dwellings and education. Since college I have volunteered to spend a few weeks a year teaching soccer to children in favelas, along with tutoring. I also run a fundraising effort every year for education in Brasil and have encouraged many of my friends to join my volunteer vacations.

In the long-term I plan to orient my career around developing our family business to have both a for-profit and pro-bono element. As I assist my father in growing our development activities in Sao Paulo and other cities in Brasil I will also set up a program where our employees may donate their time to help non-profit development organizations build affordable housing for the poorest residents of our city.

The economic renaissance in Brasil must lead us both to stronger development and to help those who are less fortunate. I plan to develop this legacy both for the city I love and for my family. I hope to see my children take over our business someday, and I want them to be proud of what we have accomplished.

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How to Answer Stanford GSB’s Essay: What Matters Most To You and Why?

FortunaAdmissions

In opening its application for the 2020-2021 cycle, Stanford GSB  demonstrated that its iconic essay question persists for well over a decade.

Stanford’s “What matters most to you, and why?” query embodies the sentiment ‘simple but not easy.’ It demands a level of profound self-awareness and unapologetic authenticity that can overwhelm the most excellence-driven applicant in the hopes of conveying something distinctive, intelligent and resonant.”

Regardless of whether Stanford GSB is on your application shortlist, dedicating time to think about this question is a valuable, notes Fortuna’s Tatiana Nemo , a Stanford GSB alum & former MBA admissions interviewer. “This kind of perspective-taking helps unearth a clarity of purpose that’s invaluable for anyone who’s ever wrestled with the expectations of others, peer pressure and unexamined momentum,” says Nemo. “If the question is tackled bravely and thoughtfully, with keen focus on the action of speaking from the heart rather than worrying on the effect that doing so will create, then it provides a substantial and valuable view into the applicant’s motivations, character, fears and beliefs.”

Fortuna’s  Heidi Hillis , Stanford GSB grad and former GSB Alumni Interviewer, has encouraged many successful candidates to delve deeper in the spirit of getting this question’s core, which is inextricably linked to the school’s tagline: Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.

‘A GOLDEN TIME TO PAUSE, GET INTROSPECTIVE & MAKE SURE YOU’RE HEADED WHERE YOU WANT TO GO’

“It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, to plow forward with life and career without really considering our values. It’s a vital thing for everyone to do periodically, but especially early in your career,” says Hillis. “It’s a golden time to pause, get introspective, and make sure you’re headed where you want to go – that you even know where you want to go and what success looks like for you. This essay question makes you stop and think about what it is that makes you who you are.”

So, why has Stanford posed this question  for so long?

Stanford GSB Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions & Financial Aid, Kirsten Moss, discussed  what MBA Admissions really wants  at the CentreCourt MBA Festival in San Francisco in 2017.

“One of the things that has been proven over and over in research is that highly inspirational leaders who get the highest level of performance from their organizations really know what drives them, and they are thinking beyond themselves to the problems they can make change and have an impact on. So in our application one of our key questions is ‘what matters most and why?’, and it has been an iconic question for a long time,” says Moss. “Taking the time to understand what matters to you will be your true north as a leader, no matter what school you go to, in the rest of your life… You will be one step ahead of the game in terms of being able to motivate others.”

So what matters most to you, and why? Listen first to your instinctive gut response and jot it down – we’ll revisit it momentarily.

CONSTRUCT A TIMELINE OF INFLUENCES, CIRCUMSTANCE & MOMENTS THAT HAVE IMPACTED YOU

Stanford suggests aiming to write 650 words (slimmed down from previous years), allowing no more than 1,050 words to cover this essay and a second essay question, “Why Stanford? ” Perhaps you feel you can answer the first part of the question with one word, with things like knowledge, relationships or chocolate. But the belly of the question, the part that discloses your life’s calling and singularly uniquejourney for getting there, requires significant reflection. Why does that particular thing matter to you more than any other?

If you’re getting overwhelmed gazing blank page and blinking cursor, Nemo advises: “Invest time building a timeline of the influences, instances, moments that have shaped you. Dig deep connecting the dots between what has shaped you and who you’ve become. Devote essay A to talk about past and present, and talk about the future in essay B. Both essays need to be coherent and could read as a single story.”

Our expert coaches at Fortuna Admissions offer guidance on how to best approach the structure of these questions, while persuasively relaying your narrative:

  • Begin by with recognizing an individual, occasion or experience that poignantly influenced you.
  • What lessons, morals and values, did you garner from this person or experience?
  • How do you specifically utilize these lessons, morals and values in your daily life, and how do they influence your motivation and views of the world? (Bear in mind Stanford’s motto above.)
  • How has your professional progression been linked to the aforementioned?
  • Conclude by reiterating the connection between your values and career aspirations, and why these ambitions are important to you.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF

If you’re still drawing a blank on what truly matters to you, commence by writing down your formative experiences to date, and examining aspects like:

  • What was your childhood like? How did your parents or guardians and your environment impact you? What did you do regularly, elective or mandatory?
  • What did your academic path look like? Were you a focused student? How did your peers influence you? Who did you surround yourself with? How did you feel emotionally as a teenager? What were you most involved with?
  • What has your professional trajectory looked like? Are you pleased with the choices you’ve made? Do you harbor any regrets? What do you enjoy or dislike about your career and why?
  • What extra-curricular engagements and hobbies do you participate in and why?
  • What do you love or dread about life? What makes you blissful or unhappy, agitated or upset?
  • What keeps you up at night? In this life, what do you sincerely care about?

Look back at all of your responses, including what you originally jotted down as your gut response. Can you distinguish underlying themes throughout? Probably. You might surprise yourself in recognizing an unconscious method to the madness of your life! Think about soliciting friends and family for anecdotes about you that may not be front of mind. By articulating a compelling story, you can highlight the major themes and link them to the overarching ideas communicated in your essays.

DARE TO BE PERSONAL, VULNERABLE AND HONEST

Even though you might have to allocate hours to this essay between brainstorming, due diligence, connecting with others, authoring a draft, then another (and then another), don’t forget that it’s all inside you. As my Fortuna colleague Sharon Joyce  highlighted in Writing a Powerful MBA Essay , “There is no right story other than your own. And the person best poised to tell that story is you.”

Push yourself to be vulnerable, genuine and distinctive. “It is common to see answers like ‘never giving up’ or ‘always to push myself beyond my comfort zone’ – thematically that’s okay, but make sure to go beyond. Give examples and tell stories that only you can tell,” says Hillis. “Don’t tell a story that you think the admissions committee wants to hear – your essay is not a marketing tool. It’s ok – sometimes even better – to share a failure story. Tell the story that defines who you are and how you came to be that way. Use details – colors, smells, feelings. Let the reader go away knowing something that they only could have learned in the essay.”

Shouldn’t we all take the time to ponder what matters most to us and why, whether we’re applying to an MBA program or not? Undertake this exploration a personal challenge, not merely as an obligatory business school essay question. Stanford wants to know what matters most to you, and you should, too.

Want more advice?

View my related article for advice on How to Tackle All Stanford GSB Essays , as well as advice on Stanford GSB’s Short Answer Essay by Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis. You can also check out detailed, expert MBA Essay Tips for all top 20 business schools.

Updated September, 2021

Fortuna Admissions Co-Founder and Director Matt Symonds is Business education industry expert and columnist for Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, the BBC, among other publications. For more free advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a  free consultation .

The post How to Answer Stanford GSB’s Essay: What Matters Most To You and Why? first appeared on Fortuna .

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Published in MBA , Fortuna Admissions , Admission Consultants and Blog

Stanford Graduate School of Business Application Essay Example

How many times have you thought about what truly matters most to you? Or what fuels your drive, or what guides your decisions above all else? There is a good chance that you have never thought deeply about your response to any of these questions. That makes the Stanford GSB’s main essay prompt—What matters most to you, and why?—surprisingly vexing. Answering it well requires a considerable amount of introspection and honesty, something we do not always give ourselves the time to do.

The following essay response to “What matters most to you, and why?”, along with its associated commentary, is one of fifty essays featured in  “What Matters?” and “What More?”: 50 Successful Essays for the Stanford GSB and HBS (and Why They Worked) ,  a book co-authored by our firm’s founder,  Liza Weale .

We have selected Jules’ essay to share here because it captures the reflection and authenticity that can make for a successful GSB essay, at least according to the Stanford GSB admissions committee! We also like the essay because of the absence of any single incredible story. Too often, people assume that the only people accepted by into GSB’s MBA program are those who are running a unicorn start-up or are, as the saying goes, “saving the world.” Yet, even more relatable stories can reveal a tremendously inspiring person worthy of attending the GSB!

Stand by Me, Stand by You – Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) Application Essay Written by Jules, GSB MBA

Pre-reading commentary from liza weale, founder of gatehouse admissions:.

Jules is a reapplicant to the Stanford GSB. Reapplicants have different strategies they can choose from for their new essay submission, and we reached out to Jules to learn how similar this essay was to the first one she submitted. She shared that in her first GSB application, she had focused on relaying what she wanted the GSB to know about her. Afterward, she realized that she had never actually answered the school’s question (for herself or for the admissions committee), and although she had presented a robust, multidimensional picture of who she was, her essay lacked the singular thrust the prompt demands. This time, rather than trying to control how the school might perceive her, she simply answered the question truthfully and sincerely. Kudos to Jules for recognizing the importance of being authentic in her essay!

In the essay, Jules makes no mention of her earlier application. Instead, she discusses three disparate situations—a classmate’s suicide, a difficult sibling relationship, and a company reorganization—and links them via what matters most to her: relationships. Her essay also conveys a strong sense of discovery and reflection, and each challenge better equips her for the next. Another thing Jules does well is openly admit her shortcomings (notably, her impatience with her brother). As we have said before and will undoubtedly say again, business schools are not expecting, or even seeking, perfection. Jules references her impatience matter-of-factly, with no sense of defensiveness or dramatization, thereby earning the reader’s compassion.

Some applicants might think Jules had the “good fortune” of finding herself in what was surely a very difficult work situation, rife with opportunities to demonstrate commitment, integrity, and empathy. Yet BigBoxCo would not likely have put Jules in the middle of this reorganization had she not already displayed these traits. Throughout her essay, Jules’s actions clearly underscore who she is, ultimately giving the GSB admissions committee compelling and sufficient evidence of its desired Demonstrated Leadership Potential.

What matters most to you, and why?

Stand by Me, Stand by You (written by Jules, GSB MBA)

My cell rings. Victoria. One of my co-mentors to a group of high school underclassmen. “Hi… I think you should sit down for this.” Victoria pauses, “Amit killed himself tonight.” [1]

Amit was one of our 40 freshmen mentees. A few times a week, we’d bring the mentees together, as one or in smaller groups, to provide a “safe space” in the school’s high-pressure environment. I’d only been involved in the program 9 months, but it had become integral to my high school experience.

The news of Amit’s suicide rocked me, and my grieving was intense. The school’s guidance counselors reached out, as did friends and family, but I didn’t know how to accept their help. The only people who I felt understood were other members of our group. With them, I could share my feelings of disbelief and guilt and listen to theirs. We used each other to figure out how to grieve and accept what happened. But we also channeled our pain towards action, organizing a Suicide Prevention gathering, visiting Amit’s family, and creating a field day to inspire some happiness.

These relationships saved me, and saved us, and while it took time, I ultimately got through the worst of this period. I was left with a profound appreciation for the power of relationships. I also gained resolve to fix an important one that I’d let languish.

My twin brother Johnny struggled with depression for much of my childhood. Anything set him off, resulting in hours of hysteria and cries for attention. I tried not to upset him, which essentially meant not interacting at all. In fact, Johnny was why I’d begun mentoring: I felt disconnected from him and ill-equipped to help, so I latched onto mentoring in school to build relationships and have an impact.

But after I’d processed much of my grieving for Amit, I started reevaluating my approach with Johnny. I realized I was angry at Johnny for the state of our relationship without taking any responsibility myself. I’d never tried to understand the reasons behind his outbursts and instead assumed ill-intent. I also realized I had never been upfront with him about how his actions impacted me.

Slowly, I got more comfortable dealing with Johnny when I felt he was irrational. I also tried harder to understand his feelings, and I asked him to be honest right back. This hasn’t been easy, and even now that Johnny is in a good place, we still have to intentionally work on our interactions. [2] But it has gotten us to what I gratefully have today—a relationship that is truly one of the most meaningful in my life.

More recently, the importance of relationships again showed itself. I joined BigBoxCo shortly before the company decided to dismantle a 30-person Product Development team. The tasks would be absorbed by folks in other groups, while the 30 people would be reallocated to different areas across BigBoxCo.

Over the next 18 months, I had to maintain absolute secrecy as I documented everything I could about the processes. Without letting on the reason behind my attendance at meetings or my line of questioning, I spent significant time with people who would be impacted by the reorg. I struggled internally, wondering if I could do my job with integrity, without feeling like I was betraying these people, many of whom I called “friend.” [3] I focused on my belief that the reorg was better for the company and those affected, and I hoped my involvement in the project would help me support them once they began their new roles.

After the changes were announced and we moved into implementation, I prioritized connecting with colleagues whom I couldn’t tell about the reorg. I reached out initially to clear the air about my involvement in the project but continued reaching out when I picked up on their eagerness to ask me for advice on navigating the new structure. Throughout this period, I’ve found no one holds anything against me. Instead, many of my relationships have actually gotten stronger—my colleagues seem to trust me and appreciate how committed I am to their success.

To this day I grieve for Amit and mourn the fact that I couldn’t help him more. But, I take solace in the fact that, since his death, I have realized what matters most to me: that I have and form strong relationships. They fulfill me and give meaning to my actions, and in turn, my actions give meaning back to them. [4]

Additional Commentary from Liza:

[1] Dealing with heavy topics such as suicide in a business school essay can be challenging. Stating the situation clearly and simply, with one or two salient details, will provide enough context for the admissions reader to be able to empathize without thinking you are “playing the sympathy card” (to quote candidates who worry the admissions committee might perceive such topics negatively).

[2] Sometimes, candidates are tempted to shout from the hilltops, “Look! I fixed the issue! Just like that!” The truth, of course, is that change takes time, and because Jules admits that the relationship can sometimes still be challenging, the reader is more likely to appreciate her efforts to improve it.

[3] Jules again reveals her struggles, reassuring the reader that she is like the rest of us—human!

[4] Jules chooses to clearly state what matters most to her at the very end of her essay, but by this point, her answer is a foregone conclusion. By laying out the evidence from the start, she has more than convinced us that relationships matter most to her, and as result, she needs very few words for her conclusion.

If you would like to see more examples of successful HBS and GSB essays, you can purchase the entire guide  here .

For strategies on crafting your response to “What matters most to you, and why?”, read our Essay Analysis for the Stanford GSB .

Topics in this resource:

MBA Essay Examples

Stanford Graduate School of Business

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Craft a Powerful Essay for Stanford GSB: What Matters Most & Why?

A GSB MBA, expert admissions coach, and pro writer, outlines his top advice for nailing the challenging and broad Stanford essay prompt, to help you get into one of the most prestigious MBA programs in the world.

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Posted May 11, 2024

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The GSB essays sound like they should be the easiest thing in the world, but I’ve found applicants often lose focus in writing their responses to seemingly straightforward questions. Here’s my advice for getting through the turbulence of “I don’t know if I have enough to write about?”, “What do they want to hear?”, and “Why do I actually want to go to Stanford?” to land the plane on these essays.

Already interested in working with me on essays, MBA applications, or anything else? That didn’t take long (see my profile here ). Now for the actual advice…

The Prompts

GSB asks for two main essays, the combined length of which cannot exceed 1,050 words. The main objective of the essays is to see who you are beyond the pale of academic and professional work. Stanford emphasizes there is no “right answer”; but, the best essays consistently portray an applicant’s values, passions, and dreams in an honest, forthright way.

The prompts for the two essays are as follows:

1. What matters most to you and why?

With a recommended length of up to 650 words, GSB asks applicants to self-reflect and write from the heart. Consider what different people and experiences have shaped your perspectives.

2. Why Stanford?

This essay has a recommended length of up to 400 words. Applicants should describe their dreams and goals and what role GSB will play in helping fulfill them.

Top 5 Tips for the GSB Essays

As a former GSB MBA candidate with years of writing experience and a coach here on Leland, here are the top five tips I’ve curated to help you with your essays:

1. Answer the Question

Though it may sound obvious, many applicants struggle with this. Both prompts are open-ended, so it’s easy to go off on tangents and include irrelevant information. As you’re writing, continue to ground yourself by asking, “What is the exact question I’m trying to answer?” To use the first essay as an example, every paragraph should help the reader under what matters most to you, why it matters, and how you arrived at this understanding. If it’s not doing that, it’s probably not worth getting too attached to – and you should probably delete it.

2. Differentiate

Glenn Kramon, a mentor, longtime editor at The New York Times, and renowned teacher of GSB’s Winning Writing class never fails to ask, “What makes you go from one of a million applicants to one in a million applicants?” Almost everyone who applies to GSB will have a great resume, test scores, and GPA. But part of your job with the essay is to make clear (implicitly at least) why and how your perspective can uniquely contribute to the incoming class.

Typical avenues for showing why you stand out are through explanation of your work and life experience, but another way to differentiate is through self-reflection and the specific lessons extracted you’ve extracted as a result. I’ve seen dozens of essays on very similar topics (your admissions readers have seen thousands), but those that focus on what’s been learned and how that learning has shaped a future vision find a way to stand out through their psychology as well. GSB doesn’t just want another resident smart person walking around; they want someone with a combination of emotional maturity, professional acumen, and a sense of humility who’s going to take full advantage of everything Stanford has to offer.

3. Create a Vision

Especially relevant to the second essay, laying out a clear vision for the admissions committee is key. Why do you want an MBA? Actually though. If you don’t have a good reason, don’t go! And why do you want to go to Stanford specifically? How will your Stanford degree help you reach your professional and personal goals? If you can’t answer these questions, again, an MBA probably isn’t the best move for you. But if you can come up with a few sound reasons right off the bat (an industry pivot, targeted entrepreneurial ambitions, etc.), try to stretch your imagination a bit to think about your 3-year, 10-year, and 30-year goals. You don’t need a Gantt chart for your life, but if you take a couple of hours to sit and think about what a Stanford MBA would mean for your future, your case to admissions will be much stronger – and help give you added personal clarity beyond the application.

4. Build and Flow

Both of your essays should have a structure that flows and builds momentum. Essays can be written well and have all that beautiful GMAT syntax you definitely need for the real world, but if what you’ve written doesn’t coalesce into a larger narrative about who you are, the reader will end up distracted and confused. The GSB admissions committee wants you to present a story. They don’t want disjointed paragraphs that portray an inconsistent picture (e.g. a paragraph on each of your three most “impressive” resume elements that aren’t thematically tied). Every detail should contribute to the reader’s understanding of what matters to you, why it matters, and why you see GSB as the next step in your career.

5. Give Yourself Enough Time

For many people, writing the essay is the most difficult part of the application. It can be hard to organize your thoughts and put them down on paper in a clear, succinct manner. Start the essays early, ideally three months or more before submission.

So what’s step one? Write a terrible first draft. Like bad. Then put it down for a few days to avoid the deserved shame that will inevitably come from reviewing it. At the end of the week, pick it up and ask yourself if what you’ve written answers the questions you’re supposed to answer, differentiates you, and so on. It also doesn’t hurt to ask yourself the simple questions of, “Do I even like this essay?” and, “Would I want to read this?” The magic number is around four to six drafts, comprehensively reviewed.

When it comes to how and with whom you should review your essays, ideally you should choose someone with experience writing and familiarity with the application process. An alum of your top-choice school is probably the best choice, given they’ll know the ins and outs of the place and have successfully navigated the application process themselves.

By giving yourself at least a few months, you’ll be able to put the right pieces in place to ensure that you get the help you need and can do the self-inventory required to put together a top-notch set of essays.

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Final Thoughts

Though they can be intimidating, the application essays give you a chance to show who you are beyond your resume and a few numbers. Crafting a compelling narrative that best exudes who you are has evolved into the most important part of your application – and it’s the one part of your application you can still completely control. Even if you feel held back by a low GPA or GMAT, going from A to Z on this dimension of your app is well worth the time – and can genuinely set you apart.

If you’re interested in working 1:1 with me, you can view my profile here . I’ve worked with more than 250 individuals on essays and resumes for top MBA programs, consulting firms, and the broader job market. During my time at Stanford, I was the Lead Editor for Stanford GSB’s Nondisclosure magazine and a Managing Editor for the Stanford International Policy Review.

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What Matters Most to You: Stanford MBA Essay Tips

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When someone asks you what  really  matters most to you – for what or whom you would gleefully walk over hot coals – they are more or less putting a gun to your head and saying, "Tell us the truth". It's baked into the very question. Sincerity, honesty, authenticity, genuineness – these are the unspoken synonyms behind Stanford GSB 's now iconic MBA essay question: "What matters most to you, and why?" There's only one small problem with responding as expected to that gun at your head: banality often ensues.

When I ask clients, "What matters most to you?" (instead of cocking a revolver I usually add that it’s off the record, so they know I wanted the non-scripted, non-positioned answer), I usually get things like family, success, self-improvement, pushing my personal envelope, yadda, yadda. So much for differentiating yourself from other applicants. Yes, you can definitely get admitted to Stanford GSB by uttering such banalities, but if you do it's likely because, aside from your 770 GMAT score, you buried your banal answer within an otherwise absorbing tale of personal growth or discovery (or because, although you thoroughly botched your Stanford MBA essay, your résumé shows that you have founded an organization that has "changed the world" in some fashion).

Life experiences are key to answering Stanford GSB’s MBA essay question

My point is not to make you self-conscious or insincere when responding to Stanford GSB's excellent MBA essay question prompt. It's to get you past the idea of starting this critical Stanford MBA essay by answering their question. Leave that for last. Instead, start by identifying the life experiences that have meant the most to you in your life and/or have forced you to change or grow the most, regardless of whether you think they connect to something that matters most to you.

Stanford GSB hints at the value of this approach in its  five ‘strong response’ guidelines : "illustrate how you came to be the person you are, "illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you." The key to this Stanford MBA essay question, in other words, is change, process – envisioning your self and life as a verb, not a noun. Kudos if you see an echo between this advice and  the content I recommended  for Harvard's non-optional optional MBA essay question. The two MBA essay questionss are similar in many ways. It's often said that admissions departments mimic Harvard, but Stanford GSB may be the true pied piper.

Once you have narrated and linked together these key life experiences (usually though not necessarily in chronological order), you can then ask yourself what these key moments in your life tell you about what matters most to you? The answer may not be the one you thought it would be. And,I in any case, this MBA essay's success will not hinge on your assertion of what matters most; it will depend on the life experiences that you've described to support that statement.

What matters most pitfalls

Do be careful how closely you follow Stanford GSB's strong response guidelines, however. They can mislead; for example:

  • If you focus on ‘the why’ to avoid focusing merely on what you’ve done or accomplished you will surely bore them with thoroughly canned or generic sounding ‘life lesson’ language that (even if you do it well) they will have read dozens of times before. Do yourself a favor and keep the high-level self-reflective ‘insights’, ‘lessons’, and ‘perspectives’ as concise as possible.
  • Likewise, watch how you illustrate how a person, situation, or event has influenced you.  You  need to be present and accounted for in the unfolding of the MBA essay's action or the MBA essay will wind up being about your Uncle Louie, not you.
  • Genuinely writing from the heart is all well and good, but Stanford GSB doesn't spell out what it assumes you know (but may not); some authentic life experiences and insights do not belong anywhere near an application MBA essay for business school. By all means write from the heart but do it prudently, maturely, and, yes, strategically.

Finally, Stanford GSB's guidelines don't mention an ingredient that can make all the difference between a weak MBA essay and the real deal: personality. You've got problems if your insights and lessons seem strangely soulless or if in describing the experiences that shaped your perspectives you come across like an anvil crashing through drywall. In contrast, you'd be surprised how far a small brushstroke of humor or the self-revealing grace note of a personal foible can take you. Trying to identify anecdotes and language that communicate your personality – the personal style you bring to the things you do – can often show who you are much more authentically than a steaming load of stale lessons and perspectives.

Paul Bodine is the founder and president of  Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting  and the author of  Great Applications for Business School . A graduate of University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins, he has been helping applicants gain admission to elite business, medical and graduate schools since 1997.

This article was originally published in July 2014 . It was last updated in April 2021

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Advice, tips and insights from the admissions dream team., table of contents, stanford gsb essays: tips & strategy on writing what matters most.

  • By Matt Symonds

Stanford GSB’s essays continue to present a formidable exercise in self-awareness.

The Stanford GSB application includes two required essays and two optional short-answer questions. The GSB wants to understand why we do the things we do, why we make certain choices in life, and the opportunities and challenges we face. Take this on as a personal feat, not just a series of MBA essay questions.

Rather than provide a hard word limit, Stanford states that combined, your two required essays may not exceed 1,050 words. Stanford recommends up to 650 words for the iconic “What matters most to you and why” Essay A, and up to 400 words for Essay B, “Why Stanford?” They say that they often find effective essays written in far fewer words.

By offering not just one but two optional short answer essays, the GSB is inviting you to get more personal in the main essay A, providing another space for you to detail your professional accomplishments and contributions. The second optional question, under Personal Information, invites you to elaborate on how your background or life experiences have helped shape your recent actions or choices

Essay A. “What Matters Most to You and Why” (approx. 650 words)

This notorious question has become emblematic of the Stanford GSB essays, and typically ties applicants in knots as they try to come up with an answer that they hope is clever, striking or profound. The school is looking not just for extremely bright and successful individuals, but also people who have strong values and want to have a positive impact in the world. Taking the time to really think about this question provides invaluable insight about your life purpose and values, and the true you that emerges from this introspection helps the GSB to evaluate fit and diversity of contribution to the class.

Stanford suggests aiming to write 650 words, allowing no more than 1,050 words to cover this essay and a second essay question, “Why Stanford?” Maybe you feel that you can answer the first part of the question in one word, with things like love, family or chocolate. But the heart of the question, the part that reveals your life’s calling and uniquely personal journey for getting there, requires deeper introspection. Why does that one thing matter more than any other?

If you’re staring in terror at the blank page, Fortuna’s Tatiana Nemo , a Stanford GSB alum & former MBA admissions interviewer, advises: “Invest some effort in  building a timeline of the influences, instances and moments that have shaped you. Dig deep, connecting the dots between what has shaped you and who you’ve become. Devote essay A to talk about past and present,; talk about the  future in essay B. Both essays need to be coherent and connected, so they could read as a single story.”

To best tackle the structure of this essay, start with identifying a person, event or experience that greatly impacted you, and think about the morals, values and lessons you gained from this experience or interaction. How do you use these lessons today, and how do they impact your drive, your motivation, and your vision of the world? The best Stanford GSB essays that worked in the past delivered a narrative that’s both personal and courageous in answering this question.

Even though you might have to spend hours on this essay through brainstorming, research, talking with others, writing a draft, then another (and then another), just remember that it’s all inside you… it’s your story, and you just have to find it and pull it out.

Kirsten Moss, Stanford GSB’s Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions & Financial Aid, put a fine point on why the GSB has stuck with this question for so long: “One of the things that has been proven over and over in research is that highly inspirational leaders who get the highest level of performance from their organizations really know what drives them, and they are thinking beyond themselves to the problems they can make change and have an impact on,” said Moss to Fortuna’s Matt Symonds at the 2017 CentreCourt MBA Festival in San Francisco. “Taking the time to understand what matters to you will be your true north as a leader, no matter what school you go to, in the rest of your life… You will be one step ahead of the game in terms of being able to motivate others.”

For more guidance on this question, view my analysis in Forbes .

why stanford essay prompt

Essay B. “Why Stanford” Essay  (approx. 400 words)

If the first essay is about your past and present, the second “Why Stanford” essay is about your future. In this essay, Stanford asks you to explain your decision to pursue graduate education in management and the distinctive opportunities you will pursue at Stanford. If you hope to create one of the best Stanford MBA essay examples , then  your school research really needs to shine. What classes, clubs, events or other elements of the program and community will catalyze the impact you are aiming to make in the short, medium and long term? Dig deep and get specific, show Stanford that you’ve done more than just read  about the different programs on the GSB website.

This is also where you should lay out career vision, in a highly focused and concise way. Beyond connecting the dots for your interviewer, you also really need to be specific to you. Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis , Stanford GSB alum and former alumni interviewer, advises her clients: “Look at every sentence and make sure no one else could have said it. Why do YOU need to be a better leader in what way? How is the Stanford MBA and its offerings uniquely positioned to help? Consider specific aspects of your career vision when making the case to Stanford. If you have the room, potentially cite what kind of internship or post-MBA job you’re seeking.”

(Optional) Essay 1. “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? You are welcome to share up to three examples.” (200 words for each example)

Introduced for the first time in 2019, this short answer question is a valuable invitation to reveal where you’ve been most impactful with both substance and specificity (you’ll do well not to consider it optional). Behind this question is Stanford GSB’s belief that past behavior is the best predictor of future potential. It’s very likely your examples will appear in other parts of the application: a bullet on the resume, a story used to support the recommendation – even on the application itself, which asks you to talk about your “most significant accomplishment” for each job. The best Stanford GSB essay examples all went  DEEPER with this question, and didn’t repeat something that may be found elsewhere. Your responses need to add value to your overall application. They should support the essays and the rest of the application, in highlighting WHY you find each circumstance to be impactful.

Optional essay 2. Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project.  (200 words)

This is a slight revision of last year’s question, which posed the question in the context of “in work or school,” and the new wording invites you to draw upon a wider spectrum of situational examples or experiences. In this question, the GSB seeks to uncover the less visible forces that shape candidates’ lives, opportunities, decisions, and achievements. This optional essay is a way for the admissions committee to recognize the challenges – or privileges ­– certain applicants face to get to where they are, even when students themselves may not see them as distinctive or noteworthy. Like the required essays, answering this question in an authentic and compelling way requires a both substantial introspection and self-awareness. It’s a recognition that up and beyond your test scores, college  transcripts, and career achievements, prospective students come from different backgrounds that shape both their decisions and actions in invisible ways. Similar to the Berkeley Haas optional essay , which made its debut in 2018, it’s a signal that the GSB wants to support the admissions committee’s decision-making by supplying a full and rich understanding of who each applicant truly is.

This question has always been part of the GSB app, but has been elevated from a field in the app to an optional essay. Think of it as a place to talk about an aspect of your life that hasn’t been addressed anywhere else. The good news is that  it can also take a more lighthearted turn, touching on a sport you’re involved in, your side gig in improv comedy, your training as a concert pianist – and how this has shaped how you show up in the workplace.

When you understand and articulate what matters most to you, along with the forces that shape you, you’re claiming a self-awareness and clarity of purpose that set you up for success not just at business school, but also with relationships and career. Stanford wants to know what matters most to you, and so should you.

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from 18 of the top 20 business schools, including Stanford GSB. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we are able to coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to Wharton and other top programs, request a free consultation .

Want more free advice?

View related articles by Fortuna’s expert coaches on Stanford GSB:

  • Deep Dive Analysis Comparing the HBS & GSB Classes of 2020
  • MBA Interview Prep for Stanford GSB + Example Behavioral Questions
  • MBA Letters of Recommendation: Strategy for Stanford GSB & HBS

You can also view one of our top resources , the MBA Admissions Essay Masterclass featuring   Stanford GSB, below.

All MBA Admissions Essay Masterclasses in our series, featuring insider advice from former gatekeepers of the world’s top business schools, are available on Fortuna’s YouTube channel .

Updated Sept. 27,  2023

Fortuna Admissions Co-Founder and Director Matt Symonds is Business education industry expert and columnist for Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, the BBC, among other publications. For more free advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a  free consultation .

  • Posted on September 27, 2023

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stanford mba essay what matters most to you and why

May 30, 2023

Stanford GSB MBA Application Essay Tips and Deadlines [2023 – 2024], Class Profile

stanford mba essay what matters most to you and why

In terms of its application, Stanford is once again re-using its essay questions. And there’s good reason for the recycling: Stanford has excellent questions that succinctly get to the heart of what Stanford wants to know about you. They are not easy questions to answer, but they are thoughtful, probing ones.

You should write the optional essays if you have experiences not presented in the required essays, that address the optional questions and that will reinforce the portrayal of you as a change agent and consequential member of your community , however you define that community. And most of us are members of multiple communities. 

If you have nothing to add, write nothing. However, I suspect most applicants will benefit by responding to the optional questions. Give GSB more reasons to admit you.

Stanford gives a lot of advice and guidance on its website as to what it’s looking for in the essays. You should access that advice in addition to reviewing my suggestions below.

In this post:

  • Stanford GSB 2023-2024 MBA application essay questions
  • Stanford GSB 2023-2024 deadlines
  • Stanford MBA Class of 2024 profile
  • More resources for Stanford GSB applicants

Stanford GSB 2023-24 MBA application essay questions

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.

We request that you write two personal essays.

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.

Stanford MBA 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?

The Stanford GSB’s tried and true essay question “What matters most to you and why?” is one of the most challenging MBA application prompts to respond to (so start early). Unlike most MBA essays, Stanford’s is not about describing your accomplishments, even if “achievement” is what you value most. It is not about highlighting your career, even if “ambition” matters most to you. It is not about revealing your “humble beginnings,” even if your childhood is the stuff about which memoirs are written. The school’s primary essay is about what you value most and, more importantly, why it matters most to you. It requires a level of maturity and introspection that only such a question can demand. It gives Stanford insights into who you are and what you can bring to the GSB beyond your academic background, professional accomplishments, and personal attributes. 

So where do you start? Start with the “what.” Ask yourself, “For what would I walk over hot coals?” Still stuck? Review lists of values that resonate with you. Is it peace, relationships, health, creativity, compassion, expression? The lists go on and on, and you should not worry about being cliché with your “what” because your why will be unique to you and how you have lived your life.

Moreover, you can choose something symbolic to help you tell your story. I often talk about a ring my mother gave me. The ring is precious to me because of what it represents and how it motivated me to make the choices that I have made. It is a symbol of an unbreakable mother-daughter bond. 

Where do you go after identifying your “what matters most”? Remember that your “why” is more important than your “what.” You need to explain why the values you highlight are essential to you. The best way to illustrate your “why” is by providing specific examples of how the values have shaped your life. Refrain from offering career examples because you can state your achievements in the optional “impact” essays, your resume, and the application form. You recommenders should be writing about your career achievements as well. If your values only motivate you for work, then these values are likely ones that don’t truly matter most to you, despite your spending 60-100 hours per week working.  

  • State the value that matters most to you.
  • Explain why this value is essential to you.
  • Provide specific examples (anecdotes) that illustrate how the value has shaped your life.
  • Discuss how your value has influenced your decisions and actions.
  • Explain why you are better off by having this value drive you.

The essay requires a level of honesty and authenticity that few others demand. Be specific and concise. The admissions committee wants to get to know the real you, so don’t be afraid to share your personal stories and experiences. 

Stanford MBA 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.

Why Stanford? 

Two words pack quite a punch: why Stanford, indeed? As you approach this essay, consider the following.

Stanford values intellectually curious individuals who can solve problems, see beyond the obvious, and connect the dots. Therefore, I suggest you begin your essay with what you hope to achieve after you graduate from the Stanford GSB. Don’t think about a role as you might with other post-MBA goals essays. Instead, consider the problems you want to solve at the organizations for which you hope to work in the future. It does not matter if you are considering an MBB consultancy, a giant Fortune 100 behemoth, a small start-up, a large private equity firm, a midsize family business, or a nonprofit organization. Focus on identifying the problems you can solve with your current skill set and the knowledge you will gain at Stanford.

Next, address the crux of the essay: Why Stanford? Note that the question is not “Why the GSB?” It is “Why Stanford?” While you want most of your essay to be about how the GSB can help you achieve your aspirations, consider how other parts of Stanford can add value to your education. And please don’t state the obvious. Resist the temptation to lift your information directly from the program’s website. The admissions committee already knows that the school’s location is perfect for entrepreneurship, tech, and venture capital. They already know they are highly selective and, therefore, highly ranked. They already know the Stanford brand resonates worldwide – they communicated all this to you in their marketing materials. Instead, think about the resources, opportunities, and community Stanford can offer you that will enable you to reach your unique goals. Why does this program make sense for you?

Finally, you will want to discuss how you will contribute to the Stanford GSB community. How will you make a difference at Stanford? What unique skills and experiences do you bring to the table? Why will your peers benefit from having you as a member of their class? 

With only 1,050 words to use for Essay A (What matters most?) and B (Why Stanford?) together, you need to understand yourself, your goals, what Stanford offers, and your unique value proposition to the Stanford community before tackling this essay. 

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 your candidacy, including academic, work, or test-taking experiences
  • Academic experience (e.g., independent research) not noted elsewhere

Additional information “essays” exist so that you don’t have to make the admissions committee guess what happened if you have something unusual or confusing in your profile, such as the following:

  • You had terrible grades your first year of university when your parent became ill, and you flew back and forth to care for your parent, or you worked 30 hours a week to make ends meet.
  • You received a subpar GMAT or GRE score because you are not a great test-taker and can prove it with your inadequate ACT or SAT score and a 4.0 GPA or because you were initially premed and realized after volunteering at a hospital that medicine was not your thing.
  • You did not ask an immediate supervisor to recommend you because you have only been with the company for a short time, and they do not know you well, or because doing so could lead to losing your job.

Stanford also suggests that you use this section to discuss any academic research because they do not want to see it on your one-page resume.

Additional information does not mean you should add an essay you wrote for another school. Feel free to bullet your reasons, making the section easier to read. If you have many bullets, you might have too many excuses, and many schools, including Stanford, could be a long shot for you.

Stanford MBA optional short-answer questions

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. If you feel that you’ve already described your contributions well in other areas of the application, congratulations, you’re done! If not, feel free to use this opportunity to tell us more.

Optional short-answer question

In the Essays section of the application, we ask you to tell us 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 would like to go beyond your resume to discuss some of your contributions more fully, 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?

Why does Stanford have optional essays? The school offers these impact essays because too many applicants tried to squeeze their accomplishments into their “what matters most” essay. If you are tempted to write about your achievements in your “what matters most” essay, stop. Then, cut and paste that information here instead. Now you have a space where you can highlight activities and describe your impact on work, extracurriculars, community service, family, or anything else. 

The best approach to writing an impact essay is to use CAR or STAR with an added Sig (significance) framework. Select each impact to show some variety in your life (in other words, don’t draw all three examples from your daily work).

C = Challenge (What challenge did you face?)

A = Action (How did you address the challenge? What specific steps did you take?)

R = Result (What was the outcome? Quantify the outcome, if possible. Did you increase revenues? Did you decrease costs? Did you increase membership? Did you minimize the danger? If so, by how much?)

Sig = Significance (Why was this important to you? What did it mean for others in your life?)

S = Situation (What background must you describe for the reader to understand your example?)

T = Task (What was your goal?)

A = Action (What steps did you take to achieve your goal?)

R = Result (What was the outcome? Did you achieve the goal? Did you surpass the goal. If so, by how much?)

These frameworks will work for any behavioral question that an admissions committee or interviewer will ask you. They will help you stay on point, so use them. Finally, be succinct because the 1,200-character allotment includes spaces. 

Personal Information, Activities and Awards: Optional question

In this section, we provide an optional opportunity for you to discuss your background more fully and how it has shaped your perspective. We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. Please feel free to elaborate on how your background or life experiences have helped shape your recent actions or choices- (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words). 

Some applicants miss this question because Stanford tucks it under the personal information section. Reflect on all those drop-downs you clicked on, and consider this the bookend to Essay A. In essay A, you discussed what matters most and why your values are what they are. For this essay, you need to consider how your identity, diversity, and uniqueness motivate your actions. Consider cultural upbringing, education, abilities, and life experiences. How have these factors influenced how you view the world? This question is about your identity. How has that identity – that core of who you are, that core of most significant influences and experiences – expressed itself in your recent actions? It’s about helping the admissions committee get to know you and what motivates you.

Given the meager 1,200-character limit, select one factor that drives your decisions. Then describe the subsequent action. Your action is the evidence to support how and why that factor motivates you. For example, my own life was heavily influenced by being the daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college student. It drove the overachiever in me. That background influences every action I take, from preparing clients for their GSB interview to advocating for the rights of disabled and infirm people. That identity is how I tell my story. Now, how will you tell yours?

Stanford GSB at a glance

  • Stanford GSB average GMAT score: 738
  • Stanford GSB average GPA: 3.78
  • Stanford GSB acceptance rate: 6.2%
  • U.S. News ranked the Stanford GSB #3 in 2023

For expert guidance with your Stanford GSB MBA application, check out Accepted’s MBA Application Packages , which include comprehensive guidance from an experienced admissions consultant. We’ve helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to Stanford’s MBA program and look forward to helping you too!

Stanford GSB 2022-23 MBA application timeline

1September 12, 2023December 7, 2023
2January 4, 2024March 28, 2024
3April 9, 2024May 23, 2024

Your completed application, including your  and application fee payment , is due at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time on the deadline date for the round in which you apply.

Source: Stanford GSB website

***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with the Stanford GSB to verify the essay questions, instructions, and deadlines.***

Stanford MBA Class of 2024 Profile

Here’s a look at the Stanford Class of 2024, taken from the  Stanford Graduate School of Business website :

Applicants :  6,152

New students : 424

Women : 44%

US students of color:  51%

International students : 37%

Countries represented : 56

Languages spoken : 71

U.S. students and permanent residents

Federal GuidelinesMulti-Identity Reporting
American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander0%2%
Asian (including Indian subcontinent and Philippines)23%30%
Black/African-American (including Africa and Caribbean)5%10%
Hispanic/Latino12%12%
Multi-Race7%
White (including Middle Eastern)49%61%
Declined to identify race and ethnic background2%2%

Undergraduate field of study

Engineering24%
Economics21%
Business & Commerce19%
Social Sciences20%
Math & Sciences9%
Arts & Humanities6%

Average GPA : 3.76

First generation in their family to graduate from a four-year college or university : 12%

Hold advanced degrees : 13%

US institutions : 83

Non-US institutions : 79

Average years work experience:  4.9

Investment Management, PE & VC20%
Consulting20%
Technology15%
Government, Education & Nonprofit8%
Consumer Products & Services7%
Health Care5%
Arts, Media & Entertainment5%
Military4%
Manufacturing3%
Clean Tech, Energy & Environmental3%
Financial Services4%
Other5%

Organizations represented : 285

Test scores

  • Average score: 737
  • GMAT score range: 630-790
  • Average Verbal score: 164
  • Verbal score range: 149-170
  • Average Quantitative score: 163
  • Quantitative score range: 150-170

TOEFL 

  • Average score: 113
  • Score range: 106-119

*Some students submitted both GMAT and GRE scores.

More resources for GSB applicants

Not sure that Stanford is the place for you? If you are in the research stage, these resources can help guide you: 

  • How to Demonstrate Impact in Your Application to Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton
  • M7 MBA Programs: Everything You Need to Know
  • Which MBA Program is Right for Me? The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an MBA Program

To hear about life at Stanford GSB from the mouths of real students, listen to these podcast interviews: 

  • Transitioning from the Military to an MBA at Stanford GSB – podcast Episode 471
  • Stanford MBA Discusses Coffee Chats – podcast Episode 437
  • What These Seasoned Startup Founders Have Done Since Earning Their Stanford MBAs – podcast Episode 382
  • A Stanford MBA with a Passion for Both Business and Humanities – podcast Episode 377
  • Stanford MBA Grows His Amazing Tech Startup – podcast Episode 369

Have you decided that Stanford GSB is your top choice? The road to acceptance isn’t easy, but check out the following links for pro tips on crafting your stand-out GSB application: 

  • What Does It Take to Get Into Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton? , a YouTube video
  • Why MBA? ,  a free guide to writing about your MBA goals
  • What Stanford GSB is Looking For: Intellectual Vitality
  • Stanford GSB’s Take on Demonstrated Leadership Potential  
  • Understanding Stanford GSB’s Interest in Personal Qualities and Contributions

Our team of MBA admissions experts includes former admissions directors, published authors, and highly experienced business school admissions consultants. And we are all primed and ready to help you secure a seat at your dream school, just as we have done for thousands of clients for the past 25 years. Schedule your free consultation and speak to an expert admissions consultant.

Natalie Grinblatt-Epstein Admissions Expert

By Natalie Grinblatt, the former admissions dean/director at three top business schools. Natalie has reviewed more than 70,000 applications, interviewed more than 2,500 candidates, and trained nearly 700 admissions directors and alumni volunteers to select outstanding candidates for admission. Her clients gain admission to top programs, including those at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, and NYU. Natalie holds an MBA from Michigan Ross.  Want Natalie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!

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Stanford What Matters Most, and Why?

T he Stanford Graduate School of Business wants to know “What matters most to you, and why?” If you are starting work on Stanford’s “What matters most” essay, chances are you are struggling!

One thing you need to know right from the start is that struggling is essential to succeeding in this assignment.

In this article, we offer advice on how to approach the first part of the “what matters” question. We’ll address the “why” question in a later post.

Answering Stanford’s “What matters most” essay question requires self-reflection and self-discovery. You are expected to examine the life you’ve lived and the choices you’ve made. Which is to say that what matters most to you may be revealed by your past actions and decisions.

Your answer could take the form of a statement of philosophy, sense of purpose, ideal, belief, value, mantra, passion, or love. It could be a person, a place, or a thing. There is no “right” answer nor is one form of expression better than another.

In your essay response, you will be expected to show the admissions committee how this “whatever it is” has manifested itself in your life. Therefore, you should begin this writing assignment by looking back at your life and performing some advanced “accounting.” Although looking backward is an important part of discovering your answer, what matters most to you might not be the same at every point of your life. Be aware that Stanford’s question is asking what matters to you most now — today .

The Right Approach

The wrong approach to tackling this essay question is to start with an answer you think will appeal to the Stanford GSB admissions committee and then attempt to find evidence from your life to support it.

Just as there is no ideal form for your response, there is not only one path to follow to find your answer.

If you are embarking on this journey, we have marked the trailheads of a few paths to explore. You don’t have to complete every single exercise in the list below. Rather, you should start down the path that looks most appealing and see where it takes you. If you’re not completely satisfied with where you end up, don’t give up; simply try another path.

Follow Your Struggles

In his book The Art of Dramatic Writing , Lagos Egri wrote, “a character stands revealed in conflict.” What does a playwright, writing about a character in a drama, have to teach us about answering Stanford’s “What matters most” essay? A great deal, as it turns out.

What is true for a character in a play is also true for you as a human being. To discover what matters to you, examine the times you’ve been under strain, stress, and pressure. In times of tremendous conflict, your character is revealed and your values are tested. A value becomes your value when it has actually cost you something. You may think that “protecting the environment” matters most to you, but have you made any sacrifices for this value? This is part of the “accounting” exercise I alluded to in the introduction. The “value of a value” can be measured in terms of sacrifice – of time, money, comfort, etc. You may think something matters to you, but has it ever cost you anything of value?

Follow Your Decisions

The things that truly matter most to you have guided you consciously or unconsciously at the times of your life when you were faced with important decisions. For this exercise, begin by identifying the big decision points in your life—the major forks in the road. Don’t analyze them right away; just write down some brief reminder phrases (e.g., “choosing between colleges”).

When you have a good list, go back and write a short story about making the decision. What were the options you were presented with, what did you think about each one, how did you “feel” about each one, and what choice did you eventually make and why? Finally, read all of your decisions stories together and see if you can discover a common thread or theme – a value that guided you or a belief or philosophy that you followed to make your decisions. This exercise may help you to see what matters most to you more clearly.

Follow Your Motivations

“What makes you tick?” From one perspective, Stanford’s essay question asks you to think about what motivates you. Think about the times in your life when you were truly motivated and energized. Food and sleep certainly matter a great deal, so consider the times that you worked through meals and sacrificed sleep for something that mattered more. At that time, what were you working on or what goal were you working towards? This exercise could reveal your deepest sources of motivation.

Follow Your Bliss

This advice is courtesy of the philosopher Joseph Campbell. Campbell believed that we should “follow our bliss” to discover our purpose in life. For this exercise, write down short narratives about the moments in your life when you were enjoying yourself so much that you lost track of time – i.e., the moments when you experienced bliss. Write down where you were and what you were doing at the time. It’s very likely that you were engaged in a pursuit that truly mattered to you.

Follow Your Sorrow

If your bliss isn’t the royal road to the answer of what matters most to you, then consider looking in the opposite direction: remember the times that you were truly unhappy – your darker days. This exercise is certainly not as fun as reminiscing about your joys and triumphs, but it can be revealing because depression, anxiety, and dissatisfaction are often signaling that we are not living according to our values or fulfilling a deeper sense of purpose. Think back to those painful moments, and ask yourself what was missing from your life? You may have been living in a way that was contrary to your deeper values. Perhaps what matters to you will be revealed by its absence.

Final Thoughts

You may discover your answer to Stanford’s “what matters most” essay question by following one of the paths above, or perhaps your answer will only become clear after you’ve traversed them all.

So how do you know when you have arrived at your destination? Only you can say for sure. It is the point that you decide that you no longer care what a Stanford admission committee thinks about your answer – this is what really matters to you and if it’s not what matters to them, then so be it!

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Stanford GSB’s Essay A: What Matters Most to You, and Why?

Perhaps the most famous MBA admissions essay, the first of just two essay prompts from the Stanford Graduate School of Business asks MBA applicants to dig deep into their personal motivations to answer the question.

A great “What Matters Most” essay will involve personal topics and strong emotions. As former Stanford GSB admissions director Derrick Bolton once said, “Essay A should be so personal that if you were working on it at 2am 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.”

No possible topic is too intimate. Successful applicants to the Stanford GSB MBA program have written about topics as wide-ranging as overcoming drug and alcohol addiction, having an abortion, taking pride in their ethnic identity, receiving advice from a valued mentor, or using their professional career to make a social impact.

Below, we present three perspectives on this iconic essay.

Personal Essay

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

Career Goals Essay

  • Why Stanford? (Suggested Word Count: 400 words)

Behavioral Essays

  • (Optional 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? (Up to 1200 characters, approximately 200 words for each example; up to three examples)
  • 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. (1200 characters)

Optional Essay

  • 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 is not meant to be used as an additional essay. (No word limit)

Source: Stanford GSB

The Importance of Story

Figuring out the core of your personal story, and how to explain it in a way that the Stanford Stanford GSB admissions reader can understand, is a critical part of a successful Stanford A essay.  Expert Admissions Consultant Yaron Dahan talks about the power of storytelling in essays like this one:

Don’t Overwrite

Many applicants think they have to be a creative writing genius to produce a great Stanford A essay. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Founding Partner Alice van Harten explains, using a simple writing style puts the focus where you want it — on your content.

A Guest Opinion on “What Matters Most to You, and Why?”

We asked our friend Kyle, an HBS MBA graduate and an experienced MBA admissions consultant, what he thinks of the prompt, and a few strategies for how to answer it. Here’s what he said:

I’ve found that most admissions consultants provide the same advice on how to answer Stanford’s first essay question, and frankly it’s no different than the advice Stanford provides in the prompt itself: a good answer requires deep self-examination. Unfortunately, I’ve also found this advice to be remarkably unhelpful for MBA applicants setting out to answer the most difficult essay question in business school admissions.

So, while I agree that the Stanford MBA admissions essay requires significant self-examination and reflection, I hope to provide some more concrete advice for how to approach that process and how to know when you’ve gotten to a quality answer.

It’s about hard choices – those that have a real cost.

One of my favorite classes at HBS was Designing Winning Organizations , taught by Professor Robert Simons. At the beginning of the semester, he posed this question as one of the most significant that a company has to answer: “How do your core values prioritize shareholders, employees, and customers?” Of course, most companies want to please all three constituents, but those who do tend to fail. Only those companies that truly prioritize the three succeed. In his words:

“Value statements that are lists of aspirational behaviors aren’t good enough. Real core values indicate whose interest comes first when faced with difficult trade-offs.”

This proposition proves quite useful for students embarking on Stanford’s first essay question – “What matters most to you, and why?” – in that a good answer will show how you’ve prioritized the many important things in your life. It will be an accounting of the major trade-offs you have made, personally and professionally, and why you made them.

The problem is that most applicants aren’t entirely honest with Stanford (not to mention themselves) about what they prioritize.

So, consider the major choices you’ve made in your life, and think about not only the options that you chose but also the options that you didn’t:

  • Where you’ve chosen to live – and, by implication, where you’ve chosen not to live.
  • What jobs you’ve accepted – and what jobs you’ve rejected or never pursued.
  • What things in your life get your time and attention – and what things don’t get it.
  • How you spend your money – and what you don’t spend it on.

After listing many important choices that you’ve made, and understanding what you gave up as a result, also consider that you may not have always prioritized what matters most to you. In some instances, you unknowingly prioritize the wrong thing, and you learn from it. These misguided choices can be great fodder for your Stanford essay, too.

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stanford mba essay what matters most to you and why

An Example of Finding “What Matters Most”

Perhaps an example from my own life would help. For many years, I have wanted to work in media, specifically journalism. It has always been a passion of mine: I was editor-in-chief of my high school’s newspaper; I was a journalism minor in college; and I followed the news (and the news about the news) obsessively after college. So, when it came time to choose my summer internship during business school, I sought a corporate finance job in the media industry in hopes of figuring out a new business model to save the old and decaying industry of journalism. This required moving to a city with the highest concentration of media and journalism companies: New York City.

I loved the internship to be sure, and I felt passionate about what I was doing. But I was never that keen on living in New York, as none of the people I really cared about lived nearby. So, after a summer away from my closest friends and family, I learned that I wanted to live in Chicago after graduation, even though it would mean taking a job outside of the media industry, which is heavily concentrated in New York City.

Perhaps, then, what matters most to me is having a strong network of support close to me. I would have to consider the other choices I’ve made, and the choices I expect to make in the future, to really know for certain. But it was a misguided choice to prioritize the industry I work in over the people that live near me.

Making the choice to live in Chicago after graduation came at a real cost – namely not being able to work at the best companies in my first-choice industry – but it was worth it to me because it is more important to be near a strong support network of friends and family.

The CEO of the company I worked for in New York City said it like this: you can have anything you want in life, but you cannot have everything you want in life.

So, What Makes a Great Answer to Stanford’s First Essay?

So, I always push applicants who are answering this question to talk not only about the choices they have made, whether they were right or wrong, and why they have made them, but also what those choices cost them. What opportunities did they miss out on in order to prioritize what matters most to them? What did they have to give up?

What makes a really interesting answer to Stanford’s first essay question is when applicants can demonstrate how they prioritized what was important to them when it came at great cost – when their priorities were in conflict with other still important things.

If you feel like the choices you’ve made in life haven’t come at much of a cost, then consider: What things are you not ? What else would you have been doing if you hadn’t been doing what mattered most to you? How would you have been spending your time, energy, and capital? Do you live in a studio apartment so you can afford to travel one a month? Did you lose touch with a friend because you launched a website and spent all your time trying to make sure it succeeded?

Focus on the Why

Once you’ve identified a few good example of tough choices that you’ve made – where you’ve had to give up one important thing for another – it’s time to consider why you made the choice you did, and perhaps if you would still make the same choice today. The motives for why you made those tough choices – those choices with real costs – are what Stanford is interested in learning about. Perhaps you live in that studio so you can travel once a month because your parents taught you that worldly exposure is the most important value. Or, perhaps you lost touch with your friends to launch that website because you were dedicated to learning how to code for the first time – and learning new skills is the most important thing to you.

Starting from the bottom up, thinking about the hard choices you’ve made before thinking about what is most important to you, will always lead to richer, stronger essays. It’ll enable you to support your claim with hard anecdotes and stories – showing the Stanford MBA admissions committee what matters most to you and why, not just telling them.

Tell a story, and make it emotional (happy, sad, funny, or anything in between).

The writing should be much more personal and casual than a traditional MBA essay. You need your personality, humor, and sentiment to come through in a way that most business school essays don’t really demand. Fortunately, if you follow the advice above and pick something that has real cost associated with it, then you’ll have emotion built in right away. Talking about what you gave up, if you truly cared about giving it up, will almost assuredly force genuine emotion into the writing.

Don’t focus on your accomplishments and accolades.

Many applicants make the mistake of making this essay about what they have accomplished, and claiming those accomplishments (often tied together by some central theme) as most important to them.

This is not an essay about what you’ve accomplished – that is what your resume is for. Rather, it’s an essay about the events, people, and situations in your life that have influenced you. It’s an essay about who you are and what you prioritize as a result.

Why Stanford GSB loves this question

Great leaders are often self-aware, know what is important to them, and drive to it at all costs. Steve Jobs is a well-known example of this – a leader who was so singularly focused on one thing that he was willing to sacrifice social acceptance (before he became a tech idol) and what people thought of him, a cost that many of us would not be willing to pay.

Ultimately, Stanford’s first essay question is highly personal, so it’s likely you’ll need to rely on friends, family, and colleagues to help you work through your ideas.

Stanford GSB Essay Examples: How Former Clients Approached the Stanford Essay & Application Journey and Won Admission

Elevate your essay writing skills with the help of seasoned MBA application consultants who can provide personalized guidance for your Stanford GSB application. Learn how our consulting team can support your journey.

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What matters most to you and why?

  • What matters most to you and why?

Client Admitted to Stanford Business School

  • Sample MBA Essays

Creating a great technological company matters the most to me. My vast experiences in the hitech industry in Silicon Valley and exposure to several Fortune 500 companies have inspired me to create a great hi-tech company that will create innovative electronics products. Such products will empower millions of users around the world and make their life much easier than what it is now.

Moreover, my experience in Sony opened my eyes to the world of cutting-edge products. As a technocrat, I have researched extensively on various technologies and contributed immensely on various product developments. In the process, I also thought about various ideas and also discussed with my close associates on how to launch a company in order to materialize few of our ideas. In 2012, I finally relocated to India and launched my dream venture. I and other cofounders selected few brilliants ideas and worked days and nights to roll out our maiden product for the Indian education sector. It had the power to transfer how children between the ages of six to ten would learn. Our interactive platform would engage the students and give them relief from the boredom of classroom based studies. The initial responses from various schools were excellent and we vigorously marketed our solutions. However, six months down the line, I realized that our cash flow was far less than the projected revenue figure. Desperate for finance, I networked with various VCs and banks; but, could not secure enough cash that could save the venture.

They say that failure is the pillar of success. I have learnt a lot from the failure of my first venture. Upon reflection, I also realized that my work experience in the Silicon Valley has etched an indelible mark in my DNA. Stories of successful companies such as Sun Microsystems, LinkedIn and Netscape resonate in my heart. I have witnessed how these companies have changed the course of history. I also want to create a successful venture and become a game changer in the Silicon Valley.

Moreover, I am passionate to solve multidisciplinary problems. I want to create software products that will solve real world challenges in the industry such as how to make marketing more data driven instead of pure instincts of brand managers or how to leverage analytics to formulated market penetration strategy. This kind of problems would need expertise on a lot of subjects such as consumer behavior, brand awareness, marketing, advertisement, etc. and that attracts me to the Stanford MBA program. I dream to brainstorm on multi-disciplinary subjects with my globally diverse peers in the Stanford GSB Behavioral Lab.

Moreover, I have come across a medical condition called “Synesthesia” in which all our senses become merged into one and they overall create a halo effect on human beings. For instance, companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook have “Os” in their names. Is that the secret of their branding success? I would like to brainstorm with neurological experts from Stanford School of Medicine. If my hypothesis is correct, then we can make branding a more data driven science compared to what it is today.

I believe that Stanford would help me to attain my career objectives of successfully launching a start-up in the Silicon Valley. Eventually, I aspire to become a venture capitalist who would evaluate innovative ideas and change the world. It will provide me numerous resources under one roof. I am determined to make most of my experience, brainstorm on innovative ideas with global peers and faculty members and launch my new venture post my MBA.

Final essay after brainstorming and 3 rounds of edits:

I have been inspired by a multitude of people in my life. However, it is the venerable trio of technology visionaries: Vinod Khosla, Reid Hoffman and Marc Andreessen, that has left an indelible impression on my mind. With Sun Microsystems, LinkedIn and Netscape respectively, each of them not only built an admirable technology company but also successfully metamorphosed into highly accomplished investors and venture capitalists. Building a high growth, future ready enterprise and eventually donning the hat of an investor to help other ambitious entrepreneurs succeed in their own ventures is how I REALLY envision my future.

On a contemplative weekend a few months ago, I noticed something interesting. Great consumer technology brands like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo have something else in common. They all have one or more ‘O’s in their names. Could a multisensory neurological condition called ‘Synesthesia’ ( a condition where multiple senses like visual shapes and sound get intertwined) have a correlation with building a successful brand identity, considering the fact that our mouths make a more rounded shape when pronouncing these names? More importantly, if my hypothesis could be validated, could it be used to build software that would make brand building more affordable and data driven? It is multidisciplinary problems like these that have always excited me. It would indeed be awesome if I could brainstorm on such a problem with experts at the GSB Behavioral Lab and the Stanford School of Medicine, collaborate over caffeine with a cross-functional team of classmates at the Stanford Venture Studio to bring the idea to fruition and pitch it to Vinod Khosla to seek advice.

Despite tasting limited commercial success in my first entrepreneurial venture, the passion to build a great technology company has not wavered and I continue to seek the next disruptive idea. But, I am committed to doing it better this time. Equipping myself with a robust analytical framework for assessing market opportunities, building an organized approach to address the micro and macro challenges of operating a company and refining my go-to market and sales strategies are all steps I view as crucial to realizing my vision. And, I am confident that I would be able to add each of these elements to my repertoire at Stanford GSB. However, the tenacity to embrace risk when others seek refuge is the single most important quality that I seek to imbibe during my time there and having been situated at the epicenter of hi-tech entrepreneurship since it all started, Stanford GSB was undoubtedly the most natural choice.

I cannot wait to walk down the alleys of Knight Way. After all, it is the surest way to prepare for the marathon from the edges of Silicon Valley to the heart of Sand Hill Road.

If you are a serious applicant, you would do well to review both the client’s basic draft and the final essay I created after elaborate brainstorming and 3 rounds of meticulous editing. Compare the introduction, conclusion and the overall flow of ideas between the two.

Brainstorming with this client helped me to identify areas in which I can provide useful insights in my capacity as a strategy consultant for over a decade. As an admission consultant, I work with numerous applicants and helped the client understand what other applicants generally write and how he must differentiate himself from others. Based on my advice, he avoided the commonplace things and came up with something that was both original and refreshing. Repeated editing helped me narrate his story in a far more effective and convincing manner than would otherwise have been possible. I was able to showcase his maturity and story-telling abilities.

In the end, my partnership with this applicant turned out to be fruitful as he was admitted into Stanford GSB.

What matters most to you and why? (2nd example)

It is not without reason that the more civilized and developed societies around the globe give primacy to the freedom of expression in their ethical, social, and political value systems. Psychologists universally agree that every human being is naturally endowed with the gift of creativity, and I firmly believe that it is through the nurturing and flowering of this gift that individuals and societies symbiotically prosper. It might just be possible that there is a latent Socrates or Galileo or Ayn Rand in many of us, but how many of us possess the courage of our convictions to stand up against the might of majority opinion? Fear of rejection, like an ogre, nips our latent genius in the bud. We become just like everybody else, standardized cogs in the social machine.

It follows, therefore, that the way to both personal and collective advancement is to let a hundred flowers bloom, of course without crushing them when they do so! Let me take an illustrative example. I head an organization. It is not doing as well as I expected, and I want it to move forward at a faster and more competitive pace. I need ideas, a whole pool of them – tested ideas and untested ones, new ideas, daring ideas, out-of-the-box and improbable-sounding ideas. I want them all before I make my choice, because the more my choices, the greater the probability that I will find just what I am looking for, rather than a mere approximation of what I want. What do I do? Do I shut my cabin door, hang a Do Not Disturb sign on it, put on my thinking cap, and sit at my table thinking? After all, I am the boss, it is I who should be the ‘ideas’ man, it is I who should give the lead. Or do I call up all my senior executives and whoever else in the organization fits the bill, and get down to a solid brainstorming session?

When one compares the two options, how limited and exclusive the first one is; and how full of possibilities and inclusive is the second one! What the first option, in effect says, is, ‘This is my organization – you are here to do my bidding.’ It is an egotistical approach with which the employees will be at pains to identify. What the second option says is, ‘This is our organization. Let’s do things together.’ There is more respect for another here, and a greater appreciation of one another’s abilities that in turn foster a sense of belonging and make each member of the group strive for excellence. Creativity happens by itself – ideas tumble out, and the chances are that, somewhere in the heap of views that are so freely expressed, there lies the seed of the perfect solution for the problem at hand.

I believe it is precisely the lack of openness to what others might have to say, and the contribution they might be able to make that, by and large, has stifled innovation in India. As Narayan Murthy, the revered co-founder of the Indian multi-national Infosys has potently observed, not a single good innovation has come from India in the last decade. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing situation in developed nations like the USA, where the sanctity accorded to the individual has resulted in a society that is forever pushing back the boundaries of creative endeavour in every field of human activity.

Now to come to our own family business: it relates predominantly to the industrial sector, and is run jointly by my father and my father-in-law. They are awesome leaders in their own way, no doubt, but over the past few years our business has begun to lose its fizz. Why? Because new businesses are coming up, which are run in new ways, using new technologies like E-commerce and IT, to which we had turned a blind eye. The dinosaur, they say, disappeared because it could not adjust to climate change. The industrial climate, too, had changed, and it took a great deal of convincing before I could make my father and father-in-law agree to venture into new sectors. I persuaded them to invest in new companies. The returns told their own story – they were higher than was expected in any other industrial sector. And there was an additional benefit: we got hands-on knowledge on IT and e-Commerce.

When you let a hundred flowers bloom, its fragrance spreads far and wide!

Stanford GSB’s Take on Demonstrated Leadership Potential

It is essential to understand stanford’s concept of leadership in order to portray it effectively in your application..

As per Stanford GSB’s evaluation criteria , the school seeks demonstrated leadership potential. But, isn’t that all B-schools look for leadership potential? The answer is “yes and no” – quite an ambiguous phrase, isn’t it? There are some unique nuances to Stanford’s concept of leadership that you should know about in order to showcase leadership effectively in your application . Let’s try to decipher what Stanford means by “demonstrated leadership potential”. Lets take word by word for our analysis.

First, Demonstrated:-

You must showcase what impact(s) you have made till date to your organization(s). Actions speak louder than words. Provide concrete evidence to convince the admissions committee that you have left an indelible mark in your organizations. Describe what you accomplished, how you challenged the status quo and what changes you have implemented. Stanford GSB admissions officers should be able to visualize you in action while reading the applications essays.

Second, Leadership:-

Leadership is an umbrella word. There are numerous aspects of leadership such as communication, coordination, collaboration, managing scope/schedule/cost/priorities of a project, controlling quality, handling personality conflicts, mentoring, networking and so on.

But how does Stanford defines leadership? As per GSB, leadership must be guided by ideal, even in difficult circumstances. That is what they call “directed idealism.” To provide meaningful leadership, you must have a core set of values that must guide you, just as the North Star used to guide sailors in old days. However challenging any project might be or whatever ethical dilemma you might have faced, Stanford expects that you showcase consistent actions that are driven by values.

Business leaders, especially the ones who are in top positions in global corporations and renowned non-profits, amass immense power. Common people generally view them as role models. Our society, in general, places huge responsibilities on the shoulders of such leaders. Corporate scandals, misuse of office or lapse in moral and ethical dimensions by corporate bosses send a wrong signal to the society at large. Hence, Stanford aspires to create a crop of leaders who will understand their tremendous responsibilities and act accordingly.

As an applicant to Stanford GSB, keep these points in mind while selecting your leadership stories.

Third, Potential:-

Stanford wish to see that you always walk the extra mile to accomplish your goals. You have the “fire in the belly” to become one of the top leaders in the industry. You are in constant look out to broaden your leadership horizon and grow as a leader. Hence, you network with senior leaders, read books of management gurus, and brainstorm with your peers to understand various issues of management.

Moreover, you are open to critique. You gracefully accept feedback and realize that constructive criticism is one of the best ways to know how others’ perceive you.

As you can see, the definition of “Demonstrated Leadership Potential” of Stanford is little different from those of other B-schools. Integrate these points into your entire application in order to differentiate from hundreds’ of other application.

How to Project Intellectual Vitality to Stanford?

Stanford is one of the most selective B-schools in the world. For the Class of 2019, it admitted only 6% of all applicants. So, an astonishing 94% of the applicants were rejected in the gruesome selection process. And many of these rejects have excellent academic and professional career. They are smart and accomplished. Yet, they were rejected. So how can you showcase to Stanford that you have all the necessary qualities that it is looking for. Let us walk you through Stanford’s evaluation criteria and give you some advice.

The very first point is intellectual vitality. Now, how do you define “intellectual vitality”? It has three fundamental parameters. They are:

1. Passion for ideas.

Ideas fascinate you! You embrace change and are always interested to know the next big idea. You scout for cutting-edge ideas that have the potential to change the status quo. You have the intellectual curiosity to dig out more about any idea in order to push the boundaries and explore new territories. How can it be utilized to make thing better? How can it change our existing beliefs? What will be the ripple effect of implementing this idea? Is this idea going to give us a new lens to see things in a different light? You think for countless hours for all such possibilities.

2. Dynamic, engaged mind.

You are ever curious like a child! You have a brilliant mind to probe into things. You are always comparing and contrasting things. You are trying to find out the reasons behind any event, however small or insignificant it might be. You always try to understand the background information behind everything in order to understand patterns. You try to understand the past in order to predict what might happen in the future. You try to comprehend the overlaps between disparate points and differences between similar ones. For you, engaging in such a mentally stimulating exercise is fun as well as passion. You are ever enthusiastic to know what you might find at the end of the tunnel. It’s a thrilling journey for you. And you do inspire others to join you in that journey.

3. Free thinker

You have an independent mind that is uncluttered from others’ opinion. You always talk to numerous bright individuals to listen to their opinions. But, you make your own judgement. You think something is correct not because your family or friends believe that. You always analyse things from multiple angles using numerous lens and form your own conclusion. Thereafter, you are not afraid to act as per your belief.

However, you are also not scared from being challenged on your ideas. In fact, you welcome such an intellectual exercise. You are passionate to listen to others’ viewpoint and then you put forward your own ideas. You’re a skilful devil’s advocate, and able to argue from multiple perspectives. You relish comprehending what drives and underlies opposing ideas and beliefs (there’s that curiosity again).

The above mentioned three points defines intellectual vitality in a nutshell. Now, how do you let Stanford’s admissions team know that you have the necessary intellectual vigor and vitality? Your application essays are the perfect place to showcase these qualities. Compose engaging essays, narrate your ideas in detail, and articulate all aspects of your argument with fascinating anecdotes. Luckily, if you are invited to an interview, you will get a golden opportunity to showcase the entire spectrum of your intellectual vitality to Stanford.

Sandip Bhattacharya MBA Admissions Consultant

Sandip Bhattacharya, General Management Program (Harvard), Master's in Creative Writing (Oxford)

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Sample Harvard Stanford MBA essays: Written by ChatGPT, reviewed by humans

Sample Harvard Stanford MBA essays

Partly out of curiosity and largely to evaluate its impact on our own future , we asked ChatGPT to do what many have already started asking – write sample MBA essays for Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB and other top business schools.

In an earlier post, we covered how to (and not to) write an MBA Application Essay using ChatGPT .

While that was the entrée, think of this as the main dish. We have now tried to take specific examples, given the AI model as much data as one could, and then attempted to ‘objectively’ assess if it could give humans (with admission consulting experience) a run for their money.

And it should be no surprise to you, the reader, as to what our ongoing hypothesis was here. But with that as a disclaimer, we have tried to be as objective here as possible.  

Stanford and Harvard MBA essay prompts to get examples from ChatGPT

At MBA Crystal Ball, we’ve had a lot of fun over the years tackling the ‘What matters most to you, and why?” question that Stanford GSB has been posing for several years now.

It is also among the trickiest in the MBA application world (together with the openly worded HBS question).  

The methodology

We started with the basic questions and kept increasing the complexity as well as the data that was provided.

To prompts such as – how can I write a good essay for this and do you have a template , ChatGPT humbly accepts it doesn’t have a template but then, goes on to list a 5-part structure:

  It also gives 6 tips such as being authentic, focusing on one or two things and so on.

The tips are nothing new and apply universally, available on any number of sites, including ours, from where ChatGPT inputs would’ve been sourced.

The structure however comes under scanner up front.

In many cases, you don’t have to necessarily spell out what matters to you in what may be construed as pedantic and forced manner (I’ll explain that in a minute).

The MBA essay structure ChatGPT suggests is pretty similar irrespective of when you ask it to regenerate the response – in other words, if you follow it, the essay risks looking like a clone of many others right up front.

Next, we asked for an example and this is how it went.

[Note: For the sake of brevity, we’ve used representational samples of MBA essays written by ChatGPT, as opposed to the full output.]

From a young age, I loved exploring the woods behind my house, playing in the creek, and watching the stars at night.

As I got older, my passion for nature only grew stronger, and I began to realize that protecting the environment was what mattered most to me.

  Many may marvel at how legible and real it feels. Sure. But then again, remember that making basic sense isn’t what gets you through. A vast majority of humans can do that.

When you’re writing Harvard and Stanford MBA essays, you’ll need to bring in much more than these examples.

What ChatGPT generated is as generic as it gets – right from the scenery it tries to evoke an answer, the example couldn’t be further from sounding as to what a ‘real’ person would say.

We also asked it for a sample on HBS essay prompt, “ As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? ” and this is a small sample of what it came up with.

Growing up in a small town in rural America, I always felt a strong connection to nature. From a young age, I loved exploring the woods behind my house, playing in the creek, and watching the stars at night. As I got older, my passion for nature only grew stronger, and I began to realize that protecting the environment was what mattered most to me.

  This feels derivative of the Stanford MBA essay sample and retains the same generic feel.

Here’s another interesting observation we made. What ChatGPT gave us has an eerie similarity to what it generated for Poets&Quants for over a month back.

  Deja vu?

There may be thousands of applicants getting ‘inspired’ by the same examples with similar wording. Keep this in mind if you plan to use sample MBA essays of HBS, Stanford et al.

We didn’t stop there though. Taking things a notch higher, we then fed a candidate’s resume details as well as a lot of information that we ask as part of our process, into the model. We then requested it for a response. Here’s what we got (personal information masked)

Growing up, I learned the importance of this approach thanks to my father, who challenged me to develop a value proposition for everything I wanted in life.

While I initially resented the delayed gratification that came with this process, it instilled in me a desire to make choices that were well-informed and aligned with my values.

As I entered adulthood, this approach proved invaluable, particularly as a woman in a society that often creates a glass ceiling for women.

When I decided to pursue mechanical engineering despite concerns from others about my ability to land a core engineering job, I did my research, talked to successful women in the field, and ultimately became the first person in my university to land a core engineering job.

Now, I mentor other women in the XYZ program and help them interview for internships at my company.

  The tool follows the GIGO principle (Garbage In Garbage Out). So what you feed it will influence the output it generates.

The example above sounds more real. This is because most of these were the Stanford applicant’s words that we picked up from the rough draft and structure shared while working with us.

So, what’s wrong with this? Notice the use of clichés (like holistic perspective ). It continues to move around the periphery, without hitting the nail on its head.

Reading this, one gets the impression that this is an interesting person, but doesn’t quite get it.

But it can be a good starting point, right? Wrong.

After hours of brainstorming to discover what makes the candidate click, this is what eventually resulted in an admit from the toughest school in the world to get into.

She had won the book for being her XYZ university’s gold-medalist. Despite her academic promise, she never pursued international research opportunities offered to her; it was “unseemly” for a woman to work alone in another country. History repeated itself across generations in my family.

My grandmother studied medicine. My mother is the only person in our family with a master’s degree. My aunt was a national-level swimmer with Olympic potential.

All talented women, but none allowed to professionally explore their potential. I grew up listening to their stories of would-be triumphs and many regrets.

But the picture they painted for me was one of hope and dreams, giving me courage to break the prejudices of a conservative society that had shackled their dreams.

Not without a hint of vengeance, I vowed to never let my life be dictated by my gender.

The first real test of this vow was while deciding my undergrad major.

  Of course, there was much more hard-hitting content in the essay. But what we’ve shared should give you an idea of how different her submitted essay was compared to the examples we got from ChatGPT.

If the candidate had followed the rigid structure or the first draft proposed by ChatGPT, the above version would never had come out.

Even before the ChatGPT era, we’ve been cautioning candidates against reading up sample MBA essays or asking for one. They do nothing but to bias you that there is a right answer out there. There isn’t.

In the words of ChatGPT, you have to be authentic. And without an interactive back and forth, without the right dosage of art and creativity thrown in for good measure, the current system is likely to make you biased.

Let’s see what the online tool does with the HBS prompt now. This time, showing how it ends. Here’s the sample Harvard MBA essay generated by ChatGPT.

In pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School, I hope to further develop my skills in leadership, problem-solving, and collaboration. With a passion for creating value and making informed decisions, I am confident that I can contribute to the HBS community and bring a unique perspective to class discussions and projects. Thank you for considering my candidacy.

  The first sentence is quite a mouthful without giving away much of real substance. The Why HBS piece is a boilerplate response that is just sheer waste of space. Compared to how we helped the applicant end it.

I love creating “value propositions” and I believe that I can really refine my strategy building skills at HBS, especially over the strategy classes in Term 2. In addition, the field immersions would also help me try out my decision making frameworks on real life projects.

I believe this exposure, coupled with a stint in consulting and my background in engineering will enable me to pursue my goal of becoming a well-rounded strategy leader in a technology enterprise, who is able to create the right “value propositions” for the company and help women look beyond the questions that our society continuously throws at them!

  As humans, it’s hard for us to leave something that’s already there (in this case, say a first draft from ChatGPT) and start from scratch. Its after all an art.

Many argue as to why are these essays required, for they are not going to become artists. But that’s not correct. For becoming a business leader is no less than art where you have to balance conflicting priorities, and not just think objectively, but humanly and manage emotions too.

In essence, play with the AI model but if you are serious about your applications, stay authentic and avoid the temptation to take the easy route. The route won’t lead anywhere.

Living and breathing humans are better at understanding pain, euphoria and other emotions that go into making a good MBA essay. And with experience it gets better. We have a few of those seasoned mentors in our team, who can help you with your MBA applications.

Play around with ChatGPT till you figure out what it can and cannot do. And then drop us an email for the serious application work: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

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More From Forbes

What matters most to you, and why the stanford mba wants to know, and so should you.

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This question is simple enough; though coming up with your answer can be a lot more challenging. This notorious essay is at the heart of the MBA application to the Stanford GSB, and typically ties applicants in knots as they try to come up with an answer that they hope is clever, striking, or even profound.  (The author is a co-Director of Fortuna Admissions, an  MBA Admissions Consulting  Firm).

Whether you’re actually applying to the MBA program at Stanford, or wondering about the career path that is right for you, taking the time to answer this question can provide invaluable insight about your life purpose, values, and true authentic self.  When you understand what matters most to you, it’ll help solidify your self-awareness and give you a strong foundation. This will lead to success at business school but also success with relationships and career.  It’s a question that is worth considering in spite of the pain and agony!

Stanford MBA Program essays provide you an opportunity to reflect on your own “truest interests” and ... [+] “highest aspirations.” Getty

So why does Stanford ask this question, and why they have stuck with it for so long? For Heriberto Diarte, a Stanford GSB alumnus and alumni ambassador, the question really gets to the heart of what Stanford is about, and links strongly to the school’s tagline, 'Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world’. “Stanford is looking not just for extremely bright and successful professionals, but also young people who have strong values, and who want to have a positive impact in the world."

"The school genuinely wants to get to know you and to understand your values," Diarte explains. "Stanford MBAs are driven by a desire not just to excel in their careers but also to help others and have a positive impact." Compared to other top business schools, Stanford is a relatively small program of around 400 students, and is seeking to build a very close knit, supportive community. Diarte points to the incredible warmth and spirit of collaboration and friendship that permeates the whole experience. "Stanford students have the ability to open up, be vulnerable, and grow in a supportive yet challenging environment. As such, the Admissions office works very hard to bring together a group of students who are open, humble and have strong integrity and this provides the foundation of the incredible level of camaraderie and trust that you find at the school. This is really core to Stanford’s brand and the identity of its community.”

So what matters most to you, and why? Start off with your intuitive or blink response. Write it down. We’ll come back to it later.

Now Stanford is suggesting 750 words for this essay. Maybe you feel that you can answer the first part of the question in one word, with things like family, love, or chocolate. But the heart of the question, the part that reveals your true calling in life requires deeper introspection. Why does that one thing matter more than any other?

If you’re staring at a blank page, perhaps we can start with some of the advice that Stanford GSB itself provides. They suggest that you think in terms of who you are, lessons and insights that have shaped your perspectives, and events that have influenced you. And they encourage you to write from the heart.

Stanford’s Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions, Derrick Bolton has been quoted to say ,‘please think of the Stanford essays as conversations on paper ‒ when we read files, we feel that we meet people, also known as our "flat friends" ‒ and tell us your story in a natural, genuine way.” If you look up ‘story’ in the dictionary, you will find a definition along the lines of ‘an account of imaginary or real people and events told in an entertaining way.” The best essays are told in a compelling ‘story-like’ way that may involve emotion, humor, inspiration, wit, insight, honesty, and simply - being yourself. A Stanford GSB admissions officer may be reading 20 applications today, 30 tomorrow, and hundreds more in the following weeks. So how can you make an impact, sound intelligent, be original, and engage your reader? This is no easy task but it’s time to put on your thinking hat and reach inwards to tell the story that you are the best qualified to write.

Our team at Fortuna Admissions offer  advice on how to best tackle the structure of this essay, while telling your ‘story’:

1. Start with identifying a person, event, or experience that greatly impacted you.

2. What morals, values, and lessons did you gain from this experience?

3. How do you use these morals, value, and lessons today, and how do they impact your drive, your motivation, and your vision of the world? (Remember, Stanford’s mission statement is ‘change lives, change organizations, change the world’.)

4. How has the development of your career linked to the above?

5. Conclude by restating the link between your values and your career vision, and why these goals are important to you.

If you’re still drawing a blank as to what really matters to you, start by noting down all of your experiences to date, and exploring things like:

  • What was it like growing up? How did your parents/guardians and your surroundings shape you? Were you a happy child? What were you regularly involved in (by force or by choice)?
  • What was school like? Were you focused? How did your friends influence you? What kind of people did you hang around with? How did you feel, emotionally as a teenager? What did you get involved with?
  • What has your career been like? Are you happy with your choices? Any regrets?  What do you like/dislike about your job and why?
  • What extra-curricular activities and hobbies do you engage in and what’s the reason behind them?
  • What do you love or hate about life? What makes you happy or sad, frustrated or upset?
  • What gets you up (or not get up) in the morning?  In this life, what do you really care about?

Now look at all of your answers – including what you initially wrote down as your gut response. Can you identify an underlying theme (or themes) throughout your life? I bet you can. It might amaze you that you have a method to the madness in your life! You could even talk to friends and family as they may have some anecdotes about you that have slipped your mind.  Now, through telling an interesting story, highlight the key themes and connect them to the general ideas expressed in your essays.

Even though you might have to spend hours on this essay through brainstorming, research, talking with others, writing a draft, then another (and then another), just remember that it’s all inside you… it's your story, and you just have to find it and pull it out.

Shouldn't we all really think about what matters most to us, whether we are applying to business school or not? This essay is, in fact, a very beneficial exercise to help with self-awareness, to understand why we do the things we do, and why we make certain choices in life. Take this on as a personal feat, not as an MBA essay question. Stanford wants to know what matters most to you, and so should you.

Matt Symonds

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GSB What Matters Most Essay

I am seriously struggling with the WMM essay, and it’s driving me crazy. Trying to distill who I am and what is meaningful to me down to one narrow thing, which by the way isn’t allowed to be something like “family” or “being the best I can” or “helping people” (which actually probably are the things that matter most to me), seems impossible. Not to mention combing through my life experiences, which might be considered mediocre (I don’t have a tragic backstory of overcoming, and also haven’t cured cancer or become the next Elon Musk to wow the committee yet) and crafting a thoughtful, self-reflective narrative of WHY that thing matters most in my life. Not to mention this has to be done in 650 words or less.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant that GSB makes us go through this process and answer this question. Just wish I was having more success so far 😅

Rant over. Thanks for listening and I’d love to hear if anyone else is struggling with this essay a bit. Also tips and suggestions are welcome!

Have you explored SwatLink ? Have thoughts you want to share? Let us know what you think !

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Sample Personal Statement MBA

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

“Don’t close your eyes.” – It’s a spell that takes me back to the New Years Eve of 2004, France. 

“Six, cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un–Bonne Année!” After the count down everyone was blowing on party horns with lots of kisses and hugs. I could only hear what was going on, as I was curled up on the couch. My mom was telling her friend how it’s too bad I fell asleep so early to miss a great party. My family was visiting France for the holidays after ten years since we returned to Korea. With no memory of the stay in France, I was tired of feeling lost every time someone who knew me as a child came up to me and started a conversation in French. I thought the words sounded like a chant. Pulling a blanket over my head, I wished I were home. It was uncomfortable.

Since then, I slowly learned that it was not the situation I was uncomfortable with, but my passive reaction. I regretted how I let a precious moment to reconnect with people who cared about me just pass by – all because I was a coward.

When an opportunity came several years later, I started learning French. The image of myself on New Years Eve worked as a strong motivation. With expressions I learned, I wrote short emails and Christmas cards to Chantal, Jonas and Laurence, our family friends in France. I thought about ways to make up for the moment I had lost. Then in 2009, after submitting college applications, I went on a solo trip to France. I decided to be there alone to not hide behind anyone. And as I look back, it was one of the best choices I have ever made. Not because I could understand more of what my French friends were saying, but because I could truly appreciate an opportunity by having a little bit of courage.

I tried to remember this lesson when I started to work at HeliTrak, a startup company that develops autopilot and avionics for helicopters. Although I was hired as a software developer, aerospace industry vocabulary and acronyms were all foreign to me. In the weekly engineering meeting, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on. Also as the only Asian female and a foreigner in a group of fifteen male Caucasian engineers, I felt like I did not belong there. It was uncomfortable again, similar to how I felt ten years ago. Yet, this time, I did not let the opportunity fly by. I first went online to familiarize myself with aeronautics and aircrafts. I also participated in a private pilot ground school training program. Most importantly, I took efforts to get to know everyone. A year and a half has passed, and I am really glad I didn’t just close my eyes. I have already been to three of the biggest trade shows in the industry, where I demonstrated our product, Collective Pull Down, to helicopter pilots and avionics dealers. I now work as both a software developer and a marketer. I spend most of my time developing software for the autopilot system, but I also manage the company website and help design marketing materials. Looking back, I am really thankful that I was there to appreciate the opportunities that came my way.

I have made numerous mistakes and I know I will make much more. I am also not good at everything, and I will definitely face failures. However, what matters most to me now is not to close my eyes, because I know I will get to see a bigger world when I do.

Essay B: Why Stanford?

As a Studio Art and a Computer Science double major at Swarthmore, it was always interesting to find intersection between artistic design and technical implementation. The summer internship at CLO Virtual Fashion Inc., a software company that develops 3D simulation tools for fashion designers, provided an opportunity for me to see how this could be done in a corporate setting. As I collaborated with fashion designers, software developers, and marketers on a fabric selection tool project, I realized how important a good management is in bringing these diverse groups together. This unique experience fomented in me a desire to not only find ways to combine my biggest interests but also do it in a position of leadership.

Now a full time employee, I see more mindsets converge as different departments work together to develop and sell a product. The valuable experience of traveling with the management team and interacting with them on a personal level”has”taught”me”how”much”I”enjoy”the”dynamic”factors”of”doing”business,”as” much as its potential to turn vision into a viable plan.

I am currently attracted to exploring a new technical process for designing individual and human centered clothing. I would like to come up with a way to manufacture organic clothes– not necessarily in terms of fabric or material but in relation to us, with all our scars, idiosyncrasies, and body shapes. To turn this vision into a plan, I decided to pursue graduate education in management.

I feel like Stanford would be the perfect place to realize it, not only because of its top MBA program but also because of opportunities specific to the school. At Stanford, I would like to take advantage of the d.school experience, by taking classes there and participating in innovative projects. It would allow me to learn about ways to better combine human values, technology, and business. Also, I want to be part of the Stanford Venture Studio. With the community there, I hope to gain foundational skills and support necessary for starting a new business. 

I am excited to bring my skillsets and energy to the vibrant community at Stanford Business School. I am confident that Stanford would be the right place for me to start finding answers and that my unique interests and experiences will add to the diversity.

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Co-Intelligence: An AI Masterclass with Ethan Mollick

Wharton professor and author Ethan Mollick shares insights on how AI can revolutionize work and life.

June 11, 2024

Welcome to Grit & Growth ’s masterclass on AI — a practical guide for experimenting and engaging with artificial intelligence. Ethan Mollick, Wharton School associate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship, AI visionary, and best-selling author walks us through the hype, fears, and potential of this transformative and complex technology.

AI is reshaping business, society, and education with unprecedented speed. Ethan Mollick urges business leaders and educators to get in there and figure it out for themselves — to experiment and discover, rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for AI to come to them. His latest book, Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI , is a practical guide for thinking and working with AI so you can determine how and where it can be utilized most effectively.

Mollick believes that AI can help entrepreneurs at every stage of business, including coming up with the very idea for the business itself. “AI out-innovates people in most cases,” he says, “so you should probably be using it to help you generate ideas.” In fact, he encourages us to think about AI as a cofounder to bounce ideas off. Mollick also acknowledges that people need to push through those initial couple hours of resistance when exploring AI. “There’s a lot of reasons people stop using AI. It’s weird. It freaks them out. It gives them bad answers — initially. You need to push through, like there is a point of expertise with this, where you start to get what it does and what it doesn’t. Ten hours is my loose rule of thumb for how much time you have to spend using these systems to kind of get it.”

Mollick’s Four Essential Rules for Integrating AI into Work and Life

  • Always invite AI to the table. “You don’t know what AI is good for or bad for inside your job or your industry. Nobody knows. The only way to figure it out is disciplined experimentation. Just use it a lot for everything you possibly can.”
  • Be the human in the loop. “The AI is better than a lot of people in a lot of jobs, but not at their whole job, right? And so, whatever you’re best at, you’re almost certainly better than the AI is.”
  • Treat AI like a human. AI models are “trained on human language, and they’re refined on human language. And it just turns out that they respond best to human speech. Telling it and giving tasks like a person often gets you where you need to go.” … (but tell it what kind of human to be) “AI models often need context to operate. Otherwise, they produce very generic results. So, a persona is an easy way to give context. ‘You are an expert marketing manager in India, focusing on technology ventures that work with the US’ will put it in a different headspace than if you say you’re a marketer or if you don’t give it any instructions at all.”
  • Assume this is the worst AI you will ever use. “We’re early, early days still. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff still being built.”

Listen to Ethan Mollick’s insights on how AI can level the playing field for startups and how entrepreneurs and teams can use it to enhance creativity, efficiency, and innovation.

Subscribe to Professor Mollick’s blog for more insights.

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Grit & Growth is a podcast produced by Stanford Seed , an institute at Stanford Graduate School of Business which partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets to build thriving enterprises that transform lives.

Hear these entrepreneurs’ stories of trial and triumph, and gain insights and guidance from Stanford University faculty and global business experts on how to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.

Full Transcript

Note: Transcripts are generated by machine and lightly edited by humans. They may contain errors.

(00:02) Ethan Mollick: The idea is you don’t know what AI is good for or bad for inside your job or your industry. Nobody knows. I think a lot of people think there’s a secret instruction manual out there. There is not.

(00:17) Darius Teter: Welcome to  Grit & Growth from Stanford Graduate School of Business, the podcast where Africa and Asia’s intrepid entrepreneurs share their trials and triumphs with insights from Stanford faculty and global experts on how to tackle challenges and grow your business. I’m your host, Darius Teter, the executive director of Stanford Seed.

It seems like no matter where you turn these days, artificial intelligence is the topic on everyone’s lips. It’s in the news daily, and the pace of development is unprecedented. But from total doom to utopic optimism, everyone has a hot take, and it’s clear that a broad transformation is underway. But what does it actually mean today? And for the purposes of this podcast, what might this revolution mean for your business? Today I’m joined by a visionary thinker, someone who’s deeply tapped into and working intensely on the intersection of artificial intelligence, business, society, and education.

Ethan Mollick: I’m Ethan Mollick, a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School. I’m also the author of Co-Intelligence, which is a new book out that’s sort of a guide to thinking and working with AI.

(01:28) Darius Teter: I’ve been following Ethan’s blogs for a long time and he is the leading thinker and doer on the applications of AI to business. In his new book, Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI, he prompts us to experiment and discover how AI can revolutionize our own work in our lives. So we’re going to peel back the layers of hype and fear to discuss how AI may redefine how we work, learn, and solve problems. And as an entrepreneur, we’ll ask: Can it be the breakthrough that you’ve been waiting for or perhaps the challenge that you need to prepare for? Let’s find out together. I’m very interested in the practical applications and what it particularly means for people who are trying to start a business or build a business. So what I did is, I went back and I read your book. Was it The Unicorn’s Shadow?

(02:22) Ethan Mollick: Yes, my entrepreneurship book a while ago, yes.

(02:25) Darius Teter: Yeah. So the question that came to me is: that was four years ago. In what ways would the advice you gave in that book change now that we have a co-intelligence that we can work with? And maybe I would start with the whole idea of ideation. What’s changed?

(02:44) Ethan Mollick: I mean the AI idea hits most people, I mean it’s this short change. So that’s a pretty profound set of changes. I’ve taught entrepreneurship courses for over a decade, 15 years. I know a lot of those have gotten funding and I’ve seen lots of ideas, at least for starting ideas. It does a better job than most of my students. Now, the very best ideas, people generate on their own, but now it can help them come up with ideas. And we know this because we’ve actually done head-to-head comparisons with other humans, judging willingness to pay, and AI out-innovates people in most cases. So, for example, if you would just have a conversation with GPT-4 and you’re like, “Hey, I’m trying to come up with a business idea. Ask me questions, help me come up with something,” you’re going to come up with something pretty solid, right? It’s not going to be bad, at least at a starting point. So especially if you feel stuck by that, you’re like, “Hey, listen, I’m a small business owner in Kenya who has a bunch of needs. Let’s talk through it.” We already know from early results that helps. AI advice is useful for entrepreneurs. So I would just — scanning is a piece of the puzzle, but in fact it’s much more like having a co-founder that isn’t really a human. That is the way I’d be thinking about it.

(03:51) Darius Teter: It’s interesting that you mentioned Kenya. Just for fun, I went into GPT-4 and I set up this hypothesis where I’m running a series of small clinics, rural health clinics, across Kenya. I wanted to ask GPT-4 to help me come up with a customer journey map and we went through a series of back and forths around what would be customer persona, what would be their emotions when they enter the clinic, how would they learn about the clinic, the sort of the classic customer journey map. And it did remarkably well. But I wasn’t — and this is my own lack of experience — I wasn’t clear as to how do I get it to be more critical and analytical of things that I put forth? And that’s something I was very interested in aso in your book. You talk about something that we do at Stanford called a pre-mortem, something we teach to MBAs. “Your product failed. Why did that happen?” Could we use these tools to adopt sort of a critical analytical persona to evaluate our ideas and our strategies up front?

(04:47) Ethan Mollick: I already make my students use a GPT that does pre-mortems for them. We’ve already done that. I make them stress tested. By the way, on the Kenya thing, I want to point out this is not abstract at this point. So if you look — for example, there’s a nice study by Nicholas Otis at Berkeley and a bunch of other people where they did a controlled experiment in Kenya and the entrepreneurs got advice from GPT-4. The bottom entrepreneurs did worse for reasons we can kind of go into, it’s interesting. But the top entrepreneurs got 18 percent improvement in their profitability — 18 percent. There’s almost nothing — I mean as somebody who helps advise — nothing we do gets you 18 percent improvements. There’s not an intervention that does that. That’s insane. But that’s a robust result. That feels like an emergency to me to think about how can we use this positively. So we’re talking about, abstractly, yes, there’s tons of tools. I absolutely would recommend pre-mortem, I would recommend interviewing the AI and asking it to pretend to be a customer. I recommend asking for advice, but the low-hanging fruit is clearly there.

(05:46) Darius Teter: As we navigate the complex intersections of AI with our lives and work, the challenge lies in identifying where and how it can be used most effectively. It’s a challenge because there’s no manual, and there’s no manual because — and this shocked me to learn — even the companies and people behind the most advanced generative AI models don’t know how they work. Let me repeat that. Google OpenAI and Anthropic can’t explain beyond general principles how their models come up with the answers they give. We just don’t know yet. So that’s where disciplined experimentation comes in. To truly understand AI’s potential in our workplace, Ethan explains the importance of getting in there and figuring it out for yourself. In his book, Ethan has laid out four essential rules to guide us. These rules aren’t just theoretical, they’re practical steps we can all take to make the most of this transformative technology. The first rule is simple yet profound. Always invite AI to the table. This means embracing AI as an active participant in your work, leveraging its capabilities to enhance creativity, efficiency, and innovation.

(06:56) Ethan Mollick: I don’t have easy answers. We don’t know how good AI is going to get. We don’t know what it’s going to replace. We don’t know how long it’ll take systems to change. You don’t know what AI is good for or bad for inside your job or your industry. Nobody knows. I think a lot of people think there’s a secret instruction manual out there. There is not. OpenAI doesn’t have any secret knowledge you don’t have. They don’t know anything you don’t. They have never thought about how this could be useful to help Stanford Seed do its work. They haven’t thought about how to help a small business owner in Sierra Leone do a better job running their business, it has never even occurred to them. No one’s tested it. And to see how good it is to tag along or any other, we just don’t know. And so part of what you need to do is you need to figure this out yourself and the only way to figure it out is disciplined experimentation, and the only way to disciplined experimentation is just to use it a lot for everything you possibly can.

(07:47) Darius Teter: So I guess the question is: Are more interesting and new jobs being created faster than less interesting old jobs are being destroyed?

(07:54) Ethan Mollick: It’s too early to know, but the hope would be yes, right? Historically that has been the case or at least higher paying better jobs. We don’t know the answers to job loss. It’s not a conversation that’s actually even that useful to have because we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’ll be different. Jobs are bundles of tasks. We do many things at a job. As a professor, I teach, I do research, I go on podcasts like that, love all of that. I also fill out expense reports and grant studies and I don’t like doing those things. If the AI does those things, it takes a big part of my job away, but my job shifts and becomes better.

(08:22) Darius Teter: I think that’s a perfect segue to the second rule for co-intelligence, which is to be the human in the loop. Now, my most basic understanding of that is that — and this is again something one of our business leaders said — they said AI makes good easy, but great is still really hard. And part of that is because of the obvious limitations at the frontier of what these models can do. So what is the role of the human in the loop?

(08:47) Ethan Mollick: So the AI is better than a lot of people in a lot of jobs, but not at their whole job. And so whatever you’re best at, you’re almost certainly better than the AI is. So part of your question is: What do I do well and want to double down on, and how do I figure out how to give out other parts of my job to the AI as a result? If AI keeps getting better, how do I double down on what I’m good at and build expertise in that so I stay ahead of where AI is? How do I think about what I want my future and jobs to be? And I think that’s a powerful way to think about problems like this.

(09:18) Darius Teter: So we’re not all just going to become super lazy?

(09:23) Ethan Mollick: I think about the fact that all the evidence we have is that people have been cheating in school all the time and we just have ignored it because we haven’t had to pay attention to it. And so people are always going to be lazy because we are optimizing for it. There are things we care about and we’re intrinsically motivated for. There are things you have to extrinsically motivate people for by giving them a reward and this will shift the boundaries between those things like so many other things do.

(09:47) Darius Teter: There’s a whole section in your book about the importance of expertise and how expertise is acquired and that there’s no shortcuts there, and staying au courant in terms of your level of expertise is important. But at the same time, you also identify that there is kind of a playing field leveler here around skills that the worst performers get the biggest boost using this co-intelligence and the greatest performers get only a marginal boost. So in that respect, it’s kind of a skill leveling.

(10:16) Ethan Mollick: So the early results are skill leveling, but that’s the early results from AI because it basically does the work at the eighth percentile. So if you were below that, it does enough work that you get up to the eighth percentile. We don’t yet know as people get better at using these systems, whether they’ll boost everybody up to the 99th percentile, whether the best performers get a 10 times boost, whether everyone gets an equal boost. We don’t know any of those answers yet. So it’s early days on some of those questions.

(10:42) Darius Teter: Okay. Third rule for co-intelligence, and I love this quote, working with AI is easiest if you think of it like an alien person rather than a human-built machine.

(10:51) Ethan Mollick: Well, they’re trained on human language and they’re refined on human language and it turns out that they respond best to human speech. There’s some early evidence that coders are actually worse at using AI because they think it works in a rational kind of way and it doesn’t. But if you’re used to working with people, you can start to get a sense of what’s going on, where its mind is at, even though there’s no mind. It works like a thinking person. So practically telling it and giving it tasks like a person often gets you where you need to go.

(11:21) Darius Teter: Say a bit more about treating that as a person. Does that include giving it a persona?

(11:25) Ethan Mollick: AIs often need context to operate in, otherwise they produce very generic results. So a persona is an easy way to give a context. You are an expert marketing manager in India working out of Delhi, focusing on technology ventures that work with the U.S. We’ll put it in a different head space than if you say you’re a marketer or if you don’t give it any instructions at all. So it’s a nice beginning to give it that kind of context.

(11:52) Darius Teter: It’s important to understand the fundamental nature of how these systems work. Unlike traditional software, which follows a set of deterministic rules, generative AI works on probabilities. This means that the responses it provides are based on a broad spectrum of possible answers rather than a single fixed outcome. Think of AI like a jar of marbles. Each color represents a different possible answer. So when you ask a very general question, it’s like reaching in and grabbing a handful of the most common colors. But to get a specific color, you really need to provide more detailed context guiding the AI to the right part of the jar where the more relevant or useful responses will be found.

(12:33) Ethan Mollick: So think of the answers it can give as a massive probability space, like a cluster of points everywhere. The AI gives you stuff from the center of that cluster of points every time, the mean kind of average sort of answer. Your goal is to force it to pull from a different part of the probability space that is much more suited to your answers, right? It’s sort of like the idea that if you’re doing a Google search, you don’t want to do the Google search where it’s like “ways to improve business.” You want to say “ways to improve business India,” whatever keywords, and you’ll get results that are not just Wikipedia. Same kind of thing happens here, not technically, but roughly.

(13:07) Darius Teter: Ethan’s fourth rule touches on just how rapidly this technology is improving. Assume this is the worst AI you will ever use and just think about that for a second. The AI we’re working with today, as impressive as it is, will be nothing compared to what’s coming in the future, whether that’s a year from now or next week.

(13:26) Ethan Mollick: I mean we’re early days still. I mean there’s a lot of stuff still being built and I think people over index — especially startups, weirdly, don’t seem to be adjusting to technological changes quickly and they seem to be betting that they’re solving the worlds of problems of today with AI and they’re implementing RAG (retrieval augmented generation) in LangChain and all. Why is that a bet for the future?

(13:47) Darius Teter: Just a few weeks ago, I had a fascinating conversation with Steve Ciesinski, a lecturer here at Stanford who’s focused on the challenge of scaling international businesses. We talked about how in the recent past small businesses were at a huge disadvantage compared to large firms because they couldn’t access the same high tech tools affordably. Fast forward to today and thanks to cloud-based software as a service, even a startup with modest revenue can access tools that were once exclusive to Fortune 500 companies. This shift has been a massive leveler by reducing costs while enhancing efficiency in all parts of these small businesses. So I wondered: What might AI mean for SMEs who make the investment in leveraging these tools?

(14:28) Ethan Mollick: I often point out when I give a talk to a Goldman Sachs, I’m like, “The AI available to every kid in Mozambique is better than the AI you’re using internally in your company.” There isn’t a better model than GPT-4, maybe Claude 3, whatever, and that’s publicly available. Companies do not have secretly better models. They’re all broadly available. They’re available for free through Microsoft for many people, otherwise for relatively small amounts of money compared to other kinds of business software. And there’s no advantage. Goldman Sachs does not have an advantage in how to use AI over you. So this is a really unique time. How often do we have a complete — it reminds me of the lead the Philippines in East Africa had when mobile phones came out. They were able to jump a whole level of technology of wired to mobile and that’s why a lot of the ideas of how to do mobile payments came out of experiments in the Philippines with people using mobile cards to do work. We’re in that same boat right now and I think if organizations around the world, I think that the US companies are often sleeping on the late level of profundity of the change that just happened. If AI is the future, it’s universal.

(15:30) Darius Teter: I’m curious, what are some of the other opportunities that can address inequality, particularly in terms of access to growth opportunities? I’m thinking here, fintech is obviously one of them, but what about democratizing education, access to health, even energy, all of the core challenges in a lot of these emerging markets. Where do you see the potential here?

(15:52) Ethan Mollick: I think it’s broad-based, right? Part of the issue — a place like Silicon Valley thrives in part because you have a diverse set of ecosystems of mentors you can reach out to, you can hire the right people for your job. The number one, I’ve been doing a lot of work on startups for a long time and co-founders hold people back, employees. That’s your main thing — small narrow promises of expertise are getting in people’s way, right? I don’t know how to do this thing, so I give up. Yeah, I can work as a mentor in that piece. I can work as a confidant, an advisor. I feel like the equalizing of the entrepreneurial process is itself an interesting thing we’re thinking about.

(16:30) Darius Teter: Say a bit more about what it means for the startup entrepreneur.

(16:34) Ethan Mollick: I mean, I integrate AI into everything you do. You have a co-founder, you first-pass legal document reader. Look, you’re making trade-offs all the time. The fact that the AI is pretty accurate still beats most advice you’re going to get. I mean, I still think about how just from a very US-centric point of view, as a co-founder of my company, I was in charge of payroll. I had no idea at that point, this was sort of early days of the internet, that you could pay someone to do your payroll for you for a couple cents per paycheck, and I would spend hours in Excel doing taxes for each payroll, which was an insane thing to do. That alone would’ve been valuable. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, help create the marketing material. Entrepreneurs are asked to be jacks of all trades. They’re not equally good at everything. It is a strange situation that we have a tool that’s going to be at the 8th percentile of everything. By the way, it also simulates customers really well. It builds websites. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

(18:02) Darius Teter: As you said, there is no manual. An inordinate number of people end up looking for your prompts. Just to be super honest with you, even I have found your prompts and shared them around the building here. I have a startup in Mozambique. I have a startup in Tanzania. I want to find shortcuts and ways to have this sort of co-founder, advisor, co-intelligence on all the tasks you just described. Where do I start?

(18:25) Ethan Mollick: I think you start by treating it like a person, right? Less looking for magical prompts and more literally just like, “Hey, I have a problem, help me out with it.” But I think you start by interacting with a person. You get your 10 hours in, you start to be pretty good with this thing. And then I think this is where we need communities. This is where we need places like Seed. Where are our libraries of prompts that help you out?

(18:44) Darius Teter: Say a bit more about the 10 hours. I read that, but I want our listeners to hear what you mean.

(18:49) Ethan Mollick: I mean, there’s a lot of reasons people stop using AI. It’s weird. It freaks them out. It gives them bad answers initially. It doesn’t feel that profound. You need to push through. There is a point of expertise with this where you start to get what it does and where it doesn’t, where you need a cliched result when you might get something interesting. You have to be doing stuff. And so my 10 hours is my loose rule of thumb for how much time you have to spend using these systems to get it. That’s not accurate. I haven’t judged it, but informally that means you pushed through those initial couple hours of resistance and you found use cases and you’re trying it out. And again, as an entrepreneur, why are you not asking it to try and write marketing material for you? Read my letter as a customer.

(19:28) Let’s practice a negotiation beforehand. Literally treat it like a co-founder. Ask the questions you would: “What do you think about the choice I’m making here? Give me the plus and minuses.” And then you start to realize, oh, every time I ask, it seems to give very U.S. answers. It doesn’t realize I’m running a much smaller business in X country. And then you’re like, okay, this is pretty good, but it’s now answering in too formal a language. Let me help teach it. Don’t be that formal in the future and I start putting that in my prompt. You have to kind of go through a process. It is surprisingly good at providing a first pass at marketing material that I wouldn’t do. We stopped using outside marketers because the AI just did the marketing work for us better. I have to write proposals. If I have to write 10 proposals a week or whatever, then it’s worth spending the time to figure out how to do that with AI.

(20:15) Darius Teter: In today’s digital workplace, employers and employees are struggling to establish policies for the use of AI from vague guidelines that hint at dire consequences for the misuse of AI to the complete absence of any formal policies. Everybody, including Stanford University, is still figuring it out. And those that do are going to have a real advantage because it’s not just you as an entrepreneur who needs to put in your 10 hours of experimentation. Every member of your team should be doing the same: embracing AI to unlock its full potential because the reality is many of your employers are probably already doing that, perhaps even secretly, testing its capabilities and figuring out how it can enhance their work. So encouraging open exploration and integration of AI across your organization can transform these isolated experiments into powerful collective advancements. Ethan explains why this hands-on approach is crucial and how it can drive innovation in your business.

(21:14) Ethan Mollick: I mean, there’s tons of reasons why someone would be not willing to disclose AI use. First of all, most companies have unclear policies. Almost every company I read is like either there’s no clear policy or it’s you can use it, but you might get fired if you use it wrong. What’s wrong? Irresponsible, bad use is wrong and will get you fired. But it’s often even more vague than that, right? It’s almost like you could use it for responsible use if you disclose full use, but if you don’t disclose full use, you could be punished and fired and there’s no clear policy about what that all means. That’s level one. Also, by the way, people don’t even have access. So that’s actually even prior to that, the level zero call it. Then the second reason people don’t use it is if you are using it and people think you’re amazing, Reddit is full of people saying,

(21:54) “People think I’m a wizard at work,” because they’re using AI and it’s faking a lot of their work and people love their stuff. Why are you going to tell people that you’re using it then if you do use it? So maybe people devalue your work afterwards. The third level is that if I show you I’m using AI and I’m already doing less work than before, why would I want anyone else to know that I’m doing less work and then I just have to do more work? Even if I’m compensating for that, maybe they realize that they don’t need as many people in my level and they fire me or they fire my friends, or maybe I’m just thinking about a startup on the side. So for all those reasons, people are hiding their AI use, especially because you could just use it on your phone super easily without ever talking to another human about it.

(22:37) And so people are using it secretly everywhere. So you need the incentives to change for that. I think the first thing is getting people access to a frontier model, and then it’s about setting up education, reasonable policies, an incentive structure. So you have to do it organizationally. But I think the first thing I tell CEOs to do is just play with the system enough. They need to put their 10 hours in. They cannot depend on direct reports. They also can’t expect hiring a consultant will solve all their problems. It used to be that like, okay, McKinsey or Ernst & Young, they knew everything. They don’t know anything anymore. Nobody has a playbook. They might be able to help you with transitions and other sets of stuff, but they don’t know how to use AI for your systems. So you have to build the systems to make that all happen.

(23:17) Darius Teter: Well, on that note, I want to talk a little bit about the term you use — “centaurs and cyborgs” — to define two approaches to problem solving with the co-intelligence. Help me understand the difference between those two models of interaction with an AI.

(23:32) Ethan Mollick: Sure. We differentiate between centaurs and cyborgs, where centaurs are people, like, it’s a half person, half horse, divided, who divides up their work. They’re like, I don’t want to do the writing. I want to do the coding. You do the marketing, writing, I do the coding. The more effective way is cyborg, where you’re integrating your work with the AI. So again, it’s like, I want to finish this sentence. Give me a way to finish it, read over this email and check it over for me from the persona of my three favorite customers. You’re throwing stuff out to the AI, you’re working with it, you’re doing it interactively, and that’s usually a more powerful model. Again, experience is what gets you there.

(24:05) Darius Teter: And in the cyborg model, you’re also — because your own professional expertise matters — you’re in some sense also the fact checker, or maybe “fact checker” isn’t the right word for the output of the model.

(24:18) Ethan Mollick: Yes, right. I think that part of the issue is you have to be thinking about what you’re — as best you can, you’ll get a sense of whether it’s heading in the right direction or wrong direction. People don’t always fact check as they should. I wouldn’t use it for an area where you need six sigmas of accuracy, right? You’re not going to use it for that, but you will find the use cases by working with it.

(24:38) Darius Teter: So link that back to what you describe as the jagged frontier of the model capability.

(24:45) Ethan Mollick: So the issue is we don’t know in advance what AI is going to be good or bad at. We call this a jagged frontier. It’s very clear to me, and we talk about foreign languages, but just even in English, if you ask it to write a regular 25-word sentence, it will often fail because it doesn’t see words the way we do. It sees tokens. But if you ask it to write a sonnet, a very difficult form of poetry, it does a great sonnet. How do you deal with a system that writes a great sonnet but not a good 25-word sentence? That’s the jagged frontier. So you have to learn this for yourself. But by the way, it becomes a source of advantage. You learn the AI is really good in understanding what the local business conditions are in northern India, but bad in southern India. You understand that it’s really good at giving this kind of advice but not that kind. It will all look the same. And if you don’t know that, you will go through what’s called falling asleep at the wheel. You’ll stop paying attention to the details because the AI will seem good enough. So going in with a skeptical eye and experimenting is what teaches you the shape of the frontier.

(25:40) Darius Teter: The “jagged frontier” came from a study that Ethan did with the Boston Consulting Group titled “Navigating the Jagged Technological Frontier.” Where previous industrial revolutions upended menial labor or enhanced everyone’s productivity — think, for example, steam power or electricity or the advent of the personal computer — AI, on the other hand, will upend the most sophisticated professions and in a fraction of the time.

(26:07) Ethan Mollick: So we did a study at BCG where it developed 18 realistic business tasks. They were like, come up with ideas for a product in the shoe industry;, segment the market for which ones might like which ideas; design a focus group that would figure out that information for you. Write an email inviting people to the focus group. Write an email about your findings to the CEO. Come up with a series of marketing slogans. So creative ideas analysis, analyze the market in terms of user demand, come up with marketing and rollout strategies. Very, very Business 101 kinds of things, but things that the consultants agreed are very realistic for people to do. They actually use these things as part of their actual tests. And so we gave some people access to GPT-4, the plain vanilla GPT-4 available to every kid in Mozambique, the one from last year, no special fine tuning, nothing else. The others got access to just their normal brains. The GPT-4 ones had a 40 percent improvement in quality without any training or anything else — 40 percent. We did 108 different tests and regressions on quality at the individual question level categories of questions. We had human assessors, we had GPT-4 assessors, every quality thing. Which one is better? How would you rate the quality of this answer? Every measure? There was not a single measure of the 108 where the AI-enhanced human didn’t win. So …

(27:22) Darius Teter: … 40 percent improvement, which is huge. Unbelievable.

(27:25) Ethan Mollick : Yeah, I mean, when steam power was put into a factory in the early 1800s and improved performance by 18 to 22 percent, these are big numbers that we don’t know what to do with, right? And I was going to say also 25 percent faster, 12.5 percent more work done, and without optimization. Those are giant numbers. That is transformative sets of numbers and it’s early days.

(27:50) Darius Teter: Given this potential, how should entrepreneurs think about AI in their own growth strategies?

(27:56) Ethan Mollick: So my advice for startups has shifted from “build something large companies want to destroy large companies.” I mean, I spoke to a venture capitalist at MIT yesterday, and he was saying a phenomenon he’s been seeing is people have been saying, we’re never going to grow past 20 people. That’s our goal. We’ll spend your money on marketing, we’ll spend your money on other stuff, but we are not going to have more than 20 staff members. I mean, Sam Altman — people kind of assume a lot of what he’s saying is exaggeration. But I think there’s something to his idea that the next billion-dollar company will be a 10-people company. It’s entirely possible. So I will be building for that kind of future. And by the way, this works anywhere in the world. What can you do with 10,000 interns at scale? That becomes an interesting question to ask.

(28:36) Darius Teter: Without getting super dark here. I wanted to talk a little bit about the chapter in your book called “Aligning the Alien,” and it brought to mind James Barrat’s book, Our Final Invention, which is If you have a recursively self-improving AI system that attains AGI and then maybe even attains super intelligence. And he asked: What would it tell us? Would it let us know that it had gotten there and could we even imagine the strategies that it might employ to keep us from unplugging it? And the reason I bring it up under your chapter on alignment is because at the end of the day, it’s up to us to figure out how we want these systems to evolve and whether we want them to have any guardrails. But who is us?

(29:19) Ethan Mollick: I don’t know whether AGI is possible, and then we go on to ASI, but people are already going to be using this improperly, right? We already are seeing horrible nonconsensual images. I can create a video of anybody saying anything I want after a couple of seconds. No matter what’s happening inside governments, they are not building better LLMs than Meta is releasing for free into the world because there’s only a few companies with the right kind of computer to do this, and we know who they are, right? There is this feeling that technology is something that happens to you. And I think the thing here is organizations get to decide how to use these systems, and the cat is out of the bag in terms of there’ll be GPT-4 models available everywhere for free to freely download. Llama 3 will get there. That’s already done. So government regulation could help, but I almost wonder if the Internet’s going to be the same kind of place, whether we’ll just not answer. It’s going to be all discords in the future, where with people you know are human. We’ll adjust to that kind of world if we need to.

(30:18) Darius Teter: So our own agency is really key here.

(30:20) Ethan Mollick: I think that’s the absolute key, is we get to make decisions, and if we just view this as a technology that happens to us, we’re in trouble.

(30:27) Darius Teter: Should we be worried that Sam Altman is building a doomsday bunker?

(30:31) Ethan Mollick: I wouldn’t be as worried about the doomsday bunker because Silicon Valley people are Silicon Valley people. What I would be thinking about is very seriously that he is, and OpenAI itself, has dedicated itself to building artificial general intelligence in the next few years, and they think they could do it. So I think that I would be less worried about doomsday and AI murdering us all than I would about what happens if development keeps growing at the pace it is. And I think that’s a legitimate question to be thinking about and asking.

(30:58) Darius Teter: Ethan, this was super, super interesting. Thank you so much for giving us some of your time.

(31:04) Ethan Mollick: Thanks for having me. They were great questions.

(31:09) Darius Teter: In my discussions with Ethan, I’m struck by the realization that AI isn’t just about the leaps we’re seeing in technology. It’s about how we as individuals, businesses, and society choose to integrate these tools into our everyday lives. It’s about envisioning a future where AI is as ubiquitous and as essential as electricity, and it serves not just as a tool, but as a teammate, enhancing our capabilities and transforming our own potential. As this technology continues to evolve, the importance of staying informed and proactive cannot be overstated, particularly for entrepreneurs and business leaders. But I think it’s also important for us as humans because the future of AI is not predetermined. It is shaped by the choices we make today. What worries me personally is that some of the most important choices about how AI will impact our lives will be made by a small number of people with enormous power and resources. AI needs compute and data, and that means money. Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Meta, and a few others have most of that. So to what extent does humanity feature in their goals? So I would add to Ethan’s advice that we also need to be active citizens, for surely there is a role for regulation and oversight of something that could so easily go from being a potential public good to an extreme public bad.

(32:31) I’d like to thank Ethan Mollick for sharing his perspectives and advice, and I encourage all of you to subscribe to his Substack blog, to read his LinkedIn posts, and to buy his new book, Co-Intelligence: Living and Working with AI . On this particular topic, I’ve learned more from Ethan than from any other expert, and I especially love that he’s always sharing his experiments. Erika Amoako-Agyei and VeAnne Virgin researched and developed content for this episode. Kendra Gladych is our production coordinator, and our executive producer is Tiffany Steeves, with writing and production from Nathan Tower and sound design and mixing by Ben Crannell at Lower Street Media. I’m Darius Teter. This has been Grit & Growth . Thank you for joining us.

For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom .

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Charting your MBA path: Helpful tips from the Class of 2024

  • Evening and Weekend MBA

Graduates in the Class of 2024 give their best advice to future generations of Kellogg students. Check out what they have to say.

The student experience at Kellogg is full of ways to get involved, learn and grow — from global opportunities and its extensive immersive learning experiences to its rich community on campus that participates in creating impact and paying it forward.

Starting business school is an exciting chapter of your life that will bring about a myriad of new experiences. Whether you're just starting your MBA journey or already deep into it, we’ve collected a roundup of advice and perspectives to help you make the most out of your time at Kellogg.

Graduates in the Class of 2024 gave their best advice here to future generations of Kellogg students. Here’s what they had to say: 

Bushra Amiwala ’24 Evening & Weekend MBA at Kellogg

Bushra Amiwala ’24 Evening & Weekend MBA 

“Entering business school is a time where you have an opportunity to slightly re-brand yourself. While at Kellogg, you will learn just as much about yourself personally, as you will acquire business knowledge if you truly lean into how you show up authentically in a professional space.”   

Peter Good Dissinger ’24 Two-Year MBA at Kellogg

Peter Good Dissinger ’24 Two-Year MBA

“Be intentional in seeking out hands-on learning opportunities and one-on-ones with professors. In particular, I recommend cultivating personal relationships with two or three professors by going above and beyond in their classes: Visit them at office hours, participate regularly in class and submit high quality homework.

“The three professors I’ve invested in were extremely excited when I asked to do more with them outside of a class setting. I conducted independent studies (self-directed projects that I conducted while advised by faculty) with two of those professors and was a teaching and research assistant for the third. Those learning experiences were professionally transformative and defined my second year at Kellogg.”

Corin Hernandez ’24 Evening & Weekend MBA

Corin Hernandez ’24 Evening & Weekend MBA 

“This is your chance to push yourself out of your comfort zone in a low-risk high reward environment. Take advantage of every opportunity whether through clubs, experiential classes, networking events, study abroad opportunities and/or case competitions. Don't forget, we are all trying to ‘figure it out’ and are here to learn! No one here has all the answers.” 

“Carve out time to relax, recharge and reflect throughout your time at Kellogg. Time constantly feels like it is moving at the speed of a bullet train. This creates a pressure to do more and go to more events which ironically reduces your ability to process these experiences.”

Swetha Medapati ’24 Two-Year MBA Program at Kellogg

Swetha Medapati ’24 Two-Year MBA Program  “As they say, ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) is real. However, getting carried away by that usually results in you not getting the most out of the Kellogg experience.   “Choose your priorities for each quarter — while ensuring to diversify them each time — and focus on them to make the most out of your time here. Avoid making one priority, including recruitment, your sole focus; creating balance will ensure a fulfilling Kellogg experience.   “And, most importantly, don’t shy away from trying new things and seeking new experiences. You might discover a new side of yourself here!” 

Jeffrey Ng ’24 MMM Program at Kellogg

Jeffrey Ng ’24 MMM Program  “Carve out time to relax, recharge and reflect throughout your time at Kellogg. Time constantly feels like it is moving at the speed of a bullet train. This creates a pressure to do more and go to more events which ironically reduces your ability to process these experiences.

“Whether it’s taking a walk around the lakefill or journaling at the coffee shop on a Sunday morning, taking time for just you and your thoughts enables you to slow down, be more intentional and make the most of your time here.”

Bre Thomas ’24 Two-Year MBA at Kellogg

Bre Thomas ’24 Two-Year MBA 

“The MBA will steal time you didn’t know you had. Be sure to make time for the things that you love and that keep you grounded.  “Your classmates are your greatest resource while here! I’ve been able to reach out to my peers about payment transactions in Colombia as well as understanding diversity in risk management careers. If I need help, I can rely on my peers to offer a helping hand.” 

Priyanka Toddywala ’24 Two-Year MBA  at Kellogg

Priyanka Toddywala ’24 Two-Year MBA  “Business school is very much ‘choose your own adventure.’ I recommend you actively create the opportunities you want to have. That means being intentional about the people you want to become closer to, events you want to attend and firms you recruit for.  “The opportunities at Kellogg are endless, and you can’t expect your ideal experience to just happen. My advice would be to actively work towards the experience you envision. Whether it be hosting an event you’ve been thinking about or planning a trip to somewhere you’ve been wanting to visit, intentionality matters. Don’t wait for it all to just land in your lap, otherwise, your life will unfold around others’ plans and schedules and not yours. Be in the driver’s seat of your Kellogg experience.” 

“Make sure to also get out of your comfort zone and meet others that you likely wouldn’t encounter outside of business school. You may end up missing out on a huge network of connections, and perhaps lifelong friends, by sticking with only those who feel familiar to you.”

Shivani Taskar ’24 Two-Year MBA at Kellogg

Shivani Taskar ’24 Two-Year MBA  “My favorite part of the Kellogg experience is the small group dinners (SGDs). Picture a cozy gathering of six to eight students where every gathering is hosted by a classmate in the warmth of their home. Each dinner carries a unique theme, often reflecting the host's personal interests.   “I’ve celebrated the Chinese New Year, learned the most scrumptious Swiss raclette recipes, candidly discussed world politics and enjoyed numerous trivia and game nights. SGDs are the most underrated way to discover the breadth of experiences that your classmates have to offer! They’re more than just a meal — they're a doorway to new connections and unforgettable memories.” 

Cherry Jessica Tran ’24 Two-Year MBA at Kellogg

Cherry Jessica Tran ’24 Two-Year MBA  “When it comes to academics, take a broad range of classes and pay attention to professor course evaluations. Even if the subject matter isn’t 100% what you’re interested in, the world-class Kellogg faculty are experts in engaging and challenging their students — you’ll find yourself learning a ton! Also, take advantage of the academic advisors to help talk through bidding strategy and plan out your classes.  “Make sure to also get out of your comfort zone and meet others that you likely wouldn’t encounter outside of business school. You may end up missing out on a huge network of connections, and perhaps lifelong friends, by sticking with only those who feel familiar to you. At the start of the year, everyone is excited and eager to meeting new people, so I encourage you to keep an open mindset throughout your time at Kellogg and beyond.” 

Read next: “It’s the people who ultimately won me over,” says a Full-Time MBA student 

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Meet the MBA Class of 2025: Christa Zacharia, IESE Business School

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Christa Zacharia

Iese business school at the university of navarra.

“City-shaper with big ambitions in the business world.”

Hometown : Wagga Wagga, Australia

Fun Fact About Yourself: During Covid lockdown, I learnt every lyric to Hamilton The Musical.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Sydney, Bachelor of Civil Engineering and Architecture.

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Lendlease, Senior Development Manager in London.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The case method is an effective way of learning that places you at the heart of real-life business problems. It compels you to consider, “What would I do in this situation?” Reading and preparing each case before class is engaging, as each case is unique regarding the industry and the specific challenges faced. However, the actual learning experience happens in the classroom, where professors challenge and encourage debates among classmates. Often, I have arrived at class with a particular perspective only to have it changed by the discussion. The process brings forth new viewpoints and encourages self-reflection and growth, ultimately making us all better managers.

What has been your favorite part of Barcelona so far? What has made it such a great place to earn an MBA? Barcelona has incredible architecture, food and weather. However, my favorite part is the local culture! It seems there is a street festival or parade every week, like the Gracia festival in the summer. With beaches and mountains, it has something for everyone.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the IESE Business School MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The combination of the two-year program and the case method made IESE my first choice. After working for ten years, I wanted time to reflect on my goals and explore different career paths while learning through cases in a dynamic classroom setting. From a non-academic perspective, the mission of the school to develop leaders who will have a positive, long-lasting impact on their communities resonated with me. These values are reflected in the alums, who are incredibly generous with their time and guidance.

The IESE MBA is known for heavy reading and rigorous academics. Has the program lived up to its reputation? What advice would you give to first-years to help them thrive in the early months of the program? Yes, the IESE MBA has lived up to this reputation so far! From the first week, the intensity is there. Preparing three cases a day is very difficult, so you need to leverage your team to make the most out of each class. I think this intensity is the best training for life after the MBA, where we will likely be in roles where we need to prioritize and decide where to use our limited time effectively. For incoming students or first-years, the best advice I can give is to be willing to work hard and remember to enjoy the ride.

What course, club or activity have you enjoyed the most so far at IESE? I enjoyed the Decision Analysis course in the first term, where we covered both prescriptive and intuitive decision-making. The content covered how to make mathematical-based decisions, but also recognize the psychology behind our choices, like our own biases towards risk. One of my favorite cases was the COVID pandemic; learning how this crisis was analyzed by governments and managed differently around the world.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I was the lead structural engineer on a community building in Sydney, Australia, with world-renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. I started on the project when it was just a scribble on a page and followed it through to when the doors opened to the public four years later. It was gratifying to see something I worked on for years being completed and enjoyed by the local community, when they were visiting the library, childcare centre or the food stalls and restaurants.

Describe your biggest accomplishment as an MBA student so far: During the Communications course in the first week of my MBA, I was chosen by the professor to lead a plenary session on storytelling. With no pre-warning, over the next 30 minutes, I gathered my classmates’ responses to 10 questions that were written on the board. This experience taught me that being an IESE professor is not an easy job, as they have to pick different students, listen, write, and think of what to say next – all at the same time. However, it was a unique and unexpected experience that gave me the confidence to speak up during case study classes for the remainder of the first term.

What has been your best memory as an MBA so far? My best memories so far are all of the social events we have had celebrating everything from the diverse cultures of our classmates, like an Argentinian Asado and Nigeran independence party, to the end of Term 1 Ball with all the first-year students. The student clubs also organize many fantastic events throughout the year, like the Women in Business Conference, and Career Treks to cities worldwide.

DON’T MISS: MEET IESE BUSINESS SCHOOL’S MBA CLASS OF 2025

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    Every detail should contribute to the reader's understanding of what matters to you, why it matters, and why you see GSB as the next step in your career. 5. Give Yourself Enough Time. For many people, writing the essay is the most difficult part of the application. It can be hard to organize your thoughts and put them down on paper in a clear ...

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  18. Real Stanford MBA Essay Examples by ARINGO clients

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  19. What Matters Most To You, And Why? Stanford Wants To Know ...

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  20. What matters most to you and why?

    Review this sample MBA essay on what matters most to you and why of Stanford GSB. Read this essay and broaden your horizon on how this iconic essay from Stanford should be written to showcase leadership, intellectual vitality, and personal qualities.

  21. Sample Harvard Stanford MBA essays: Written by ChatGPT, reviewed by

    November 2, 2023 by Manish Gupta. Partly out of curiosity and largely to evaluate its impact on our own future, we asked ChatGPT to do what many have already started asking - write sample MBA essays for Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB and other top business schools. In an earlier post, we covered how to (and not to) write an MBA ...

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  23. Poets&Quants

    Stanford's Graduate School of Business' celebrated (did I hear 'dreaded') What Matters Most essay (herein WMM) has both stumped and challenged applicants over the years. This question is (arguably) the furthest thing from a 'traditional' B-school question (though trends, including HBS' question, are slowly following suit).

  24. GSB What Matters Most Essay : r/MBA

    I wrote that what matters most to me is successfully leading my world of warcraft raids to victory without any of the 40 players dying. I was rejected. Best piece of advice that I got while writing this essay, which I'll pass along to you: The WHY matters much more than the WHAT. Mention the what, but focus on the why.

  25. Sample Personal Statement MBA

    Sample Personal Statement MBA. STANFORD MBA Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? "Don't close your eyes.". - It's a spell that takes me back to the New Years Eve of 2004, France. "Six, cinq, quatre, trois, deux, un-Bonne Année!". After the count down everyone was blowing on party horns with lots of kisses and hugs.

  26. How to Write a Statement of Purpose for an MBA

    Tips for writing a successful MBA statement of purpose. As you write your SOP, here are a few things to keep in mind that can help your writing stand out: Clearly state your goals: Openly communicate your short-term and long-term goals in earning your MBA. Clear statements around this crucial element of your SOP can help you avoid any potential ...

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