July 19, 2022

Stanford GSB Essay Tips: Essay A

Stanford GSB has released their application deadlines and essay questions for the 2022-23 application cycle. Here are the important dates and Admitify’s guidance on Essay A.


Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Application Deadline

13 September 2022

05 January 2023

11 April 2023

Decision Release

08 December 2022

30 March 2023

25 May 2023


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?


Admitify Guidance:

We recommend up to 700 words for Essay A (Stanford’s guidance to use up to 650 words notwithstanding). Begin work on the essays early to give yourself time to reflect, write, and edit. 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. Feel free to ask friends or family members for feedback — especially about whether the tone and voice sound like you. Your family and friends know you better than anyone. If they think the essays do not capture who you are, what you believe, and what you aspire to do, then surely we will be unable to recognize what is distinctive about you.


There is no for ‘formula’ for a good Stanford essay. Aiming for authenticity in content and tone is essential. Stanford does not want accomplishments per se here. Indeed, Kirsten Moss explained in 2019 that the reason Stanford added the 3 250-word impact essays is to give applicants a place to share their proudest moments so they can get introspective in Stanford A. Looking back, I have seen many effective Stanford A’s that started with some vivid pre-college experience that really captures the applicant’s passions or unusual life experiences while also showing their roots – where they come from both culturally and personally. The rest of the essay then shows how this unique perspective evolved over time typically through challenges or stretch experiences. Stanford wants ‘self awareness’ which means an ability to see yourself as others see you and to grow from that knowledge as well as an ability to change and know what you’ve been through. This is maturity and they like it.


Many applicants think they have to figure out what matters most to them before writing this essay. I take a different approach. I ask the applicant two questions: what have been your most intense, life-changing or memorable experiences and in what ways do you consider yourself most distinct from other applicants. The answers to these two questions can – with some probing by the consultant and honesty by the applicant – usually lead to a list of core experiences that were both interesting and significant / life-evolving for the applicant. Have the applicant then ‘open up’ or unpack these core experiences. What was the challenge or difficulty? How did they respond to it? What did they feel or think? How did it change them? It’s not enough to describe the experience for the reader. The experience must also be narrativized – turned into a story in which the participants are named, the situational dynamics are explored, and a lesson is learned. Hopefully, the core experiences the applicant discovers demonstrate the applicants’ qualities (leadership, EQ/people skills, ethics/integrity, creativity/innovation, etc.). In demonstrating these positive qualities, these core stories can become accomplishments but their presence in the essay should not seem to be primarily because they are accomplishments, but rather because they show the applicant growing. IMO Stanford only wants to see accomplishments in this essay if those accomplishments also (or primarily) show your ‘growth as an EQ-empowered, self-aware person/leader’ and if those accomplishments are not primarily business accomplishments but primarily ‘people/team/society/community’ impact accomplishments.


When these 2-3 core stories are combined chronologically they will helpfully show the applicant evolving toward some understanding of himself and/or the world. At this point, you can step back and ask, what themes link these core stories? Usually the ‘what matters most’ is fairly obvious when these stories are told. You can then add an explicit ‘What matters most to me is …’ statement at the beginning of the essay or at the end. Edit the essay ruthlessly so that everything shared in it serves the theme. Avoid clichés if at all possible (like ‘my family’ or ‘making the world a better place’ or ‘challenging myself’ or ‘success’). In my opinion, the actual what matters most ‘matters’ far less than the stories that illustrate it (after all, we all tend to value a lot of the same things, but our life experiences are unique). Note that in my opinion, Stanford A and HBS’s ‘what else do you want us to know’ are often the same story (though the HBS version is usually longer). Ideally but not necessarily, Stanford B (Why Stanford) will open with a concrete/specific goal statement that seems to blend easily into the end of Stanford A, without any repetition of the last words of Sanford A (which usually will not say anything specific about post-MBA goals). That is, the ‘what matters most’ and the post-MBA goals stated in essay B will clearly complement each other. A good Stanford A will never start with wondering what Stanford wants to hear. It will start with an honest reflection on the experiences, people, ideas, etc. that have really changed or motivated you.


Check back for guidance on Essay B and the optional questions later this week. In the meantime, Round 1 is just around the corner – contact us now and speak with one of our expert coaches!