Inside MBA Admissions - MBA Admissions Consulting | Insight Blog
a) MBA Program applicants - Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA. (600 word limit)
b) MMM Program applicants – Briefly assess your career progress to date. How do the unique characteristics of the MMM Program meet your educational needs and career goals? (600 word limit).
The key word in this question is one that many applicants miss: “assess”. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a standard career goals essay. Kellogg would like for you to provide a self-evaluation of your experience in light of your future career plans. Instead of simply recounting your past career moves and accomplishments, explain how each of these led you to your present position of needing a MBA to reach your short-term and long-term career goals.
One great benefit of attending business school is the alumni network you join upon graduation. This network only grows more powerful as your careers progress and you and your classmates are promoted to top levels of your organizations. Because of the value of this networking, understanding the strength of the alumni organization is a key factor in the MBA school selection process. Size is one obvious indicator of the value of a school’s alumni network. Schools like Harvard and Wharton have networks of 40,000 living alumni. However size is only one indicator, and may not be as important as quality of the network. A smaller school may be much more desirable than a larger one if more of the alumni are willing to help fellow alumni. Unfortunately it is difficult to get objective data on the quality of an alumni network.
Inside MBA Admissions performed an “informal study” to test the Quality of different school’s networks.
Many aspiring Business School students struggle with their MBA school selection. There are many top MBA programs out there – so how do they choose? While there is no easy answer to this question, we have included a few factors to consider as you start narrowing down your list of schools:
In our earlier post, we share a list of Top business schools and whether or not they have Grade Non-Disclosure (GND). The GND topic raises news every few years when a major school chooses to reverse its policy. This May, Columbia’s student body elected to implement GND. This action is interesting because it reverses a trend set by HBS and Wharton among top tiered schools (albeit some years ago). It is also interesting because it may again raise the debate over the value of this policy at many campuses (and in the media). But, what should be interesting to all applicants to business school is whether or not your targeted schools have GND. Because regardless of one’s opinion as to whether a policy of GND encourages more teamwork or whether it creates less incentive to study, among the multitude of opinions, one fact remains clear: whether a school has GND or not, does affects the culture of the school.
Stanford continues its practice of giving good direction for what they are looking in their essays. In addition to this insight, it is important to recognize key quotes from Derrick Bolton and the rest of the Stanford admissions committee, who are looking for applicants who have done “ordinary things extraordinarily well”, and want applicants to “tell us in your own words who you really are”. Keep this perspective in mind when reflecting on your experiences and crafting your essays.
1. What matters most to you, and why?
This is a very difficult essay question for many applicants, as many of them do not know where to begin and many of them start off too “high level.” My advice is to stop and really think before you write this essay. You need to do some serious soul searching to truly determine what matters most to you and then write an honest and introspective analysis. Please make sure to avoid common responses such as “family” or “being challenged” or “fostering relationships” or “pursuing my career”. These types of answers run the risk of sounding boring and not unique. My advice is best demonstrated through an example that one of my previous clients used for this essay. She started out by telling the reader that “karaoke” was what mattered most to her. While this might sound odd at first, she went on to explain her viewpoints on karaoke and tied in all the aspects that this activity allowed her: expressing herself, creativity, bringing family & friends together, and laughter. This was a truly unique essay; it answered the question, it showed who she was, and it was very memorable.
Once you have picked a theme, you then need to develop your essay around this. Don’t just recount story after story. Instead, focus on what role this “theme” plays in your life and, of course, provide evidence of it in your past. This question is highly valued by Stanford – it can make or break your application. Make sure you give it ample thought!
2. What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford? You should address three distinct topics: your career aspirations, the role of an MBA education in achieving those aspirations, and your rationale for earning that MBA at Stanford, in particular.
This is a standard career goals essay with a slight twist: the hard-to-miss capitalized word, “REALLY.” Stanford does not want you to write about what you think they want to hear; rather they want you to share your true career aspirations. In some regards, this gives more flexibility than a standard career goals essay. If you are interested in career switching or have audacious career goals, then feel free to tell them this. But you do need to be careful. You still need to show the admissions committee that there is a drive/passion to your career goals. Feel free to be honest about what you want to do, but then make sure you show them the evidence in your background that you could achieve your stated goals.
Next, you need to outline the role of the MBA in your career plans. Think about what skill sets you need in order to advance to the next level in your outlined career goals. I often tell my clients to be "humble". You need to express the need for the MBA. In other words, convince me that you cannot achieve your career goals unless you have an MBA.
Lastly, you need to show why the MBA needs to be from Stanford. Please don't use this as an opportunity to site general aspects of Stanford (e.g. good program, school location, reputation, caliber of the students, alumni network). Instead, you need to get specific to Stanford and tie that to your individual career goals. Here is where you would cite Stanford-specific attributes (e.g. entrepreneurial club), courses, professors, clubs, conferences, competitions, or research areas, and tie these attributes to your career goals. A good rule of thumb for this section: if you can replace the word "Stanford" with any other business school's name and the essay still makes sense, you have not answered this part of the essay question correctly.
3. Answer two of the four questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.
Stanford has used these questions for many years with only minor modifications, which indicates that these have been successful for them in understanding their targeted applicants. Similarly, having the choice of two of four questions gives applicants flexibility to demonstrate characteristics and talents that are not shown elsewhere.
Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
When you attend business school, just about everything is done in teams: projects, homework, case studies, competitions, study groups, and sometimes even classroom participation is team based. This essay question makes sure the applicant is an experienced team player. Do you understand the team dynamics of group think, pulling out everyone’s perspectives, or dealing with non-performers? When you write about this essay, the important aspect is not the actual team that you built or the intended goal of that team. Rather, you need to focus on your role in building or developing the team. Make sure to show a sharp contrast between the team dynamic before (or lack thereof) you got involved and how it changed (for the positive) after. Focus on what you did to change or build that team. Conclude with clearly explaining the results, remembering that tangible results are the strongest (winning an award, saving money, increasing efficiency by X%, etc).
Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
This essay question is ideally suited for those applicants who have been able to make a substantial impact on an organization. Keep in mind that the impact does not have to be in the workplace. The key to answering this question effectively is to show that the benefits from your efforts are still being realized. Try to pick efforts that are “above the norm” for your level or role in the organization. It would be very difficult to demonstrate the lasting impact of common achievements, like developing training modules or setting up a financial model.
Option C: Tell us about a time when you generated support from others for an idea or initiative.
In this essay question, the admissions committee is looking for evidence that you can take initiative and be persuasive. Do you possess the ability to “see” an idea/initiative that you feel passionate or strongly about and then have the leadership ability to drive it home? The admissions committee does not particularly care what the idea or initiative was; instead they are most interested in your ability to recognize the initiative and, of course, your ability to persuade others. When answering this question focus heavily on how you recognized the initiative, what you did to generate support, and how you persuaded others to buy into your idea. A good essay will be one where there was some true “struggle” or “convincing” that needed to happen. If generating support for your idea/initiative was easy (like sending out an analysis), then it won’t come across as impressive. So try to find a time when your leadership abilities were challenged and you really fought for your initiative.
Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.
Do not answer this question unless you have a good example of when you went above what was expected of you for your role or level in the organization. I have seen applicants choose to explain a time when they did a “good job” on their project or assignment. That is not a good choice for this essay. You need to find an example where you went beyond what was expected of you. Maybe it was a time when you acted at a level or two above your own to handle an employee or client issue. Another example would be setting up a new organization that fills a gap/need in your company. Once you have the topic selected, a good essay will be one that can clearly explain to the admissions committee what was expected of you at your role/level and then what you did. Drawing that sharp contrast is the key to showing them you went beyond what was expected of you.