Stanford's Director of MBA Admissions Marie Mookini in 1996
(from an issue of the Stanford Business School Magazine - link):|
Q. Why do you put so much stock in the applicant's essays?
We get a good idea of an applicant's intellectual strengths from college transcripts and GMAT scores. We learn a lot about a candidate's professional accomplishments from the résumé.
But it is through the essays that we learn more about the people behind the grades, scores, and job titles. Because we do not offer interviews, the essays serve as the applicants' opportunity to tell us who they are. The who is as important as the what in creating a community of people who will be living with and learning from one another for the next 18 months.
Q. So what impresses you in an essay? And what doesn't?
There are essays that mechanically answer the questions, and then there are essays that truly make the candidate come alive.
The advice I always give applicants is borrowed from a former colleague of mine: "Tell a story, and tell a story that only you can tell." Most applicants are good at describing the people with whom they grew up, the college they attended, the activities in which they participated, and their current job. But "telling a story only you can tell" means going beyond describing the people and places in your life, and instead
focusing on how these people, places, and events have shaped you and your perspective.
A great essay answers the question we ask. For example, our second essay asks a three-part question. We ask applicants to describe their career paths, help us understand why an MBA makes sense for them at this point, and describe specifically why the GSB is a good fit for them. The most common mistake made with this question is that applicants do not answer all three parts of the question, or they do so in a superficial way that suggests that their essay is a one-size-fits-all that was used for all their business school applications. Not understanding the value of the MBA experience and not being able to articulate how specific elements of the GSB experience dovetail nicely with their personal and professional needs make a candidate less attractive to us.
A great essay is told in a sincere, straightforward fashion. Unfortunately, there are far too many business school guidebooks that encourage applicants to find a "hook" or use a certain "angle" for their essays. We have grown weary of the essays that are interviews with the candidate as CEO in the year 2020, just as we have grown impatient with essays that are singularly focused on the one skill or quality the applicant thinks we want to hear about. The most successful essays are the stories that are told in an honest and natural way. They reflect a healthy amount of self-reflection and provide a convincing career focus and direction.