Tips for Stanford GSB's Background/Perspective Essay

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MBA application questions are notorious for seeming easy to answer when they actually aren’t. This one, however, actually gives you pause right away. I was recently asked, “Could you offer any advice about how to approach this short answer question from the Background section? It’s a bit unclear to me whether this is an ethnicity / citizenship question or if you can talk about anything related to your background.”

The prompt: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind to answer this question effectively.

Transformation is the Claim…

Stanford’s claim is that you will be transformed by way of a GSB MBA. The key to success is to show how you embody transformation – how you have experienced transformation in the past, and how you have transformed others.

…And Diversity is the Conduit

Stanford believes that diversity is the catalyst to achieve said transformation. Being exposed to viewpoints, worldviews, and experiences different from your own is how you will achieve this transformation. And diversity is generally traceable to your background or perspective.

You’re Not Being Evaluated, You’re Being Selected

I watch a lot of Top Chef, and it always makes me laugh when, at the final elimination, the runner-up yells out, “I deserved to be Top Chef!” Does this mean the winner did not deserve to be Top Chef? The runner up is failing to grasp the fundamental principle of a competition – that it is a comparative process. The judges are not evaluating your merits as a chef, even though they might be stellar.

You think individually. It’s normal, we all do. But adcom is concerned with putting together an outstanding class – they think in the aggregate. Stanford’s ding letter is very telling; it states that the process is about “selection, not evaluation.” Like the Top Chef judges, they are not looking at your merits in isolation. It’s not about you being good enough (evaluation), it’s about you being what they are seeking (selection). The criteria for selection? You being so absolutely irreplaceable that they cannot pass you up. The class would suffer for it.

Back to the essay. Stanford receives so many applications, your first order of business is to articulate the unique contribution you would bring to the class. Unique contribution meaning your “background or perspective”.

Will You Contribute to the Transformation of Others?

The Stanford brand relies upon the transformation you achieve by way of a Stanford MBA. Adcom invests a lot of time and money in creating a highly diverse class, from all strata and walks of life, and want to make sure their efforts will be leveraged. It’s one thing for students to be diverse and have a diverse perspective, yet quite another to enrich the student body with that diversity.

This essay question allows them to refine things one level further. Most believe that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior. Do you have a track record of sharing your experiences and perspectives for the betterment of all? They are looking to select applicants who have a track record of putting this into action.

So, what they really want to know is – will you bring your diverse, unique background or perspective to the forefront in the classroom so others can benefit from it? Or will you hoard all your goodies to yourself? How have you leveraged your unique or diverse background/perspective to transform others? Meditate on this point when answering this question.
Farrell Dyan
MBA Admissions Consultant
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"You don't often come across people who are as perceptive and also genuinely empathetic." - EM. NYC