Friday, September 15, 2006

Recommendations submitted & The long long Stanford Essays Deconstructed

I again have something to celebrate about. One of my recommenders submitted his recommendations today! That is one recommender less to manage and a big job out of my way now. I also sent my TOEFL score reprot to Kellogg, something I kept constantly forgetting to do. Now I'm just waiting for my printed score report to reach me so that I can submit Part 1 of Kellogg's application. So here's another celebratory post. This time it's about the Stanford essays.

I had planned to finish one post each for all 5 schools by now. But I've been returning from work after 10pm everyday. So the entire application process is suffering :-(. I have not touched my essays after Monday. But I guess it's good to take a break from the essays before beginning to review and rewrite them. So now I'm officially into total rewriting mode.

Moving on to the Stanford essays...

virtually no word limits, just one question that will scare the shit out of you and make you feel a loss for words...

Let me start with the advantages of Stanford's approach to essays. Stanford like Harvard allows you to focus on whichever aspect of life you want through the "What matters most to you" essay and also the other essays to a large extent . You could get carried away with Stanford's topics, but it's important to remember that it is a B-School application essay after all. So all the essays put together should reflect your professional, personal and XC life to paint a complete picture. But these essays definitely give you the freedom to move things around endlessly.

Stanford is one school that gives you something like 1500 words (Career Aspiration essay) to divide between your goals and Why Stanford. This is really cool, 'coz you can make a really good case about why stanford is perfect for you. At least you are not stifled by a super stringent wordlimit that forces you to write about your dream school in 150 words :-). This essay will be a winning one only if a large portion of it is devoted to how you can contribute to Stanford, moreover this is probably the only place where you can do it. People who use the "What matters most to you" essay to talk about something very specific in the personal or XC realms might have to use this essay to talk about their career progress also. If you are planning to use this essay for your career progress then keep in mind that this is phrased as a futuristic question; it will do you good to discuss your career progress in the context of your goals and thus maintain the futuristic tone. Otherwise this is a fairly standard but really long Career Goals, Why MBA, Why now, Why school essay. We should try to completely capitalize on this essay to give the adcom a compelling reason to admit us!

Although I hated the idea of the 2 short essays initially, I think they give a real advantage. If you notice, for the first two essays you need to define a theme and stick to it- you need to have a smooth flow between the anecdotes you choose and they need to fit into an overarching theme. The 2 small essays, an addition to last year's questions, do not pose this problem. Of course they might take 2-3 stories away from your other essays, but as far as essays go I feel- The More The Merrier :D. These essays are cool because there's something for everybody.
For example:
1. "Tell us about a time when you did something that was not established, expected, or popular"
You can use this essay to project innovation, risk taking ability, entrepreneurship, even a failure and what you learnt from it.

2. "Tell us about a time when you felt effective or successful"
You can use this essay to describe a personal achievement, something that need not have produced measurable results on a very large scale. It is pretty abstract and can be worked to project your perception of success.

3. "Tell us about a time when you had a significant effect on a group or individual"
This essay is a godsend if you who have a lot community service to talk about. If you've never done any community service this essay is still a godsend- you can use it to show that you have a humanitarian side despite your jetsetting busy career. You can use this one to talk about any good deed you did for someone in the last 3 years. Of course you need proven impact on the group/individual, but selecting a powerful experience should do the trick.

4. "Tell us about a time when you tried to reach a goal or complete a task that was challenging, difficult, or frustrating."
This essay is perfect for a failure/setback that you want to talk about, it can be dressed as a difficult challenge and worked to your advantage by explaining all the lessons you learnt. This essay is also good for describing complex professional assignments, starting a new venture/club, a self disciplined effort etc.

The short essays don't really give you additional space because the recommended wordlimit is still 11 pages, same as last year. But they do give you a chance to isolate key incidents that may not fit into your theme and describe them in detail.

Finally, What matters most to you and Why?
This essay is the most open-ended, teasing, paralyzing B-School essay I have come across. This essay forces you to be personal on some level. When I say personal I don't mean the nature of the stories you pick, but it is really difficult to articulate your reason to someone who has never met you without getting personal and introspective. The "Why" is what makes this question difficult. This essay can be anything, you could write up a broad account about your life and what shaped it into what it is today, you could write about a single experience you went through and how it changed your life, you could write about a single characteristic or personality trait that defines you, you could write about your family, your children - the options are limitless. Whatever you choose, it has to be life changing or you should not be able to imagine living without it. Read more on my approach to this essay here.

For someone who enjoys writing and has lots to say, Stanford essays are a dream. If you can also get creative with them, nothing like it!

Also check out: My take on Harvard, Wharton, Chicago, Kellogg essays.