I recently received a question, “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.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
1 – TRANSFORMATION IS THE CLAIM
Stanford’s claim is that you will be transformed by way of a GSB MBA. They key to success is to show how you embody transformation – how you have experienced transformation in the past, and how you have transformed others.
2 – 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. Diversity is generally traceable back to your background or perspective.
3 – SELECTION, NOT EVALUATION
You see yourself individually. But the GSB adcom is concerned with putting together an outstanding class. They think in the aggregate. The Stanford ding letter is very telling, it states that the process is about, “selection, not evaluation.” 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 unrepeatable that they cannot pass you up. The class would suffer for it.
AN ANALOGY FROM REALITY TV
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? Did you taste their dishes? If you didn’t, (and maybe even if you did) you really can’t make this claim.They are failing to grasp the fundamental principle of a competition. It is not about evaluating your merits as a chef. It’s about selection, not evaluation. It’s a comparative process.
4 – UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION
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.”
5 – WILL YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE TRANSFORMATION OF OTHERS?
The Stanford brand relies upon the transformation you achieve by way of a Stanford MBA. The 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 for the student body to be enriched by that diversity.
6 – Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.
This 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 choose applications who have a track record of putting this into action. The question is, will you bring your diverse, unique background or perspective to the forefront in the classroom so that others can benefit from it? Or will you be Suzy Wallflower, hoarding all your goodies to yourself? If you do have a unique or diverse perspective/ background, how have you transformed others by way of this? Meditate on this point when answering this question.
Let’s connect if you would like guidance with your personal application to GSB or other top schools. Wishing success and transformation in your MBA journey!