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  • Writer's pictureSam

Visiting Stanford GSB: Some signs of intelligent life, finally

Updated: Feb 1

It’s 25 degrees outside, and I’m slowly realizing that my British pigmentation isn’t cut out for sunny Palo Alto. The 1.5 mile walk from the Caltrain stop to the Stanford GSB campus has me glowing.

Walking past the Amazon and Salesforce offices and the sports grounds, there aren’t many people wearing masks outside, alone. Finally some signs of intelligent life. I pose for my mandatory “I was here selfie” in front of the Stanford GSB’s Knight Management Center before venturing in.

I manage to sit in the end of OB 581.3, Dr. Jon Atwell’s negotiations class. Furrowed brows and animated chats follow me into the Arbuckle Dining Pavilion where I’m headed for a quick lunch. Amidst a sea of sandals and Macbooks, ABBA is playing from the speakers. (The sustainability dork in me notices the café selling drinks in single-use cups, and handing out plastic cutlery). At the table beside me, a few students sit casually chatting about the ethics of payment gateways.

Later that day, I had dinner with my friend from Oxford who works at Tesla, and his girlfriend, a Stanford GSB alumna. Talk about a power couple! She raves about her experience with the TALK series, telling me how she attended almost every single one.

“Even if you had no idea who was going to present, you showed up once a week.” she beams.

The topics ranged from educational to inspirational, and speakers receive coaching from the TALKS team to deliver their stories impactfully to the attendees. Most people end up crying at some point.

She fondly mentions “Touchy Feely”, a class she took during her time at Stanford GSB. That’s not its official name, of course (but it should be). Known formally as “Interpersonal Dynamics” it’s Stanford GSB’s most popular elective.

In my opinion, the class is representative of Stanford GSB’s edge. Let me explain. In a world of data-driven decision-making (Booth) and Leaders who make a difference (HBS), no other business school has designed their MBA program to help students “lead from the heart”. To be touchy-feely. Again and again on my visit, I notice just how tuned-in Stanford students are to themselves and to each other.

This brings me to Stanford’s unique cultural tenets:

  • Lead from the Heart and strike a balance between ethical responsibility and business innovation.

  • Expanding Your Mindset by challenging what’s possible and engaging with new peers, ideas, and opportunities.

  • Think Boldly by using innovation to transform organizations and design solutions for the future.

  • Build Community to be inspired by and collaborate with other leaders and professionals.

  • Define the Future while engaging in interdisciplinary and creative opportunities.

It’s pretty clear that for Stanford, it’s not all about business outcomes and hitting numbers. It’s about creating well-rounded leaders who sit in the sweet spot.

From the conversations around me, to the unique electives and the TALK Series, to the massive round Dining Pavilion where students lounge around coaching each other, Stanford’s campus is designed for collaboration, not competition. Innovation at Stanford comes with a high EQ.

So it should be no surprise that this is also exactly what Stanford looks for in potential candidates.

How Stanford’s culture plays into your MBA essays

In your Stanford GSB MBA application, you are asked to write two essays. In line with its school culture, the GSB AdCom is looking for emotionally intelligent essays, that are authentic and heartfelt. While Essay 1 is about you, Essay 2 is about why Stanford is right for you. They have a combined word limit of 1050 words.

Required Essay 1 (Recommended limit - 650 words)

What matters most to you, and why?

For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?

Stanford has been asking this Essay question for more than a decade. The essay sets itself apart from the usual business school essay format and often baffles applicants by throwing their application strategies and formatted answers up in the air by simply asking, “what matters most to you”. Pure and simple. So, how can you write a successful, personal essay?

Self-introspection is crucial. I suggest you start by making an exhaustive list of events and experiences from your life that are meaningful to you - wins, losses, accomplishments, interests and any formative experiences from four periods of your life: upbringing, undergrad, past role and current role.

With clients, I like to use the SCAR (Situation, Challenge, Action, and Result) method to structure these stories and draw connections between stories and values. It’s a great way to reveal what matters most to you.

So be honest about your goals, passion, dream or a cause that is close to you, because that’s what Stanford are looking for here.

Required Essay 2 (Recommended limit - 400 words)

Why Stanford?

Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay 2 to address your interest in both programs.

Stanford GSB’s second essay is about your alignment with the school. Discuss how you believe the school’s culture, values and MBA experience will enable you to realize your goals. Give pointed reasons to choose the Stanford MBA (or the joint MBA and MSx program) - the more specific, the better! Point to specific core courses, electives, clubs, activities, professors and research opportunities that you intend to pursue at the school. Finally, weave these goals together to communicate how you will use your two years at Stanford to realize your career goals, entrepreneurial aspirations, or your mission.


Even with its location in one of the world’s most cut-throat, dynamic tech hubs, experiencing Stanford’s culture has been a highlight of my trip. The school is driven by a mission to change the world through innovation, but that’s not what it limits itself to. Here on campus, I see something more. There’s collaboration, coaching, camaraderie - and plenty of ABBA.

Not everyone can visit in person or take an MBA tour to experience these principles first-hand. If you want professional guidance to build a narrative that aligns with the Stanford philosophy, schedule a free consultation to discuss.

Prefer something more self-paced? Check out for the full Stanford application course, with example essays from successful applicants.


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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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