Applying to Stanford GSB

The instructions to Stanford’s application indicate that it evaluates candidates based on three high-level criteria: intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and your personal qualities and contributions. Sounds simple enough, right? The difficulty with navigating the Stanford application is the degree to which these three criteria must be emphasized. In demonstrating your fit with these criteria your emphasis should primarily be on the innovation and leadership dimensions.

The most obvious example of Stanford’s alignment with innovation is its strength in entrepreneurship. Closely linked with Silicon Valley, Stanford has achieved an entrepreneurship branding that other b-schools dream of. While Stanford is a general management program to its core (students do not select majors), electives based on entrepreneurship are in abundance. Courses that focus on areas such as venture capital, business model development, private equity, and entrepreneurial strategy are the backbone of Stanford’s entrepreneurial strength. Discussing your entrepreneurial inclination can be a great way to unite the innovation and leadership dimensions, but it should not be done to simply appear as though you fit with Stanford’s values. Recognize that a large percentage of applicants who apply to Stanford will discuss entrepreneurship in their application. Therefore, should you go down this path, include vivid details about your ideas and also be sure to discuss their potential impact on society. This will help separate you from the pack.

Recommendations should be viewed as an extremely important aspect of your Stanford application. The admission committee will take a close look at your recommendations in evaluating your leadership potential and your teamwork capabilities. If there is one application in which you should avoid submitting generic recommendations at all costs, this is it. Make sure that you follow the instructions closely and submit two professional recommendations and one peer recommendation.

Academic aptitude is a criterion that Stanford evaluates more rigorously than most other top b-schools. Because the curriculum is quantitatively heavy, the admissions committee will look closely for measures that indicate that you will be able to succeed within the learning model. Therefore, your GMAT score (Stanford also accepts GRE scores) will be looked at closely in addition to your transcript(s). If your scores don’t reflect a high standard of analytical background, you will need to express it through your professional experiences and/or additional coursework. You should also be aware that while those accepted by Stanford come from a multitude of undergraduate institutions, a large majority attended “high prestige” universities. If you are not among this group, you should discuss your school’s strengths and your reasons for attending it.

While Stanford’s emphasis on teamwork may not be as strong as it is at Fuqua, Kellogg, or Tuck, it is definitely an important part of the learning model. During their first quarter at Stanford, students are assigned to study groups of four to five people and work together on a daily basis. You can display a penchant for working with others by discussing previous professional and extracurricular team involvement.

The essay portion of the application is your opportunity to demonstrate your ability to contribute to the diversity of the Stanford community. Because the Stanford essays do not have a word limit, you should really focus on telling your unique story, but doing so in a logical, flowing manner. Include headings in your essays so that your readers can follow your framework easily. Consider writing your Stanford essays after you’ve completed other applications. This will allow your story to be more polished. And don’t even bother trying to shoehorn an essay from another application into your Stanford application. Ultimately, your essays should reveal your passions, both professional and personal, and highlight your distinctiveness. You probably haven’t scaled Mt. Everest or won a marathon, but don’t let that keep you from positioning yourself as unique in some way. One applicant we spoke with, who was denied admission after her interview, mentioned that the alumnus with whom she interviewed suggested that her lack of distinctiveness contributed to her ultimate denial. “He complimented my competitive profile, but stated that I had no point of differentiation in my perspective, which weakened an otherwise strong profile.”

You can assert a distinct passion for Stanford by visiting the school, checking out a class, and chatting with current students (yes, this goes for those of you on the East Coast too). Make sure that this visit finds its way into your essays in your discussion of “why Stanford?” Your enthusiasm for Stanford will resonate positively with the admissions committee as it strives to maintain a high yield percentage.

Insider Information

The Stanford learning model doesn’t offer majors, but it does offer certificates in public management and global management. The Public Management Program (PMP) prepares students for positions in the social sector and the Global Management Program (GMP) prepares students for opportunities at a global level. Both certificates are supported by a large number of electives, programs, and career resources. More than one third of the student body pursues certificates in PMP or GMP, and Stanford is actively looking for ways in which it can augment these programs. Discussing how you would utilize the resources offered by these programs in conjunction with your career objectives is a great way to display fit with Stanford.

What Makes the Stanford GSB Different?

  • Class Size At under 400 students in each graduating class, Stanford is among the smallest of the top business schools in the world – and this makes for a very different experience for the student. While there are advantages in a large class in terms of the vast global alumni network, a smaller class undoubtedly helps students foster closer relationships – not just with each other, but with the faculty, too.
  • Silicon Valley Venture capital has its origins on Sand Hill Road, where Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia Capital got their start in the ‘70s – and which runs along the border of the Stanford University campus. The GSB is in the heart of Silicon Valley, and this proximity makes the school a natural incubator for great ideas. And, it means that the quality of guest speakers is phenomenal. It is not uncommon to see the likes of Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) and the founder of Siebel (Pat House) and the CEO of Skype (Josh Silverman) in the classroom – in the same week. This close proximity to so many startups also means that it’s fairly easy for students to set up independent projects and more informal school-year internships than would be possible at other schools.
  • Innovation This is big at this school – so much so, that the GSB is engraving it into the cornerstone of the new Knight Center, which is dedicated to “the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who are about to dream them up. ” The focus on innovation is evident in courses such as Contemporary Economic Policy, for example, the content of which changes, as its name suggests, based on the real world; in the past year, topics included the financial crisis, bailouts, and healthcare.
  • Sustainability and Social Innovation Given its mantra to “change the world” it makes sense that Stanford wants to attract students who will do just that. Stanford is a leader of its business school peers in the areas of sustainable business and social ventures, both forprofit and nonprofit.
  • International Exposure Stanford has a similar mix of U.S. and international students to other top schools. However, unique to Stanford is the Global Experience Requirement, whereby every student must undertake a project overseas, in a country where they have never spent significant time, in order to broaden their understanding of global issues from a management perspective. (Only Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business has a similar requirement.) Because Stanford students are encouraged to fulfill their GER in the first year of studies, the entire GSB community benefits when they return to campus and share their experiences with their classmates and professors. Stanford was one of the first graduate business programs to focus on the international aspects of business.
With innovation as part of its DNA, the Stanford Graduate School of Business is all about openmindedness, testing boundaries, and changing the status quo. This is nowhere more evident than in its motto “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” The GSB’s mission is to develop innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who have the ability to make a legitimate difference on a large scale. On the whole, Stanford looks for candidates who are smart, passionate about their interests, and willing to step up and take action. To meet these goals, the GSB has developed a flexible and rigorous curriculum that can be customized to fit the needs of each student, yet still remain challenging.

Some of the principles that form the basis of a GSB education are:

Customized Learning: The GSB has always featured a strong general management program, and as a result, never offered specific majors, preferring to give its students the flexibility to chart their own path. Each year, a large number of graduates go on to start their own companies, and as a byproduct, the program has always been flexible enough to enable them to be successful in whatever venture they choose. Students work with a faculty adviser to tailor an academic plan that suits their needs and level of experience. The school adopts a variety of teaching methods, from experiential learning to lectures to the case method. Furthermore, students can take “accelerated” or “advanced” levels of core courses so that the work always remains challenging, no matter the level of prior experience.

Leadership and Communication: Nearly every top business school boasts of leadership opportunities, but few advance training in this area as thoroughly and comprehensively as Stanford. As an indication of its commitment to leadership development, the GSB added Strategic Leadership to its core program for first-year MBA students. In addition, programs such as the Leadership Fellows and the Center for Leadership Development and Research build leadership training into the curriculum and the lives of GSB students. One of the most important events at the Stanford GSB is the Stanford Executive Challenge, when over 150 GSB alumni and executives from around the world travel to Stanford to participate in a day-long leadership simulation involving all first-year MBA students.

Global Curriculum: To fulfill the Global Education Requirement, students can participate in an international study trip, a service-learning trip, the Global Management Immersion Experience (a 4+ week foreign internship) or an international exchange opportunity.

Intellectual Challenge: The GSB program is designed to be rigorous, regardless of a student’s background or level of proficiency. The grade non-disclosure policy encourages intellectual freedom and minimizes an undue sense of competitiveness. Students can take whatever courses interest them without fear of how it will impact their chances during recruiting season. Classes like the Critical Analytical Thinking seminar help students develop their analytical skills by examining broad issues that transcend any single function or discipline of management. Students with strong backgrounds in particular subject areas, such as economics, statistics, or finance, have the option of taking “accelerated” or “advanced application” versions of these courses.

Collaborative Community: Everything about the Stanford GSB – from its small size, the “work-hard, play-hard” culture, and the fact that almost all first-years live together in a common residence – encourages the development of Stanford’s tight-knit, collaborative culture. Most work at the GSB is done in groups and there is a strong sense of community that pervades everything that goes on around the GSB campus.

Diversity of Perspective: The GSB is one of the most diverse MBA programs, with a large concentration of international students, as well as students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. However, more than simple geographic or ethnic diversity, the GSB prides itself for its diversity of perspective. As is the case with other elite MBA programs, Stanford seeks candidates who can bring a unique perspective to the classroom. While every class includes its fair share of investment bankers and consultants, the GSB welcomes a large number of students from nontraditional backgrounds or with nontraditional interests.

Application Essays

  1. What matters most to you, and why?
  2. What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?
  3. Answer 1 of the 3 questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.
    a. Tell us about a time in the last 3 years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations
    b. Tell us about a time in the last 3 years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization
    c. Tell us about a time in the last 3 years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

All school information appears courtesy of Your MBA Game Plan and is used with express permission of the authors.

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