How to get into Stanford Graduate School of Business’s MBA program?

Stanford Business School Building

Stanford Graduate School of Business is a part of the M7 business schools. Think of the M7 business schools as something close to the Ivy League for business schools.

This is a group of 7 business schools whose deans and vice-deans meet up at least once a year to share any information they find worthwhile. These 7 business schools rank in the top 10 business schools in the world every year, with Stanford Graduate School of Business never ranking lower than number 2 in the lists.

Stanford GSB also has been ranking as the top business school in regards to average salaries received by fresh MBA graduates, which was $224,628 in 2019.

I could go on and on about how highly the business school ranks in various lists ranging from career progress, to alumni recommendation. But, if getting into the MBA Program of Stanford Graduate School of Business is your dream, knowing about how to make that dream come true is more pressing.

Before we get to the ‘How to’ part, let’s look at the Stanford Graduate School of Business as a whole and not just the MBA program.

Stanford university main campus palo alto California

Programs offered at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford GSB offers various full-time degree programs along with various certification courses.

The non-degree or certificate programs that Stanford GSB offers are; Executive education, Online Programs, and Seed Transformation Programs. But they aren’t are focus here.

What we are mainly concerned with are the full-time degree courses at Stanford GSB.

PhD Program

The Stanford GSB PhD program is an extensive program complete with seven fields of study; Accounting, Economic Analysis & Policy, Finance, Marketing, Operations Information & Technology, Organizational Behavior, and Political Economics.

It is a rigorous program that pushes students to be disciplined, and provides them immense exposure and networking opportunities through regular events featuring industry leaders as the speakers. It is also flexible, in the manner that it allows students to follow research topics of their own interests and customize the program according to their career goals.

Stanford MSx Program

A one-year Master’s program, the Stanford MSx Program is and accelerated master’s degree aimed at experienced professionals.

The Stanford MSx Program is only available to applicants with over 8 years of work experience. In addition to that, the school states that most admitted applicants have at least 5 years of work experience in managerial roles.

The application process for the Stanford MSx Program is very similar to that of the MBA program at the business school.

Applicants to who aren’t sure whether to opt for an MBA or the MSx program, get a chance to apply for both through a single application with the fee of $275. However, only professionals with at least 8 years of work experience are allowed the opportunity to apply to the Stanford MSx Program and the Stanford MBA Program with a single application.

Stanford MBA Program

Stanford provides a traditional full-time two-year MBA degree. This is a residential course of study and provides the students with a general management degree.

With only a 6.1% acceptance rate in fall 2018, and an even lower acceptance rate of 5.7% in fall 2019, Stanford has ‘THE’ most selective MBA programs in the world. However, they are ever-ready to help a student with their application, and always have students that might not have the best GMAT or GRE scores but have an exceptional profile.

The MBA program requires quite a few things for you to complete your application, along with an application fee of $250.

Education

The Stanford MBA program requires an applicant to have a 3-year US undergraduate degree, or an equivalent degree. Only under special circumstances, does the school make exceptions to this rule.

While no minimum GPA is required, the school does require a full transcript of your scores and an extensive list of all your subjects and credits therein.

GMAT & GRE

The only requirement in regards to the GMAT or the GRE scores while applying to the Stanford MBA Program is to submit scores valid till the deadline of the application round you’re submitting them in.

The school also allows students to report their unofficial scores in case the applicants’ official scores arrive after the application deadline. However, you must make sure that a copy of the official score report is sent to the school as soon as it is available.

TOEFL, IELTS & PTE

If your college or university taught any classes in languages other than English, even if your course did not require you to take them, you will have to submit a TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE score with your application to the Stanford MBA program.

Professional Experience& Deferred enrollment

Stanford GSB doesn’t have a requirement for work experience and welcomes applications from applicants fresh out of college too.

They also provide the option of deferred enrollment to students who are either in their final year of a bachelor’s degree or are enrolled in a graduate degree that they will start right after their bachelor’s degree. This is mainly for students who wish to get full-time work experience before starting an MBA education to figure out their expectations from an MBA degree and their post MBA goals.

Letters of Reference

The business school requires two letters of reference from its applicants; one from a current direct supervisor, the other form someone who has at some point supervised your work.

In case you are self-employed, i.e. have a business or are an independent professional, the school accepts letters of reference from anyone who could have supervised your work like a member of the board at your firm or a client who has used your services.

They also suggest selecting a recommender who has:

  • Worked with you within the last three years.
  • Can provide detailed examples and anecdotes supporting the skills they believe you have.
  • Will enthusiastically write a detailed and thoughtful account of you as an employee.

To make your life easier, here are some tips on the Letters of Reference by Kirsten Moss, Assistant Dean and Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid.

Personal Information

Along with basic personal information such as your name, date of birth, citizenship, etc. the school also provides a space in your application for other personal information like your hobbies, awards, and extracurricular activities.

This is the perfect place to showcase your accomplishments outside of the academic variety.

Essays

Essays are one of the most crucial parts of your application. These allow an admissions committee member to see you in a more human light than just a list of accomplishments does.

The Stanford MBA application has two mandatory and one optional essay question. While you’re supposed to answer the optional short question in the box provided in the application itself, the mandatory essays are a bit more elaborate.

The school asks two questions in its mandatory essays:

  • Question 1: What matters to you most and why?
  • Question 2: Why Stanford?

Both these essays need to be addressed and uploaded in a single document.

While there isn’t a separate word limit for both the essays, they shouldn’t exceed a combined word limit of 1150 words. The school recommends a word limit of 750 for the first question, and a word limit of 400 for the second question.

What does a competitive Stanford MBA Profile look like?

While, the school doesn’t have any limitations set on work experience, or GMAT scores or any other admission criteria, one can figure out what a competitive profile would look like by looking at the statistics.

Stanford class of 2021 Class Profile

Admission Criteria Range Average
Work experience 0-14 4.6
GMAT scores 600-790 734
GRE (Verbal) 149-170 165
GRE (Quant) 157-170 165
TOEFL 105-120 114
GPA NA 3.7

If you look at this table closely, you would see that a candidate with a work experience of 4.6 year, a GMAT score of 734, and a GPA of 3.7, has a competitive profile for the Stanford MBA Program.

However, for Indian candidates applying to Stanford’s MBA Program, having GMAT scores higher than the average scores of the school has been noticed to yield a similar profile.

But the statistics aren’t the only things that make your Stanford profile. Your letters of reference and essays play a major role too.

How to write application essays for Stanford’s MBA Program?

For anyone with an MBA dream, Stanford Graduate School of Business is definitely in the top 5 schools. I have come across applicants whose sole motive was to crack Stanford GSB for their MBA degree. And it is a very possible dream if you go about it the right way.

You can either decide to get into Stanford GSBGraduate School of Business’s MBA program and then plan your whole life around it. Or you could simply live your life up to the point you decide to apply to Stanford GSB for an MBA and then work on optimizing the effect your application will have on the admissions committee members at Stanford GSB.

The problem that arises in the first scenario, planning your life around Stanford, is writing your application essays.

Admissions committee members read thousands of applications during their time at a business school. Over the years they develop a sense to differentiate the essays of a Stanford hungry applicant from the essay of an applicant that believes an MBA to be crucial to their career.

And trust me when I say they do not prefer the former.

So, here are some tips to write a good application essay for the Stanford MBA Program.

  1. Use formal Business Language while communicating with the admissions committees

    When you write an application essay to a business school, you could easily get the impression that your essay needs to be vulnerable, real, and everything that comes after that. While that is true, the language in your essay should not be informal.

    This is your first impression for an admissions committee member, so your aim should be telling them about all the important milestones of your life. But this still doesn’t mean you’re writing to your friend. Consider it as a leave application to your supervisor. You have to give them the reasons to convince them to grant your leave, but you will still restraint from using any vocabulary that you would use with a friend.

    This includes slangs, or industry jargons.

    You might wonder why something as formal as industry jargon is being prohibited here. An admissions committee member might not be aware of the jargons used in your industry. So, if you mention the full process name once at the beginning of your application, and then just use abbreviations to refer to it, it just causes inconvenience for the reader.

    Instead, use a simplified term. For example, if you have to write about the time you were invited to the International Air Transport Association Annual General Meeting (aviation industry), just refer to it as the annual meeting after mentioning it in its true form once in your essay.

  2. Be precise not wordy

    When students look at the word limit for an essay, they tend to write all the possible things they can just to fill space.

    Admissions committee members aren’t your school board examiners. They won’t give you marks to fill in the page. Instead, if you’re falling 50 words short of the word limit in your essay, but have effectively communicated your story, your essays have more of a chance to be placed in the shortlisted pile.

    This however shouldn’t discourage you from narrating your story. All you really need to do is keep the additional information at bay. When you write without a blueprint, you can easily digress from your topic and end up writing details about something that adds no substance to your cause.

    A very easy way to avoid this is to create a rough list of topics you wish to discuss throughout your essay and stick to them.

  3. Don’t write a super-hero story

    Admissions committee members know that you’re not perfect. They also know that this isn’t a movie. They don’t expect to read a list of all your accomplishments since the day you were born.

    While you do have to list your accomplishments in your essay, keep your ego in check. Being proud of what you have achieved is justified, but if you start portraying yourself as the hero who was always saving the day whether at college or in work scenarios, your essay can easily cross the line between confidence and arrogance.

    Let your narration show how you try to come up with unique solutions for problems and not that you are a know-it-all.

  4. Take time to figure out your answer

    Have a drink. Take a walk. Take a vacation if you need to. Just don’t rush in to answer an essay question.

    Even the best writers can be stumped when faced with a question that demands an answer with a philosophical view of themselves. When Stanford asks you “What matters most to you and why?”, don’t try to come up with the whole essay right away.

    Come up with a one sentence answer first. What comes to mind when this question is presented to you? Whatever the answer was, reject it and think of another answer. Reject the second answer as well and now come up with a third.

    The third answer is the one that will really have you wondering and questioning all decisions you have ever made. Good!

    Psychologists say that when faced with a dilemma, the first answer that you give is how you have been conditioned to think. The second answer you give is motivated by what you wish to become. And the third answer is the true representative of who you are. Thus, the third answer is what we wish to show the admission committee members.

  5. Elaborate on certain skills

    While business schools do want to see your unique individual qualities and skills, there are certain skills that are woven in the DNA of MBAs. These are skills that almost every student at Stanford’s MBA program would have portrayed through their application essays.

    Leadership, ethics, communication, problem solving, and quick thinking are some of the skills that you will be able to find in the essays of every applicant that got admitted to Stanford MBA Program. But just mentioning you have these skills aren’t enough. You will have to prove it.

    Mention instances that you portrayed these skills in. Use your application essay to show the admission committee members that you can be a good fit in the Stanford MBA Program as you possess the skills that the school preaches.

  6. Make your friends read your essay

    First of all, accept that your first draft will not be the last one. Even if you spent a whole week drafting an essay, you might have to scratch it completely and start from the beginning.

    Find people who can read your essays and provide honest feedback to you between drafts. Ask them to be critique your essays unabashedly, and take their critiques into consideration.

    If your friend/evaluator says that a certain passage was confusing, change it. You don’t have to completely re-write the passage but make it more reader friendly. Remember that you were present when an incident happened in your life but your evaluator, or the admissions committee members were not.

    Thus, if your evaluator was unable to comprehend what you were trying to convey, chances are the admissions committee members won’t be able to too.

  7. Don’t try to be funny

    I’m not asking you to write a robotic essay. If a story is inherently funny, let the humour come out through the narrative.

    Do not try to add humour to your essay by force. It will only make it a harder read and the organic humour of the anecdote will be lost. Also, the admissions committee members don’t expect you to entertain them. They want to know why you’re suitable for Stanford’s MBA Program. While a sense of humour is a good quality and they might appreciate it, forcing it into your essays will distract from the narrative you’re trying to set.

  8. Don’t make excuses

    This is one of the most important part so pay attention. Let me convey this through an example.

    If you spent one year after your college doing absolutely nothing but partying, own it. Talk about what lesson you learnt from it. Write about how you realized you needed to get back on track towards your career. Do not blame anyone for it.

    Don’t talk about how you were in the wrong social circle or how your family life drove you to the party scene.

    No matter what mistakes you’ve made in your life, accept responsibility if you have to mention them in your application essay. Admission committee members know you’re human. They probably have also seen a few other students who might have made a similar mistake but is now the part of Stanford GSB’s alumni.

    Dodging responsibility can come across as a bigger failure than the incident you dodged responsibility for.

  9. Don’t generalize issues

    When Stanford’s admission committee asks you ‘What matters to you most and why?’. They only want to know about you.

    They do not want to know about everyone in your social circle, or your next-door neighbor. So, when you are discussing an issue in an essay, keep it personal.

    Let me give you a very unrelated, but simple example. If your answer to the essay question brings you to talking about how you always had to wear your older sibling’s hand-me-downs, talk about your personal experience. Tell them why your parents couldn’t afford to get you new clothes.

    Do not talk about how ‘all younger kids in poor families’ have to wear their sibling’s hand-me-downs.

    The admission committee members, in the context of your essay, don’t care about how things generally happen or affect people. This is your chance to tell them about yourself and generalizing issues rather than expanding on your own story will only take away precious words from you.

  10. Don’t try to write a Stanford essay

    All these tips that I shared with you above are to write a good application essay. They are to guide you on how to create a narrative in your essay and share your accomplishments and failures in a positive way.

    They are not meant to help applicants produce the perfect essay that will guarantee an admit from Stanford.

    Admissions committee members read hundreds of essays every year. They can sniff out an essay that is written just for Stanford. Once the Stanford admissions committee is convinced that you spun your story to fit the idea of what a Stanford accepted applicant looks like, they won’t waste a minute in setting your application on the rejected pile.

    Plus, the admission committees are more concerned with what different you can bring to the MBA program at the business school, than how well you can imitate a person they could potentially want.

diversity different man woman race ethnicity

Stanford and every other top business school pride themselves on being diverse and having an MBA class that can be leaders in their own various fields of choosing. They are not trying to mass produce hedge fund managers or consultants.

But diversity isn’t something a business school can teach. It is the student that brings diversity to a business school. Thus, they don’t want a student that is moulded for Stanford. They simply want a student that can optimize their own potential after becoming a part of Stanford.

Use your diversity of race, ethnicity, and experiences to get into Stanford rather than trying to become a blue-print of what a Stanford MBA should be.