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What Stanford GSB looks for in MBA applicants

Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) offers a lush environment that nurtures unique ideas. Its admissions exercise seeks to identify those who have what it takes to make the most of this environment.

As a student of the Stanford MBA program, will you be able to take full advantage of the facilities offered by the GSB community with its world-class faculty, guest speakers drawn from the best industrial houses, and talented co-students from various backgrounds?
Read Life at Stanford as an international MBA student

How to get into Stanford GSB


Three main admissions criteria for Stanford Business School

The GSB website mentions the three most-important criteria for selection of candidates for the MBA Program: intellectual vitality, proven leadership potential, and personal qualities and achievements.

In the absence of even one of these attributes, a candidate’s academic achievements, GMAT/GRE score, letters of recommendation, work experience, and performance in the admissions interview are not going to count for much.

GSB makes it clear that it does not give the green signal to a candidate on the basis of any one aspect. It sees candidates from a holistic perspective and selects only those whose aspirations and ideals are in tune with its own goals and values.

A GSB Admissions Dean once said that that the school looked for “passion” in a candidate that could be harnessed for the welfare of the community. GSB tries to hear a unique “voice.” This is the critical trait that each applicant should possess in order to be admitted.

Let’s look at the first criterion: intellectual vitality, which means you have a mind that is animated and energetic. You are not only excited by new ideas but want to find practical implementation for them. You are inquisitive, and your passion to find a new path takes you to places others fear to go.

The second attribute is “demonstrated leadership qualities.” As a GSB candidate, you need to prove that you have successfully used an ability to inspire your team to achieve organizational objectives.

Moreover, for GSB, these objectives should also have been worth achieving. Every time, without fail, your core values and beliefs, or your “intellectual idealism,” should tell you what goals are important. Your moral barometer should gel with the GSB’s own vision.

The third criterion is personal qualities and achievements. Do you have a deep engagement with society and the people around you? Have you cared enough to want to make a difference? Do your qualities and achievements involve people around you?

Let your Stanford MBA application tell the story

How do you convince Stanford business school that you fit the bill based on these three criteria? You should use your application, résumé, essay, and letter of recommendation to showcase your qualities and achievements.

GSB believes that what you have done so far is a good indicator of what you are likely to do in the future. For GSB, future intent by itself counts for naught, and you will do well to banish phrases such as “I will do this” and “I want to do that” in your application, résumé, and essay.

Before filling in your application, try to introspect on how you developed your qualities, not only on the qualities themselves. This will lead you to a deeper self-realization that GSB will appreciate. Further, well-developed analytical skills, creativity, and demonstrated talent for managing people and projects will help differentiate yourself from other candidates.

How do you highlight your qualifications? Assuming they don’t change over the upcoming season, the two essays you write as part of the Stanford MBA application process (about “What matters most to you, and why?” and “Why Stanford?”) will tell the admissions office who you are. It is a good idea to completely refrain from trying to second-guess the admissions officials. If you try to do so, you will only be hiding your real self, which is what GSB wants to see.

Reflect on your dreams, interests, and values before you write your essays. In the first essay, GSB expects to read about the insights that your experiences have given you rather than only about your achievements. In the second essay, explain why you want to pursue MBA at Stanford and what opportunities you are interested in pursuing.

The admission process also includes an interview that evaluates your inputs in your application. The interviewer (often a GSB alumnus or alumna) would persuade you to reflect on your experiences, both personal and professional, and try to find out about your world and your views about leadership and management. The interviewer would explore how you have managed situations rather than how you would solve hypothetical problems.

A word of caution here, specially if you are planning to take external help for your application (from family, friends or professional admission consultants). Stanford makes a clear demarcation of appropriate feedback and inappropriate coaching.

The application you submit may be reviewed by others, but what you submit has to ultimately be your own work. Take this advice very seriously. Read this –> Do not outsource your MBA application.

Other requirements for Stanford MBA admissions

While GSB does not specify particular undergraduate degrees (though 48 percent students of the Class of 2017 had degrees in Humanities or Social Sciences and 39 percent degrees in Engineering/Math/Natural Sciences), you require a US bachelor’s degree or equivalent. The school also makes it clear that it does not have a cut-off grade point average (GPA), and that it is considered only in context (the average GPA of the Class of 2017 was 3.75).

GSB does not seek a minimum GMAT or GRE score. However, successful candidates have typically done well—the average GMAT score of the Class of 2017 was 733 and the range of scores 570-800. GSB expects you to be proficient in the English language. You need specified minimum TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE scores (100 in Internet-based TOEFL and 600 in paper-based TOEFL; 7.0 overall band score in IELTS; and 68 overall score in PTE-Academic) if your medium of instruction was not English for all courses (the average TOEFL score for the Class of 2017 was 112 and the range 100-120).

Work experience is not an eligibility criterion. However, the Class of 2017 had an average experience of four years and a range of 0-17 years. If you have held a job, explain in the “professional experience” section how you have utilized opportunities and how you have fared in team-building. You require two references — one from your direct supervisor and an additional supervisor (or peer). Your recommenders should know you well and be enthused to write about you, providing specific examples of your personality and achievements.

Quality in diversity

Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions, says in a note on the GSB website that the school does not use any set template to evaluate candidates. GSB looks to build a diverse community of students with varied backgrounds and aspirations.

Bolton advises candidates to repose confidence in their achievements, faith in their passion, and trust in their own career and life goals. He reminds them that the GSB application process provides an opportunity to candidates to explore their values and evaluate their potential, and requests them to use it.

Diversity is what GSB strives to create in every class. Of course, diversity for GSB means not just enrolling male and female students from many nations with varying backgrounds and ethnicities, but also ensuring diversity in perspectives. GSB makes it clear that it does not favor a particular ideal background or set of qualities—it does not strive to cultivate a “Stanford type” student.

By laying emphasis on diversity, GSB tries to build an academic community whose members can teach and learn from one another. It believes that such an institution will encourage students to share their views, evaluate and question standpoints, and create an environment of exploration and creation.

Checklist for the Stanford MBA Application

To get a good idea about your chances of making it to GSB, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you intelligent enough for the academic rigors of the course?
  2. Will your admission improve diversity at GSB?
  3. Do you have specific reasons for preferring GSB?
  4. Do you share GSB’s values?
  5. Do you care for the community?
  6. Are you innovative enough?
  7. Do you have leadership qualities?
  8. Will GSB help you make a unique contribution to society?

Along the way, if you feel the need to join forces with someone who’s been there done that, get in touch with us. We’ll check if Ankur has the capacity (always in short supply during peak season) to take up your admissions consulting request. Here’s his story: How I got into Stanford and Harvard MBA. Be prepared to work hard and just to reiterate, don’t expect any inappropriate coaching.

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References: 1, 2, 3, 4

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6 thoughts on “What Stanford GSB looks for in MBA applicants”

  1. Hello sameer,
    At present am doing mbbs.. I am in the 2nd year of mbbs. I was thinking about doing a management degree from harvard or stanford.. So, what does it take to do it? Like being a medical student, do my chances of being selected gets low? Or is there any sort of entrance to be given?
    I would be grateful by your answer.
    Thank you.

  2. hi bhaiya .. i want to ask that how many times applicant can send his application to Stanford and how many times he/she can appear for an interview

  3. @Shanvi: It would be too early for you to think about an international MBA. Whether it’s from Stanford, Harvard, Wharton or any other top bschool, they’d all expect you to have a significant amount of experience.

    The number of doctors applying for MBA programs is quite low. Which means that you’ll have a better chance of standing out from the crowd. But there’s the other side of the coin as well.

    Why don’t most doctors apply to bschools? What do you think YOU will gain from going there? Ponder on these questions as you complete your graduation and the way ahead.
    @Sahil: You can apply once a year to any bschool in one of their application rounds (most have 3). If you are unsuccessful, you can always apply in the next year or after a few years when you think your profile is stronger and you’ve tackled all the weaknesses from the earlier application.

    MBA interviews are generally by invitation only based on the strength of your application. So, again limited to once per year.

    Having said that, done look at MBA applications as a matter of chance i.e. assuming that applying multiple times increases the odds. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s the other way around. It gets tougher for re-applicants.

  4. Hi Team,

    Do most indian students at Stanford GSB get financial aid.
    As in say 30% to 50%. I see the total expenses for 2 years
    estimated to at 220K, ie around 1.4 crores!


  5. dear sir,
    i have an experience of 7 years in engineering field, i am looking for Executive MBA from top B-school of US or UK. So I am little confused to take GRE or GMAT? and second is what will be the time period for that Executive MBA One year or Two years?
    Thanking you


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