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Stanford MSx Review: Is the Executive MBA alternative worth it?

Stanford MSx: Executive MBA alternativeThe “x” in Stanford’s “MSx” program is hardly an unknown quantity. It stands for “experience”—boast-worthy work experience that applicants to the program should have under their belt to be eligible to attend it.

The MSx, or “Master of Science in Management for Experienced Professionals,” is a one-year residential program that aims to hone the leadership skills of mid- to executive-level managers. Though there’s no Stanford Executive MBA program, the MSx program could be an alternative for experienced professionals looking for an MBA after 30

Who is eligible?

Besides work experience and a proven record of achievement, intellectual brio and clarity of thought are must-have qualities for MSx candidates. Their knowledge about business should be of such quality that its sharing would embellish the classroom engagement for their peers.

Applicants should have at least eight years’ work experience, preferably five years in management positions, and a bachelor’s degree. They should be ambitious for their own sake and for the sake of their organization and larger society. Campus diversity is a major concern for Stanford, and candidates from varied backgrounds can expect to be considered.

Here’s a closer look at the major selection criteria: intellectual vitality, leadership accomplishments, personal qualities and contributions, and clarity of purpose.

Intellectual vitality: Applicants with excellent academic and professional records are preferred. Attitude as well as aptitude is important, and candidates should demonstrate a willingness to support others and help them improve. They should also exhibit an ability to chart their way through difficult situations and environment while playing the role of leader.

Leadership accomplishments: Have you led a big or small group to achieve a common objective or target? Demonstrated leadership qualities are vital if you wish to join the MSx cohort.

Personal qualities and contributions: Although past record is a good indicator of the potential of a candidate, the program also assesses your beliefs and dreams to consider how much you will benefit from and contribute to the MSx group. “How has your experience built your personality?” is a question that the admissions office encourages you to reflect on.

Clarity of purpose: Applicants who have spent a few years leading teams are likely to have a clear idea about what they would like to take away from the program. This clarity strengthens a candidate’s bid. The participant’s expectations of the benefits should match what the program intends to offer.

MSx Program format

“Studying the art and science of leadership” is how Stanford describes the MSx program, the academic framework of which seeks to align with the university’s motto, “Change lives, change organizations, change the world.” MSx has a pedigree of over 50 years and used to be called the Stanford Sloan Master’s Program before GSB rebranded it midway through 2014.

The MSx program seeks to explore concepts and ideas that deliver good practices and inspired innovation. The art and science of leadership is practiced in an atmosphere of collaboration among the MSx Fellows, faculty, university, and the Silicon Valley society of entrepreneurs. Small-size classes help students engage with their peers and faculty, and study groups facilitate leadership skill-building. The approach to teaching is flexible and selected based on suitability to the subject on hand.

The program starts in July. The first few weeks of study lay the foundation for the elective courses later, which the MSx Fellows attend along with MBA students. During the program, which includes assessments and study trips, Fellows get opportunities to pursue new ways of problem-solving and learn to develop a personal leadership style. Networking possibilities are open in each group that comprises experienced and knowledgeable peers.

The MSx program includes fundamental management topics along with elective courses. Specific subjects of interest can be pursued in other Stanford schools. Students are expected to have a basic knowledge of business concepts, but core courses demand expertise in quantitative concepts and a computer spreadsheet program. GSB advises applicants who don’t have a firm quantitative background to attend a calculus or statistics course before joining the program.

MSx vs other Stanford GSB executive programs

Apart from full-time degree programs, GSB conducts various full-time, part-time, and online executive programs for individuals and employees of organizations. Topics encompass organizational leadership, negotiation, general management, strategy, marketing, corporate governance, entrepreneurship, social impact, nonprofit, finance, and accounting. The duration ranges from a few days to several weeks. Programs are conducted both on campus and outside, within the US and in cities around the world.

Among the part-time programs is Stanford Ignite, a certificate course that equips participants with the skills required to make a success of entrepreneurial and “intrapreneurial” ventures. Stanford Ignite is conducted on campus and also in countries other than the US, including India. For example, a Stanford Ignite program will be conducted in Bangalore from January 20 to March 26, 2017, with sessions on Friday evenings, Saturday, and Sunday.

Short, full-time executive programs include “Social entrepreneurship,” “Leading change and organizational renewal,” and “Design thinking boot camp: From insights to innovation.” Programs such as these are conducted on campus over four to six days. There are also certificate online courses of varying durations, such as “Corporate innovation” (11 months), and self-paced online courses, such as “Innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Stanford MSx vs MBA

[Data in table updated in January 2022]

Criteria MSx (Class of 2021) MBA (Class of 2023)
Duration Full-time, 12 months Full-time, 21 months
Students 67 students (mid-career managers and executives) 426 students
International 52 percent 47 percent
Countries represented 22 63
Average work experience 14 years 4.8 years
Women 34% 44%
Range of work experience 8-23 years 0-17 years
Cost of attendance (per year) $187,000 to $219,000 $119,000 to $144,000
Organization-sponsored 25 percent

Sources: 1; 2
The Stanford MSx is often compared with the GSB’s MBA program, and at least a few applicants wonder which program is more suitable to them. Here’s a quick comparison.

As mentioned, the MSx is for accomplished leaders, while the MBA is for candidates with leadership potential. The programs are meant for two different target groups. Both are full-time programs. While the MSx is a 12-month program, the MBA course is completed over 21 months.

The evaluation criteria described earlier are more or less common for both programs, except, of course, that MSx candidates should have leadership accomplishments, whereas MBA applicants should have demonstrated leadership potential.

The cost of attendance of the MBA program is about $119,000 to $144,000 (depending on whether you are single or married and live on the campus or outside) and that of the MSx program is $187,000 to $219,000.

Keep in mind that these amounts are per year. Which means the total cost for MBA programs is twice this number.

Is the Stanford MSx program worth it?

Many applicants ask whether the MSx is equivalent to an MBA. In any case, those accepted for MSx are generally already well set in their careers, and the question shouldn’t worry them too much. The GSB experience and the GSB degree on the CV make the effort worth it. You could say that the MSx catapults graduates of the program to a different league.

Many MSx students, because of their leadership potential, are sponsored by their current employers. However, most students are self-funded, according to the GSB website.

A blogger questions the wisdom in taking a year off work and self-financing the expensive MSx program as the starting salary after graduation may not be much higher than that for MBA graduates. Moreover, because internship is not part of the MSx, and because graduates are around 30 to 35 years of age and looking for mid-level management positions rather than junior positions, the program lacks job-market relevance, according to the blogger.

The blogger also says that the core courses are basic, and the electives that MSx Fellows attend along with MBA students may not be good enough to develop C-suite talent that MSx means to nurture. The fact that MSx electives are bundled with MBA classes means that the MSx is only as good as the MBA at double the price, the blogger adds.

However, it doesn’t seem that a lot of other MSx alumni share these views. Other MSx alums have looked back on the program with gratitude, for the learning and community experience and for the networking opportunities. One of them says there were so many valuable courses on offer that the only problem was FOMO (fear of missing out).

Lectures by renowned business leaders such as Eric Schmidt (Google), Sanjay Mehrotra (SanDisk), Evan Spiegel (Snapchat), and Meg Whitman (HP) were eye-openers to this former student’s group.

Equally rewarding were the friendships and interactions with peers attending the program, including CEOs, entrepreneurs, and experts from the finance, technology, manufacturing, energy, and other sectors. The blogger remarks that after the completion of the program, they returned home to countries far and near, but “I can pick up the phone to call them anytime for any advice.”

Read these Stanford articles:
How I got into Stanford MSx after 35: GMAT story, Essay tips
Why there’s no Stanford Executive MBA program
What Stanford GSB looks for in MBA applicants
MBA startups from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Wharton rake in millions
Why Stanford is cautioning MBA students against entrepreneurship
And some more here on the Sloan Fellows Program:
LBS Sloan Masters review and admissions experience
LBS Sloan vs MIT Sloan Fellows vs Stanford MSx
Resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

8 thoughts on “Stanford MSx Review: Is the Executive MBA alternative worth it?”

  1. Hello sir
    I m now pursuing bcom 1st year i want to do mba just after my degree i dont want to do job so how can i get into the executive mba course of stanford or harvard.

  2. Hi Sir,
    I’m currently pursuing Chartered Accountancy along with Bachelors in Commerce (But from open university). I’m currently working with CA firms and preparing for my ca final exams which are to be taken in may 2018. So is there any possibility for me to pursue MBA from top universities in the world such as Harward, Stanford and much more ?

    Secondly I can pursue CPA & CFA after becoming CA so will it give a boost to application and by 2020 i would like to apply for harward, so please guide on how to do it, I’m really confused

  3. @Ankita and Karan: It would be too early for you to think about applying to Stanford or Harvard. Both require a significant amount of experience before they seriously consider any application.

    The links at the bottom of the article will give you an idea of what it takes to get into the two universities. Read them to understand the process, but don’t jump in when you aren’t ready.

  4. I have around 7.5 years of corporate experience and 3 years of freelance experience. Does freelance experience qualify in the 8 year requirement for the MSx?

  5. Stanford MSx is the dumbed down version of what was the Sloan Fellow MSM program before the new program director came in and ruined it. The (now retired) Sloan Fellow MSM degree was roughly equivalent to Stanford’s MBA in terms of academic rigor and was essentially an accelerated program without internship, with some elective courses even taught at a higher level than the MBA program. When the name of the program changed and “Sloan” was removed, the entire program was made easier, particularly by removing the quant elements to assist those who struggle with basic math. Some professors refused to teach the new program. The degree title was changed from the already hard to market MSM to the ridiculous MSx (largely now derided as “Master of Sex”). I would advise avoiding this program. MIT, which has a proper accelerated program and gives a proper MBA, or LBS, both of which still operate under the Sloan banner, are better choices. As is a two-year MBA.

    • Sloan, Who are you to talk like this. Your comments do not seem to be that smart, maybe you were rejected there? Maybe you should try to be more convincing otherwise one might think that this could be, on the contrary, the place to be as opponents do not have valid arguments. I am a potential candidate…

  6. SO, what is the final take? I read too many one sided stories (both sides) and none have been able to suggest an alternative to those who are struggling in the world with ivory league colleges and their ‘club membership’ propelling idiots to higher orbit than themselves. Let us say I am a mid level exec who takes home USD 120,000 (after tax), but is stuck in the rut and cannot go any higher. Is GSB worth the effort? Obviously I suck at quants. Experience between 15-18 years.


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