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Stanford GSB and Columbia MBA interview questions with answer tips

Encouraged by the response to her previous article (How I got into Stanford MBA and Columbia from India), Mahak Garg is back to share more tips on how to crack the Stanford GSB and Columbia MBA interviews.

How to prepare for the Stanford GSB & Columbia MBA interview

by Mahak Garg

Stanford MBA student from IndiaBy now you guys already know about me and my background. If not, I request you to read my previous articles (don’t want to be repetitive) on MBA Crystal Ball and GMAT Club.

The fact that my previous posts were very well received (I received so many LinkedIn, Facebook and Gmail messages thanking me for sharing my “inspirational” story, I received 260 LinkedIn profile views on the day the MCB article was published) has encouraged me to put down another article for all the MBA aspirants.

Through this article, I aim to share my interview experience. I decided to take this up first simply because the R2/R3 admit interviews are around the corner and I received number of messages requesting me for the same.

Please note this entire guide is based on my interview experience with two colleges with which I interviewed – Stanford GSB and Columbia Business School. While the advice will be helpful for students interviewing with other colleges too, there may be differences in the overall procedure.

Congratulations! If you are reading this post, chances are that you have received an interview invite. All your efforts, those countless hours of brainstorming and crafting and recrafting, bore results. Your application stood apart from the pool of application that the school received and here you are with the coveted interview invite. What next?

I have broken this guide into two parts: First, I discuss about some general interview related advice. Next, I share the specific interview questions and experiences with Stanford and Columbia, the 2 colleges with which I interviewed.

General Interview advice

While the interview is a very important part of the admissions process, its importance varies from college to college. You can refer to this link to comprehend your chances of an admit post an interview invite (Disclaimer: The authenticity of the data in this link may be questionable. However, it will give you some useful insights).

Both Stanford GSB and Columbia prefer to conduct in person interviews with seasoned college alumni in your city to the extent possible. However, if you come from a small-town, chances are that you will go through a Skype interview.

The minute you receive the email inviting you for an interview, drop everything and start the interview preparation (although it’s advised to prepare even before the invite, chances are you are like me and would not want to prepare for interviewing with a college without receiving a confirmed invite email). The actual interview is just around the corner.

For Columbia, after receiving an interview invite, you are required to log in to your account and update your information (city preference etc). The system immediately generates the name and email address of the alumni with whom you will be interviewing.

For Stanford, after receiving an interview invite, you are required to log in to your account and update your information (city preference etc). You will subsequently receive an email from the admissions team with the contact details of your interviewer. There was a time gap of almost 48 hours between the two emails- 1st where they extended the invite and 2nd where they revealed the details of the interviewer.

In both the schools, you are required to email your interviewer to schedule an interview date. Additionally, in both the colleges the interviewer has no access to any part of your application (unless of course it’s not an alumni interview and you are interviewing with an admissions team member over Skype). You are required to email your resume to your interviewer.

All this is clearly mentioned when you login into your account. However, chances are that you may not expect this and hence miss out on this crucial piece of information.

Also, with some basic Google search, you may find a list of colleges that conduct ‘blind interviews’ (i.e. the interviewer has no access to your application other than the resume) vs ‘open application interview’ (the interviewer has access to all parts of your application).

How swiftly you accept your interview invites and send across emails to your interviewers to schedule the interview is crucial here (in my opinion). The sooner the better frankly. But do remember to email your interviewer only after you are fairly prepared for the interview.

Why do I say so? Well because interviewers more often than not will give you a very tight timeline, sometimes as tight as same day! (Yes, for Stanford I was interviewed exactly 6.5 hours after sending an email to my interviewer).

Of course, the interviewer will always be kind and say – if A day does not work we can schedule some other day. But unless you really have a genuine reason, try not to reschedule it! It just shows your availability and commitment to the school. It also reflects that you are indeed well prepared for your interview.

Prepare the general interview questions. You will find a long list easily on any consulting website (here’s one such repository of MBA interview questions for practice). Love all the free material offered by such websites.

So, put on your lucky interview suit and brace yourself for all the questions!

Columbia MBA interview questions & answer tips

To break the ice, the interviewer first told a bit about himself. This was followed by the following list of questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself
    Keep is short and succinct. While you want to cover all important achievements, but please don’t go on beyond 3-4 minutes.
  2. Why Columbia
    You can speak about NY being the business capital, maximum number of guest speakers, internship and job opportunity, access to 7 (please double check the number) more colleges under Columbia University in close proximity. Especially, link the college to your profile.
  3. Why MBA
    I am sure you have a solid answer to this by now.
  4. Future interest
    Even if you are not completely sure, it should be fine. But you must have some sense of direction. You want to show your readiness to make full use of the opportunities presented to you.
  5. What specific courses/ electives in Columbia (I was grilled a bit on this one)
    Be ready with names of specific courses that interest you and maybe name of few really influential professors in your area of interest.
  6. Other schools you applied to and which will you choose in case of multiple invites

There might have been few more. I really can’t remember though.

Stanford MBA interview questions & answer tips

Stanford asks a lot of situational questions. So brace yourself accordingly. Stanford appreciates “We” rather than I. Though you want to portray yourself as an achiever, you cannot afford to sound arrogant.

  1. What are your 5-7 years ahead career goals and how will Stanford help you achieve them.
  2. Tell me about a situation when the company wanted to do something and you wanted to do something else and how did you convince them?
    I spoke about the difference in opinion between me and the other Colence founders and how I gradually resolved the difference to implement what I wanted.
  3. Out of so many things about Stanford, what is the one thing that makes Stanford so important to you?
    Choose what fits your profile best. For me it clearly was the entrepreneurial mindset and the close-knit community (not sure which one did I actually speak about then)
  4. Tell me about a difficult situation in office.
    You can talk about a difficult situation with an overseas boss or anything relavant. What could you have done differently to improve the outcome. I spoke about my transition from an Indian manager to a Chinese manager at an early stage in my career.
  5. What do you do outside work (extra-curricular)
    Describe hobbies where you have achieved some milestones and which make you stand apart. I know there will be a long list. But I spoke only about the 2-3 most important ones – Head, College dance society and Leader’s for Tomorrow – Anti Drug Anti Ragging campaigns.
  6. Why did you follow this path/took this job (trying to connect all the dots in my life)
    I narrated my logic behind gaining some formal experience before joining and expanding my family business

There were lot more questions which were borne out of my replies. But those were very specific to my career choices.

Disclaimer – The running answers that I mentioned just as a sneak-peek into my interview should not inspire you to use same/similar answers. While the pool of questions will remain fairly constant, the nature of the answers can change quite a bit based on the school and one’s profile.

Finally, both interviewers gave me a chance to ask them any questions that I may have. Needless to say, prepare 2-3 good questions that really show your keenness towards the course and the college.

One of the questions can be around the current role of the interviewer (always good to read about your interviewer to understand his/her interests etc) and the others can be around the college and the course (culture, interviewer’s experience etc).

Don’t ask a question which you should be aware of. That is a big put off. Do your own research well. I repeat “DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH WELL!”

Keep it conversational at all times. Don’t just go on with one answer in your excitement to impress the interviewer. He/She can live without knowing every minute detail.

Smile a lot. Put your best look on.

Do A LOT of school specific research. It in fact always fetches you brownie points to mention that I spoke with X Y current student/ alumni and attended the admissions event (if you have). It shows your dedication to the college.

Finally, don’t forget to shoot out a thank you email to your interviewer soon after your interview (preferably same day).

And then starts the LONG wait. The wait that will drive you crazy. But be patient. Absorb yourself in your work. Keep your phone with you because in both cases I got a call from the admissions team of the college to share the news that I have been selected for their MBA programme (you really don’t want to miss that ONE call!)

All the best. You have made it this far! The admit invite is just round the corner.

Related articles:
Life at Stanford MBA as an international student
Harvard MBA vs Stanford GSB vs Wharton MBA: Which one is right for you?
Indian student gets into Stanford MBA with full scholarship
Wharton MBA admit in Round 2 for Indian student with low GMAT score
What Stanford GSB looks for in MBA applicants
How to get into Stanford University for undergrad
How to get into Columbia University

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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

2 thoughts on “Stanford GSB and Columbia MBA interview questions with answer tips”

  1. Hello,
    I am a Chartered Accountant currently working with PwC in the assurance department (statutory audit). I have a work experience of about 1.5 years. I have completed my graduation from Mumbai University with decent scores. I understand that holding onto only Harvard or Stanford might not be the way to go since the admission is very difficult. But looking at the current trends, almost a quarter of all MBA admits in top 10-15 B-schools come from consulting background. Moreover, never have I come across a Chartered Accountant or someone from the audit sector in such colleges. Do these colleges, in any way, prefer people from consultancy/ technology background. Also, I very much intend to do my MBA from abroad, but I am targeting the top 15 b-schools. Would like your say on the same.

  2. Rupak, I would suggest you do some more research. There a lot of CAs, who have done MBA from Harvard, Wharton, Stern etc. In fact, one of our fellow CA is a senior professor at HBS.

    CAs have reached top echelons everywhere. Cheers!


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