“Shout out to Vegas FOAM Tuesdays when we all fly to Vegas for 6 hours for an overnight costume party – Yes this is exactly how we even boarded the plane. Oh and some of us even went to 8am Wednesday classes with our costumes on.”
What happens after you get into the toughest business school in the world? Stanford MBA student Mahak Garg’s articles have been hugely popular among our readers. So we asked her if she could give Stanford MBA aspirants a sneak peek into what they can expect as international students admitted to the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). In short, get ready for an exciting, high-paced, action-packed ride.
Life as an international MBA student at Stanford GSB
by Mahak Garg
Assume best intentions and hold your world views lightly. You are here because you are lucky and you have responsibility to all those who could not make it here.You have been given an opportunity to learn at this prestigious school.
– Dean’s welcome speech
After a year and a half at GSB, “Describe your GSB experience” continues to remain the toughest question for me to answer. GSB is like wine – It only gets better with every passing quarter. There isn’t a day when I haven’t felt blessed to be accepted to this iconic school (Yes! in US, MBA colleges are called schools).
What struck the most, besides the stunningly modern architecture and the extravagant dorm rooms,was the extremely positive, humble and inclusive culture at GSB – the culture of deep self-reflection, of prioritisation, of high aspirations and appreciation.
The question “What matters most to you and why?” is not just an essay question for GSB but rather a lifestyle. With the candy house that GSB is,these words remind me to shut the noise and focus on what truly matters the most.
At any point I have to choose from attending classes (both at the business school and across other schools such as Law School. CS, engineering school and what not), working on my start-up, grabbing drinks with my classmates, planning travel/on campus events with my new-found friends, attending Brown bag lunches (bring in your own lunches) and View From The Top, managing 250K student budget and what not.
FOMO or fear of missing out would stare starkly in my eyes every single day – The fear of not having enough deep connections and conversations, of not getting enough hugs when the school reunites after a break, the fear of not making the best out of these two years that will never come back to you, and many more.
There are days (though few) when I go back to my room a little more scared and filled with self-doubt about not doing it right. On other days, hearing inspirational life stories of unbelievable experiences, challenges and beliefs from my classmates (in the form of weekly TALKs) engraves in me the spirit of perseverance, grit and self-discipline.
Me giving a TALK!
At GSB, the days are long and the quarters short. Below I have broken down my experience at GSB into 4 buckets.
- Shaping of a Leader – Prompts such as “Why should anyone follow you as a leader?”, “It is not practise that makes perfect, it is the intentional practise that makes perfect”, “What is the objective and what are you solving for”, “What is your true authentic self?” really make you stop and think hard in life.
Oh and did I mention my fan girl moments! Spotted Mark Zuckerberg in farmer’s market and Jennifer Lopez, Phil Knight (Nike founder), T Mobile Chairman, and many more on GSB campus, had dinner at Professor Joel Peterson’s home (JetBlue Chairman).
- Summer Internship and access–I was fortunate to have worked at the family office of a unicorn tech CEO (Under NDA). This was the first time that I experienced the real power of the GSB network and brand.
I had to seek insights from several strangers to do a good job. The average response time and percentage of response was incredible. I literally could walk into any room and people would be willing to give me their time and advice.
It is assumed that I am smart simply because I am from GSB. But with this assumption also comes the assumption that I am arrogant/ignorant because of the brand. GSB reminds us to be humble and keep our head down and be good listeners.
- Social scene and parties – We work hard and party harder. Once admitted my interviewer shared the concept of duck syndrome – calm on the surface and peddling hard under water. Like freaking hard. So hard that things including jobs, academics, leadership positions etc are incredibly competitive.
Stanford truly believes in the strength of its network and encourages a culture of deep connections as opposed to networking. Tuesdays are FOAM nights (Friends of Arjay Miller), Thursdays are BPL (Beer Pong Leagues), weekends are obviously weekends, so we hike to near and far places.
I travelled to Mexico for Global seminar before start of GSB, to Peru for Thanksgiving, to Spain for spring break and China for student exchange program with Tsinghua university. Some other social events are prom nights, Charity gala, Small group theme dinners and many more.
- Start-up Culture – Stanford breathes start-ups. An alumnus once said that once you graduate from GSB, you become a problem child who can no longer work in a corporate environment. In form of classes such as Formation of new ventures, start-up garage, launchpad coLabs etc; GSB provides a rather healthy start-up culture.
Some myths about Stanford MBA that I would like to bust
- California = Warm ->Don’t anyone dare think that because this is California and we have beaches all around, it is all sunny. There has been no day when I haven’t needed a jacket and in winters, I have used the jackets that I would use while I would visit Chicago. There is a reason why Mark Zuckerberg would always be seen wearing a sweater year around.
- There are enough female professors/guest speakers –> well no, not really. Especially if you attend finance heavy classes, there are same set of successful female guest speakers that provide insights.
- International students are treated at par with Americans –> well not always! As a school that prides itself to be 40% internationals, there are instances when I feel I receive a step motherly treatment.
In classes where over 95% case studies are based on US companies, discussions and parallels from around the world are often frowned upon; Start-up garage professors ask you to speak with Bechtel center upon asking for advice about starting companies as an international student;insufficient job opportunities; professors seldom not calling on international students since our names are complicated.
All said and done, like us, GSB too is work in progress. The beauty is that they follow what they preach – Being good listeners. As an institution GSB seeks feedback actively and works towards self-improvement. There are rigorous student and dean meetings where we freely communicate our ever-growing expectations from the school.
I can only conclude by saying that there is nothing else that I’d rather be doing than studying at this great institute for these 2 years of my life. I am grateful for all the opportunities, experiences, exposure, network and relationships that I have formed.
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