Founded by a group of business leaders in 1925, Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) consistently places at the top of various MBA rankings, with much self-pride in providing a personal, collaborative business school experience. Out of thousands of applicants, each MBA class selects only approximately 400 people. How to apply for this prestigious M7 school? What do you need to do to stand out among the competitive applicant pool? Read our comprehensive guide to the Stanford GSB application.
1. Overview of Stanford MBA Application
First of all, let’s take a look at Stanford MBA Application Deadlines in 2021-22. Stanford GSB utilizes the common process of MBA application like its peer schools, which includes 3 rounds of admission:
- Round 1 Deadline: September 09, 2021 – Result notification: December 09, 2021
- Round 2 Deadline: January 05, 2022 – Result notification: March 31, 2022
- Round 3: To be announced
Statistically, the GSB admits most of its students in the first two admission rounds. Apparently, it is up to you to choose which round to apply for Stanford. However, we always advise MBA hopefuls to apply as soon as possible when you are ready.
The application package for the full-time MBA program at Stanford GSB consists of:
For MBA Class of 2022 at Stanford, the average GPA is 3.8/4.0. Yet, Stanford GSB does not require a minimum GPA for their MBA program. Candidates are evaluated on a holistic basis and all their attributes, such as work experience,community/ leadership activities, etc., are considered.
The average GMAT score of an MBA student at Stanford is 733. Similar to GPA, the GSB stipulates no ideal GRE/GMAT scores for its MBA program.
Stanford GSB values its candidates’ contribution to their organizations. Hence, a successful resume to the Stanford MBA program should be able to highlight the impact you make on your working environment, your professional maturity, and your leadership skills throughout your experiences.
Two letters of Reference are required. The first letter must come from a direct supervisor, while the other one should be written by someone else who supervised your work. Applicants should choose recommenders who know them well and can provide anecdotes and examples of what they have done and in what manner, instead of only focusing on high-profile people. “We are impressed by what a reference letter says, not by the title of the individual who wrote it or the writing skills of the recommender”, said the admission committee.
Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (650 words)
Essay B: Why Stanford? (400 words)
Optional short-answer question A: Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others? (200 words)
Optional short-answer question B: Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project. (200 words)
An invitation to the 45-to-60-minute interview will be sent to you after your written application is reviewed.
The odds of getting an acceptance letter for the MBA program at Stanford GSB is among the lowest. With only 6.1% of all candidates admitted, Stanford GSB is the most selective MBA program in the world. This number is only half of the 11% acceptance rate at Harvard HBS, another school in the elite M7 schools for MBA.
This is concrete proof for the exceptional quality of MBA students at Stanford GSB, who have the world’s highest average GMAT score and highest average GPA for any prestige MBA program.
Who is Stanford GSB looking for?
As reflected in its tagline: “Change people. Change organization. Change the world.”, Stanford GSB seeks MBA future leaders who are all driven to make a difference in the real world. Its world-renowned alumni such as Phil Knight, who instigated the birth of the sportswear giant Nike, Vinod Khosla, who co-founded Sun Microsystems – one of the very first Silicon Valley companies, and Mary Barra, who is the CEO of General Motors and the 7th most powerful woman on Earth, all walked out of the GSB and into the world with extraordinarily notable influence. For a candidate, this trait can be reflected in the goals and ambitions you show in your essays and interview, or in the impact you created on your organization.
Besides this, an ideal candidate for the GSB MBA program should also be someone intellectually vibrant, accomplished but humble with their past achievements, dynamic and driven by difference.
2011 Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions Derrick Bolton advised MBA hopefuls in a Wall Street Journal article: “Don’t try to stand out”. At the time, many essays were written in a dramatic setting, with an aim to capture the admission committee’s attention. However, they appeared forced with unnatural flow. Remember that uniqueness is a by-product of telling your story with sincerity, so don’t get caught up in solving the question “How can I stand out from everybody else?”.
In addition, the number of essays required for the Stanford GSB MBA program was reduced compared to admission in previous years. In 2011-12, the GSB required candidates to write 3 essays, in which the third one must address 2 of the provided questions. The highest word limit was 750 words. Until 2014-15, the school only asked for 2 required essays with the highest volume of 650 words. This season, there are some short-answer essays that are optional for candidates.
The decrease in the number of essays required shows the school’s preference to reading fewer application essays with more meaningful insights. Much more work should be put into an essay instead of spreading it for some others. The crop in length allowance further requires MBA applicants to respond more effectively within a limited space. Instead of focusing on describing many experiences and accomplishments, you should choose up to 3 and provide as many insights as possible. The word-count cuts might also be to ensure that candidates’ submissions are even more streamlined this year than in previous seasons.
Now let’s look at our guide on how to ace the writing prompts for Stanford GSB.
What matters to you most, and why? (650 words)
For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?
The first and foremost thing to note down is DO NOT make a snap decision about the content of this essay. For such an open writing prompt, thorough brainstorming is a must. We encourage you to contemplate this question IN DEPTH, and push yourself to explore the psychological and philosophical motivations behind who you are today. Don’t get flustered by the ‘right’ answer that can satisfy the admission committee, rather think of the truest one to you.
Some possible questions to brainstorm this essay are:
- What are some major events in your life? What happened and what did you do?
- How did they shape your perspective? What changed and what didn’t?
- What is the one thing that matters more than others to you in those circumstances?
- You and you in 10 years later, what value of yours would remain the same?
We suggest writing down all possible ideas that come to your mind, reread them and narrow your options afterwards. Once you have identified the most appropriate theme, it is a good idea to discuss your thinking with people whom you are closest to and whose input you respect. This will help validate the personal and authentic level of your essay.
After choosing the right topic for you, analyze your experiences. As Stanford encourages you to give special attention to “Why” the subject, a strong essay will involve a true exploration of your subject and a specific analysis of your decisions, motivation, success and failures. From that, highlight how you conduct yourself and your development/ realization after all experiences. Be as specific as possible to show that you own your experience and you uniquely lived it. Prove that no one other than you can replicate those feelings, thoughts and actions.
In contrast, a bad response will only answer “What” you choose without specific reasons. Or, it will only focus on retelling personal anecdotes and tying in your preconceived conclusions to force yourself to appear someone other than yourself.
Why Stanford? (400 words)
Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.
This is a typical “Why us?” question. To provide a compelling answer to this prompt, you first need to learn about Stanford.
There are several popular ways to dig into a particular school, such as:
- Clicking deep on the school’s website
- Reading students’ reviews on MBA students’ forums such as GMAT Club, Quora, Reddit, etc.
- Visiting the school campus
- Contact a current MBA student/ MBA alumni
- Contact and talk to the admission office
Usually, some aspects of a school to look into when writing this type of essay include:
- MBA program curriculum/ courses
- Student Clubs/ Organizations
- Alumni network
- Career support services
- Professors of the program
However, besides the “Why this school” question, your essay should also answer “Why not others?”. Thus, no matter what method you choose to do your school research or which aspect you want to explore, your goal is to find a unique point of the MBA program that no other school offers.
Stanford is an elite school with a vast number of resources to explore. We would recommend these following unique points to dig deeper:
The GSB is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, which is just a stone’s throw away from such powerhouse firms as Google, Apple, and the world-renowned venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. If you are interested in technology or firms that invest in technology companies, the location of Stanford GSB is the most appealing aspect.
- Special courses:
You may be interested in the iconic Interpersonal Dynamics, also known as ‘Touch Freely’, where, along with 11 people in your T-group, you will have the chance to work closely with an outside facilitator on communication goals. You will experience experiential-based activities and exchange feedback with other MBA fellows to see yourself as others see you, in order to uncover your blind spots.
Or, you will find the course of Leadership Labs rewarding with simulations covering different topics of leadership and bringing them into practice, from which you will learn how to deal with various situations and enhance your awareness, conflict management, and deal resolution.
- Impactful Student Organizations:
If you aim to develop a consulting career path, take a look at the Stanford Consulting organization with almost 30 years of experience which incorporated additional and improved business training for members and work with big-name clients including Google, IBM, Microsoft, Hyundai, Disney in terms of 3 main services – organizational strategy, sales and marketing strategy, and business unit strategy.
Want to work in entrepreneurship? Check out the Stanford Entrepreneurship Network (SEN) that brings together more than 40 entrepreneurship organizations that conduct research, teach and provide other resources for entrepreneurship-related activities.
Remember to choose unique features of the program and elaborate on how they will support your goals of pursuing an MBA program. It will be ideal if you can link the one thing that matters to you most, which was described in Essay A, to the resources that the GSB offers.
Optional Question A
Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others?
In the Essays section of the application, we ask you to tell us about who you are and how you think Stanford will help you achieve your aspirations. We are also interested in learning about the things you have done that are most meaningful to you. If you would like to go beyond your resume to discuss some of your contributions more fully, you are welcome to share up to three examples (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words, for each example).
Stanford wants candidates driven to make an impact. Thus, acing this essay would help a lot in proving your fit in the Stanford MBA program. However since this is an optional element, we highly recommend you take advantage of this opportunity only if you feel you have a story or stories that the admission committee must know to consider your candidacy fairly and fully. You don’t want to ask the already overtaxed admissions readers to do additional work on your application if you cannot be sure that the extra effort is worthwhile.
With this limited word count, do your best to show your accomplishments. Describe decisions you made, and steps you took. As the school wants to know about your impact, do focus on the results of your actions. Elaborate on how they clearly paid off and how your organization experienced a positive change.
Although the school states that you may discuss 3 impact situations, sharing just one or two is totally acceptable.
Optional Question B
Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project.
We know that each person is more than a list of facts or pre-defined categories. We are interested in how your background may have influenced your life experiences. In answering this question, consider how your background, such as your work, education, skills, interests, culture, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, where/how you grew up, and/or other factors had an impact on your recent actions and choices (up to 1,200 characters, or approximately 200 words).
Your background is what makes who you are. Things you have seen, experienced, felt, done and learned; people you encountered; values you adopted along the way; etc. all have helped create the frame through which you view the world around you. For this question, Stanford GSB wants to know how those qualities, knowledge and values motivate you to act and how do you then apply them in your contribution to a community.
This query asks about your willingness and capacity to draw on either your past and abilities to contribute to a project or situation. Instead of talking about how you applied your knowledge or offered input because it was asked of you, write about a time when you were drawn to a situation because you felt personally connected with it – “when your background influenced your participation”.
Because the prompt asks about an experience within the last 3 years, you will most likely discuss a workplace story. And because the word limit is only 180 words, basically 2 paragraphs, do careful brainstorming and outline the answer before you start writing.
3. Stanford GSB Interview
What to notice
Stanford GSB Interview chooses and invites its chosen candidates to the interview. This is an important, but not decisive aspect of the application process. The interview normally lasts 45-60 minutes. Only 20% of applicants get invited to be interviewed with Stanford.
Who will be interviewing you?
Typically, Stanford will ask an alumni who is working in the same industry as you to be the interviewer. The school will train its alumni beforehand, but each alumni has their own style of conducting the interview process.
Stanford GSB chooses a Blind Interview Format. Interviewers do not have knowledge of your application at all, except your resume.
Example interview questions
Walk me through your resume.
Don’t walk through any bullet points of your resume. Think about structuring your answer in themes according to what key messages in your career, what drives you to do and what you want your interviewer to remember the most about you.
Remember that there are multiple sections in your resume. Do think how to connect them to the mutual theme and clearly present to the interviewers.
Why our school?
Provide thoughtful reasons to show you have a good understanding of the school and clear plans to utilize their available resources for your future goals. Answer personally and be specific. For example:
Bad answer: I want to apply for the GSB because it is located in Silicon Valley, a very central location. It has great weather. Its student community is charming and supportive.
Good answer: I know that starting a business will be challenging and ‘finding my feet’ while at school will be critical. I am thus attracted to Stanford GSB’s incubator program so that I could launch and refine my concept while in school, with the help of brilliant alumni, mentors, and renowned incubators.
What other schools are you applying to?
This might seem like an awkward question in the interview. However, you should think simply. The school wants to know other MBA schools you chose and the reasons for your decision. And that’s what you will do.
Give some peer schools to Stanford. Explain the logic behind your choices. Finally, conclude by saying why you choose Stanford to be your top priority out of the school list with a deeper level of details.
What are your goals?
Again, be thoughtful. Don’t just list out what you aim to do like outlining bullet points. Elaborate more on the powerful motivations, such as your work experiences, your backgrounds, people you met, etc. that drive you to strive for those goals.
Then stick to the values of Stanford GSB and what the school can support you to achieve your ambitions.
Some other questions they might ask
- Tell me about a time you showed your initiative.
- Discuss a weakness of yours.
- Why do you want to go to business school now?
- What nonacademic resources are of interest to you?
- Tell me about a challenging leadership experience. What did you learn about yourself?
- What would your co-workers say about you?
- What do you do for fun?
What do you want to ask me?
At the end of your interview, the interviewers may invite you to ask them a number of questions. So be prepared. We suggest asking 4 to 6 questions. You may ask for your interviewer’s observation of the school and their confirmation of what you are not sure about the experience at the GSB.
Finally, thank them politely at the end for your time.
How to prepare for the interview
Know your story well
Reread your essays and resume. Organize your application to see how they really connect to each other. Reflect on what qualities you want the interviewers to remember about you.
Know your school well
Click deep on Stanford GSB’s website. Check out its blogs, and press releases to keep your knowledge up-to-date. If possible, google your interviewer and learn about who he/she is.
Prepare for possible questions
We have listed out some possible questions that might pop up in your Stanford interview. Take advantage of this and prepare for them beforehand. Outline some main ideas that you want to convey.
Practice, practice, practice
Talk to your friend, your mentor, your MBA consultant or any other reliable people. DO NOT try to memorize your answers. And remember to time yourself. 60 minutes goes fast!