Stanford GSB’s ‘Trickle Down Anxiety’ Begins

Stanford University Graduate School of Business - Ethan Baron photo

Stanford University Graduate School of Business – Ethan Baron photo

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business begins sending out invitations to round one MBA applicants for interviews today (Oct. 17), a process that will last for an entire month until Nov. 16. The school, with the most selective prestige MBA program in the world, says its agonizingly slow process is the result of the care it takes in reviewing applications.

Applicants who fail to get an interview invite by Nov. 16 will either be rejected or placed on a waitlist for further consideration with round two candidates. This is the first year that the school’s admissions office won’t be led by Derrick Bolton who had the primary role as the business school’s gatekeeper for 15 years. He left on Sept. 1 to take on a new assignment as dean of admissions for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. MBA Program Director Margaret Long Hayes is now temporarily leading the Office of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid in the interim.

Generally, admissions sets a goal of interviewing about 1,000 of its more than 8,000 applicants each year, but the total number often creeps up to around 1,200 for the nearly 420 spots in a class. If you get invited to the 45-to-60 minute interviews, your odds of getting an offer are slightly better than one in three.

Last year, a record 8,116 candidates applied for a seat in Stanford’s Class of 2018, up 2.7% on the 7,899 applicants a year earlier. The school received 19.5 applications for each of its 417 seats, nearly twice as many as the 10.4 candidates for each Harvard Business School seat. According to the school, the acceptance rate fell slightly to just 6%, nearly a full percentage point lower than two years ago and one tenth of a percent off the previous year’s 6.1% acceptance rate. The competition is expected to be just as severe in the 2016-2017 admissions cycle.


Margaret Long Hayes, assistant dean of Stanford's MBA program, is acting as interim head of admissions

Margaret Long Hayes, assistant dean of Stanford’s MBA program, is acting as interim head of admissions

In a blog post, the school seems to know that its long process creates considerable anxiety for applicants. “Why does it take so long?,” the school asks. “Why don’t you send all the interview invitations on one date? Because you’re human and so are we. This is not an automated process. We respect the time and care you put into your application, and so we want to take the time to understand each applicant’s background, aspirations, and potential. While scores and grades command attention in the blogosphere, each of you is more than a combination of staistics. We are building a community as well as a class. Yes, it’s slower, but that is because real people are getting to know you through your application.”

The school says it does not review applications in any order. “Applicants are not ranked when we send out interview invitations,” according to the admissions staff. “The timing of your interview invitation reflects only the order in which your application was reviewed.”

Some admission consultants are critical of Stanford’s evaluation process. “The Stanford admission and interview process is the most untransparent, and to applicants, one of the most frustrating among the top 10 schools,” says Sandy Kreisberg, founder and CEO of “Amid all their PC posturing and excusing themselves, they offer very little guidance about when interview invites are in fact coming to you, the applicant. It is a sort of ‘trickle down anxiety’ for a long time encased in therapeutic BS.”


At Stanford, applicant interviews are not done by admissions staff as they are at Harvard Business School. Instead, the GSB enlists its alumni to conduct interviews of candidates. That process leads some to question the importance of the interview.

“For the most part, the actual interview, with some random alum rarely makes a difference,” believes Kreisberg. “The alum reports are not normalized; the alums are not seriously trained, and for the most part, to judge from the letters of recommendation they write, the alums ability to actually articulate what happened in an event, and what their reactions were, often defaults to the usual cliches. To the extent that some 20% to 35% of alums are actually good at capturing in some 360-degree perspective, what happened in an interview, well, that just goes to show how random the process is. It is just pure luck that you got that alum.”

Even so, applicants obviously need to be invited to interview in order to be admitted to the school’s MBA program. Stanford said it would notify invited round one candidates whether they have been admitted or not on Dec. 15.


  • Mathew

    Reading a year later 😉 But its still relevant stuff in there… 🙂

  • Mathew

    And the long wait begins for this season.. 🙂 🙂 Stanford GSB Rocks!!!

  • asdf

    Sandy, have you heard of many PE GSB invites yet? None in my network and nothing definitive on Clearwire. Thanks!

  • asdf

    Sandy, have you heard of many PE GSB invites yet? None in my network and nothing definitive on Clearwire. Thanks!

  • Japs

    This guy is clearly ConfusedApplicant.

  • Lee Hoytt

    I’m based in SF and got an interview invite today. 3.72 from Georgetown, 760 GMAT, 6 yrs experience (finance/consulting and then real estate).

  • Xjs

    Thanks for the insight. Unfortunately, I think I made the mistake on my application/recommendation templates of focusing too much on my entrepreneurial future, emphasizing creativity/innovation and not enough focus on past leadership. I used my startup ambition as a framework for the “why GSB” essay. I have started some organizations/small businesses in college, hopefully this shapes up to a more compelling story.

  • hbsguru

    If you mean, is it an advantage, even if small. to claim you want to be a tech entrepreneur vs someone with very similar background and stats who says he wants to be impactful leader in established tech compay, e.g. in solar energy etc.
    Not really. What you say you want to do in an HBS or Stan. app does not count much all by itself, altho it can provide a halo to strong historical record of accomplishment, e.g. your prior jobs, if it somehow grows out of that record.
    Entrepreneur is a mildly suspect category to B schools because it is the default zone for a lot of confused applicants with often non-traditional backgrounds, and they are hard to quantify. If you have a demonstrated history of starting a company and growing it, and then say, “that was fun,” I want to do that again, except on a REALLY big scale, that can be effective, but what is effective is the recorded history, not your aspiration.

  • Xjs

    Sorry to clarify, I meant that it’s a small advantage not a game changer. Thanks!

  • hbsguru

    not sure what you mean by “from the margin?”
    Marginal stats? e.g. lower gmats/gpa etc?

  • Xjs

    Does GSB favor aspiring tech entrepreneurs on the margin? Similarly, is HBS averse to them as they do not want to lose candidates to GSB?


    Stanford says they interview 1000 people i.e. you have a 50/50 shot (or 60/40 at best) when you get the invite. Does that mean that almost half of the interviewees will be dinged and they know this in advance since they’re not the ones they really liked? Or otherwise they’re lying about how many people they actually interview?

  • MBAhopeful

    I posted this in your HBS comment, but it begs repeating. “I also got dinged have a 790 and work at McK, I am an international female, HYP grad. So what? Not sure why you think they have to pick you. I am proud of my accomplishments, but don’t assume they make me entitled to anything. A lot of amazing people didn’t go to my college, can’t score as high at the GMAT or work at McK… How is that surprising? I am fine having adcoms deciding holistically even if that means I don’t get a certain degree. I have confidence that I my talents can help me find other paths; otherwise I am not really talented”

  • Guest

    I guess hbsguru says otherwise. Poor you. Loser.

  • Guest

    Loser. You are. Unknown wannabe.

  • hbsguru

    I see. You think the Stanford process is not anxiety making (beyond the normal anxiety of any selection process) and a real cool way to do this. Just sort of sit around for a month and ignore it. As so many posters, including the one directly below, seem to be doing.

  • hbsguru

    Speculation that international invites go out first at Stanford surface every year, and could be true.
    As to what adcom has been doing, my guess is, the usual. The more interesting question is how much Stanford spends on Adcom per applicant vs. other schools, or more simply, how many adcom members are there? HBS adcom is sorta 21-24 people (more or less full time), I am not sure Stanford is proportionately that large.
    Another question is when is best time for Round 1 apps to be due. HBS is real early, and I can cert. see a case for not being even more early (late August). Why is Stanford R1 deadline so much later, unless there is a gentlemen’s agreement between schools not to rush the season for applicants applying to both.

  • Guest

    From friends of friends and ClearAdmit, it seems like the past few days have been international consultants who have been hearing back. What has Stanford been doing between the deadline a month ago and today? Not asking this in a disparaging way but just curious to get more insight into how the process works on the other end.

  • Friend of Derrick

    You sound overly entitled “for some reason” and as our dear friend
    hbsguru would say, DEEPLY ANNOYING, maybe that’s the reason for no HBS? Hope you enjoy your inevitable ding
    from GSB “amigo”

  • hbsguru

    don’t think so, it’s helpful data for all applicants, and I think anyone should be happy when a guy gets dinged fr. HBS and invited to interview at GSB. The Poster was just sharing his info and high spirits. I totally get it.

  • garmi

    I believe so. And stating here his/her unique credentials with such language is irresponsible…

  • hbsguru

    🙂 thanks for the update–and good luck w. GSB!!!!

  • cautious

    be careful, GSB admission team read P&Q comments. it is not that difficult to be identified 😉

  • ConfusedApplicant

    Remember me? 790, Latin, Mc.K. Dinged by HBS for some reason. I got the invite from GSB. F U HBS!

  • hbsguru

    not really, that is what the ‘waitpool’ is for. Further, they will not get a real clear view of R2 applicant pool until deadline in January (lots of apps get submitted in last 2 weeks etc) but R1 admit letters go out in December.

  • When

    Do you think they “interview” the candidates for R1 and then hold off to make decisions in December when they’ve received some data on R2 apps to see how many people to admit for R1?

  • hbsguru

    For what it is worth, in previous years, my sense was that more of the invites go out in 2nd half of this window than the first half, so do not use HBS as a model (where the process is deeply front ended).
    Also, I do not believe the interview itself counts that much — one never hears about someone getting rejected fr. Stanford because of the interview, but you do hear that A LOT at HBS.
    The interviews are something of “feel good” program for interested alums to make them feel part of the school and process. IN fact, Stanford famously did not have interviews as part of the admissions process until a few years ago, when they gave in to pressure from applicants and figured this was also a way to make alums and applicants happy.
    All that said, you need to be invited to interview and have one in order to be admitted.

  • mba2019

    Sandy Kreisberg offering an unbiased perspective as always

  • gsbanon

    anyone heard of invites being released yet?