The Gatekeeper to Stanford’s Business School

Probably not. So you’ve been here for nine years. What has changed with admissions in that time?

There is a vast misperception that the classes are way younger than they used to be. That is not true at all.

But aren’t Stanford and Harvard at the extreme end in preferring younger students of all the elite schools?

Is it that we have moved down or others have moved up? I think it’s because others have moved up. I know our data has not changed in over a decade. We’ve been at 4 (years of work experience), 3.9, 4, 3.9, 4, and 4.

Why have the others moved up?

I think it reflects what their applicant pools look like. There may be more people who apply to Stanford with only a couple of years of consulting or banking.

But you do like them younger. Stanford is one of the few prestige schools that publicly makes a point of telling applicants they don’t have to have any work experience to apply.

That is a waning trend. There are only five students in this year’s incoming class with no work experience. It’s just a handful of cases. It’s hard to make a case that there aren’t five people in the world who could come to Stanford straight from undergrad. The class that entered in 2003 and graduated in 2005 was the peak. There were 20 to 25 that came straight from undergrad.

Derrick, as you know, Harvard started what it calls a 2+2 program a few years ago to get younger admits. Did you consider doing that as well?

We considered it. We looked at it at the exact same time Harvard was doing theirs. We had a management committee decision that we wanted to ramp up the number of deferrals. We’re probably pretty similar in terms of the students who are coming in with deferrals. Between 8% and 12% of a typical class defers for two years. I just felt they are going to be in the same classroom so there shouldn’t be a different standard for them. They should have to go through the same essays and the same process if they are going to be in the same classroom.

When I started, we had no deferrals. These early-career kids, though, have done really well—job wise and academically. But I think in general the college seniors would benefit more from experience, even if they had a year of work experience. Just learning how to get on a plane, for instance. That comes in your first job. Letting them take some time has been beneficial so we’ve ramped that up in the last two years. For the class just entered, we’re at 10% of deferrals—and that has been the highest ever. Some of that is related to the number of joint degree students we have coming in as well. It’s huge. We have more than most other business schools. So a lot of people may have been at the law school for a couple of years and then come here.

Is there an advantage in getting in if you are at another Stanford school and want to pursue a dual degree?

The admission rate is better for them because the numbers are smaller. Instead of ending up with 100 people and taking six, you end up with ten people and you take two. It’s better than it would be, but a small pool throws off the numbers. We like Stanford graduate students. I had a conversation with (associate dean for admissions) Faye Deal at the law school last week in which we were saying that at some point we may have to stop doing individual admissions for schools and just have a common graduate school application for Stanford because there is so much integration now among the schools. If you admit someone to the law school, they are taking classes everywhere. And if you admit someone at the business school, they are taking classes at the law school, the medical school, everywhere. I don’t think that is going to happen tomorrow but you may see more similarities among the applications than you think.

Derrick, you often play down the importance of the GMAT, yet that seems odd because no school has a higher reported average score for its incoming students than Stanford. How can that be?

I would bet our applicant pool’s GMAT score is higher than any other business school in the world.

What is it?

We don’t disclose that.

But it is over 700, right?

It is. I don’t think our score has gone up dramatically in the decade. I think it’s up a point or two. There are some schools that have dramatically ramped up their GMAT averages. I think our undergraduate grade point averages have gone up more than our GMATs have.

Why is that? Is it just grade inflation?

No. There may be more emphasis on that undergraduate record. These are kids who like to study. They are really curious and they are interested in what they are studying so that is reflected in the grades they get. GMAT is important. I will never say the GMAT isn’t important. If it weren’t important we wouldn’t ask for it. But I never made the decision to admit a person solely because of a GMAT score. That is just silly. I can think of probably five cases in nine years where we didn’t admit somebody solely because of a GMAT score. If you have a weak GMAT, there also may be a weak academic record, etc. so again these things are all helpful but generally nothing is dispositive. But yeah, they are important.

Do you have any guidelines for weighting the importance of the GMAT?

No. But I would say we don’t look at total scores. We look at quant and verbal, and we look at those in context with academic record and professional experience. There will be different levels of importance with different candidates. This is not rocket science. I admitted a 580 this year. Almost every year we do that.

Now that has got to be an extraordinary person to get into Stanford with a 580 GMAT.

Yeah. They are pretty special. It’s really funny. I was sitting down with a faculty member about a week ago and we were on a train ride to San Francisco for an information session, and he was just mentioning a student in his critical analytical thinking seminar who had just made the best contribution in that session. I said, ‘Oh, you know she has the lowest GMAT score in the entire class?’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t know that.’ Another faculty member said the same thing about another student, and I said, ‘You know he has the lowest grade point average in the entire class?’ And so again, we are comfortable taking risks on people when we see there is evidence in their backgrounds that they are going to be able to contribute. Sometimes people come here with something to prove. If you had a weak undergrad record, you could be the person who comes to Stanford knowing I didn’t take everything away from my undergraduate experience that I should have, and I want to prove to myself now that I can compete, I can thrive in a really tough environment.

What’s the lowest GMAT score you’ve ever accepted?

It’s probably 530 or 540. Maybe 520.

Do you know what percentage of the incoming class had a GMAT score below 700?

Of course I do. We report the things that we report. We report the full range and the median.

So what is it?

I’m not going to tell you. One question leads to another question, which leads to another question. There is no end to this. We have six people on our team. We can’t respond to these individual requests. How many marketers who are Portuguese who studied architecture in undergrad and live in Minneapolis are there in the class or in the applicant pool? You get all these permutations.

Okay. So besides the rising number of deferrals and joint degree candidates, are there any other changes under your watch?

We have more women and more international students in the class. We’re close to 40% women. The year before I started I think we were at 41% but we were down in the mid-30s for a while. International is definitely up there at 41% this year. It was 33% or 34% when I started here. That is reflective of the applicant pool shifting. And the average grade point average is up. It’s not just GPA. It’s academic record and academic engagement. That has always been important. People who have done well in undergraduate school are going to apply themselves. There are exceptions: There are going to be lots of folks who come in and had worked full-time in college supporting a family, or people who are first generation college students who had a rough transition, or a varsity athlete. What is important is the record of engagement. Sometimes it manifests itself through academics; sometimes through academics and other things. But engagement is a good predictor of how you will do here.