What Happens When You Apply to Stanford B-School

Unlike many other MBA programs, Stanford maintains it has no minimum work experience requirement. On average, GSB students have about 4 years of work experience behind them, but the school goes out of its way to encourage applicants who want to come to Stanford straight from their undergraduate study or older applicants who have much more work experience.

No matter how much work experience you bring to the game, Stanford judges each applicant on three core attributes: 1) Intellectual vitality; 2) Demonstrated leadership potential, and 3) Personal qualities and contributions. Carefully read exactly how the GSB defines these attributes and insure that your application fully makes your case on each of them.

Intellectual vitality: “You can demonstrate this in many ways, not simply through grades and test scores. In other words, your attitude toward learning is as important as your aptitude. Because the Stanford community believes in the power of ideas to shape the future, we want to see your passion, dedication, and genuine interest in expanding your intellectual horizons throughout your application. We look for evidence of the kind of curiosity and passion that will allow you to spark a lively discussion in class and continue that conversation during coffee with a faculty member, walking back to the Schwab Residential Center with a classmate, or over dinner with alumni. Another consideration is the initiative with which you seek out opportunities that enhance your knowledge. We want to understand your willingness to “suspend disbelief”—by mastering concepts that may not be immediately relevant to your intended career, to carve your path in ambiguous environments, and to support the School’s goal of developing knowledge that deepens and advances the practice of management.”

Demonstrated leadership potential: “In short, we try to understand your character and your professional competence. Your personal character matters not only because integrity is the cornerstone of any academic community, but also because of the vast responsibility our society reposes in leaders of businesses and social-sector organizations. As a result, we look for evidence of behaviors consistent with your ideals, even under difficult circumstances—a sort of directed idealism. We want to understand your personal motivation and convictions, and your ability to confront complex, unfamiliar issues with good judgment. We envision you defending your position with vigor and respect to a peer advocating a different view. We also try to uncover the ways in which challenges to your beliefs may have changed some of your perspectives and reinforced others. In understanding your competence, we look for both leadership experience and potential. In doing so, we don’t limit ourselves to your professional life. Neither should you. We look at your background for evidence of your impact on the people and organizations around you, and the impact of those experiences on you. Learning about your activities, experiences, interests, and aspirations helps us discover your potential contributions to Stanford and to society. We imagine you working with a group of students and faculty to design a new multi-disciplinary course on ethical issues in life sciences or leading the Principal Investing Conference. We look for evidence of your desire to leave a legacy in the organizations you serve throughout your career, inspiring and motivating your colleagues. We consider your awareness of what you do well and the areas in which you can improve; your group and interpersonal skills; and your commitment to utilizing fully your opportunities and available resources. These qualities will help you to shape your own experience as a student, and will influence your ability to shape the future as an alumna or alumnus.”

Personal qualities and contributions: “In a world that often rewards conformity, the Stanford community thrives only when you share your individual experiences and perspectives. As a result, the strongest applications we see are those in which your thoughts and voice remain intact. To understand how you will contribute to and benefit from the Business School community, we want to know about you: your experiences, beliefs, your passions, your dreams, your goals. Will you revolutionize the Energy Conference, take the Global Management Program in a different direction, or be the dissenting voice in a classroom discussion? Take time to reflect on who you are, and have confidence in yourself. We always remember that there is neither an “ideal” candidate nor a “typical” Stanford MBA student. You should remember this, too. Yes, our community includes students who have pursued incomparable opportunities. This doesn’t mean that something remarkable (either positive or negative) must have happened to you to be a strong candidate. In fact, most Stanford MBA students have excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. It is what you make of an experience that matters to us, not simply the experience itself.”

Admission staffers also recommend which applicants should be interviewed. Generally, admissions sets a goal of interviewing about 1,000 applicants, but it often creeps up to around 1,200 for the 385 to 390 spots in a class. If you get invited to an interview, your odds of getting an offer are slightly better than one in three. The interviews are 45-to-60 minutes long, and Stanford begins to send out first-round invitations for interviews starting in early October. About 95% of the applicant interviews are done by alumni all around the world. An alum will generally meet you where you live after receiving your resume. The interviewer will have no other information on you. Very few interviews are done on campus.