What Happens When You Apply to Stanford B-School


On paper at least, Brendan Wallace looked like the cookie-cutter Ivy League grad who dutifully did his stint in finance at Goldman Sachs and Blackstone. For sure, he had impeccable credentials. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 2004 with a degree in political science and economics. He landed a job in investment banking with Goldman Sachs and thenwent into a couple of blue chip financial firms. After graduating from Princeton with a degree in politics and philosphy, Wallace went first to Goldman Sachs and then moved onto the prestigious Blackstone Group where he worked in private equity. With a 3.9 undergraduate GPA and a 750 GMAT score, he certainly had the goods to get into Stanford. But he still fell into that large competitive pool of i-bank and consulting types. “In my essays,” he says, “I made clear I was going to go to school to get off the track. I told the school I would use the MBA to do something that was unique, even though at one level my background was pretty cookie-cutter.” Wallace made a convincing case by noting that he talked Goldman into giving him six weeks off to go abroad, and while at Blackstone, he helped to spinoff and co-found a real estate company in Mexico. Clearly, he had more than distinguished himself in the world of finance–not by affiliation but by accomplishment. He applied only to Stanford and got into the Class of 2010.

When Jason Hild thought about getting his MBA degree after a four-year stint in financial services, he pretty much wanted a guaranteed payoff. So he applied to only three schools: Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. “You’re looking at an opportunity cost equation,” he says. “This is a lot to invest, so I wanted to make sure I would be happy with the decision. If I’m as going to get an MBA, I needed to be excited about what I would learn and the people I would spend two years with. I knew the students would not only be my peers but also my teachers.” Hild earned his B.A. in economics and spanish in 2001 from Davidson College in North Carolina and then spent two years as a financial analyst at Edgeview Partners in Clarlotte and another two years as a senior associate at Bruckman, Rosser, Sherrill & Co., a management buyout firm. In his essays and interview, Hild focused on how he had embraced diversity. “I wrote a lot about diversity,” he says. “My mother is gay and my childhood was disruptive. At Davidson, I was one of only two white students in the African-American studies hall. I think I work better with women than with men because my mother was the predominant breadwinner in our family. I came here with no international experience so I told Stanford that I had decided to get international exposure while doing my MBA.” He was accepted by Stanford and came to campus in the fall of 2008. Through his two years at business school, Hild has spent more than 150 days outside the U.S., largely thanks to a summer internship in Asia.

Elizabeth Ivester had only two years of work experience when she applied to both Stanford and Wharton. In between her junior and senior years at the University of Pennsylvania, Ivester did the Summer Institute for General Management at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. After earning her B.A. in international relations at Penn, she went to work for the consultant Accenture in its Philadelphia office. With only half the median amount of work experience–two years versus four–the Austin, Tex., native felt at a disadvantage. “Coming in at the lower end of work experience, I used her essays and interview to explain that I would take full advantage of what I could learn here and what I hoped to learn from other people.” Invester applied for acceptance in a joint-degree program with Stanford’s School of Education so that went she graduates she’ll have a master’s in both business and in education. Her eagerness to pursue a joint-degree was certainly a plus in her application because Stanford makes a point of promoting its connectedness to other schools on campus. Wharton also offerred her a spot in its Class of 2010, but Stanford had greater appeal because “it gave me the best opportunity to figure out what I wanted to do.” Invester is going to work in the human resources function at Hewlett-Packard after graduation.

Erin Palm got into Stanford’s GSB by working toward her M.D. at Stanford Medical School. She had completed a B.S. in earth systems at Stanford in 2005, worked as a healthcare volunteer in Ecuador and Nepal and has been an active leader in volunteer programs on campus. Her leadship capacity was obvious: As an undergraduate Erin directed SCOPE, a volunteer and shadowing program for pre-medical undergrads in Bay Area emergency departments. She supervised 50 student interns and interpreters and led program development activities such as a medical Spanish training opportunity in Mexico. But she thinks it was her desire to pursue a joint degree with the medical school that sealed the admission deal. “I’m very passionate about health care,” she says. “Stanford takes advantage of the proximity of all these different schools together. My interest in health care aligned with the GSB’s interests.” Though she will graduate from the business school in the Class of 2010, she has at least another five years of study ahead of her at the medical school to achieve her goal to become a surgeon.

Essay Questions:

Stanford says the essay portion of the application is meant to “get to know you as a person and to learn about the ideas and interests that motivate you.” The school serves up some fairly typical advice that may not necessarily help your chances of gaining admission: “Because we want to discover who you are, resist the urge to ‘package’ yourself in order to come across in a way you think Stanford wants. Such attempts simply blur our understanding of who you are and what you can accomplish. We want to hear your genuine voice throughout the essays that you write and this is the time to think carefully about your values, your passions, your hopes and dreams…Truly, the most impressive essays are those that do not begin with the goal of impressing us.”