Stanford’s Hunt For High Potentials In Africa

Madhav Rajan, Stanford GSB's senior associate dean for academic affairs

Madhav Rajan, Stanford GSB’s senior associate dean for academic affairs

Stanford Graduate School of Business is trying to attract a greater number of applicants from Africa by dangling full $145,000 MBA scholarships to as many as eight incoming students each year.

The scholarship funding is part of a broader admissions strategy by the school to cherry pick the best potential candidates from the region. “We always worry who we are not seeing,” explains Madhav V. Rajan, senior associate dean for academic programs. “People may not apply because they don’t think they can afford it. And people in Africa may decide never to go down this road.”

In an effort to change that, Stanford has created an outreach program that includes social media ads, recruitment seminars in African nations led by admissions director Derek Bolton, direct contact with local universities and an alumni-founded African Leadership Academy, as well as a unique two-stage application process directed toward Africans who have yet to take the GMAT but would be in the core demographic for an MBA program.

AFRICAN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM IS SIMILAR TO THE SCHOOL’S FULL-RIDE FUNDING FOR INDIANS

Stanford’s African Fellowship program, launched last year, is similar to the school’s Reliance Reliance Fellowship which fully funds five Indian students every year. “We will pick five to eight students and give them a full ride,” says Rajan. “That is a fast growing region of the world and they couldn’t afford to come to the U.S without the funding.”

The fellowship program is a three-year pilot with the goal of enabling talented African citizens with a passion for making an impact on the continent’s future to pursue an MBA at Stanford.

Stanford has targeted Africa as a new source of MBA talent. “There are both great opportunities for economic development as well as management challenges,” said Stanford Dean Garth Saloner, who grew up in South Africa, in a statement. “We are committed to supporting the education of promising high-potential leaders who will make a difference in the continent’s future. Moreover, African students in our program provide direct insight into an emerging global economy that is increasingly powerful in business.”

GMAT TEST TAKERS IN AFRICA HAVE BEEN FALLING IN RECENT YEARS

Finding and getting the very best applicants, however, could be a challenge. The school’s search for talent occurs at a time when the number of people taking the GMAT test in Africa has fallen in recent years. In the 2012-2013 testing year, the exam was taken 5,490 times, down from 6,588 in 2009-2010. Only 2.3% of GMAT tests are taken in Africa where the average total score was just 442.

The African push fits with the school’s overall goal of increasing the number of international students at the school. “We want to have a global pool of students coming in. We have slowly increased the number of international students in our program. The global people are additive. If we were to get more good apps, we would increase it.”

“We’re having people send in information with having taken a GMAT,” says Rajan. “They just give us some data, and we might give them a coupon to do the GMAT for free. The main thing is identifying people. We’re doing a lot of outreach. The admissions team is on the road constantly to tell people about the program. What tends to hold some back is the cost. The other thing is that outside the U.S. many people don’t see the MBA as something to do.”

SOME 50 FINALISTS HAVE BEEN SELECTED AND ASKED TO APPLY BY OCT. 1

In the first stage of the two-step application process, applicants complete the free fellowship pre-application by mid-June. Up to 50 finalists were then selected by mid-July based on financial need, as well as Stanford’s admission criteria of intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and personal qualities and contributions. Finalists then apply for MBA admission to Stanford GSB in Round 1, which has an Oct. 1 deadline.

In the first go-round, Rajan says that more than 2,000 people in Africa expressed an interest in the business school. “We went through the list and identified a core group of people who we thought could be here and then gave them vouchers to do the GMAT. They are going through this now.”

Rajan said the school has also tapped the African Leadership Academy, founded by Stanford MBA Fred Swaniker, to help it identify high potentials in Africa for the fellowship program. The ALA runs programs to help Africans prepare for admission to some of the world’s elite universities, including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Duke, New York University, MIT, Stanford, and Oxford.

The African program is also part of a broader plan by Stanford to discount the sticker price of the degree. “We give fellowships to make it affordable to everyone,” says Rajan. “Those numbers have gone up a lot. Today, 52% of the class gets a fellowship. The mean is over $32,000. That means that over half the class is getting a more than 50% discount off the MBA. We try to get the best. If they can’t afford to get it, we make it at least feasible for them to come here.”

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About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.