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.


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