P&Q Editor John A. Byrne Answers Reader Questions About The MBA

Students at the Stanford GSB Class of 2017 commencement. Photo by Nathan Allen


What does it take to get into the Stanford MBA program?

Despite what many other people are saying in response to this question, there is a predictable answer. Stanford GSB is all about the WOW factor. Sure, every competitive MBA programs looks for candidates who stand out from the pile because of something extraordinary they have done. But Stanford takes this to a new level because it is the most selective MBA program with the lowest acceptance rate of any prestige school and because it has so few seats available in any given year.

So what do we mean by WOW? You already have to accomplish something personally or professionally that elevates you from your own ambitions. You need to be ambitious for others and in a way that has already had impact. It needs to pull you out of the pile and make someone say ‘Wow. This person is extraordinary.”

Maybe it’s creating and leading a nonprofit to help others and having a significant impact in an underserved area. Maybe it’s facing a unique challenge at work and applying a novel solution to it with spectacular result. The ordinary just doesn’t cut it here, even when the ordinary is exceptional.

Some general advice:

What Happens When You Apply to Stanford B-School

A Stanford & HBS Admit Dishes Advice


What do I have to do for my undergrad to be able to get into Stanford Business School for MBAs?

First off, there really is no 100% way to get yourself into Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The school has the lowest acceptance rate (6%) of any prestige MBA program, the highest GMAT and GPA scores, and one of the smaller classes. That said, you could do the following to swing the odds somewhat in your favor:

  1. Do well in your courses and make sure a good number of them are fairly rigorous. The average GPA of the latest incoming class is 3.73. You should aim to at least hit the average if not exceed it.
  2. The same is true of the GMAT test. The average GMAT is 737. You need to aim for a 740 or 750.
  3. While in college, you need to get a couple of leadership positions in campus organizations or (better than that) create an organization that helps us. It’s not enough to be involved. You have to lead and you have to be able to get some results that demonstrate your effectiveness as a leader. Ideally, you need to be ambitious for others who may be disadvantaged in some way.
  4. You need to have a passion or interest in something that is quite clearly different and unusual. The Stanford applicant pool is filled with high GPA, high GMAT candidates with leadership in extracurriculars. So you need something else to pull yourself out of that pile. The more unusual the better.
  5. You need to get your undergraduate degree from a prestige university, ie. Ivy, Near-Ivy, or Public-Ivy, or highly ranked institution. Stanford wants to see that you already passed through a highly selective screen.
  6. You need to land a highly selective job after graduation or highly selective internships if you are applying as a deferred undergraduate candidate.

If you want a see a solid cross section of people who get into Stanford and what their advice is, check out our Meet The Class of 2018 article on the GSB’s latest crop of MBAs:

Meet Stanford’s MBA Class of 2018


Does Stanford GSB produce cases? 

Yes. Pretty much every school’s faculty produces case studies. The big difference is that Harvard Business School produces the most by far and has made a real business of it. In fiscal 2015, for example. Harvard reports selling a record 13.2 million cases to other schools and organizations. The school’s publishing operations, which includes the Harvard Business Review and a book imprint, generated $203 million in revenue in 2015.


Does Stanford business school mostly admit students from prestigious undergrad institutions?

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business may be at the epicenter of Silicon Valley so it is widely presumed to be an institution that is more open and more egalitarian than Harvard Business School. That is not true, however. By and large, MBA admissions at the elite business schools is an elite game. Admissions officials are looking for gold-plated undergraduate degrees and gold-plated work experience. Not silver. Not bronze. And certainly not any kind of tarnished metal.

A few years ago we analyzed the feeder colleges and companies of the leading business schools and were amazed at what we found at Stanford and other schools. There is no reason to think this has changed since this analysis on the Class of 2013. Stanford undergrads made up an estimated 7.4% of the class, with the following schools not far behind: U Penn (6.3% of the class), Yale (5.9%, Harvard (5.2%), and the University of Virginia (3.0%).

All told, about 25% of Stanford’s class hailed from one of the original eight Ivy League schools. That compares to roughly 21.2% of the MBA students at Columbia Business School, 30.0% at Harvard Business School, and 33.1% at Wharton. Toss Stanford into that Ivy League bunch and roughly one of every three MBA students in the GSB class went to one of only six U.S. highly selective schools.

The only five non-U.S. universities to make the top 25 feeder schools at Stanford? The Indian Institute of Technology, Peking University, the New Economic School in Russia, the University of Cambridge, and the University of New South Wales.

Of the top 25 feeder colleges, pretty much all were prestige institutions, Ivy, Near Ivy, or Public Ivy. If you got in from a public university other than Berkeley, UVA, Michigan, Texas, UCLA or UNC, you either walked on water with a super GMAT score and a great job or you had an inside connection.

Here’s our story on feeder colleges to Stanford:

Top Feeder Colleges To Stanford B-School

Here’s our story on feeder companies to Stanford:

Top Feeder Companies To Stanford


How would you compare Stanford GSB versus Harvard Business School and Wharton?

Obviously, you can’t go wrong if you are among the small group of dual admits to these two schools. In either place, you’ll get a world class MBA education. Stanford offers greater access to the world’s most dynamic economy, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, as well as fantastic weather. Harvard is the more challenging academic culture, with a grading curve, superstar faculty who are among the best business teachers on the planet, and an alumni network of influentials second to none.

It’s not true that Stanford is a better place to use the MBA to launch a startup, though many will tell you that. HBS’ resources on the entrepreneurial side are far greater than those at Stanford: More faculty, more mentors, more seed money, etc. That is because HBS has had to work at it and Stanford pretty much takes it for granted given its location in the hotbed of entrepreneurship.

We’ve done a couple of articles that should be of great use to you. This story is on people like you who are making this choice:

Rare Privilege: Deciding Between HBS, Stanford

This article is an older, though still very relevant, smackdown between the two schools:

Harvard Business School vs. Stanford GSB

Good luck with your decision.