For many, business school is a place to change careers. For Stanford MBAs, it is the place to change the world.
Carved into the Oak-strewn foothills of Palo Alto, Stanford is a school for dreamers, the passionate and purposeful who’ve laid the groundwork for genetic engineering, data analytics, digital music, and DSL transmission. There is a pioneering spirit in the region’s laboratories and garages, one that yielded game-changing companies like Google and Hewlett-Packard. From Netflix to SpaceX, Stanford alumni (and dropouts) have launched companies that, combined, would rank them among the 10 largest economies in the world.
“HARVARD OF THE WEST” HAS THE BEST OF EVERYTHING
Just four miles west of Sand Hill Road, you’ll find the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Boasting wide courtyards silhouetted by Palm trees, the “Harvard of the West” has everything: Mediterranean climate, renowned faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, and deep pockets. More than that, the school boasts over 800 students who can only be described as “elite” and “overachievers.” They are the students who ranked among the top of their classes. When they started their careers, they were the ones who shouldered the toughest assignments.
The classes range from platoon commanders to pro athletes to startup founders. Collectively, they boast the highest average GMAT and GPA of any MBA program. That’s because Stanford chooses the best-of-the-best, accepting just 1-in-20 applicants. The 2019 class alone hails from 61 countries, 164 undergraduate institutions, and 301 companies. They may still be figuring out who they are and what they want, but they bring a staggering amount of raw talent, intellectual horsepower, and diverse experiences to the mix.
Stanford students may be fun-loving and laid back, but that doesn’t mean they’re holding anything back. Early on, FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – spreads like the virus. The curiosity and energy takes hold – and suddenly the experience becomes a blur of cases and projects, clubs and events, trips and (of course) parties. Stanford may be a place to push limits and embrace change, but making an impact also requires ruthless time management. What do Stanford students prioritize? What do they leave out?
NO DAY IS EVER THE SAME
That question is answered annually in a Stanford GSB feature: “A Week in the Life.” Here, students share their weekly schedules, listing what they do and when, to give potential students a taste of the program’s pace and culture. This year, five members of the 2018 class shared their daily routines for three days. From late nights polishing their financial models to early morning runs, there is one consistent theme: No day is ever the same and every student follows a completely different path.
Take Rebecca Ackerman, a Chicago native who interned for the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation over the summer. She started one Thursday morning with a video chat to help her flesh out an interactive case she is co-authoring on a New York nonprofit that conducts crisis intervention through texting. At noon, she sits down in one of those classes that are only available at Stanford: “The Startup School.” Taught by Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, each class features a guest entrepreneur whose experiences almost serve as a living case. Of course, Stanford MBA students aren’t relegated to being a passive audience. The previous day, for example, Ackerman hosted a “Life Outside of Tech” live panel with three classmates, where they outlined their experiences and answered questions from prospective students.
POKING FUN AT EACH OTHER IN THE GSB SHOW
However, life isn’t all work and no play for Ackerman. One evening, for example, she hosted a dinner for 10 classmates before heading to downtown Palo Alto for a gathering of first and second-year students. Another afternoon, she joined 200 classmates for a women’s golf clinic to pair their ability to close business with the need to sink a put. On Saturday, she was part of the Stanford volleyball team that competed against eight peer schools in the Challenge for Charity, an effort that raises money for non-profits. Sure enough, the Stanford women won! After the competition, the schools came together for an evening “Battle of the Bands,” where six schools fielded bands for a 20 minute stage set.
Sure, it was competitive, but the Challenge for Charity was also supportive and entertaining – the type of event that brought MBAs together far beyond Stanford. “We watched basketball, cheerleading, and challenge races,” Ackerman writes. “It was amazing to see how much pride we all had for our schools and was incredible to see everyone’s talents!”
That wasn’t the only event that students praised. Zachary Ullah, an aspiring energy entrepreneur from Houston, was among the students who helped put on the GSB Show, which he describes as an “age-old tradition in which GSB students write, produce, and perform an original musical parodying life at this place that we all love.” The product of thousands of hours put in by over 200 students, “the Show” turned out to be a success, an “electric atmosphere” that drew over 1,200 people who were awed by the “hidden talents” of their students and peers.
“In a year filled with numerous high-quality social events,” Ullah points out, “I have heard more than a few people saying that this was their favorite. Fantastic way to cap off this crazy experience!”
That wasn’t only highlight to Ullah’s week. Late on a Monday night, he joined the Entrepreneurship Club for “Pitches and Pajamas,” where students sharpen their one minute pitches in front of peers. The next night, he was jamming with Band FOAM, where they reprised the best numbers from the GSB Show. Thanks to Stanford’s Silicon Valley location, the business school also attracts many top leaders to campus. Sure enough, 12 hours after bidding a final farewell to the GSB Show, Ullah was sitting in on a View from the Top guest speaker – Stanford GSB alum and General Motors CEO Mary Barra.
At day’s end, he had joined many of his peers in the RAIL Computer Lab to complete their weekly financial model required by the “infamous” Peter DeMarzo – a rite of passage that served to deepen the bonds between classmates. “It was time to settle in for a long night of camaraderie and financial debugging and still felt lucky to be surrounded by these people,” Ullah explains. “We get a lot closer in the trenches.”
Chances are, Lauren Dunford joined Ullah in those very trenches. Dunford, who plans to launch an affordable solar power company in Kenya after graduation, was bedeviled by the Corporate Financial Modeling class. While the class has pushed Dunford out of her comfort zone, it has also boosted her confidence in the process.