What Does Stanford Seek In Applicants?

Stanford Graduate School of Business has one of the top MBA programs in the country. What, besides outstanding stats, is Stanford GSB looking for? Here are the three criteria that Stanford explicitly says it is looking for — and a fourth that Accepted believes is critical. Accepted stresses the importance of all these qualities when advising applicants as they complete their Stanford MBA applications.

Stanford GSB Criterion #1: Intellectual Vitality

Intellectual vitality is not a matter of how smart you are. The majority of people rejected by Stanford GSB are very smart. Someone with an average IQ can have huge intellectual vitality, and a person with a MENSA-level IQ can have very low intellectual vitality. Most people use their natural intellect in concrete ways to accomplish their tasks. People with intellectual vitality stand out by revealing curiosity, demonstrating enthusiasm for learning new things, nurturing and improving their natural intellect, and using it to question and investigate, to look into new areas, and to question the status quo.

Here are the 5 aspects of intellectual vitality:

  1. Zest for ideas. You probe for deeper meaning and new information. What does that statement really mean? Where did that theory come from? Why and how was that hypothesis formed? You delight in learning and using new information.
  2. Dynamic, engaged mind. You evaluate new information alongside things you already know, looking for similarities and differences. For you, nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything has a past to understand and a future to explore.
  3. But why … ? Some say that curiosity killed the cat, but curiosity reflects and fosters intellectual vitality. It motivates you to continue learning about a subject, long past the point when most others would have been satisfied.
  4. Reasons behind what you believe and what you do. You listen to all sides of a discussion and come to your own conclusions. You don’t follow the pack. You look at issues from many angles and make your decisions. How you think about things influences all areas of your life.
  5. Open and unafraid. You have developed your own beliefs and ideas, and you stand behind them. You’re not afraid of being challenged and enjoy defending your views. You relish playing devil’s advocate and can argue many points of view – even when they differ from your own. You like finding out where different opinions and views come from.

If you have intellectual vitality, you know that it can inspire you and can also lead you to inspire others.

Stanford GSB Criterion #2: Demonstrated Leadership Potential

Here is a breakdown of Demonstrated Leadership Potential, beginning with the key part.

  • For Stanford, leadership starts with your character. What do you believe in? How you advise a client or lead a group project will show your character. To be able to lead appropriately and meaningfully, you must have fundamental values that influence your actions. GSB is looking for individuals whose leadership is value- and ideal-driven. They refer to this as “directed idealism.”
  • You are looking for ways to improve your leadership abilities. You take criticism and feedback well. You are inventive, modest, and anxious to learn. You know you can do better and want to do so.
  • You possess a history of leadership as well as a potential for future leadership. Use your application to illustrate instances of past leadership in your essays, resume, and letters of recommendation. Be prepared to speak honestly about where you are in your leadership journey, where you need improvement, and where you see yourself going.

Demonstrated Leadership Potential is a complicated criterion. Be sure to incorporate examples throughout your application.

Stanford GSB Criterion #3: Personal Qualities and Contributions

Personal qualities form your character. Stanford looks for applicants who have the following qualities:

  • Someone who is involved in the world around them and is not merely passing through.
  • A person who is perceptive and takes time to look at the world. You are alert and take notice of the things around you.
  • Someone who is kind and careful. A thoughtful person takes time to get to know other people, is compassionate, and concerned about issues that are important to them.

Use your essay to show these personal qualities. Tell your story in your own distinctive style and the adcom will certainly take notice.

Stanford GSB Criterion #4: Initiative

This is not on Stanford’s website, but we feel it is mandatory for Stanford applicants to have if they want to be among the 6% of applicants that pursues their MBA at the GSB.

Because you are engaged, observant, and thoughtful, because you have demonstrated leadership in the past, and because you have a questioning mind, you see opportunities to contribute. And you seize them. You take the initiative when you see need or opportunity in a way that makes change happen. Consequently, you improve lives, organizations, and the world.

Stanford wants to see how you have contributed to your family, friends, neighborhood, school, employer, community, or the world. Show how you interact with others and that you care. Your contributions don’t have to be dramatic or world-altering, but they should reveal that you made an impact. Share as appropriate your feelings, interests, and aspirations in your essays. Don’t explain that you will contribute. Show that you do contribute.

Using these criteria in your Stanford GSB application will make your application stand out to the admissions committee. For one-on-one guidance that will get your application to the top of the “accepted” pile, check out Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting Services.


https://www.accepted.com/ Cindy Tokumitsu has advised hundreds of successful applicants, helping them gain acceptance to top MBA and EMBA programs in her 15+ years with Accepted. She would love to help you, too.