Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2020

Stanford GSB students crossing “The Street.” GSB photo


You wouldn’t know it, though. During the first quarter, Armstrong took part in the school’s Leadership Labs, which culminate in a team competition called the Executive Challenge. As part of the competition, student pairs prepare 20-minute presentations off cases. The hitch? They get feedback from alumni, with over 300 graduates descending on the GSB to do just that last year. Despite the demands, Armstrong and his partner won their case when they went “head-to-head” against the alumni.

“It’s an amazing chance to test everything you learn through the quarter against real-world executives (who certainly don’t hold any punches),” Armstrong says. “[Laila] and I managed to win the overall competition for our case. It was an amazing feeling to pull together as a squad and put into practice everything we learned in such a short space of time.”

Other achievements were more subtle. In January, Jennifer Carmichael took part in one of Stanford GSB’s most hallowed traditions: delivering her TALK.  Laying it all on the line, Carmichael shared her life story with hundreds of classmates. The support she received afterward stunned her.

Stanford GSB class discussion. GSB photo

“I felt so loved in this community when people would stop me on the way to class after and comment on parts of my TALK they really resonated with. The classmates at Stanford GSB are passionate about building relationships and learning everything that they can from one another.”


While Carmichael opened up, Abdirahman found that stepping back was the best way to learn at Stanford GSB. “I have continued to introspect and gain a better understanding of my leadership style,” he notes. “The GSB has a strong culture of peer feedback which facilitates growth. I have learned to speak less and listen more, be more vulnerable and more authentic in my communication.”

Yes, being open and true can be risky. Then again, Abdirahman has plenty of experience with real danger. An extreme sports enthusiast, he has already made the highest bungee jump in the world and skydived…with paragliding coming next on his bucket list. Maybe he should invite Jordan Feyko, who once skydived with the Crown Prince of Dubai. Taking it down a notch, triathlons are Jack Armstrong’s passion…though his start was admittedly pretty rocky.

“I didn’t learn how to swim or ride a bike properly until several weeks before my first triathlon,” he admits. “The first time I clipped into the bike, I fell off.”


The Class of 2020 also defies easy labels considering their varied interests and expansive backgrounds. That’s one reason why Danny Reyes, a Wharton and BCG alum, describes his classmates as diverse. “If there’s a topic you want to talk to an expert on, you’d be hard pressed to not find someone in the class that can help.”

“Curiosity” is another trait that characterizes GSB first-years. Andrea Aguirre Ruiz, who plans to bring the best practices in analytics to Mexico, praises her classmates for their openness to taking risks, exploring new ideas, and learning about other cultures. For Becca O’Leary, the archetype of a b-school poet, that curiosity comes with an “insatiable” in front of it.

A dining/living room on the second floor looking out on the Knight Management Center which houses the classrooms, offices, and academic facilities of Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“GSBers are so impressively intellectually curious, but what’s more, they are extremely action-oriented.  So after the “who, what, why, when, where, how?”… there’s the “what next?”.”

The class also brings a sense of “infectious passion” alongside being “action-oriented,” “globally-aware,” and “service-oriented.” They are “committed,” says Abdirahman, to making a difference to the most complex problems, often through unconventional methods. That makes the Class of 2020 all the more unique and formidable. It’s also one reason why Diana Nassar pays her class the ultimate compliment:

“I learn something from them every day.”


The 2018-2019 admissions cycle represents the first go-round for new admissions chief, Kirsten Moss. You could call it a strategic departure from previous years. By the numbers, Stanford GSB received the fewest applications – 7,797 – since the Class of 2016. That said, the school remains the most selective full-time MBA program in the world. It accepted just 6.1% of all applicants. To put it another way, there were 18.6 applicants for every available seat in the Class of 2020. That’s one reason why nearly nine of every ten accepted applicants invariably joined the incoming class. The training, network, and prestige make the investment a sure thing.

That doesn’t mean it is nearly impossible for applicants to land a coveted spot in Palo Alto. Last fall, the big news was that the incoming class’ average GMAT score slid by five points to 732 – the same score as peer schools at Northwestern Kellogg, Columbia Business School, and the Wharton School. That doesn’t mean the quality of the program has been diluted. Instead, it was likely a conscious decision by Moss to open the program to candidates whose credentials sometimes eclipsed their GMAT scores.

“A five-point drop at a school that has consistently had the highest average GMAT don’t happen by accident,” says Linda Abraham, founder and CEO of, in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “I think it reflects Kirsten Moss’ focus on leadership and admitting people who will make a difference. She has made it clear that she is genuinely pained when she hears that potentially great applicants to Stanford did not apply because of ‘stats,’ specifically Stanford’s low acceptance rate and GMAT average for entering students.


Overall, 41% of the 2020 Class consists of women, par for the course for a program where the percentage has bobbled between 40%-42% over the past five years. The percentage of international students was nearly equal at 42%, a number commiserate with the school’s performance in the last five years. The same could be said for the class’ percentage of underrepresented minorities, which topped out at 27% this year.

The Class of 2020 remained eerily consistent with previous classes when it comes to academic backgrounds as well. This year, 48% of the class hails from the Humanities and Social Sciences, the same percentage as the Classes of 2018 and 2017. Engineering, Math, and Natural Sciences majors account for 34% of the class, a consistent downward slide from its 39% peak four years ago. At the same time, business majors take up 18% of the seats, a five-point upswing that matches the quant downturn.

In terms of professional backgrounds, the top four remained the same with 2020 Class. Not surprisingly, students who worked in investment management, private equity, and venture capital take up the largest share of the class at 21%. They are followed by consulting (19%), technology (15%), and government and education (10%).


The 2018-2019 cycle also turned out to be a banner year for Stanford GSB. For one, a record 421 organizations hired students for internships and positions, according to the school’s annual report. Along with that, average base pay rose by over $3,500, a number that pales in comparison to the $64,529 in performance bonus that 72% of the 2018 graduating class is expected to collect. Those numbers are one reason why Stanford GSB ranked atop this year’s Financial Times ranking – with GSB weighted pay besting Harvard Business School by a $228,074-to-$205,486 margin. By the same token, Stanford also ranked first in the latest Bloomberg Businessweek MBA ranking, earning perfect index scores in four-of-five categories.

That said, placement continues to act as Stanford GSB’s Achilles Heel in MBA rankings. In 2018, just 88% of graduates had landed jobs within three months of graduation. That doesn’t mean recruiters are shunning Stanford MBAs. Instead, graduates can afford to be picky, with many taking their time to explore early-stage startups or social enterprises. The lower placement rate also stems from the program’s philosophy, which spotlights self-awareness at its core. It is a philosophy that the class has adopted as its own, says Ashley Wu.

“For me, business school is a time to answer the existential questions of what purpose I will serve for society and what my authentic style as a leader will be, less so about finding a specific job for the 2-5 years after graduation. Stanford’s focus on interpersonal dynamics and leading with vulnerability is truly unique in its ability to help answer those questions. As evidence, by March, I think about half of the students still do not know what they are doing with their summers. I see this actually as tremendously positive and unique at business programs, where students typically get pressured into signing job offers months after they arrive.”

Go to page 1 for a dozen in-depth profiles from Stanford GSB’s MBA Class of 2020

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