What Stanford Really Seeks In MBAs…From Former Adcoms

Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA Students. Elena Zhukova photo

What Stanford Really Seeks In MBAs…From Former Adcoms

Ranked number one in our ‘Top Business Schools’ ranking, Stanford Graduate School of Business boasts the most selective and prestigious MBA program in the world. In 2021, Stanford GSB had an acceptance rate of just 6.2%. The GSB has long been known to be highly selective in admissions—much due to Stanford’s focus on smaller sized programs.

Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently “deconstructed” Stanford GSB’s notorious acceptance rate and examined how the business school’s admit patterns have become increasingly reliant on qualitative factors.


As part of this exercise, Blackman’s team broke down client data from recent admissions cycles. For there, they broke down the qualities of their GSB admits into three domains: personal, extracurricular, and professional domains.

According to Blackman’s team, Stanford GSB admissions specifically seeks out talented, diverse, and smart people who can make a significant impact in business and society. She calls it having an ‘X’ factor.

“Stanford GSB students seem to have this ‘X’ factor associated with them, almost like an ‘unexpected’ trait or experience,” Blackman explains. “They take risks, push beyond the imaginable and lead with passion.”

When Blackman surveyed former GSB admissions staff on her team, there was one point that was clear. If you’re looking to pursue an MBA simply to move up or boost your credentials, you’re better off applying elsewhere. Stanford GSB isn’t the place for “hyper-competitive types.”

“Stanford cares a lot that students have a genuine interest in making some larger, positive, social impact on the world,” according to Blackman. “Yes, the point of business school is for your own career advancement. But GSB wants that career advancement to amount to broader social advancement, too.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, according to the former GSB adcoms on Blackman’s team, Stanford GSB isn’t seeking candidates with an unbroken string of successes. Rather, failure is sometimes an advantage.

“GSB is more willing to consider candidates that took risks, failed, learned from their experiences, and returned more resilient than ever,” according to Blackman’s team.


One of the best ways to demonstrate your ‘X’ factor is through Stanford’s admission essay. A big part of the essay portion is answering: “Why Stanford?”

Experts say it’s important to focus on what’s most important to you—and find a way to tie your personal goals to Stanford’s resources.

“Tie together how the things that matter the most to you have influenced the things that you’ve done,” Chris Aitken, cofounder of MBA Prep School, tells Fortune. “Have a consistent theme of how that would influence the things that you would do in the Stanford class and community.”

To learn more about the methodology used, click here.

Here are the qualities of Stanford GSB admits according to a sampling of Stacy Blackman Consulting clients:


Sources: Stacy Blackman Consulting, P&Q, Fortune

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