Tag Archives: Stanford

SBC Scoop: An Older Applicant

A lot has been said in recent years about schools like Harvard and Stanford taking a greater interest in younger applicants and denying older applicants, with many top schools following suit.  In fact, I have …

A lot has been said in recent years about schools like Harvard and Stanford taking a greater interest in younger applicants and denying older applicants, with many top schools following suit.  In fact, I have seen posts in forums that basically tell people there is “no chance” past a certain age.  Whereas ten years ago there was buzz about getting as much work experience as possible, more recently, applicants have feared having too much experience, being too old.  This case study is meant to demonstrate that older applicants do get in, and can and should apply.  But I also want to provide a context and explain why older candidates do often have a tough time.  Since our client ended up at HBS, I will speak to HBS, but this really applies to all top schools.

Harvard values great leadership.  If you are applying to Harvard when you are 34 or like our client, 37, you better have already developed terrific leadership skills and have a lot to show for them.  The problem is that many people with great leadership skills have achieved so much by the time they are almost 40, that they are not interested in going back to school.    However, if one of these people is interested, and can demonstrate great achievement balanced with a legitimate need/desire to return to school, than they have a good chance.  You see, proving that you are a strong and accomplished 40 year old leader, and balancing that with the fact that you want to improve in order to get to the next step, is tough to pull off.  But it is pulled off and “old” people are admitted every year!

Our client, Max, was 37 and applied to a full range of schools.  Harvard was actually a re-application for him ”“ the others were all first time apps.  In a nutshell, his numbers were just average (3.5 GPA from mid tier school and 670 GMAT), and he had a nice, though not outrageous record of extra-curriculars.

Max’s work experience was stellar.  He had advanced quickly and impressively, and had significant P&L responsibility at Nestle.   He had rock solid evidence of strong leadership and communication skills, and he clearly had a lot to offer peers in classroom discussion.  Recommendations were also very good.  In drafting his application, he struggled with the balance between past experience and articulating ambitious, reasonable goals that supported his desire for an MBA.  Ultimately, he had a very big, high impact vision for his career.  But it was not a “pie in the sky” type of pipe dream.  His prior experience informed and inspired his future goals, and made them appear to be realistic: ambitious and realistic.  He was also able to tie unique personal experiences to his goals, showing how his career plan had personal meaning for him and was about more than just “making money”.

Even though he emerged from the process with admits from HBS and Tuck, it was not a smooth road.  His initial results were not so happy as he was waitlisted and then denied first from Wharton and later also denied from Columbia and Stanford.  At that point he seized upon the only aspect of the application that was still within his control and prepped like crazy for his Round 2 interviews.  Guess it helped tip him over the edge!  A very happy ending.

Facebook Contest: Answer the question below in the comments section for a chance to win an account from Apply in the Sky ($75 value). The winner will be chosen by the Stacy Blackman Team on 05/15:

How do you see an MBA degree helping you achieve your goals post-graduation?

To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.

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SBC Scoop: Finding the Right School For You

Davis was a very interesting and non-traditional MBA candidate.  Following graduation from UC Berkeley, his US home had been Boston for eight years.  However, he really wanted to get back home to the West Coast.  As a …

Davis was a very interesting and non-traditional MBA candidate.  Following graduation from UC Berkeley, his US home had been Boston for eight years.  However, he really wanted to get back home to the West Coast.  As a unique candidate, and an older one, he concluded that he was a stretch for a top business school but still decided to try, and applied to UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, hoping that solid numbers, well written essays and alumni status would help him get in.

Davis had a 3.5 GPA and a 700 GMAT.

In terms of career, Davis spent one year as a strategy consultant, working for a boutique firm, and traveling extensively.  After that, he spent six years working from home for a very small travel company that led tours through Southeast Asia.  He managed all business functions for that company.  Finally, he joined a different travel company in Latin America, working in tour operations in Chile for one year.

When he applied to Haas, he honed in on the “traditional” aspect of his application, thinking that his one year of consulting was the most relevant to business school and would make him seem most like a typical business school student.  This was a mistake because that experience was seven years old by the time he applied.  It also was the least reflective of Davis, and left the admissions committee wondering why he left this role if he was so focused on it now.  His story was ultimately full of contradictions and did not feel authetic.

Davis was rejected from Haas on his first attempt.

As it turns out, Davis was a friend of a friend, and through an informal conversation, I encouraged him to apply again.  This time he added Stanford and INSEAD to his list, and reapplied to Haas.

He completely overhauled his application.  His main essay for Stanford talked very little  about his work experiences, and focused on his personal background and how it fueled his passion for exploring the world, and enabling others to do so.  He also discussed hs gratitude for his ability to travel, and how that tied into his background.

Again, Davis was denied from Haas.  He was also denied from INSEAD.  But he was admitted to Stanford..

I thought this was a great example of how important it is to really be yourself in your application and find the school that is right for you.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s not uncommon to be admitted into a more highly ranked program, and denied by a seemingly less competitive one.  That’s because the process is not all about numbers – it’s about numbers and experiences and personalities and FIT.  Davis FIT at Stanford, loved the experience and has never looked back!  Now he just has to decide who to root for at Berkeley/Stanford sporting events!

What do you think?  Does this outcome surprise you?  Do you see how Davis fit with Stanford?

To read more SBC Case Studies, click HERE.

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Tuesday Tips: Video on Stanford GSB Essays

* Click for more posts containing Application Advice for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. To see our Stanford Graduate School of Business Essay Guide for MBA Applications, click here. To see our Stanford Graduate …


Click for more posts containing Application Advice for the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
To see our Stanford Graduate School of Business Essay Guide for MBA Applications, click here.
To see our Stanford Graduate School of Business Interview Guide, click here.
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Tuesday Tips – Stanford GSB Essay Tips

This week Tuesday Tips provides tips to approach this year’s Stanford essay tips and communicate what really matters most to the admissions committee.

Nowhere is the mandate to be authentic more emphasized than with the Stanford GSB application essays. The transparent Stanford GSB admissions website provides clear guidance and advice for what to do, and what not to do that all applicants should read and follow. As you approach topics for this set of essays think about the events of your life that have shaped your approach to life and your future plans. Your accomplishments and achievements are key to who you are today, however it’s far more important to explain your influences, values and motivations. Stanford GSB asks for candid self-examination in the first essay, and that theme of introspection should persist through the entire set of essays

Stanford GSB Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?
This is the keystone of the Stanford GSB essays and your chance to demonstrate who you are and what motivates you. Topics can range from personal history to grand visions of the future. While this topic should not be explicitly career related (and the strongest essays may not be career oriented at all) a truly cohesive life path will likely bring some of the aspects of what matters most into the topic of Essay 2.
If the open ended prompt is intimidating you can try brainstorming over a period of a few days. Ask friends and family what values they see you demonstrating in your life and choices. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts upon waking up, or dreams that might help you understand your motivations.
Though the essay question may seem open-ended, answering the question with vivid and specific examples will provide solid evidence that you have demonstrated or experienced “what matters most” throughout your life. Keep in mind as you select examples that Stanford GSB specifically advises focusing on people and experiences that have influenced you, rather than accomplishments or achievements.

Stanford GSB Essay 2: What are your career aspirations? What do you need to learn at Stanford GSB to achieve them?
Unlike many career goals essays, Stanford GSB does not ask for specific short- and long-term goals. Aspirational goals are likely a bit further into the future, so think about where you want your career to ultimately be, in the best possible scenario. What do you need to get there? What is the role of an MBA in achieving your aspirations, and how will Stanford GSB specifically contribute to achieving your aspirations?
Stanford GSB wants to know what you specifically need that will be uniquely satisfied by the program at Stanford GSB, and research will help you determine the specifics of the academic program, community and students will be essential to demonstrating your knowledge and fit with the program.

Stanford GSB Essay 3: Answer two of the four questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.

Choose strategically here. What aspects of your background or career progress have not be highlighted in the previous two essays? Is there a community service involvement you would like to demonstrate? All examples must be from the past three years, and it is important to clearly describe your process and results.

o Option A: Tell us about a time when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.
This Stanford GSB essay is an opportunity to highlight an achievement specifically in the arena of leadership and teamwork. If your professional life hasn’t included formal management responsibility perhaps you were able to lead a project or part of a project. Leading a team from within could also be possible if you contributed to developing or building a great team. Another possibility is other leadership experiences outside of work. Describe what happened and your role in the performance of the team. In addition to clear description, explain what the expectations were for the team and how your team exceeded them.

o Option B: Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
Making a lasting impact through a discrete project or achievement is possible, yet less likely than creating impact through your relationships with others and the overall operations of the organization. Did you create a new initiative that involves many others? Have you impacted the culture or operations of your organization through an idea or by developing your team? Think about actions you have taken that may have lead to a fundamental shift in the way things are done or perceived.

o Option C: Tell us about a time when you motivated others to support your vision or initiative.
This question seeks to understand your leadership skills and ability to build support. When answering the question it is far more important to describe your specific actions and results than to have an impressive vision or initiative. Explain clearly how you (uniquely) were able to motivate your team or build support.

o Option D: Tell us about a time when you went beyond what was defined, established, or expected.
The topic of this essay can be from almost any area of your life. Defining what was established and expected is important to clearly demonstrate how you went beyond. Why and how did you achieve results beyond expectations? This topic could be similar to Option A in scope, yet is focused on your individual achievement rather than directing a team’s actions.
As you put together your Stanford GSB application it will be helpful to read all of the essays together (and have others read them) to see the overall impression. It should be clear what your underlying motivations are, what you hope do you with your career, and how you operate as an individual and in a team within an organization. As Stanford GSB clearly requests, the best essays will illuminate your individual voice clear and strong.
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Click for more posts containing Application Advice for the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
To see our Stanford Graduate School of Business Essay Guide for MBA Applications, click here.
To see our Stanford Graduate School of Business Interview Guide, click here.
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Tuesday Tips – Ten Questions, Part 2

The second five questions you should ask yourself before starting your MBA application process.

Last week we considered the first five questions out of ten questions to help you begin your MBA application process. Introspection is a key aspect of the MBA application process, and it will be important to demonstrate that you know yourself and your need for an MBA well.

Now that you have contemplated:

1. Your career goals
2. Personal goals
3. Why you want an MBA
4. The MBA degree as compared to other degrees
5. Your competitive position

It’s time to delve deeper into your application strategy and consider the next five questions to set up your essays and other written materials.

6. What matters most to you?

One of the most infamous questions any MBA applicant faces is the first Stanford essay, which simply asks what matters most to you and why. While Stanford is direct about their interest in your values and ideals, you need to understand what deeply motivates you as the basis for your entire application strategy to any MBA program. There are numerous MBA candidates with strong grades, great GMAT scores and stellar work experience. You need to understand what is truly unique about you beyond what is obvious on a resume or application form.

Your essays are your opportunity to market yourself to the MBA program you want to attend, and asking yourself what is truly most important is a good place to start. If you don’t know what matters most, here are a few thought starters: When you wake up in the middle of the night, what is your first thought? What did you dream about as a kid? What would you do if you had unlimited money and resources? Who are the most important people in your life?

7. What MBA programs really fit you?

Once you know your career goals, why you want an MBA, and what matters most, you have a great basis to select your target schools.

Rankings and profiles are a great place to start, and both BusinessWeek and Financial Times provide well-regarded rankings. Once you have considered the numbers, it’s a good idea to delve into personal factors like location, program offerings, and especially the people.

You may make some gut decisions about the schools that feel right to you, and as you create that list take the time to ask yourself why these schools are a good fit. What about you makes you interested in each school? Why do you feel comfortable with the people and interested in the classes? It will be important to communicate clearly to each school both why you want to attend and why you will be a great MBA student there ”“ which are the key elements to fit.

Both essays and recommendations are a great way to demonstrate your fit to the admissions committee. Make sure you are providing detail and evidence in your essays to show your thought process when you choose the school. When your recommenders talk about your qualifications they should also talk about how well you will fit in with your students and the community.

8. What is the admissions committee looking for?

Almost any admissions director you ask will tell you that the MBA admissions process is holistic. Factors like GMAT and GPA will be considered to see how well you have performed in an academic setting, and work experience will be evaluated for your progress and development.

Along with this “hard” data about you, the MBA admissions process presents an amazing opportunity for you to tell the admissions committee about yourself. It’s important that you communicate clearly why you should be chosen for admission in this highly competitive process.

As you are getting started basic MBA information like that provided on our blog is a great place to gain information about what MBA programs are generally interested in. MBA programs provide a great deal of information about what the adcomm is looking for ”“ in tools like blogs and chats with students you can find significant information. The personal touch is also important. Make sure you visit your schools and talk to MBA students and alumni to get a strong feel for the qualities that make a candidate successful.

9. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

A candid evaluation of yourself will help you communicate effectively with the MBA admissions team and provide the right holistic presentation. Everyone has made mistakes or has regrets, and preferably these experiences have led to development and growth. Communicating self-awareness about your own strengths and weaknesses is a huge asset to your application.

Since it is rare for any candidate to be perfect, consider where you have disappointed yourself or others, and what you learned from the experience. A key inflection point in your life that has led to subsequent success can be a compelling story for any MBA application and adds interest to your overall profile.

10. How will you contribute to your MBA program?

Most candidates approach the MBA application process with their own needs at the forefront. Perhaps you have decided to pursue an MBA because you want to achieve something new, you want to change careers or you want to advance further than you would otherwise. What can set you apart from many candidates is thinking about what you can add to the MBA programs you are targeting.

Here are a few ideas to get you started: Can you add knowledge to a classroom? Do you have contacts in your industry to help other students obtain jobs? Can you provide connections to interesting speakers? Will you bring special skills to a club or classroom?

As you consider all ten questions you will be setting yourself up for a successful MBA application process. Don’t forget to watch Stacy’s essay tips tomorrow online at the AIGAC Graduate Admissions Virtual Summit!

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If you are feeling stumped by your application essays and need some additional guidance, check out our NEW series of essay guides for MBA applications. Columbia, Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford and Wharton available now. They are seriously terrific and we are proud to say that almost every person who has ordered one has come back for more!

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Foundations Need MBAs

Forget about business being the root of all evil. Today, more and more non-profit organizations are realizing that good stewardship requires someone at the helm with business savvy. An article published yesterday in the Financial …

Forget about business being the root of all evil. Today, more and more non-profit organizations are realizing that good stewardship requires someone at the helm with business savvy.

An article published yesterday in the Financial Times, Building on MBA Know-How, finds that as the foundation sector looks to become more accountable and effective in allocating their grants, they are increasing their hiring of business school graduates and sending staff on MBA or executive programs.

More forward-thinking organizations have dropped the academic model that once guided them to embrace an approach shaped by the idea that social or environmental problems require the combined focus of different sectors ”“ including business, reporter Sarah Murray writes.

Mark Kramer, managing director of FSG Social Impact Advisors, which advises foundations, corporations, governments and non-profit organizations, identifies a new wave of foundations that are instead focusing on promoting change through advocacy and helping non-profits become more effective.

“All these things require organizational and management skills, budgets, business plans,” he says. “And that is a very different way of thinking from that old approach, which said you just needed the idea and everything would fall  in place.”

MBA programs are also changing with the times, as more schools now offer a variety of electives in areas such as non-profit management and social entrepreneurship, making the training more attractive for foundation executives. FT highlights departments and centers for public and non-profit management exist at schools such as Haas School of Business, Kellogg School of Management and Yale School of Management.

Meanwhile, the research and educational programs of centers such as the Kenan Institute at Kenan-Flagler Business School focus on how private sector resources can serve the public interest. And Stanford Graduate Business School runs a course on strategic philanthropy through its Center for Social Innovation.

Professor Nora Silver, director of the Center for Non-profit and Public Leadership at Haas School of Business, explained the details of a fellowship program forged through a partnership with the Packard Foundation, in which an MBA graduate participates in courses and development programs at both Haas and the Packard Foundation.

“From the foundation’s perspective, they want more diversity in the foundation world ”“ and not just ethnic or gender diversity but diversity of thinking and skills,” Silver says.

“My hope is that this will also enlighten the foundation as to what the MBA has to offer.”

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Registrants of the upcoming MBA Tour events in New York City and Washington D.C. will have a chance to win one of Stacy Blackman Consulting’s fantastic MBA essay guides. Once you’ve signed up for one of the events, email matthew@onqcommunications.ca with your full name, and you’ll be entered to win!


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