Create Your Winning Stanford GSB Application

Stanford GSB application

So many MBA applicants dream of attending the Stanford Graduate School of Business. And who can blame them? Whether it’s the balmy California weather, exciting Silicon Valley startups, or the university’s prestige, the list of reasons why B-school aspirants have the GSB in their sights is long indeed. But what does it take to get in? Today, we’re exploring the Stanford MBA experience and how to create a winning Stanford GSB application through a Q&A with SBC consultant/GSB alum Alex.

In addition to his MBA, Alex also earned an international global management certificate at the GSB. Over the years, he has remained involved with the GSB through several executive education classes. Additionally, Alex has volunteered to do undergraduate admissions interviews with Stanford for the last five-plus years.

Outside of his admissions consulting work, Alex has had a distinguished international career in the high-tech industry, focusing on product management, marketing, business development, and alliance management. If the GSB is on your radar, you won’t want to miss this insider perspective Alex originally shared on the B-Schooled podcast!

Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

What is unique about the Stanford GSB?

Alex: There are several exceptional aspects of the program. First, due to its proximity to Silicon Valley, the school provides unique perspectives on entrepreneurship and fantastic connections to VCs in the area. It also attracts influential speakers from some of the world’s leading companies. 

Second, unprecedented access to the other world-class schools at Stanford, such as the School of Design, is so critical to creating a well-rounded entrepreneur. And the new Doerr School of Sustainability will also provide a big draw.  

And third are the classes, like the famous “touchy-feely,” also known as Interpersonal Dynamics. It’s one of the most popular Stanford GSB courses that helps students connect with their inner selves and become more effective and empathetic leaders.

Lead Labs is a relatively new offer. It compliments “touchy-feely” well in that it helps students develop themselves as better leaders by being part of a group that helps them meet their objectives, such as, for example, developing better communication skills or other soft skills. It pushes students to get out of their comfort zone, which is essential to develop themselves better.

And finally, Talk is a weekly event at GSB where two students are chosen out of many weekly applicants. It’s prestigious to speak to a large auditorium filled with their peers and share something typically personal about themselves, the hardships they overcame, the challenges they faced, and so on. Like the other two offerings I mentioned, it pushes students out of their comfort zone, helping them grow and develop as better leaders, better colleagues, and, ultimately, better citizens of the world.

Finally, the small class size (431 in the class of 2025) is unique among top-tier schools. Students can indeed bond and establish solid partnerships and connections.

Are you curious about your chances of getting into Stanford GSB? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant.

Stanford GSB application

What are some cool newer aspects of the program?

Alex: The school is evolving all the time! GSB has introduced Lean Launchpads in the famous startup garage. Students must apply to get in, and like everything else at GSB, it’s competitive. If you get accepted, you get to work on your product. GSB also now offers internships where you receive something like $5,000 to launch your startup versus going to a formal internship over the summer.

GSB has added a lot more quant classes. They’re also heavy on ethics requirements and continue to work in that area. On the academic side, there’s a big push for strong Excel skills, and now, a Python class is offered. Many quant methods are taught; some are very sophisticated and technical stuff that has intensified over the years. 

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #178: Lessons Learned…with Stanford MBA Student/Former SBC Client Whitney

Many people do joint degrees, such as the very popular education degree with an MBA. Climate tech and energy have also been hot lately because of the new Doerr School of Sustainability. A joint Masters in Climate adds a quarter or two to the length of your studies so students can take two internships. They’re there over the second summer, and many people find that helpful as well.

What do students do for fun outside of class? 

Alex: Every week, they have the beer-drinking club FOAM, which stands for Friends of Arjay Miller (a famous former GSB dean). The top 10% of the students are named Arjay Miller Scholars at the end of two years. So, FOAM is a play on that very great humor where friends of Arjay Miller are people who “party more,” meaning they are not Arjay Miller Scholars—they’re out having fun and enjoying themselves. Then you have the weekly Beer Pong for Leaders event, or BPL. Many folks go to the weekly Talk series, which I mentioned earlier. 

We also have a popular event called Section Olympics right after the last midterm for the first quarter, where different athletic activities take place. People also do a lot of coffee chats. And some do as many as two or three a day where you put half an hour on somebody’s calendar and go and grab a coffee with them. So, lots of networking takes place. It’s a great way to meet people and get to know them better in an informal atmosphere. 

Some people go to the city on weekends as San Francisco is nearby. But Palo Alto does offer a lively scene. It has a terrific golf course where Tiger Woods used to play, which is a big draw for many people.

 Small group dinners are extremely popular, with five or six people getting together to get to know each other better. Also, many students come to GSB with significant others. And so, weekends are often spent catching up with them and getting caught up on rigorous classwork. Most activities center around Palo Alto, as students are quite busy. 

What about student clubs?

Clubs are not the primary focus of GSB. There’s FinTech and crypto, of course. Venture capital clubs are popular, especially in the last few years. Those have been the hot topics, and the people who run those clubs bring in terrific speakers. But there’s not a whole lot more behind the club scene. 

There’s also the Stanford Impact Fund, which is quite prestigious. A lot of people apply, and many get rejected. So again, it’s pretty competitive. There’s a VC fund that does a lot of impact investing. Students run it, and people from the class can contribute capital to support founders from GSB via some of these funds. So, it’s competitive and fun, and it helps you grow. And it adds to the overall fabric of the school.

What is the Stanford GSB AdCom looking for in applicants?

Alex: Without a doubt, outstanding academic and professional experience are critical to the Stanford GSB application. But they are looking for big thinkers and dreamers with a proven record of accomplishment. That means people who want to impact society, not just achieve some narrow personal success. These are people looking to change the world for the better, society, their environment, etc. 

Diversity is also very much appreciated, as is uniqueness. This ability to stand out from the crowd is critical. A powerful personal story, especially if it’s unique and has an interesting background, really stands out and helps add to the class diversity. That can be effective in increasing your chances of getting in.

People think if their GMAT or GPA stats are below average, they have no chance—and that’s not true. Stanford GSB looks at applications holistically, and other vital factors come into play. They’re looking for individuals who will add to class diversity and strength. Unique, powerful stories that are well-written and well-put together can significantly impact admissions.

Let’s talk about the two main Stanford GSB essays. The first—What matters most to you and why—causes applicants much anxiety. 

Alex: In the first essay, really dive into the why, not the what. Many people tend to retell their resume and retell the application, and that’s the wrong approach. Stanford wants to understand what drives and motivates you, what makes you tick, and what the inflection points in your life have been. Why did you do what you did that you’ve shown on the resume? That’s critical. The other vital point is to connect the first essay to the second one in a way that flows well together and tells a comprehensive story. 

Make sure your story is believable, credible, and consistent. Does AdCom believe this person can do this? Whatever the goals they’ve set, are they credible based on their background? Is it consistent with what they’ve said in their Stanford GSB application and the resume, as well as what they’ve done in their life? Those are essential factors. 

Go in-depth with SBC’s expert tips for the Stanford MBA Essays

As for essay two—Why Stanford—really study the program and go into the specifics of why GSB. Don’t give generic answers where if you substituted Harvard or Wharton or Columbia in there, someone could say, well, that could apply to any of those schools. Talk to the alums. Take the time to understand the courses that GSB offers, the professors who teach there, and the unique aspects of the program. And finally, strong, outstanding, unusual writing helps to catch the reader’s attention and truly stand out.

Stanford GSB application

How does Stanford GSB handle interviews? What are they looking for during those interviews?

Alex: If you’re lucky enough to get an interview, congratulations—that’s a great accomplishment! Alums conduct the interviews at Stanford, which are cordial, polite, and conversational. They’re not out to get you. They’re looking for another data point to help the outcome and make that ultimate decision. And remember, it’s just one data point in the overall Stanford GSB application, which the AdCom evaluates holistically. So, it’s not a make or break; it’s just another data point. 

It’s essential to connect with the interviewer on a personal level to establish that report. Make sure to have good questions for the interviewer. Get familiar with their background, as it will help establish a personal connection. It’s essential to present yourself well and provide specific examples based on specific behavioral questions that you’re likely to be asked. 

And, of course, be quite familiar with GSB and everything it offers and tie it in well to your MBA goals. 

Are you doomed if you have an off day and feel like you didn’t present your best self in the interview?

Alex: The interview is important, but it’s one of many criteria. A bad day doesn’t help, but it doesn’t necessarily disqualify someone. So, you want to be prepared and do well. But again, it’s one of many different criteria. Many people don’t realize that once you’ve gotten to an interview, the AdCom thinks you belong. You can handle the program’s rigor and are an interesting candidate, so you’re almost there. Be confident and don’t be too anxious about it because they already think you could belong.

What Stanford GSB application advice do you have for future applicants?

Alex: First, talk to as many alums as you can get your hands on. Pick their brain in terms of what they like, what got them in, their experiences, and any advice they have. Also, research the school to find out what makes it unique and if it’s the right choice for you. Evaluate your profile realistically to understand if GSB is the right fit and how you stack up compared to the typical applicant at GSB. 

Don’t miss: Stanford MBA Acceptance Rate, Deconstructed

Stats are not everything. Do you have a uniquely powerful story to share? Is there a lot of diversity in your background? Think about all those factors: family, your friends, etc. Ensure you have enough bandwidth to apply to GSB, as it’s the hardest of all the programs.

Unless you can put in the required effort, it’ll be tough to create a GSB-caliber application that will increase your chances of getting in. I see many candidates who think they can slap something together and expect to get into GSB. That never works because the AdCom can see right through it. So, you must be able to devote sufficient bandwidth to do it right. Otherwise, your chances of admission decrease significantly.

Thank you, Alex, for sharing your tips for the Stanford GSB application and your thoughts on what makes this coveted program so special! 

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Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership and Interview Prep to hourly help with essay editing, resume review, and much more! Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Stanford GSB and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Erin, who was Assistant Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) and Director of MBA Admissions at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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