Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Stanford GSB Event in NYC

As promised here's the scoop from the NYC Stanford event held Monday night. No refreshments or socializing beforehand, which was just as good since I got to the event 2 minutes before it started. Format of the event was about 40 minutes or so presentation about the program from the man himself, Mr. Derrick Bolton, followed by about an hour alumni panel, then another 45 minutes from Derrick on admissions. A lot of the info on the program and admissions was right off the website, but here are some nuggets of info I jotted down:

  • The program presentation was oriented around the 4 themes of the Stanford MBA program: personalized education, innovative learning, global & social impact, and collaborative community. He spent a lot of time in the first two areas talking about the new curriculum. I won't go into detail here since it's all on the website.
  • He mentioned a few times (and alumni reinforced the message) that innovative faculty research makes its way into the classroom, giving Stanford students an edge on the market since they see it first.
  • Heavy focus on "leaving a legacy" and being a force for positive change in the world. He also mentioned here the loan forgiveness program, for people who take jobs in the public or not-for-profit sector, and also the Stanford Management Internship Fund, which subsidizes internship income (up to the median of all students' internship income) for people who do summer internships in the public or not-for-profit sector. The loan forgiveness sounded similar to other schools, but I think the SMIF is unique.
  • He mentioned briefly the Global Management Program certificate, and the Public Management Program certificate, and said that each program gets about 25% of the students in any year.

At that point the alumni panel started (6 alumni, mostly in finance post-MBA). Their main points were:

  • A few alumni talked about the great opportunities and support for entrepreneurial ventures while at Stanford (one of the alumni was CEO of a startup menswear company). They said beyond support, it is possible to get academic credit for working on a startup venture, and that culturally entrepreneurs were looked up to as superstars.
  • All of the alumni had gone through the program before the new curriculum, so unfortunately they couldn't give insight on it. But, they did talk about how the curriculum is fluid and students have an opportunity to influence courses or to create new ones with faculty support.
  • In response to the "Why Stanford" question, the answers were all about the culture (more empathetic and collaborative people than other schools) and small class size (about 7-1 student to faculty ratio).

Most of the other questions focused on whether it matters if you don't have a finance background (it doesn't) and whether it matters if you're earlier in your career (it doesn't). People seemed to be asking questions that were already answered earlier, which got a bit frustrating. After the alumni panel, we went back to Derrick for some admissions info. Again, not too much that wasn't on the website, but here's some bits he added about the application:

  • Pay attention to the wording of the essay questions. They pick the words for a reason, and omit words for a reason. There is a big difference between asking "career vision", "aspirations" and "post-MBA plans". Hint: Stanford's use of the word "aspirations" means that could be both inside and outside work.
  • For Essay A, he mentioned the Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford where he talked about connecting dots. Derrick used that as an example of the type of reflection they're looking for in this essay (but obv. not meant as a template for applicants to use).
  • For Essay B, he said they're not just looking for a 5-year career plan. Again, they're trying to understand what is important to you, inside and outside of work, and how Stanford can support those goals. He also made the point that they know your career progression from other parts of the application (i.e. resume) so don't spend too much time in the essays restating that.
  • For the short-answer essays, they're looking for specific anecdotes, both at what you did but equally important on the impact the experience had on you and the people/organisations around you.
  • With regard to interviews, they expect to interview between 800-1200 applicants, with a target class size of 400-500. The interviews are behavioral (again trying to get to know you), are just one piece of the application that they look at so they influence the decision more for some than others, are largely (95%) done by alumni, and are blind (the interviewer only has your CV, which you send them, and will not have seen your application).
  • The winner of the stupidest question I've ever heard in my life was the guy who asked Derrick whether they coordinated their deadlines and decision notification dates with other business schools, or whether it was just coincidence that the dates were the same as another school. There was actually an audible groan from the audience when he asked that.

My overall impression was very positive. You definitely got the strong sense of innovation from the presentations and alumni panel and it's definitely a top-notch program. One thing that left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth though was the repeated references to their "competitors in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago". At the HBS event, they never once mentioned other schools and why they think what they're doing is better than other schools. They just talked about HBS. Here, they kept saying that X at Stanford is better/more exciting than HBS, Wharton or Chicago. My feeling is that if you're confident in what you're doing and it really is better, you shouldn't have to say it, people will see it for themselves. I know it's just a minor thing, and certainly wouldn't affect my decision regarding the school, but if I could have changed one thing it would have been that.

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