04. Stanford GSB Fact Pack

Previous article.

Stanford GSB Fact Pack – Findings of my DD on Stanford GSB. It’s an amazing school, here’s why. Hope this helps other current and future GSB applicants to make decisions and prepare the rationale.

I wrote this post in English to make it useful to my non-Russian-speaking friends. Some of them are applying / considering to apply to Stanford GSB. Hope English is not a problem for my Russian blog readers.

The fact pack consists of 2 parts

  1. General findings from open sources. All the things you can find online if you do a good search. Though reading this post will save your time, I recommend you do your own search as well. Tastes differ, and so do opinions on what matters. In my DD I might have skipped things that don’t matter to me but are important to you.
  2. Notes from interviews with GSB students and alumni. This is something you can’t easily find if you don’t have Stanford friends. I’m lucky to work in a well-connected company and to have opportunities to talk to these impressive people. To level up our opportunities, I share the finidings with you.

Naturally, all personally identifiable information has been removed from the interview notes. Whenever you see a name somewhere, it’s because it was mentioned in an open source, likely on the GSB website.

General findings from open sources

Evaluation criteria

(important for creating your story!!!):

Important to be yourself and do what you like – even if you don’t follow the conventional paths of success. Examples:

  • Robyn Sue Fisher,  CEO, Smitten Ice Cream, MBA2007
    Robyn had a successful career as a consultant in the biotech industry. But when her Stanford GSB professors encouraged her to become an entrepreneur, she decided to focus on a product she loved – ice cream. Now she’s finding sweet success running her own shop from a recycled shipping container in the hip Hayes Valley neighborhood.
  • Puneet Kumar (MBA ’14) “Stanford GSB has given me the courage and skills to follow my heart and pursue ideas I am passionate about.”

Building lasting connections

that will shape your personality and career. Examples:

  • The education you receive at Stanford GSB will empower you with the knowledge, skills, and long-term vision that lead to innovation and growth. And, you’ll build a powerful network of accomplished, inspiring colleagues that will continue to sustain you, long after your final class.
  • Irina Pavlova, President, Onexim Sports and Entertainment, MBA1997
    The network is the most important aspect of my education at Stanford GSB. Incredible opportunities have resulted from the relationships formed, the employment advice provided, and the close friendships built among my classmates.

Guest speakers:

Global Speaker Series and View from the Top (lots of VC and CEO speakers)

International and diverse student body, global perspective:

  • Our faculty teach management in the context of an international economy. Your awareness of global issues will be developed through coursework, international study trips, internships, or programs offered worldwide. Our programs draw applicants from around the world, so you will join an international student body that shares diverse insights and different perspectives.
  • 40% women, 40% international students
  • Class 2017 just 407 students from 53 countries
  • 296 organizations
  • 16% consulting, 16% PE/VC, 15% Tech, 13% Gov’t / Education / Non-profit

Personalized curriculum:

You will shape your academic experience to suit their interests. You can pursue coursework and experiential learning opportunities in specific areas such as leadership, communication, social innovation, and entrepreneurship.

First year curriculum:

general management perspectives, general management foundations, global experience requirement

  • Autumn (geared towards leadership and teamwork: General Management Perspectives): Ethics in Management, Financial Accounting, Leadership Labs, Managerial Skills, Managing Groups and Teams, Optimization and Simulation Modeling, Organizational Behavior, Strategic Leadership
  • Spring (general knowledge: General Management Foundations): Corporate Finance, Data Analysis and Decision Making, Human Resource Management, Information Management, Managerial Accounting, Managerial Finance, Marketing, Microeconomics, Operations, Strategy Beyond Markets

Second year curriculum:

lots of electives.

Selected ones:

  • OB 387. Redesigning Work for 21st Century Men and Women.
  • ACCT 354. Analysis and Valuation for Event-Driven Investing.
  • STRAMGT 367. Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation
  • FINANCE 385. Angel and Venture Capital Financing for Entrepreneurs and Investors.
  • FINANCE 381. Private Equity in Frontier Markets: Creating a New Investible Asset Class
  • GSBGEN 571. Becoming a Leader: Managing Early Career Challenges
  • GSBGEN 572. The Art of Damage Control.

Practical leadership programs:

Learn to coach and lead: reflect deeply on your capacities and improve them

  • Stanford GSB’s Initiative for Leadership Education and Development (I-LEAD) is designed to significantly increase the capacity of our MBA students in a different way. Our approach involves rigorous application of personal experiential testing, analysis, and reflection that unfolds in multiple steps, including formal classes (both required and optional) and structured, on-going coaching opportunities.
  • The Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program teaches second-year MBA students how to effectively develop others through coaching and mentoring of first-year students. This experiential program provides students with a wide range of tools to employ and adapt in learning how to lead different types of people today and in the future.
  • Leadership Labs (squads of students participate in simulations; urgency and ambiguity)
  • Interpersonal Dynamics: intimate groups of 12 students learn about themselves and the nuances of interpersonal dynamics, aided by Stanford-trained facilitators

Social innovation:

The curriculum provides students the opportunity to focus in domain areas such as the environment, international development, health care, and education.

  • Social innovation focuses attention on the ideas and solutions that create social value — as well as the processes through which they are generated, not just on individuals and organizations. (e.g. Charter Schools, Emissions Trading, Fair Trade)
  • Case “Good Ventures: The Power of Informed Decisions”.
  • Class “OIT 333: Design for Extreme Affordability”
  • Class “GSBGEN 393: Practicum in Applied Philanthropy: Achieving Impact from a Major Gift

Class “GSBGEN 507: Impact Investing in the United States and Other Developed Markets”

  • Stanford venture studio and Startup Garage
    Bastiaan Janmaat, MBA2013: The Venture Studio is a perfect example of Stanford GSB’s collaborative culture. Starting a business is really difficult – there are a lot of big challenges and nitty-gritty details. The Stanford Venture Studio puts the people who are facing these challenges in one room – I can turn to classmates for support, advice, and motivation.
  • Nearly 70 student organizations. A large number of student activities focus on broadening exposure to the entrepreneurship community and sharing ideas
  • Entrepreneur Club (E-Club)
  • STRAMGT 353: Entrepreneurship: Formation of New Ventures (w/ Andrew Rachleff and Mark Leslie, founder of Veritas)
  • STRAMGT 359: Aligning Start-ups with their Market
  • STRAMGT 354: Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital (taught by Peter Wendell)
  • OB 512: Creating, Building, and Sustaining Breakthrough Ventures
  • OB 581: Negotiations


ideal for spouse and kids:

Notes from interviews with GSB students and alumni

Interviewee #1

What do you think differentiated you from other applicants to GSB?

100% Essays. Other things need to be in line (recs, scores, etc) but essays are the deal makers or breakers. Now there is no “right” way of writing the essay. I’ve heard people talk about the obvious (family, faith, do good in the world) and the obscure (shoes, sports team, divorce) and both make it in. It is less to do about what you write, by how you write about it and the connection you build with your engagement on this piece.

My advice on this is 1) be yourself, think about how you fit into the question rather than how you can “game” the system and 2) get a friend who you know very well to review your essays, and ask them if that sounds like you (someone who is unafraid of calling BS). So take your time with the essays, it is one place you do not want to rush or mess up on. Specifically the “What matters to you most and why?” essay… it’s importance cannot be understated.

What were the most difficult questions they asked you at the interview?

“What is your biggest weakness?”

This can be difficult to honestly answer, but I told them what I thought my weakness was: I am very sensitive and can often do things because I think others want me to do them and not because I think it may be the best thing to do. I gave some examples of that both professionally and personally. We discussed it for a bit and it was an interesting discussion.

Honestly, it matters who is interviewing you too. It’s all random! I would start by having a conversation with yourself and seeing what your weaknesses are and then deciding what you’re comfortable sharing with an interviewer.

Why Stanford (back then and now)?

First, I chose GSB because I did not get in any other place! It’s crazy but that’s how the cookie crumbles. Even though I had stellar marks (730 GMAT, 3.8 GPA), work experience, extracurricular activities, and essays/recs. But that just goes to show you how random this process is. However, fortunate for me, Stanford was my top choice. So I was stoked when I got in. The reason why Stanford was my top choice is the they spend so much time focusing on who you are as a human being, what you stand for, and how to better interact with your own humanity that it resonated much more with me than some of the other schools. Let’s be honest though, any one of those schools will provide an amazing experience too. Reinforcing that is the Stanford culture which feels like one big family. Everyone hugs. Everyone is generous (not everyone but most) and it was a great atmosphere. That said, the class after my class is far less integrated than our class was, so I suppose it depends on your class too.


1. Interpersonal dynamics – an amazing class that teaches you about emotions and then gives you a space to try it out

2. Improv club – an amazing place where I learned to be more comfortable in discomfort

3. San Francisco – one of my favorite cities ever. It’s like living in an art gallery


1. Feelings trump facts – whenever people talk they would bring up feelings, which while are always valid it may not be entirely appropriate.

2. Overwhelming number of options – there’s too much to do, I became very overwhelmed by all the options to do things

3. Academics – was not nearly rigorous as I thought it would be

Interviewee #2

The application elements should form a complete puzzle.


Key part of the application, requires significant investment of time. Stanford GSB’s essays are unusual and require authenticity. You don’t need to link your answers to business (What matters most to you, and why?).

Show that you’ve done your homework:

  • Campus visits
  • Chats with current students and alumni
  • Study Stanford GSB website


Talk to recommenders to help them come up with relevant examples. Recommendation letters should complement the essays and the application overall.

Interviewee #3

Most important essay is “What matters most to you and why” — it’s been part of the application for decades.

Main objective should be to be genuine and let them get to know you through the essay. Don’t try to be “unique” at risk of being less genuine. I always recommend having people that know you best read it – regardless of whether they have any business / MBA perspective. The best essay feedback I got was from a close friend that’s a kindergarten teacher. A good essay is one where your closest friends and family read the essay and say “that’s so you.”

And for me, the essay took lots of drafts and iterations to get there. When I applied, there was also an essay about “why Stanford” and for that I think it’s important to be specific. I recommend talking to lots of alumni and admissions, etc, about what you’re interested in and what Stanford has to offer and how that compares with other schools.

Interviewee #4

What helped you write a successful essay?

Most important part of the application.

  • Time: take time to think and reflect on your past experience. Don’t try to figure out what the adcom wants to hear. Be yourself. Think deeply
  • Honesty: be honest and authentic. Do not exaggerate things. Be very open and honest

Share only with people who know me well. One specific question: “Does it sound like me?”

Most difficult question during interview?

Questions were very deep. 10-15 minutes going deeper and deeper on just one point (e.g. from resume).

E.g. talk to me about a time you worked in a team.

  • Then lots of “why?”
  • How did you make conclusions?
  • How did it make you feel?

Honesty and authenticity is checked. Prepare things you want to talk about during the interview and think them over

Why Stanford – back when you applied and now that you’ve graduated?

Wanted to go to Harvard or Stanford. Applied to S because it was a top school.

Extremely community-driven place. Care about people, feelings, relationships, diversity and building a very strong community. Partially driven by the class size, type of people, and school emphasis. Within 4 months at Stanford I felt like I knew everyone

Most interesting courses / activities?

  • Travel with classmates: a dozen trips or more. Short and long, local and international. Frequency and wide availability of opportunities is great. You get to visit lots of places and spend time with cool people and build relations
  • Recurring theme: small conversations with people from extremely different backgrounds (athlete, IBanker, ballet dancer). Tremendous learning experience in short time.

Interviewee #5

You did both MBA and MA Education. Why? How was your experience?

If you have an interest in education I would recommend both. Otherwise just do the straight MBA.  MA Education is not great from a content and teaching perspective relative to the MBA. However, it’s only a bit more work and you get another degree.

How would you advise to approach and work with recommenders?

Prioritze recommenders based on

  • Can they say you are the best person they have worked with out of XXX people and can answer questions that Stanford asks especially about a feedback story and
  • iDiversity (ideally you want one person outside your current employer provided they meet the first criteria as you want to show that you are more than just another consultant applying)

On working with them I’d suggest

  • Call a couple of your potential recommenders to align on criteria 1 above and then what would they talk about for each question
  • Send follow up email summarizing call and giving them your other essays
  • Give them at least 3 weeks to write it and then ask if you can review this (should clarify this upfront)

How did you prepare for interviews?

  • Bought a list of typical questions they ask at Stanford from one of the MBA consulting companies
  • Wrote up answers to all of these
  • Practiced in front of a mirror and recorded myself; practiced with friends who had been interviewed before

What is the most memorable thing about your Stanford experience?

  • People without a doubt. It’s cliché but I’ve made the most amazing friends. Talented, humble individuals who will change the world but are also dependable, wise friends and a lot of fun to hang out with.
  • Reflection: Two years away from the rat-race allows you to stop and think who are you as a person, what are your strengths, what matters to you, and what do you want to do with your life both professionally and personally.

Interviewee #6


  • Look at the application criteria (e.g.  leadership, communication etc) and then brainstorm what experiences and examples illustrate each of these.
  • Then map out how you will highlight these stories/experiences for each factor across the essays, resume, paper docs, and references. You should also figure out the two or three things that make you different to every other consultant applying, and weave this into your application. For me my three differentiating factors were: passion and experience in education, global experience, and implementation (versus straight consulting) experience.


Get a diverse set of referees and definitely one non-McKinsey. Most importantly though they should be able to confidently say that “Gideon is the best / or top X% of people I know”. Talk with them before they write your references so you can talk through the examples and factors they will emphasise. Give them at least 4 weeks to write the reference, and where appropriate suggest that you see a draft before they submit


Do it first as it is useful preparation for the essays.


Brainstorm a few options for the essays with people who have written MBA essays before. Then sit down with a bottle of wine and write the essays (not joking, I wrote my first draft on a long plane trip back from Brazil to London but then made the mistake of trying to perfect this draft). Quickly get your first draft read by some trusted friends/people as your first draft will need a lot of work regardless of whether you spend 1 hour or 10 hours on it. Also write your number one preference last as your writing gets better with each application.

Other paper work:

Go back to your story (base factors and differentiation factors) and see where your gaps are. This is a good opportunity to put things on paper that you could not fit on your resume.

Interviewee #7

What are the 3 most distinctive features of Stanford GSB?

  • Location in Silicon valley. Environment is very stimulating. Entrepreneurial mindset: classes, field trips. Professors are investors and early-stage entrepreneurs.
  • Small class size: 400. Small place, can’t do anything – easy to build community. E.g. Columbia – your own life + School. Stanford – only school, and it’s your life
  • Mindset of people: growing as human beings rather than just building careers.
    Self-perfection, learning about yourself
  • Quality of life: West Coast is amazing

What do all Stanford GSB students have in common?

  • Motivation and drive to deliver. But not delivering at any cost (cancel late call if it makes your life better). Share your class notes with classmates, don’t be hardcore.
  • Curiosity: students ask for follow-ups on your interesting comments in class. Reaching out is something we all had in common. Most folks I met I would happy to talk to for 2 hours

What was your favorite class at Stanford?

  • 2-week elective “Winning Writing”. Strong instructor (from NYT). Style, making things concise. Journalists give live feedback
  • Started a class in a specific industry and participated in it

What was your favorite activity?

  • Worked in Africa for several months – with president of Rwanda and other high-profile people
  • Second-year – off-campus in a house with 5 guys. Barbecues every week and lots of talks. Got to know several people really well. Intimate conversations with people and building relationships. Friends and acquaintances for the lifetime

Interviewee #8

What is your background?

BA in Physics, 3 years as analyst in an IT company, 3 years in consultancy. My strengths: quantitative undergrad with GPA close to 4.0, 760 GMAT (crucial for foreigners), refenrece letters from 2 top business school alumni.

What is the best way to present yourself to the adcom?

Leverage international experience if you have lots of it (e.g. when you studied in Italy, lived in Minnesota, etc.). Highlight that your MSc was heavy math lifting

How many Russians does Stanford GSB admit each year?

2-3 people. Can be guys only (no girls rare but possible).

Essay & Application

Writing is very difficult. Make the essays your top priority. Show them to as many qualified people as possible. Ideally show CV + essays together. Make it a weekly practice. Start with preparing essays for your second-priority school as your writing gets better over time. MBA consultants are helpful but not essential.

Check out the online application form in advance as its many questions take time.

Key strengths of Stanford GSB?

  • People. Stanford invests heavily in selecting the best of the best and does a great job there.
  • Welcoming West Coast environment
  • Academics. First quarter was less interesting as it took time to get used to participation. Second quarter – many electives, very interesting. Electives are usually taught by impressive professors
  • Guest speakers: CEO Mastercard, CEO HP, George Roberts

Cost of the MBA program

USD 200k+. Lots of travel with peer pressure to participate. Student loans are accessible even to international students (6.5% interest for 20 years).

Next steps after GSB?

  • Ideal for people with entrepreneurial aspirations . Lots of classes on entrepreneurship with great people. Lots of resources supporting startups right in GSB. Stanford Accelerator

Interviewee #9

What do you think makes an applicant’s profile distinctive?

  • GMAT should be good. As long as you hit 700, you are fine.
  • Grades in undergrad are important.
  • With McKinsey, you should have a few people who will support your application (for recommenders). Recommendation letters are important. You should know what they are writing about. But you shouldn’t write yourself.
  • Essay: want your story and what you want out of your life. Genuine and clear about what you want. GSB wants different types of students

Why Stanford?

  • Stanford class size is small – you get to know your classmates well
  • Silicon Valley: opportunity in entrepreneurial environment. At Stanford, you are part of entrepreneurial community. And it is very concentrated
  • Stanford is non-judgemental: do whatever you want to do (even if it’s stupid and funny). No traditional environment needed.
  • Stanford is good in interdisciplinary stuff. GSB is close to other schools (engineering, education, etc.) You can do classes outside GSB and meet people from there. Meeting students from other departments

What was your most interesting experience at Stanford GSB?

Travelled 2-3 times with classmates. It was fun. Study trip to Cambodia

Got back to shape, gym and running.

GSB drama shows: fun

Talk: every week 2 GSB students talk about their life experiences

* * *

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