Tag Archives: Stanford GSB

The Little Story of the Business School and the Avocado

In my book MBA Admissions Strategy I offer the following advice: “Proofread to show your hunger” (that is, hunger for MBA admission, a real desire to be selected.)

Typographic or other careless errors in your text immediately clues Adcom in as to how (un)careful you were with your text, and this tells them not only how organized and detail-oriented you are but also how much you actually really care about your application to their particular school.

It also tells them whether you are a closer and finisher who nails things exactly, or a “glancing-blow” kind of guy.

In this sense MBA admissions works just like a resume you send out for a job. If there’s one error in it, eyebrows will be raised. Two errors and you’ve written yourself out of a job.

The longstanding ‘pet peeve’ across all Adcom readers is that the wrong school name often appears in the text. That is, Stanford GSB Adcom gets essays that say: “I would contribute to the peer learning environment at Wharton by …” Ouch.

The spellchecker will help you a bit, but is not foolproof. It will happily let you say your first mentor was your high school principle. It will not replace Booth with Tuck. Nor does it know that Haas is a business school while Hass is an avocado.

The tricky thing is that you, the essay-writing applicant, will battle to proofread your own work. Obvious errors will slip by undetected because your eyes will be focused (rightly) on content and message value delivery.

The MBA Admissions Studio does not offer a proofing service either, for the same reason. Proofreading should be done by someone who is seeing the essays for the first time, and who is tasked specifically with looking for errors, not reading for content or value.


Does Private Equity as a Career Goal Help or Hurt for MBA Admissions?

Among the clients I’ve had over the past three years, at a rough estimate I’d say about half came to me stating that (a career in) Private Equity was their Why-an-MBA goal. I could shake some from it, but not others.

This year again I’ve already seen a number of ‘PE applications’ and am fielding the question that inevitably comes with it: “Is PE a strong-enough goal? Is it too common?”

To answer this, and offer a perspective on career goal value for MBA admissions in general, let’s take a moment to look at PE.

In its simplest terms, Private Equity involves raising capital to be used by professional investors to buy into established but non-listed companies. The aim of the PE firm is to return significant returns to principal investors, which is achieved using the financial muscle or management expertise of the PE firm, or both, to grow the target firm or otherwise “release” its assets. The PE firm may need to be patient while its illiquid investment grows, but the idea is to cash out as soon as profit targets are met, take a part of the pile and return the rest to principal investors.

Is this good for MBA admissions?

It’s not terrible. PE is a necessary function in a modern capitalist economy, particularly in raising efficiencies and releasing value locked up in sclerotic firms, and it clearly demands many MBA skills. Certainly business schools have no problem with ambition, or you wanting to make money.

But it’s not great either, and to explain why it is necessary to consider what Admissions Committees like better, which is to have selected the true architects of tomorrow’s industries. They want the school to have formed and shaped the people who build the next truly great thing – in any sector. They want their alumni to be smiling down from the cover of Forbes or Fortune magazine, or your local equivalent. (This doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur. Any genuine leadership role works.)

If you don’t believe me, believe the cornerstone of the Knight Management Center, the new home of the Stanford Business School, which says:

‘Dedicated to the things that haven’t happened yet and the people who are about to dream them up’

This dedication tells you who will be admitted to Stanford GSB: the people who look most likely to dream up and the build the things that haven’t happened yet.

Why does Stanford GSB — and all the other top MBA programs — want to admit this kind of applicant?

Take your pick: thinking idealistically, it’s about contributing to the economy and the world in the best possible way. “Change Lives Change Organizations Change the World,” yada yada. Thinking a bit more cynically, it’s about branding because, if in 10 or 20 years time the school can point to you and say “alumnus 2015 who changed retail in America,” and point to the person next to you and say “alumna 2015 who built Logo-Tech into a worldwide franchise”… well that’s very good for the school.

Set against this, PE is relatively anonymous and opportunistic. You don’t achieve much more significant than personal wealth via PE, and if you end up on the cover of the financial magazines, it will almost certainty be for the wrong reasons.

A GMAT Reality Check

A client recently sent me this handy new utility from GMAC, purveyors of the GMAT, which allows test-takers to rate their score with reference to their cohort filtered by intended degree, age, gender, country, and so on.

If you try it you will be able to see how you stack up against the sub-group you are really competing against.

You may also take heart that the median is much lower than you think. True, this doesn’t help “GMAT paranoia” when you look at your elite school and find it has an average accepted GMAT of 720 and your score is 680…

For that you need to absorb what the schools keep telling us — once again here in a recent WSJ interview with Derrick Bolton Director of MBA Admissions at Stanford GSB — which is that the GMAT is only one among many factors that determine admission.

WSJ: “Do you check out the GMAT score and if it’s below a certain number, put that application aside?”

Bolton: “That would rob us of a lot of talent. The GMAT is helpful in terms of understanding how someone can perform in the first year, but that’s one small piece of the overall M.B.A.”

What would be nice, for the next iteration of this GMAC utility, would be the ability to check a box that shows the GMAT arc of accepted students at Stanford, or Harvard, or Tuck, etc. That arc would by definition show the 50% below the incoming median score, and how low incoming scores can be, and that would be reassuring to the many hundreds of applicants who will get into elite schools despite not being “GMAT geniuses.”

See also I Scored 700, Should I Retake? and The Myth of the 800 GMAT.