Who gets into Stanford GSB?

So I'm feeling discouraged after learning that a mentor of mine was rejected from Stanford GSB. He did 2 years of MBB consulting (tech-focused), 2 years of PE at a MF (but was not a finance undergrad), had a great gmat/gpa, has a unique background, and is well-rounded.

He got into wharton, but was rejected from HBS and GSB.

I'm particularly interested in GSB given its small class size. How the hell do you make it as one of the 5% to get in? A large portion of their class consists of ppl with PE/banking/consulting backgrounds, so I'm wondering what differentiated those that broke in.

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Comments (27)

May 20, 2020 - 10:00am

Not sure what you mean by unique background but I'd imagine everyone that gets in has some level of EC that distinguishes them from the typical Consulting / Banking -> PE cookie cutter path.

Side hustles / businessmen / immense volunteer efforts / etc. generally tend to make you stand out. I don't have any targeted insight but that would be my best guess.

May 20, 2020 - 10:37am

Well, let's look at the inputs. Transcript, resume, GMAT, interview, essays and recommendations. Sounds like he had first 3 nailed, but one or more of latter 3 didn't stand out enough from pack. Those are the differentiators when you have a vanilla background like that. Not discounting how smart and hard working your mentor is, that is just the reality.

Also, Stanford weights essays (your story, essentially) and propensity for collaboration (for undergrads and GSB) based on what friends from there have told me.

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
May 20, 2020 - 10:41am

A friend of mine was a dual admit to GSB and HBS (he chose GSB). He is truly exceptional. Doesn't matter if you go to GS -> Blackstone with a 760 gmat. They can find plenty of smart, driven ppl across all industries and backgrounds.

Stanford makes a big deal about candidates having an "x-factor". They look for natural leaders who are literally going to change the world. Yes, pedigree, brand names, etc carry a lot of weight. But they want people that excel in every role that they have.

That means you can't just be the guy who got into Blackstone, you have to be the guy who stood out at Blackstone (while saving the white rhinos in your "off-time".

May 20, 2020 - 10:55am

As people have said, you need to find someway to standout beyond just being a good achiever at work. Your friend got bucketed into the standard blue chip finance pool, think of all the other MF PE kids that were applying.

Stanford is a class of ~400 or so right? They take ~20% of kids from PE/VC/Investment Management, so 80 total and let's say the PE/VC are a larger pool than IM, so ~60 slots in between the two.

A number of seats will be soft reserved for the funds that have a strong relationship with the school, so a few from each of the MFs will make it, then you have to service the UMM, and then there's the unique ones that might have started their own firm, or had some sort of unique investing experience.

From people I've talked to, applicants, students, admission consultants, they all say that Stanford tends to be the biggest crapshoot. I've heard anecdotally that Stanford is the hardest to predict in terms of who gets accepted, meaning, there are people on paper who look like great fits (like your friend) that get rejected and others that look like long shots that get in.

I wouldn't try too hard to optimize perfectly for Stanford. In general, be a high achiever across the board, try and do a strong extra curricular or two that have some personal ties to you, and build a narrative as to why Business School and why Stanford specifically will help you achieve your goals. Other than that, there's not much else you can do.

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May 20, 2020 - 11:03am

Last point is key.

I doubt anyone at GSB got in because they planned out their path to GSB.

They are just high achievers that went into good career paths, did what they loved, and spent all their extra time leading / cultivating relationships / learning / just general enrichment. They just happened to then want to get an MBA and thereby self selected into the HBS / GSB glass.

You don't kick ass to get into GSB... you kick ass... period... and those are the people that GSB looks for among their applicants.

May 20, 2020 - 12:55pm

FinancelsWacc is quite accurate, and frankly I noticed that fact when applying this year for applicants from HBS, GSB, Wharton, and to a lesser extent Sloan when compared to CBS, Kellogg, Booth, and the rest of the top 10-15 programs.

I had a 770 GMAT, solid GPA from a top 10 UG, good work experience, and I knew I had no prayer at GSB. What separates someone like me from someone who gets into H/S is passion for a given industry or cause coupled with leadership and accomplishments. Sure, if you go HYPSW->GS/MS/MBB->MF PE and have a 3.8+/770+, you have a great chance at H/S regardless and a certain % of those will get in, contingent on good essays, recs, and interview. But they're still not a lock, and so many (if not most) of those who do get into H/S have that extra factor of exceptional leadership, accomplishments in relation to their passions, and, candidly, diversity factors (race, gender, country of origin, or even work experience).

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 21, 2020 - 1:25am

Not to discount how selective GSB is but aren't you exaggerating a bit when you say you didn't have a prayer with that background? if you're a traditional IB/PE background, how much room for differentiation is there even besides a few small extracurriculars/volunteering. Your job doesn't leave enough time for you to sink a lot of time into other things

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
May 21, 2020 - 1:45am

There's a lot more room for differentiation than you think. Differentiation could be anything from having a unique background or challenge that you had to overcome to founding a non-profit in undergrad that you continue to advise.

It is definitely hard to continue to devote yourself to different pursuits when working 80 hours a week, but not impossible. Again, which is why those who make it in are a different breed. You can't just be the finance guy. You need to be way more well rounded than that. And creating that type of profile begins far before you get into banking or PE

May 21, 2020 - 8:58am

No, I am not an IB/PE guy--work in a totally different industry. That being said, I do "strategic" work for my firm and so in talking to admissions consultants/colleagues, it became clear I was being bucketed with either the MBB guys or maybe even PE guys in some cases. My job looks less competitive than theirs, and when you couple that with no great leadership story and nothing truly exceptional about my stats (probably about average for a white male at these schools), there's nothing really differentiating me against that guy who went top UG->MBB/IB/PE with some additional "it" factor.

Thought I had a very remote chance at HBS because I've worked with our CEO (F500 company) who's an alum and had him write me a strong rec, and for Wharton I had a family friend who's a chaired prof write me an additional rec, and I had a competitive profile for them anyway. Didn't get an interview at either, disappointingly. I didn't bother to apply to GSB, but all these facts considered, I don't think I had >1% chance unless there were some fluke.

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
May 20, 2020 - 1:44pm

I have a few friends who got into GSB and I'll be attending HBS. Echoing what some of the people above mentioned, Stanford, seems to especially consider your passions and your commitment to making a difference.

The people who I know that have been admitted all were very involved in the communities they were interested in, had patterns of leadership that dated back to high school, and were extremely intelligent and driven. Also important to note that while they are all absurdly successful, they are also very humble and genuinely good people. With a class of HBS is very similar in the sense that they want well-rounded and exceptional candidates. However, you can't get lucky and get into GSB if you're not 100% qualified. I will admit that I have seen some peers get into HBS that made me scratch my head lol. Understandable given the larger class sizes, I guess.

  • Prospect in 
May 20, 2020 - 6:18pm

One other thing that I don't think has been mentioned is that MBA programs care about why an applicant wants an MBA, how they will make use it, and how those goals fit into their programs. I would guess that Stanford cares about that even more than HBS and Wharton, given the smaller class size and the amount of students that enter entrepreneurship straight out of school.

May 21, 2020 - 12:06am

Stanford GSB wants yes outstanding academics, but they just as much want people of initiative and impact. The people who have started things that make your jaw drop and who have had an impact on their communities/jobs are the ones that have a better chance of getting in.

In addition, the head of admissions at Stanford has a PhD in leadership. It's not just enough to be a nice person, who has done a few good things, and checked boxes. She's looking for more.

Also, as I just said in another post, at the recent AIGAC meeting it was clear that Stanford adcom is very focused on "building a class." and that means a class with different and rich experiences and perspectives, backgrounds and ambitions. Obviously they're all going to business schools so there is going to be some commonality, but somehow you have to show that you have a distinctive hue to contribute to the mosaic the adcom is creating.

And again, initiative is key. And luck certainly helps.

You might be interested in https://reports.accepted.com/mba/webinar/stanford-graduate-school-of-business-webinar

Linda Abraham President, Accepted | Contact Me | Admissions Consulting
  • 8
May 21, 2020 - 2:12pm

To echo what others have mentioned above, an 'x-factor' is needed - particularly in non-profit/volunteering. A search of 'MBA Candidate at Stanford GSB' on google resulted in the following first page results:

  • D1 athlete at H/Y/P -> Engineering at Tesla + launched Non-profit focused on clean energy
  • IB -> VC but also founded a branch in a new city for a tutoring company in undergrad
  • GE Engineer who was admitted after reapplying (had been rejected year before - scores/career didn't change but he 'adjusted' his resume and essays to each school). Story was covered by Poets & Quants
  • International candidate with a background in economics/engineering
  • Consultant with undergraduate initiatives overseas for Amnesty International, etc.
  • VC/ex-professional athlete in an obscure sport

You get the point. This reminded me of this parody op-ed from the NYT a few years back:

"We had exceptional applicants, yes, but not a single student we couldn't live without," said a Stanford administrator who requested anonymity. "In the stack of applications that I reviewed, I didn't see any gold medalists from the last Olympics - Summer or Winter Games - and while there was a 17-year-old who'd performed surgery, it wasn't open-heart or a transplant or anything like that. She'll thrive at Yale."


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  • 5
May 21, 2020 - 2:17pm

Don't let it get to you too much. In the grand scheme of things it seriously doesn't matter if you "only" got into Wharton or HBS lol.

  • Analyst 2 in PE - LBOs
May 21, 2020 - 8:12pm

GSB is incredibly competitive, especially for those coming out of finance. Think about it, all of the amazing candidates at top funds apply to both HBS and GSB. But GSB takes half as many people.

You also get bucketed with all of the other finance applicants where the average gpa and gmat is much higher than most other buckets, and everyone has solid brand names, undergrad institutions, and recommendations. It gets very, very hard to stand out amongst a crowd like that. I've had peers who were incredibly accomplished and spent time at top firms that didn't even get GSB interviews. The finance guys that I know who have gotten in were truly cut from a different cloth.

It's humbling to think about. Sure, your mentor was impressive and well-accomplished. But I bet there was someone like him who was ALSO an All-American student-athlete, or a Navy Seal, or a Rhodes Scholar, or grew up in a 3rd-world country.... you get the point

  • Intern in IB - Gen
May 21, 2020 - 8:33pm

Do you know what some of the other buckets are that one could try to pivot into that would make them stand out more? Non-profit is the only I can think of. Consulting, STEM/Engineering, and Internationals are some of the other buckets that I can think of but they would be just as competitive as high finance. Also, not looking into joined the military at this point.

And wow, just looked it up, a little under half of students are internationals at Stanford, that's a huge amount of the class.

  • Analyst 2 in PE - LBOs
May 21, 2020 - 8:55pm

I'm no expert, but trying to do a last-minute pivot into a bucket that you think admissions finds more attractive is probably a bad idea. For example - you can't just all of a sudden try to convince GSB that you're passionate about mentoring underserved youth. If that were truly your passion, it'd fit into your story and there'd be evidence of it in your actions over the past several years. They probably see right through that.

In response to the other question about being "cut from a different cloth." - I meant that the finance admits I know were really exceptional, and have been throughout their entire lives. They had incredible stories - overcoming hardships, traveling overseas to help communities they were passionate about, founding non-profits, serving as absurdly active members of the community (in college and in career), class presidents, etc. And on top of those things, they were clearly standout associates at top firms

  • VP in PE - LBOs
May 21, 2020 - 9:55pm

Not to get too cynical here, but GSB is also notorious for "relationship" admits. There are a handful of firms (or individuals at firms) that have pretty significant influence on the process. This isn't to say every single candidate from a given firm will get in, but certain firms will see a disproportionate number of otherwise "ordinary" candidates get in. When you have a class of 400 with only 80 or so spots available for finance kids, this ends up making up a fairly large proportion of admits.

  • Associate 1 in PE - LBOs
May 21, 2020 - 10:15pm

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  • Intern in IB - Gen
May 21, 2020 - 10:24pm

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