Business Schools

Stanford: Selective But Not Standardized


Admissions Director Derrick Bolton discusses what Stanford is looking for in an applicant—and dispels some myths about the admissions process

Snagging a seat at the Stanford Graduate School of Business is no easy feat. Over the past decade, the school has received between 4,000 and 7,000 applications annually for a class of 360 to 380 students, says Derrick Bolton, director of MBA admissions and assistant dean.

The school reports the middle 80% of GMAT scores range from 670 to 770. But, says Bolton, the long-held belief among candidates that they should not bother applying to Stanford with less than, say, a 720, especially if they're coming from certain regions or sectors with lots of applicants, is a myth. If Stanford has higher GMAT ranges than other business schools, than it is simply because the pool of applicants has higher GMAT scores, he says. Bolton encourages all applicants who feel they could be competitive to apply—regardless of their standardized test scores.

Bolton recently spoke with BusinessWeek.com reporter Francesca Di Meglio about the Stanford culture and application process. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

What is Stanford looking for in an MBA applicant?

There are three criteria we look for: Intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and personal qualities. We are looking for those three factors in trying to assess what kind of contribution this person will make to the Stanford community and how Stanford can help this person develop as a leader and make an impact on the world after graduation. Fundamentally, I think we're looking for people who have a real passion for the field of management and who are at a stage in life where they're willing to invest a couple of years in building their capabilities in an environment with the very best talent from around the world. We're really lucky to have a pretty strong pool of applicants, who are willing to come to this little Stanford campus and think a lot about themselves, not just about management but also about what their strengths are, what their development areas are, what kinds of leaders they want to be, and what kind of vision they have for themselves.

How would you describe the culture at Stanford to potential MBAs?

Culture is one of the things that is hard to discern from the outside. It really comes down to 1,000 little decisions that people are making every single day and those sum up into the culture. I think Stanford's MBA program truly is an "other-oriented" place, where people are not just focused on themselves but really do care about what their classmates are learning, how their classmates are achieving success, and the impact they can have on the world around them. Collaborative, honestly, is a really good descriptor of Stanford. But collaboration is such an overused word in business school now. [We're talking about] collaboration in support of individual achievement.

We're collaborative because we think collaboration enables each person in our community to learn the most. You can learn more as a student when your classmates are learning more, so we foster that kind of environment through the types of students we select, the types of students who select us, and the mechanisms on campus.

What kinds of things are you doing to promote diversity?

Diversity is such a loaded term. It comes with a whole set of meanings, depending on who hears that word. When we talk about diversity, we're talking about...

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