Episode 3 in our Big Brand Theory Series for MBA applicants: Stanford GSB’s motto.
Who wouldn’t want to change lives, change organizations, and change the world? Right? For Episode 3 in our Big Brand Theory series, I set out to prove that Stanford GSB admits, transforms and graduates students who accomplish great feats. I wanted to demonstrate that Stanford GSB students, faculty and graduates lived GSB’s brand.
I’ve always been a big proponent of Stanford GSB (even when they had classrooms and desks that reminded me of my high school). Regardless of their old environs, the Knight Center makes their facility live up to their students and their program.
I love the vibe when I walk onto Stanford’s campus. I love the fact that their students have infinite access to Silicon Valley. I love that the faculty turns their electives over so frequently that the course catalogue reads like a fresh new book each year. I love the questions Derrick Bolton asks on his application. In fact, I love Derrick (don’t tell my husband). I do believe Derrick has done a great job in selecting some of the smartest people I know. My clients who have gained admission to Stanford surprise me with their intelligence, talent, accomplishments and ideas. They are futurists who can see beyond the horizon, but they still need me to plant the seed for their ideas to grow into great essays and interviews. Regardless, I love my clients too (my husband already knows that fact).
Stanford GSB Alumni: Famous and Infamous
However, when I looked at Stanford GSB’s list of “notable” alumni, I only saw a handful of game changers. The list is similar to those I see at other schools with notable founders, CEOs and investors like GM’s first female CEO, Mary Barra, Acumen Founder Jacqueline Novogratz, Charles Schwab of Charles Schwab, Nike’s Phil Knight, Ultra-investor Vinod Kosla, Atari’s Nolan Bushnell, KPCB’s Brook Byers; notable authors like Tom Peters and Jim Collins; and “famous celebrities” like Alex Michel (Alex Michel, really? Do “reality” TV participants count as celebrities? More importantly, does anyone really watch The Bachelor?).
Stanford has also has its share of CEOs and a handful of leaders who have been heavily criticized like former BP CEO, Lord John Browne who was forced to resign, not because BP’s Texas City, Texas plant exploded under his watch or because he commissioned Deepwater Horizon that also forced his successor’s resignation, but because a newspaper “outed” him when he lied under oath about his boyfriend/male escort. Lord Brown cut costs for financial gains and as a result, he changed BP and also the Gulf of Mexico.
Go Deep and Authentic for What Matters to You Most
So how can you present the fact that you will change the world for the better? Stanford asks two questions that I know Derrick and his team really take to heart. My clients typically struggle with “What matters most to you and why?” The latter part of this question being equally, if not more important that the former. This question requires a tremendous amount of introspection and if done well should show that you have the heart to change the world.
It requires you to know yourself at a very personal level and share that self-awareness with an admissions committee. It’s not easy, and the best essays I’ve seen on this topic have knocked the wind out of me. Several have made me cry. It is a dig deep into your soul question. Derrick is a very smart and authentic individual, and he wants to get to know what drives you.
I begin brainstorming this question with clients by asking them for what they would give their life. At that point, you already know it will be an intense brainstorm. Often I hear, “family” or “helping others,” which can fall into the trap of discussing work. I ask my clients to frame this into a one- word value, and then I begin to peel away the layers until we find something deep and raw and revealing. After this digging, my clients also understand why they feel this value is most important to them.
Most of those clients have gained admission to Stanford GSB. Some have not. The application is a complete picture and while you have revealed something raw to the committee, you may have other flaws in your application.
Why Stanford: Reveal the Capacity to Effect Change
Or you may not demonstrate in your “Why Stanford?” essay that you have already or have the capacity to change lives, change organizations, and yes, change the world. If the first question is about heart, the second question is about intent and ability. Do you intend to initiate change and have the talent to make it happen?
You really do need to think beyond the horizon for Stanford and make certain that you know why you need the Stanford MBA for you to create change: Jacqueline Novogratz did it; Vinod Kosla did it; and of course, Phil Knight did it. You just need to “just do it” like them. Swoosh.
By Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, an accomplished Accepted consultant/editor (since 2008) and entrepreneur. Natalie is a former MBA Admissions Dean and Director at Ross, Johnson, and Carey.