Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Where did you go to business school?
Erik: First of all, I’m a bit older than the typical MBA student. I’m in my early 40s and have nearly 20 years of experience in product management, project management and operations in telecom, data centers and corporate IT. I’ve spent about half my career in Silicon Valley and the other half in Northern Virginia – so the two primary schools I was interested in were UVA / Darden and Stanford GSB.
I did my undergrad (BS Economics) as well as a masters degree (MS Information Systems) at George Washington University in Washington DC. I just graduated (2014) from the Stanford MSx program (previously known as the Sloan Fellows program). It is a full-time one-year program for experienced professionals. The summer / fall quarters are spent taking mostly core classes (like an MBA 1st year) and the winter / spring quarters are mostly electives (like an MBA 2nd year).
Accepted: What’s the difference between Stanford Sloan and Stanford’s MSx degree?
Erik: Same thing… The Sloan program has almost 60 years of history as a degree program for experienced professionals. The program has changed significantly in the last few years to make the curriculum more flexible and incorporate the opportunity for many more electives than in years past. It is a 4-quarter full-time degree program, so Stanford doesn’t like to call it an EMBA – so students are not able to continue work while taking classes, but many students (approx 30%) are sponsored by their employers.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Stanford? And if you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Erik: That is a huge question! My favorite thing about Stanford has to be the optimism – the students all expect to be doing great things some day. People don’t come to Stanford just to slowly climb into middle management. The GSB motto – Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world. – is not an exaggeration…
If I could change one thing, I would want to increase awareness of the MSx program. It is a hidden gem that many people have simply never heard of in their b-school search. I think the branding (not wanting to call the program an EMBA) makes it very confusing. When mid-career applicants ask if Stanford GSB has an EMBA, the first answer is “NO” – then these applicants simply look elsewhere. But if they ask the right question – “Does Stanford GSB have a mid-career graduate business degree program?” – they would find the best “executive-level” business degree at the best b-school in the world.
Accepted: Can you share some advice to incoming students, to help make their adjustment to b-school easier? What do you wish you would’ve known when you started the program?
Erik: Since it is only a 1-year program, it is important to understand exactly what you want to get out of your short time on campus and quickly figure out how to get it. It requires a lot of initiative and focus when there are lots of life changes and distractions all around. You can’t sit back and expect all the good things to come to you – students need to actively seek opportunities and grab it.
That said, Stanford GSB has an acronym – FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out – there are so many events, clubs, guest speakers, presentations, brown-bag-lunches and other things happening that it is really easy to get frustrated or swamped. You have to come to the realization that you will never be able to attend everything. Again, important to quickly determined what you will get the best value for your time and prioritize!
Accepted: Can you tell us about Stanford’s unusual six-point grading system?
Erik: I blogged about this here: http://sloanlife.com/2014/08/02/gsb-grades-the-elusive-h/
Bottom line: Get your highest possible marks as early as possible and anchor your GPA nice and high while you’re taking relatively straightforward core classes. This affords you the freedom to later take classes you WANT to take and not worry at all about the grades.
Accepted: Were you involved in any clubs on campus? How central to student life is club involvement?
Erik: Not at all central, but the clubs are great ways to find other students with similar interests (and usually get a lot of free food / beer). I mostly spent my time with Entrepreneurship Club and High Tech Club. Participation is completely optional and you could certainly get by with never attending a club event…
Accepted: Now that you’ve graduated, what are you up to?
Erik: I’m currently working on a startup – Hinted.com – we’re building a platform for personal and professional feedback.
Accepted: Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of the b-school admissions process? How did you approach that challenge and overcome it?
Erik: I should have gotten off my ass and applied sooner… I could easily have done this 3-4 years ago… The GMATs were a perfect excuse for me to procrastinate. In retrospect, should have just bitten the bullet a long time ago when the quant material was a lot more fresh in my mind.
Accepted: Do you have any other advice for our business school applicant readers?
Erik: Apply to the best school you know you will get into first (and that you would be willing to go to) – and apply early! This will take off all the pressure. Once you have this acceptance, you can go pursue the dream schools top down, instead of inching upwards. This is the approach I took – I first applied to UVA Darden GEMBA and was accepted. I was completely willing to take that program – but then I started realizing that maybe I should try getting into more exclusive programs. I applied to Stanford MSx and intended to apply to Wharton San Francisco. I was accepted into Stanford and didn’t even have to fill out another application.
Also, if you want to go to a top school, don’t even bother applying until you can post a 700 GMAT or better. The application process is simply too competitive.
You also need to distinguish yourself in some way. You can have a 750 GMAT, a 3.9 GPA and great work experience and not look like an interesting candidate. Find something interesting about yourself where you can truly say that you have world-class talent / skills / experience to differentiate yourself.
Don’t hold back – you are your own best advocate – your b-school application is not the time for modesty (but don’t lie either). Demonstrate how you will take what Stanford (or other school) will give you and leverage that to give back to the community.
For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages.
You can read more about Erik’s b-school journey by checking out his blog, Sloan Life. Thank you Erik for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!