What Stanford Wants – A Moral Compass
By Paul Lanzillotti, Amerasia Consulting Group
If you read the latest editions of our “How to Apply to Harvard Business School” and "How to Apply to Stanford GSB" guides, you already know that cultivating a real reason for applying to an elite MBA goes week beyond the school's name, rank, and prestige. But more than any other MBA program in the world (yes, even HBS), GSB looks beyond having a great GMAT score, a summa cum laude GPA and a blue chip name as your employer. While these are respectable measures of a person’s perceived worth, they are not good enough reasons to apply to GSB.
Why is this? Simply put, you could someone with a mis-calibrated moral compass or worse, what your colleagues might call an "asshole" (more on the asshole test here and the true cost of being an asshole here). That's right - more than any other school in the world, Stanford has a visceral aversion to those who define themselves by their accomplishments, as opposed to the innate values and beliefs that drive those accolades. Apparently, Stanford has their pick of the litter and they can afford to stand absolutely resolute in their aversion to those whose moral compass points true south.
Take a look at GSB’s first essay question “What matters most (to you and why)?” Not only is this prompt require you to be introspective, but it also requires you to hit on 750 or so words that overwhelmingly attest to non-professional content. And that is just where the fun begins. For those of you who define yourself (in this essay) by laying out a series of professional and personal professional accomplishments, you will most likely run out of meaningful things to say. When I read misguided Stanford essays, I see it all the time. The essay either becomes some type of "super resume" (AKA "shit the adcom already knows or can assume") or a meandering narrative filled with clichés and pipe dreams. Stanford admissions has often said that no one can tell your story is genuinely as you can. I suppose writing it is another matter altogether.
What Stanford wants to see is a person who genuinely discusses (maturity and thus authenticity is key here) why they did something, and what they learned from it. As opposed to simply how accomplished some feat or what they did to earn some type of employee of the month/year/century award. It is not as simple as Stanford wanting "nice" people. You certainly have to be successful, as successful as anybody applying to Harvard, for example. It is just that Stanford really focuses on applicants who are actually successful because they are guided by an unwavering moral compass. They want people who are successful professionally as a subset of being successful as a person. Ultimately, I believe that this is the key differentiator between what Stanford GSB wants and what HBS seeks.
Do not get me wrong, HBS definitely vets the character of the people that they are admitting. But I would say that HBS believes the ultimate proof (of what you bring to their table and future tables) is in the pudding - what have you led, what have you accomplished, and it better be good, better than the rest. Whereas Stanford GSB focuses first on the moral fabric of a person. They believe it should never tear, and the truest test of that moral fiber is by overcoming obstacles that threaten to tear apart a person's values and beliefs.
Now not everybody with excellent moral character will be eligible for a seat at Stanford GSB. I do not want to oversimplify this. But I believe that GSB would argue "how can anybody really be successful in life, if their values are suspect? You cannot fake your values over the long-term, and that is who we are looking for." And why are they looking for this person? Because you may have the brains and intellectual horsepower to achieve the type of goal that ultimately changes the world in a positive way. But do you actually want to do that? Or are you just writing some bullshit in your essays, trying to convince the reader you are the second coming of Mother Teresa?
I believe that any applicant who thinks that they can pull this off (trickery) as rather unsophisticated. I say this because I have seen a lot of Stanford essays. People who think they are too smart (for their own good) still try. I've been doing admissions consulting work since 2007 and I still see it all the time. It is really hard to fake your way through 750 words that require you to connect what you have achieved, to what you have learned, to a sense of purpose - among all the other things that GSB wants to see from you in writing.
So what are some things you should think about when deciding to apply to Stanford?
I've helped a lot of clients get into Stanford and what I have learned is in part represented above. I will get off my soapbox now, but this is what I believe that Stanford wants to see in its applicants because I have seen what works. They are not handing out Stanford MBA degrees like its bat day at Shea Stadium. They need to know you are going to use it in a meaningful way. So take this seriously - "Change people. Change organizations. Change the World." (That's Stanford motto BTW and if you don't know that ... weeeell.) You should have already done the first two before applying. The Stanford MBA will help you achieve the third, but only if you're not an asshole. Ha.
If you would like to discuss whether or not Stanford GSB is the right school for you – email us at email@example.com or contact us at www.amerasiaconsulting.com/contact.