A Perfect Fit for Stanford GSB: Success Story
Daria Gonzalez, Stanford GSB graduate and MBA Strategy client, told us why she had chosen Stanford, how to win an MBA admissions process if you are a non-traditional applicant, DOs and DON'Ts about financing, and how to find a job in Silicon Valley.
I possess a very non-traditional background, being neither a consultant, nor a bank employee. Nevertheless, diversity is getting more and more appreciated in business-schools like Stanford, in particular. Stanford's figures and branding speak for themselves: the university positions itself in a way that it differs from traditional MBA programs like Harvard, Wharton or Columbia, by accepting all kinds of outstanding people with various occupations.
When I was 17, I had a small booking agency - my partners and I arranged performances of indie musicians from Europe in Russia. Then I was mostly traveling between Spain and Russia, helped to organize festivals and worked in a theater. Therefore my background is artistic, which is not typical for an MBA applicant. As for my education, it does not fit the classic business schools standards as well. I graduated from university with a specialist degree, which is equal to Masters in the USA. After that, I was working for five years at Russia Beyond the Headlines, which is a foreign department of a large quality newspaper, where laws are published even before they go into effect in Russia.
We were focused on establishing partnerships with large international newspapers, such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others. I worked there as a Special Projects Managing Producer, which entailed a range of exciting duties, case in point, to create an electronic magazine about Russian hockey players in the US NHL League, or to prepare a picturesque print for the Bolshoy Theater Jubilee. My favorite project was a large travel website for international tourists, which wanted to visit Russian cities, besides Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The project was launched successfully and secured my promotion.
Which business schools I applied to?
In the US I sent applications to Stanford, NYU Stern, and Columbia Business School, and in Europe I applied to IESE and a few others. In fact, I had never been inclined to America and unconsciously wanted to settle in Europe. However, when I thoroughly reviewed Stanford's website and learned more about the school's values, I nearly dissolved into tears. Even a small part of everything that was described there was a direct hit for me. After that I decided: if I could not get to Stanford, I would not choose any other school in the United States.
So what did attract me the most? What we totally agreed on, was the importance of soft skills. Thus, the most renowned course at GSB, which you cannot find anywhere else, is unofficially called "Touchy Feely", and the actual title is "Interpersonal Dynamics". The course is highly intensive, and sometimes it is even called an "intensive group therapy", as you study in small groups of 10 people, sit in the circle of your peers and talk to them 1-2 times per week, which reveals your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. You learn to get merciless feedbacks when everyone is crying. I am not trying to say that it is a kind of personality becoming, but it helps to adequately evaluate yourself as a leader with valuable soft skills. Indeed, Stanford puts a strong emphasis on developing soft skills, not only teaching accountancy, finance, and strategy, which is pretty obvious for business schools. In this fashion, Stanford positions itself as a very special program. Many people apply both to Harvard and Stanford, but in fact, the programs are completely different, and students certainly get different knowledge there.
If I had not completed several pre-MBA courses, I probably would not have coped with the curriculum, having no business background. It was hard to study and get high grades, given the intensity of the program and plenty of options Stanford offers. Moreover, it turned out that electives were even more important than core courses, and the so-called networking was more important than grades. Stanford would not give a pat on my back for these words, but it is true.
In addition to that, I was thrilled by the entrepreneurial culture. Even without a business background, entrepreneurial spirit was readable in my CV and application essays. Stanford has the highest percentage of entrepreneurs, and it is logical due to its location in the Silicon Valley. Besides, I liked the diversity: different people - different opinions. I could not understand how it was possible to gather so many international students, possessing diverse professional and cultural backgrounds in one cohort. Telling the truth, I did not compare Stanford with other schools by this parameter, but I can surely state that diversity is a top priority in Stanford's policy. This experience helped me broaden horizons, understand how to approach different people and understand what is essential for them.
I realize that everything I said may sound obvious, but you understand it even deeper when you actually go through such experience. Today I cannot imagine myself in any other business school. Stanford and I became a perfect fit for each other.
Next time Daria will share her tips on financing an MBA. Stay tuned!