Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

April 13, 2011

So you want to get into Stanford GSB?

 So you want to get into Stanford GSB?
A talk I delivered on March 26, 2011 in Tokyo

If you are considering applying to Stanford for fall 2012, I suggest listening to my talk and/or reading the edited transcript below.  I had three clients admitted to Stanford for the class of 2013 as well as another four who were interviewed. Given that Stanford GSB interviews about 13% and admits 6.5% of applicants for the class of 400 students, my clients' results were exceptional.  While you should most certainly take my client selection bias into consideration, if you are thinking about becoming a part of the class of 2014, I think you will find my discussion helpful.
The audio above has been edited.

For more of my Stanford GSB posts including essay analysis, interview strategy, and Q&As with students, see here.


On March 26, 2011, my friend and long-time colleague, Vince Ricci, and I held a joint presentation on admission to HBS and Stanford for Japanese applicants.  My presentation focused on Stanford and Vince's focused on HBS. I think both presentations are worth your time and attention.  Below is an edited transcript of my presentation. While some of this presentation is very specific to Japanese applicants at Stanford, much of it applies to any applicant. 

Participants from this session will notice that the Q&A does not appear in this audio. I decided that it was better for participants in this session that I eliminate their voices and hence the Q&A. You will find an edited version of the Q&A in the transcript below. 

Adam Markus:
My name is Adam Markus and I’ve been doing admissions consulting since 2001.  I’ve been based in Tokyo the entire time.  Like Vince Ricci, in 2007, we both went independent.  We previously worked at the Princeton Review of Japan.  And in terms of my own sort of client mix, I work with people both from Japan and internationally and that’s largely because of my blog.

I think the first thing you need to know is how much I know about Stanford.  Part of it is just based on my track record.  

Why do I know how get applicants into Stanford GSB?
I started counseling in November 2001 (Class of 2004 for US 2-year programs). With the exception of the Class of 2009 and 2013 (interviewed and then rejected), I have had at least one Japanese client accepted in the Classes of 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.  For 2013, I had three non-Japanese clients admitted. (You can find testimonials from some of my clients admitted to Stanford and other top schools here).

Until the Class of 2010, my counseling was 99% focused on Japanese applicants.  When I went independent in 2007 and launched my blog, my client base changed and is now truly international.

The breakdown looks this:

Class of 2013: 3 non-Japanese admitted/ 1 Japanese dinged after interview
Class of 2012: 2 Japanese admitted.
Class of 2011: 1 Japanese admitted/1 non-Japanese client interviewed in R3/dinged
Class of 2010: 1 Japanese admitted.
Class of 2009: 1 Japanese interviewed and not admitted.
Class of 2008: 1 Japanese and 1 non-Japanese admit (Asian, university educated in Japan and sponsored by a Japanese company)
Class of 2007: 1 Japanese admitted. He was also admitted to HBS.
Class of 2006: 1 Japanese admitted.

Class of 2005: 1 Japanese admitted.

For the Class of 2013, I came pretty close to having worked with 1% of the class. And it’s important to think about this.  This is a small class.  This is a class of 400 people.  And one of the things to understand is that part of the reason that Stanford is so hard to get into is because of the class size.  You’re talking about 400 slots.  And that is just kind of a very important thing to keep in mind.

What I’m going to do basically for the rest of this presentation is provide you with my perspective based on working successfully with applicants to Stanford.  My blog itself contains a lot of additional discussion about Stanford (All Stanford related posts are here).  There’s no way in an hour I could fully discuss Stanford.  Actually even fully discussing one of the essays in terms of what I’ve written about it could take an hour.  So, I invite you to look at my blog.  

What does it take to get admitted?  
Great Applicant: The numbers: 6.5%-7% admitted. Stanford GSB is the single most difficult MBA program to get into.  For a relative perspective, the admissions rate at HBS is typically about 12%, MIT/Wharton/Berkeley are about 14%, Kellogg is about 20%, and Chicago Booth is about 25%.

So, when we think about Stanford, I think it’s important to understand what’s required for admission.  Stanford is not for everybody.  There are many, many great applicants who should not apply at Stanford for one reason or another.  And there are many great applicants who should.  And so, I think it’s important to think about it that way.  When I am advising a client on school selection, okay, one thing I look at are their numbers because there is the cold reality of numbers.  You can get beyond that reality in some cases, but you need to know the numbers involved in admission.

Typical aspects of the profile for admits.

  1. Academic excellence.

GPA: Average 3.69 80% range from 3.38-3.95
GMAT:  Mean: 728 Median: 730   80% range from: 680 to 770
TOEFL: Huge variation in what is required for admission. In recent years most of my clients admitted/interviewed had TOEFL scores in the 105 or higher range.  The lowest TOEFL a client had was 100 iBT equivalent Paper test score.

So, with Stanford first GPA, okay, this is a school that loves highly academic people.  High GPAs are really a key indicator.  So, the average GPA, you could find this right at the bottom, is 3.69 on a 4.0 scale.  The 80% range is from 3.38 to 3.95.  That means 80% of those who’re admitted to Stanford are getting in that range.  There are some people – there’s 10% of the class who have GPAs lower than 3.38.  So, it’s possible to get in if your GPA is lower than that.  And then there are some people who have from 3.95 to 4.0.  And that’s the other, the upper 10%.

The GMAT mean is 728, the median is 730.  The range is from 680 to 770.  In my own experience, I’ve seen clients get into Stanford with scores at the bottom of that range from the 680 to 770, and there are also people who’ve gotten in much lower than that even like a 630.  Vince had a client, class of 2007, who’s a double admit to Harvard and Stanford.  She had a 630.  And it was a very interesting year because we both had double admits.  My client had a very high GMAT and his has just this 630.  So, it was about the strength of that applicant overall.  So, do keep in mind when you’re looking at these numbers that yeah, it is hard but there are always exceptions.

TOEFL, the good part about Stanford, compared to Harvard, is they’re forgiving about TOEFL.  The range that I have seen with my own clients has varied tremendously.  The lowest recently was someone who had the equivalent of a 100 paper test score and was admitted.  That’s very low.  The typical average is definitely 105 or higher, but unlike Harvard, you don’t need a 109.  And it’s important to keep that in mind. So, there is a little bit more forgiving aspect to the Stanford in regards to TOEFL, and maybe only in regards to TOEFL.  They’ve got greater flexibility there.

What I would say kind of bottom line is those without high GPAs, 3.4 or higher, and relatively strong GMATs, 680 or higher, will find admission particularly challenging.  Not impossible but challenging.  And when I am helping people select schools, because one of my jobs is helping clients figure out where to apply, you have limited time, you have to make some hard choices about how many schools you’re going to apply to, most people don’t apply to 20 schools, most people apply somewhere between 4 to 10 schools, they have to make hard choices, I try to help people make those choices.  And so, when I am talking with a client, if I have somebody with a really strong academic background and I see a real sense of purpose and focus to their academic and professional career, I’ll talk about that a little bit later, I advise them to apply to Stanford.  

And in the last few years, I have literally convinced two of my clients to apply to Stanford because basically I said hey, you’re perfect, you’re what they are looking for.  And that’s a sense.  It’s not objective.  And so, it’s just based on my experience.  The thing with both Vince and I is we’ve been doing this a long time and a part of this is art, it’s intuitive.  You meet someone.  You get a feeling whether they are a good fit for a school.  So, I’ve had that happen to me with some people for Stanford, especially in the last few years.

What is Stanford looking for?  I would say a key thing is a demonstrated pattern of commitment found throughout the application.  That is Stanford has this question in their essays, it’s a famous question, “What matters most to you and why?”  What is the most important thing to you?  And this is their key essay.  It’s been their key essay forever.  The length of the essay has changed, the overall essay set has changed, but this question remains.  And I think it’s because they’re looking for people who have a kind of bigger vision about themselves and their role in the world.  And what I found consistently is that applicants who have a very strong personal vision that is reflected in their past experience, okay.  It’s objective.  It’s measurable.  You can look at their education.  You can read their resume and go I understand the connection between their goals and their vision.  That sense of real commitment, and I’ll give a concrete example in a moment, is really very critical I think for admission at Stanford.  I found it to consistently be something they’re looking for.

Now, this may take the form of a real commitment to a large-scale professional vision, okay, a specific thing.  For example, I had a client who wanted to reform the Japanese healthcare system.  And if you look at this person’s file, their application, you’d see that everything he did led up to that.  His education, his decisions professionally, there was a clear pattern.  And so, he was kind of like the extreme version of a real commitment large-scale vision.

On the other hand the other way to think about this is Stanford is looking for people with a strong personal passion.  And one client I think about who was admitted, was a consultant, who is somebody – he had a Ph.D. in one subject, he wrote a book on a completely different subject, and his career was completely different from either the book he wrote or his Ph.D., okay.  The thing that unified him was his strong desire for knowledge.  So, what mattered most to him was knowledge.  And if you look at this person you go, this is someone, this guy is driven by passion, he has this strong sense of curiosity.  And so, what I helped to do in his essays was convey that and then thinking about what matters most to him, getting that knowledge mission out there because that’s what mattered him, that’s what he is about, and Stanford could see that.

And so, when you’re looking at Stanford, you have to ask yourself, where is my sense of commitment?  Is it to a large-scale activity?  Is it to a strong personal characteristic?  And it’s fine.  It might be a personal characteristic.  It might empathy.  It might be your desire to make the world better place, okay.  And as long as there is a pattern of past experience that can show that then it can work out well.

A rejected applicant, someone actually who came to me for reapplication.  What mattered most to this person was helping others and when I read her file, she asked why she was rejected from Stanford?  You know, she said what mattered most to me was helping others.  I read her essays, she made the case, but when I looked at her work experience and I looked at her lack of volunteer activities, I was like why do I believe you.  Why would anybody believe you?  And so, the thing is if you say what matters most to you is something that you can’t prove kind of objectively, if you don’t have evidence for it, they’re not going to buy it.

Stanford is taking 6.5% of the people who apply.  They have to make some tough decisions and the admissions officers are smart. And they know how to look at applications. And not all admissions people are smart by the way.  Vince and I have interacted with these people for years and we’re actually going to a conference in June where we’re going to be interacting with some of them, and some of them are really smart and great and some of them, well, they’re bureaucrats in the job and they’re not so smart.  But the Stanford people are pretty smart and they read deeply into the files.  They have to.  They don’t want to make mistakes.  

The smaller the class size, the less room to make mistakes.  That’s why if you know IMD in Europe, they take 90 people a year, they have a full-day interview. Vince is an expert at helping people do the interview (Half of my clients who have worked with me on IMD, did interview prep with Vince because he is the only I know who does case study based interview preparation.  Both my Japanese and non-Japanese clients have done case study prep with him). They have a one-day interview with case study, lots of interaction with other applicants, and they observe really closely.  And the Admissions Director there, who I talked to, said, “I can’t make a mistake, I see the students everyday, 90 people.” Well, Stanford is a little bigger.  It’s 400.  Harvard is 910 (I incorrectly said 990 on the audio).  So, they have even more room for error.  Bigger class size, more room for error.  Smaller class size, less room for error.  

And so, with this rejected person, I said look, what matters most to you, you may think it’s helping others but it’s not.  And so, when I am working with someone and helping them figure out something like what matters most to you, it’s always about making sure that they can demonstrate that, that there is objective proof in the file.

Next point, you don’t have to be a superstar, but you do have to be someone who does ordinary things extraordinarily well.  Now, admittedly, there are superstars who go to Stanford and there’re superstars who get rejected from Stanford.  I mean recently one of my rejects from first round, honestly is someone who I would consider to be like a superstar. But his interview was no good, I guess, because he didn’t make the cut.

It’s not about being a superstar.  It’s about being someone who’s demonstrated excellence, who’s solid, who, when you look at them professionally and academically, you go, this is someone who’s accomplished, they’ve made the best use of their resources, and worked really hard, and done something, had an impact in whatever field they were in.  And so, don’t get turned off about Stanford if you think well, I am not special enough.  Have the conversation first; think about it first because that’s not the thing.  The reality of Stanford is that there’re normal people there, some of the people aren’t normal, but some of them are quite normal, and so keep that in mind.

Level of extracurricular activities varies greatly.  Something a lot of people worry about is whether they have enough extracurricular activities for a school like Stanford because Stanford values such things.  It varies.  I have clients admitted who had extensive extracurricular activities and others who almost nothing.

And so, what I would say is don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of extracurricular activities.  Worry about having a clear focus.  And if they can look at your file, nobody is perfect, right, nobody has everything.  But if they look at your file and they go okay, this person has used their time well, then I think it’s fine.  And what I do with the client is help them figure that out.  So in the case of one admitted client, she was worried because she had no extracurricular activities.  So, we started talking about her intensive academic seminars because she took more seminars than is typical.  And I said but those are your extracurricular activities and you have to sell them.  So, in the resume and in the essays, those activities were sold.  We made sure that there was content about those activities in her essays, in her resume so that it could be seen even though she didn’t have club activities, she had active engagement in group work and was involved with other students and social because it’s really important that that be there.

Next, demonstrated leadership experience varies greatly, but a clear pattern of showing initiative and/or innovation is critical.  Stanford is about people who are going to make a change.  They’re looking for innovation.  They’re looking for change agents.  They’re looking for people who are going to be global leaders.  But Stanford does not define that in only one way.  It doesn’t mean you have to have been in charge of an organization, or at work, you have to lead a team.  You may or may not have that experience.  But what you have to have done is shown an ability to make a difference, to go beyond your job title.  You can’t just be a good worker.  You have go beyond that level of just basic responsibility and create a new process.  So that might be for one person creating a new model and getting the management of the company to accept like a new business model, a new financial model, a new method.  That kind of innovation is also a form of leadership.  So, do keep in mind and if you are worried, “I don’t have enough leadership experience, I’m in trouble,” there’s always a way to find leadership experience.  One of the things that I always try to do is help somebody with that.  There’s always a way.  You always have to be able to express that.  And you might be thinking, I don’t know what my leadership experience is, I don’t have any, you do, we’ll find it, there’s always a way to find it.

Next page, average age.  Now, the thing about Stanford is the average age is approximately 26 for those who are admitted.  And that’s based on 48 months of average work experience for those admitted, 48 months, 4 years, graduate at age 22, thus 26.  And the thing about Stanford is they don’t necessarily love to talk about the age issue there, but there is an issue there.  They don’t take a lot of people over the age of 30.  They take very, very few.  I had a kind strange outrider client experience.  I had an American actually, interviewed for Stanford third round and that’s very rare.  He was over 30.  He was rejected after interview, but they interviewed him.  So, they weren’t against letting somebody in who is over 30, they just didn’t love him after the interview.

And there is the possibility, it’s not like it’s completely impossible to get in over the age of 30, it’s just very high risk.  It’s like if you think 6.5% are admitted and you are over the age of 30, your chance of admission is less than 6.5%.  How low?  I don’t know.  They don’t give any numbers.  What I would say is if you’re going to be turning age 30 this year, well, you might really want to be looking at schools, and there are many, where being over age 30 is not a problem at all.  And I just have a quick list here Wharton, MIT, Berkeley, Chicago, Kellogg, Columbia, INSEAD, LBS, IMD, and Tuck.  And even HBS, I had a client age 30, enter Harvard, and there are people like that definitely every year.  One of the things that’s different about Stanford and Harvard is Stanford’s numbers are not as open as Harvard’s.

Harvard gives great numbers.  You can see an age distribution of their class based on graduation year.  Stanford, we don’t have any of those kinds of numbers.  So, don’t become distressed.  If you’re aged 32, there are many other good schools to apply to.  But if you love Stanford and you must apply, just understand that it’s well going to be a lottery activity.  It’s like rolling the dice in Las Vegas or trying to win a big lottery.  It’s going to be hard.  Somebody wins.  So, you want to have other opportunities going.

If we look in detail at who Stanford takes from Japan, it’s very interesting.  And so what I have under 3 here is typical Japanese student cohorts at Stanford.  And pretty much I know who are in the classes.
The thing I want to make clear is this is not reflective of other national cohorts at Stanford.  It’s the Japanese cohort and it’s specifically the Japanese students.

Typical Japanese student cohorts at Stanford (Not Necessarily reflective of other national cohorts at Stanford)
Total headcount: 3-7 per year with 3-10 admits per year. HBS probably beats Stanford with double admits to both programs because Stanford’s yield is 81% and Harvard’s is 85%.

Companies: Major investment banks (1-2), Japanese government (probably 2 admitted in every 3 years), professionals (1 doctor or 1 lawyer admitted about 50% of the time), private equity (1-2), consulting (1-3), and the outrider (1 or 0 per class).   Those coming from trading companies, accounting firms, manufacturing companies, insurance companies, etc. would fit in the outrider category as would admits directly from undergraduate programs (19 out of the 400 admitted into the Class of 2009 were admitted directly from undergraduate programs).   I have worked with clients who were admitted to Stanford coming from the investment banking, private equity, consulting, Japanese government, and insurance industries.

So in any given year, Stanford will take 3 to 7.  There’ll be 3 to 7 in class with 3 to 10 admits per year.  Average is about 6.  HBS probably beats Stanford with double admits.  So, in terms of this, if you have a double admit, chances are slightly higher that they’re going to head off to Harvard rather than Stanford.  But we’re looking – basically, when someone gets into Stanford, chances are they’re going to go there, they don’t need to take too many from Japan and they don’t.  And they are not going to increase the number based on information that I’ve been provided with. It’s going to be about 6 every year.

Companies, now this is also very interesting.  Stanford loves major investment banks, the Japanese government.  Not every year, but almost every year there’s somebody from the Japanese government. Professionals, one doctor, or one lawyer maybe.  And that’s about 50% of the time; private equity, one to two people; consulting, one to three people; and an outrider.  That means every other category, one, or perhaps zero, maybe two in a strange year but probably one.

So, those coming from trading companies, accounting firms, manufacturing companies, insurance companies, etcetera, would fit in the outrider category.  So, if you are from a trading company, hey you know what, your chances at Stanford, not great.  You can try it.  See what happens.  Sometimes there are admits, but not a lot of the time.  If you’re coming from manufacturing, not very likely but, again, it can happen.   And I ask my clients who is in the class.  I know who are in the classes and that’s who are in the classes.

So, when you’re thinking about Stanford, think about what kind of company you’re coming from.  Interestingly enough, they’re not taking like a lot of entrepreneurs.  I don’t see that happening.  They’re not taking them from Japan.  They do take entrepreneurial people but not necessarily from Japan.  So, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible but it’s something to think about.  And occasionally, they take people coming directly from undergraduate.  A small percentage of Stanford’s admits every year are going directly from undergraduate into the MBA.  So, in the class of 2009, 19 out of 400 were admitted directly from undergraduate programs.  And there has been at least one person from the University of Tokyo (in the recording, “Todai”) who was admitted directly into the GSP a few years ago.  That’s also a part of the outrider group.

If this sounds bleak or bad, I am sorry; this is kind of the reality of it.  The thing to keep in mind is even though the reason we’re doing Stanford first and Harvard second is the situation with Harvard, there is more opportunity.  It’s a greater range of people.  As long as your TOEFL is at least 109, it’s a good deal.  This is why schools like Wharton – Wharton is great, huge range, it takes people in all kinds of fields, Chicago, Berkeley, all the other top places, but with Stanford, it does get really selective.  So, it’s important to keep in mind.

Now, I know that a lot of you have not like gotten into the essays.  So, I am going to talk about essays but the way I’m going to do it is not by analyzing essay questions (See here for my analysis of the essays for fall 2011 admission).  I’m going to explain how I help a client with essays.  A few things.  I am not a ghostwriter.  That is to say I don’t write my client’s essays, they write their own essays.  I am a counselor and my primary process for helping clients is to provide creative feedback and brainstorming.  And so it’s conversation.  And so, if I work with somebody that’s part of the deal, you have to talk to me.  If you don’t want to talk to me, don’t work with me because it’s not going to be good because the whole way I add value is by helping someone tell the right kind of story and put together a whole package. And so, initially this takes the form of discussions conducted either face-to-face or via Skype and telephone.  From my viewpoint, the brainstorming process, it could happen either way.  If somebody is not in Japan or too busy, it can be remote; I don’t really see a huge difference.  I’ve worked with Japanese clients, including someone who was admitted to Harvard.  I don’t even know what she looks like because I never saw her.  It was all telephone based because of the location.  And so, the conversation is what matters to me as long as there is a good dialogue.

What we do initially is figure out the stories for your essays.  We discuss them.  We’d come up with what’s going to work.  We come up with some good ideas.  Then you start implementing.  And once we’ve worked out a strong basis for writing the essays, I then provide oral or written feedback as needed.  Sometimes writing written comments is a lot better than speaking and so there are times definitely, once essays are moving along, where I am giving a lot of written feedback.  My own approach does involve helping clients with word count, and I’ll be talking a bit about Stanford word count in a second, and other light editing.  But I should emphasize that my clients write their own essays.

Stanford essays typically require significant brainstorming to get the right answer.  

My criteria for good answers is really the same regardless of the essay.  
Do I believe?  This is the most important.  If I don’t believe what I am reading, there’s no game, you’re dead.  It’s just that simple.  If a reader doesn’t believe you, it’s over.  You have to establish credibility.  So, when I read something, I’ve got to believe it.  Believing is got to be there.  And this is about making sure that you’re presenting your goals and your experiences effectively in a way that someone can really go “Okay, I understand what this is, I can see it.

Then next is do I care?  It’s not enough to believe.  The next level is the sense of “is this interesting?”  Does this matter?  Does this person matter?  I can read many possible files.  Why do I want to read yours?  And why am I interested enough in having you interview with my school? You’ve got to write in a way that someone cares about what you’ve written.  And what I help someone do is tell their own story in their own voice.  And so, there is also a sense of their passion what they care about.  Because if you show that you care, someone else is also going to embrace what you write.  I believe that.  I believe that if you show your own passion, someone else will see it.

Then next is does it sell me?  This is the bottom line.  If I read something and I go well, I believe this, this person has some concerns.  I can see.  It’s nice.  But you know what?  I don’t know what they can do.  I read their essays and I don’t get a strong sense of their real capability to succeed at what they are talking about.  I don’t get a real strong sense of their real capacity for leadership.  I don’t get a strong sense of their real capacity for teamwork or their capacity to really succeed.  So, looks like a nice person but I’ll take a pass.  No thank you.  I have to help a client make sure that does not happen and then it’s about selling.  And so, it’s about making sure that there are clear selling points where someone is reading your essay and they understand what you can do.  What you’re capable of?  How you’re going to add value.  How you’ve added value in the past to your organization, to your employer, to club you’ve been a part of, to the way you’ve lived your life so far?  And if admissions can’t see that they’re not going to buy it.

So, we want to make sure they read your stuff and they go, hey I buy it, I want to interview this person.  Because the whole point of the Stanford application to get you an interview.  It could be the most beautiful perfect application in the world but if it doesn’t get you an interview, it’s not good, it’s just not.  It’s the way it works.  And so, the interview has to happen because that’s all the application does.  It generates an interview.  If you can get through the interview and they can then take the interview and the application and look at it together and see that there is a good fit and that they like you, then you have had a shot.  You know, about half the people who are interviewed by Stanford get in.  So, your stats go up considerably, you go from 6.5% to about 50% when you get the interview invite.  That’s a big difference, right.

Then next thing I think about when I am helping someone is do I think what you intended me to think?  That is sometimes when people are writing, they write something that has a double meaning, and part of it could be completely positive and part of it can be completely negative.  And there’s always a room for misinterpretation.  So, one of my jobs is to be the insurance, okay.  And you need insurance.  You need someone who is looking over your material to make sure that you’re not saying something that can be interpreted the wrong way.  And, especially if you’re dealing with something like cross-cultural communication or a cultural conflict okay, the possibility for misinterpretation, very high, the sensitivity, the concern of a reader, very high.  So, you have to be careful.  And I help someone do that.

A final thing I do when I am reading is benchmark you against the other candidates.  And that is very simply when I am working with somebody and I am reading their essays, I won’t say to them your essays are done until I have the feeling that they’re done.  And that’s just a judgment.  It’s not objective.  You know, they could be written, they could be the right essay length, but that does not mean the essays are done, that just means they’ve been written.  They have to be up to standard.  They have to be up to the quality of someone who is going to get in.  And so that’s a judgment, and it’s art, it’s not science. And so, when I am reading, I definitely am looking at that.  And I work with a very diverse group of clients because I work with a lot of people from outside of Japan.  And when your file is being read, it’s being read in two ways.  You’re definitely competing on a certain level with all other Japanese candidates, but you’re also competing with every candidate everywhere else in the world.  And it’s a dual consideration. I don’t care what the schools say(about quotas from different countries), you are competing with everybody in this room (Except for one person, they were all Japanese).  If there are two people in this room applying to Stanford, you’re competing with each other.  That’s the reality.  You look at the numbers; there is no question about it.

On another level, though, you’re also competing with all the other applicants.  And so, when I am reading the file, my standard is based on working with people who are admitted from outside Japan as well as from inside Japan.  As many of you are at very early stage in this process, I am not going to present a full analysis of the Stanford essays here.  You can find that on my blog.

The Stanford essay set, and application as a whole, is about integration, that is bringing things together.  It’s a set.  If you think of each essay betsu-betsu (as a separate thing, sorry for the Japanese, but it is a great expression), it’s not going to work.  It’s a connected entity.  It has to all work together.  And what that means is Stanford has three essays, okay.  There are actually four essays but there are three types.  There is Essay 1, what matters most to you and why; Essay 2, career goals and why Stanford; Essay 3, questions related to leadership and these are questions that we could call potential to achieve goals based on past actions.  So, this is about your past experience.  These questions vary.  Essay 3, actually consists of two essays.  So, yeah, basically three essays but it’s really four.  It’s Essay 1, 2, and 3(a), and 3(b).

They fit together because you need to be able to connect what matters most to you, to your goals.  For some people that’s easy.  If what matters most to you is reforming the Japanese healthcare system, well then your goals, that’s going to be really obvious, you’re going to have a specific plan that’s obviously reflecting that.  For other people it’s less obvious.  If your goal is knowledge – if what matters most to you is knowledge, okay, your goal is probably not going to be, I want to learn more.  It’s going to be a professional goal.  It needs to somehow integrate.  There needs to be some kind of point of connection.  And so, we work at making sure that there is a connection there.

And then with essay 2 and 3 goals and your past experience, if you say my goal is to be an innovative leader in the finance industry, probably in essay 3, you want to write an essay about showing your potential for an innovation.  And we’re looking at this sense of potential.  So, essay 2 and 3 connect.  You want the potential for your goals to be reflective in essay 3.  So, it’s the sort of thing where all needs to come together.  And then the essays need to become a greater part of the whole.  And that is this includes the resume, recommendations, application and hopefully the interview because it all comes together at the end.

The Stanford essay set is about telling your best stories.  Every school is, but this is very important.  Your best stories are those that fully highlight your passion, your professional vision, your intelligence, and your leadership potential.  This is a function of telling admissions the best part of who you are.  I help clients do that.  And what that means is talking and figuring that out.  What makes me the most happy when I am helping someone with Stanford is if they give me twice as many stories as we’re ever going to be able to fit into the essays because we have to carefully figure out what’s really going to work best.  And so, having a large portfolio of content to select from is really good because you want to get it exactly right.  There’s not a huge amount of room for error.

The Stanford essay set is about making tough editorial choices.  Unless they change the essay set this year, you’ll have 1800 words for the three questions.  You can divide the words anyway you want.  Stanford is a little weird.  No other school that I know of lets you choose how to distribute the word count, but Stanford does.  You can go, I want essay 1 to be 600 words or 700 words or 800 words or 500 words.  You decide that.  Most other schools, each essay word count is fixed.  Stanford, it’s flexible.  That’s nice.  That’s a bit of flexibility there.  And what that means is there is a lot of room for making a lot of decisions about word count and about how to distribute your word count.  And so, I help clients with that.

In addition to essays, I assist clients with all aspects of the process including school selection, resume creation, application form preparation, advising on recommendations, and interview preparation.  Each part of this process is important and I’ll be happy to answer questions about them during our Q&A session (Not recorded, sorry!).  I just would want to point out that even the application form, it’s not a huge gigantic form, the Stanford form, but you want to get it right.  And so, one of the things I do is I do reapplication counseling.  I work with people who have not gotten into school.  And sometimes when I am helping someone in that situation, I read their file and I read the application, and there are lots of little mistakes on the application form.  Those little mistakes don’t look good.  In some cases, they create inaccuracies or contradictions between what’s in a resume and what’s in an application form.  We don’t want that.  Again, not a lot of room for error, we don’t want those kinds of problems.

So, is Stanford still for you?  I hope it is.  And I know that there is going to be people in this room who it’s going to be right for.  For some of you, it’s not going to be right.  It’s okay.  It’s no problem.  There is a lot of other great schools.  And when I work with a client on school selection, my objective is to help them find the right portfolio of risk.  I look at it like it’s a risk management, okay.  You’re going to be selecting from a bunch of programs.  Look at the acceptance rates and put together the right portfolio of risk.  Think of it as an investment.  It is an investment.  It’s investment of your time, of your money, of next year, like to buy a social life, if you’re applying for this year, you’re going to be busy with this whole process, and it’s a huge investment.  So, you need to figure out the right mix of schools.

For some of you Stanford is going to be a great high-risk investment.  For others you’re going to go, no, this is not the right place for me to allocate my time and my resources.  And that’s an important judgment to kind of come to because the way I think about it, there is two ways.  You can think you’re part of the 93.5% who will get rejected or you can decide you’re part of the 6.5% who’ll be accepted.  I concentrate on the 6.5%.  If your attitude is you’re applying, then you want to be a part of the 6.5%.  So, you need to think okay, this is going to be hard, see how it goes, got to have other options.  I don’t typically recommend that someone only apply to Stanford.  It’s not a good idea unless it’s only the MBA program you want to go to and you don’t care about going anywhere else.  I’ve had clients who’re kind of like that and that’s fine, not typically Japanese.  But occasionally, I have somebody who is like I only want to go to this school and nowhere else because it’s not worth  it to them.  That’s okay.

Anyway we have a couple of minutes for questions?

Vince Ricci:
Yeah, about 8.

Adam Markus:
Okay.  We’ve about 8 minutes for questions then we’re going to take a break.  So, if you have any questions in general about Stanford, I am happy to answer them.  Yes?

You haven’t discussed enough about recommendations.  Would you explain, like, relevance  of it?

Adam Markus:
Sure, absolutely.  The recommendations at Stanford are important.  And they have a peculiar requirement.  They want a peer recommendation in addition to recommendations from supervisor type of people.  They want three recommendations.  And basic recommendation strategy with any school is to have a diverse set of recommenders who can best represent you, a current supervisor, if possible, or a current supervisor substitute.  If, for example, you’re applying in secret or you hate your supervisor, find somebody who can be a supervisor substitute.  If that’s a senior colleague, okay, if it’s a former supervisor, that’s okay too, but clearly having good recommendations is important at any top school.

It’s not necessary that you have like a Stanford alum recommender, that’s not necessary for example.  What you want is somebody who can really describe your expertise, your ability to contribute, and who can talk about how they have given you some feedback or advice in the past because they care about that, they ask a question about that.  And definitely, they have a peer recommender and what they want there is like a work colleague, someone who is definitely your same level or if you are relatively recent graduate, someone who was in a club with you or an organization, who can talk about you from the viewpoint of being a peer.  So, those are the types of recommendations they want.  They are the only school that absolutely requires a peer I believe, only American school for sure.  Any other – do you want more…?

I can ask more later.

Adam Markus:
Okay.  Other questions?  Yes?

You mentioned that I need two recommendations from supervisor kind of person, and so one can be a current supervisor.  Where do I find the other person?

Adam Markus:
Previous supervisor, senior colleague, it depends on the nature of your business.  You want someone – you don’t want academic.  They don’t particularly want academic recs and that’s a contrast point with Harvard which will take academic recommendations.  But Stanford doesn’t want them.  Most business schools don’t want academic recommendations, except for Harvard.  Basically, you want to find somebody who is in a relative position authority in relationship to you.  So, like once you have a peer recommender and a supervisor-type recommender, the third person is highly variable.  Could be a senior colleague, somebody who is clearly above you organizationally, may not be somebody you report to, could be a past supervisor, could be a client, okay.  It would not definitely be somebody who is below you.  Never select anybody who is obviously below you.  Questions about recommendations or anything else, essays whatever.  Yes?

If I understand correctly, the average GMAT score is becoming higher and higher?

Adam Markus:
To be honest, I don’t think it’s really mattered very much.  And in a sense that at some macro level, yeah, that’s absolutely true and I’ll tell it’s true for a number of reasons: one, you’ve got pools of applicants who apply now in large numbers like from China or from India, who can generate really high GMATs as a group.  And you have so many forms of test preparation that the scores are naturally, I think, gravitating that way.  And even like with American kids, anybody who’s gone through the American education system and went to a top undergraduate school, probably studied very intensively for the SAT these days, and I think that’s also reflected in how they are preparing for GMAT.

That said, when I look at my clients who are admitted, there hasn’t been any difference, like I’ve had people admitted at the 680 or 690 level in the last few years and I’ve had people admitted or rejected at much higher range, I don’t think that’s mattered.  Always there is this range, like you get into the 680 and on, and it’s okay.  And the thing is I don’t think Stanford cares so much about scores and that is if they have somebody who is really good and they have a 680 GMAT, that’s fine.  It’s not a problem because your number is totally hidden (among the many admits with high scores).

Stanford is really not GMAT-sensitive in a certain way.  There are schools that are GMAT sensitive, okay, they tend to be slightly lower in ranking.  Harvard and Stanford are not the most GMAT-sensitive places.  It’s one of the things that’s kind of interesting about them.  So, thank you very much.  

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

If you are interested in my MBA admission consulting services, please click here.
Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."

ハーバードビジネススクールとスタンフォードGSB に入学する方法

Real Time Web Analytics