Do you pass Stanford GSB's smell test?

If you read 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 well 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 still be an asshole, someone with a mis-calibrated moral compass.  That's right - more than any other school in the world, Stanford GSB has a visceral aversion to those who do not play well with others in the sandbox.  Along with HBS, Stanford has their pick of the litter and they can afford to stand absolutely resolute in their aversion.

So how do you know if you are an "asshole"?

For this I will refer to Robert Sutton’s quick and dirty “Starbucks Test”, laid out in his book “The No Asshole Rule” and paraphrased on his blog.  Basically, it goes like this – an overly complicated Starbucks order indicates a level of self-awareness that borders on obliviousness.  People who engage in this type of behavior are assholes.  So, do you do this?  Do you hang out with people who do this?  Do you take glee in this type of behavior?  If you answer yes to one or more of the above questions, you might want reconsider applying to Stanford.

I do understand that some reading this may still not elucidate how serious Stanford GSB is about the points I made above. 

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 words that overwhelmingly attest to non-professional content. 

For example:

If you write primarily about winning big at work in this first essay, Stanford GSB is going to think that you have an inability to build relationships outside of work.

Remember, your professional path is the result of who you are as a person.  Who you are as a person (and thus what “matters most” in the end) is not necessarily a product of your professional experiences.  The bottom line is that if work matters most to you, not only will Stanford think that you do not have your priorities straight, but also that you could be an "asshole."  Throughout the rest of the essays (and even in the “goals” essay), you must demonstrate the introspection required to detail a personal connection to your goals and in answering any type of behavior leadership question.

Still not sure if you can pass GSB's smell test?  Hint: At the very least, before you apply to Stanford, take Guy Kawasaki’s “Are You a Certified Asshole?” test.

If you can pass the asshole test with Stanford GSB then the biggest filter screening out an applicant centers on an individual’s "multiplicity" - the amount of experience working across professional and personal domains, people (including gender) and cultures. 

Unlike HBS, Stanford’s filter is based less on hard figures or quantitative measures such as age (most people know that HBS skews young, but few realize just how rigid the school has become when it comes to age range.)

For example:

While most know that Stanford GSB has a world-class dedication to non-profit management, few know that this emphasis is rivaled by GSB’s commitment to promoting opportunities for woman in business.

This requires the vast majority of applicants (who are male) to demonstrate a true dedication to their co-workers and to other communities beyond their professional careers.  So if you are an engineer who works in an all-male office and alludes to a hard-line approach to management, well, please know the school is serious about creating a supportive environment for all students (and your style might not play well.)

As a slight aside - while GSB’s percentage of female students has remained relatively steady, I honestly believe that we may see Stanford implement a “Harvard 2+2” type program in the coming years.  This will not only attract younger applicants (read – female applicants), but also introduce a greater opportunity to recruit from a greater pool of women applicants.  When I consider that Stanford accepts the GRE (an exam taken by a higher percentage of females than the GMAT), I believe a 2+2 program is on the way.

Considering all of the above - the bottom line is that with the GSB, collaboration and rigor are inclusive.  If you can not bring examples of these experiences to your essays and interview, pass on applying to Stanford.

If you need help with Round 3 – either comprehensively or just stress testing your essays to make sure they hit the mark – email us at  The arms race for consulting help usually starts in April for Round 1 of the next year, but the best value is probably right now.  You can get more distance from the field in Round 3 than at any other time and the quality of your work will make a huge difference. 

To demonstrate our commitment to doing Round 3 right, we have a very unique policy: work with us on a comprehensive package for Round 3 and we will help you reapply to the same schools free of charge in the fall, should it come to that.