A Chat with Stanford's Admissions Director

Derrick Bolton, head of MBA admissions, discusses the process, including what makes an application stand out

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BusinessWeek Online's guest on August 13, 2003, was Derrick Bolton, director of MBA admissions for Stanford's Graduate School of Business. Bolton joined Stanford in 2001, after working in mergers and strategic advisory and in corporate finance for three years at investment banker Goldman Sachs. Prior to joining Goldman, Bolton spent two years studying at Stanford. He graduated with his MBA, plus a master's in education in 1998.

Before B-school, Bolton worked for consultants McKinsey & Co. and studied psychology and sociology at Southern Methodist University. He spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Mica Schneider about Stanford's admissions process and offered some important advice for applicants. Here's an edited version of that conversation:

Q: More than 5,800 people applied to Stanford's full-time MBA program in 2002. The school accepted 8%. What set those 8% of applicants apart from those who were rejected or wait-listed?


I really struggle with how to articulate this. What it comes down to is that someone who views the application process as an experience that has value in and of itself typically produces the strongest application.

Structured reflection is important. But people -- and I'm guilty of this -- rarely dedicate time to it. So the application process is a rare opportunity in life. Applicants shouldn't just go through it with the goal of getting into a school but with the mindset that they want to learn more about themselves -- learn more about their values, crystallize their aspirations, and identify the experiences that they need to make an impact on the world. And those experiences may or may not be business school.

That attitude manifests itself through the consonance of the application. By that, I mean that applicants are able to relate their values to their actions or see the connection between their aspirations and their responsibilities. There's a sense of harmony in the application when we review it. In those cases, the person we get to know in the essays is the person we expect to meet based on their activities, recommendations, and interview. That's extremely powerful.

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