A "Noble Calling" at Stanford

Admissions head Derrick Bolton explains the B-school's mission of creating leaders who'll have an impact on society

Derrick Bolton is the director of MBA admissions at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, No. 4 in BusinessWeek's 2002 full-time MBA rankings. Stanford has long been one of the most selective B-schools among BusinessWeek's top five schools, and it accepted just 9% of its applicants to the class of 2005. Bolton remains as fixed on quality as ever.

Bolton and second-year MBA student Angie Strange, a former consultant who has a chance at the 2008 Canadian Olympic marathon team, fielded questions about admissions and Stanford's MBA program from a live audience during a recent BusinessWeek Online chat. Reporter Mica Schneider and BW Online consulting editor Jack Dierdorff co-hosted the event. An edited transcript of the chat follows:

Q: Has Stanford experienced the industrywide drop in full-time MBA applications?


We were down about 8% [in 2004] from the prior year. From our point of view, it's [due to] demographics more than anything else: The pool of business school-aged candidates is at a low point in the U.S. and Europe. Quality still remains high...and we worry more about quality than quantity.

Q: What are the distinctive factors of Stanford vs. other top schools?


Four things stand out. The first is our belief that leadership is a noble calling -- managers and leaders play a critical role in ensuring the functioning of society. Second, our mission -- creating ideas and developing leaders -- drives us in everything that we do. Point three, we are a general management program, and for us there are four cornerstones to that general management education -- leadership, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and social impact. The fourth piece is our size: We're a small school by choice, and that has a dramatic impact on our culture and community.

Strange: After having been a student for a year, you really feel that the administration, the professors, and the students are working as a team to provide the best experience for each student. For example, new classes and programs are developed each year based on student input, and professors are super-accessible and willing to sponsor external projects of interest.

Q: Is there anyone you would discourage from applying to Stanford?


The decision on business school is largely on fit. People who will thrive at Stanford value community, are really willing to engage in the classroom and to challenge their peers intellectually to ensure a strong learning environment for everyone. In addition to that, [they are] people who are going to impact the community overall -- whether through a research project, community impact, extracurricular activities, or personal growth that he/she experiences.

Q: Some people claim that Stanford doesn't like older MBA applicants. Are there any specific issues older applicants should be addressing in their applications?


This assertion that Stanford doesn't like older applicants is untrue. But it is understandable if people have missed the nuance of our message. We have been encouraging applicants to apply when they are ready. For one person that will mean straight out of college. For another person that will mean after 15 to 20 years of work experience. We are trying to counter the myth that schools have a preferred applicant type whether that is age, type of experience, citizenship, etc. In terms of the application, we look at what applicants have achieved relative to their opportunities.

Strange: Classrooms have a lot of age diversity -- the "older" applicants bring a lot of experience and add a lot to the classroom.

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