Gotten Arrested? Put It on Your B-School Application

Photograph by Wayne Howard

Stanford Graduate School of Business no longer counts Mathew Martoma, the former SAC Capital Advisors employee convicted of insider trading, among its alums. Although the university is prohibited from discussing the academic status of a former student, it did confirm that Martoma, a 2003 graduate, currently does not have a Stanford MBA.

According to a statement, Stanford’s policy “can revoke an offer of acceptance and a degree, if it was found that an individual gained admission through false pretenses.” It is the first time in recent memory the school has revoked a degree, says Barbara Buell, director of communications at the business school.

Shortly before Martoma applied to business school, he was expelled from Harvard, a biographical detail that emerged during his insider-trading trial. He applied to Stanford in the academic year of 2000-01, before background checks by companies such as Kroll Background Screening, Re Vera Services, and ADP Screening & Selection Services became the industry standard for applicants at top B-schools and before the Graduate Management Admission Council instituted biometric palm vein scans to ensure the integrity of GMAT test scores. Today, schools vet prospective applicants with much more scrutiny.

While invalidating degrees years after the fact is a symbolic excommunication, business schools do not hesitate to rescind acceptance letters when they discover malfeasance or deception in the application process. “I have seen instances where people have been accepted into school and then escorted out of class within the first couple of weeks,” says Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting. “Admits can be revoked. Stanford is putting Martoma out there as a lesson.”

Martoma’s career is certainly a cautionary tale in many respects, but here’s one mistake that’s easy for MBA hopefuls to avoid: Don’t lie on your business school application.

If you have a black mark on your résumé, come clean, says Judith Hodara, a former acting director of admissions at the Wharton School and partner at MBA consultancy Fortuna Admissions. (Yes, lies of omission count, too.) Even if the school doesn’t undertake an official background check, social media and a simple Google search may reveal more than you hope about your past. ”If you aren’t up front about your history, we assume the worst,” says Hodara. “If you don’t tell us that you crashed the car, we’re going to assume you totaled it.”

A blemish on your record doesn’t necessarily put you out of the running for business school, says Dan Bauer, chief executive of MBA Exchange. “Business schools are looking for real people, not perfect people,” he says. His advice is to be forthright and candid about any past issues. Explain the circumstances, express regret sincerely, and point out what you’ve done since. Perhaps if Martoma had been honest about lying at Harvard, he could at least enjoy the cold comfort of calling himself a Stanford grad.

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