I received the fantastic news of admittance at both Harvard and Stanford MBAs on 9th/10th December 2014. A wonderful position to be in for sure, but at the same time a difficult choice to make.
I had two months for gathering as much info as possible, talking to as many students/alumni as possible, getting to know as many fellow admits as possible. Most importantly I had this time to look inward and understand once more the reasons that brought me towards the MBA path, in order to establish which school would represent a better fit.
It was not an easy process, let me tell you. The information to take in and process was a lot, in particular as to what a specific school attribute would mean to me. Furthermore, both schools engaged incredibly successful people to kindly dedicate to me some of their time and experience. Each conversation with an alum or student swayed my decision process in favour of that school. Lastly, events from each school in London added some flavour to the kind of experience I could look forward to, with other incredibly talented fellow admits.
I was very confused, and I even desperately attempted to create a spreadsheet in order to rationally weight each factor, attribute, conversation, etc. Unsurprisingly, the result was Stanford 51% vs Harvard 49%. Such a waste of time! I could clearly build a narrative of why each school made sense as the next step of my career.
Ultimately the decision boiled down to my own feelings during both admit weekends. And the heart spoke clearly: Stanford would be a better fit for my career trajectory, academic and professional interests and, last but not least, personality.
I will therefore try to summarise below the 5 key points which brought me to Palo Alto. I would like to stress out that these are very personal reasons: another student might NOT choose Stanford for the same points. Furthermore, my choice is not by any means a criticism of Harvard, which has proven to be an excellent school – period. If I had not found myself in such a lucky position, I would have simply felt blessed to be accepted to what many consider the number 1 brand in worldwide education.
Without further ado, I chose Stanford GSB for:
1) its close-knit community and humble/generous students. The small class size (c.400 students per year) means that the attention given to each student by the Admission Committee, Faculty and Career Management Center is unparalleled. Members of the AdCom team knew a great deal of information about me, even beyond what I wrote in the essays, and they were so encouraging and laid-back that I felt we had been friends for years already.
2) its academic flexibility. Stanford’s underlying philosophy is that each student has a unique background, skills, interests and ambitions. Therefore, it is hard to build on each and everyone’s potential through a standardised academic experience. I agree with all of the above. Except for the first quarter, which establishes a common foundation and lets student start knowing each other, the remaining five quarters offer a high degree of standardisation. The best example is the 3 options (base-level, accelerated, advanced) for several year-one courses, to which most of the students might have had exposure already. Additionally, the number and yearly turnover of electives is remarkable, and allows the school to provide a very up-to-date academic experience. Personally, given my background in Finance, I aim to take accelerated courses in both Accounting and Corporate Finance, and start taking electives as soon as the second quarter.
3) its integration with other Stanford Schools. A related but separate point to the academic flexibility is the availability of courses “across the street”, i.e. at any of the other 6 Stanford Schools. One of my key aims for the MBA is to expand my skill and knowledge portfolio as much as possible, beyond Management and its sub-disciplines. This includes at least taking advantage of Stanford School of Engineering for some basic computer science and programming courses, and of the d.School for courses on design thinking. This point truly sets Stanford GSB apart in my eyes.
4) its Global Experience Requirement. This was an aspect that I overlooked during my research, but its relevance became apparent during a presentation at the Admit Weekend. Stanford requires at least one Global Experience per student, but again provides great flexibility in the type of experience. There are at least 5 ways you can fulfil the requirement (I won’t go into details, since the details are available here), and unsurprisingly most of the students make more than one experience. As a true “world citizen”, ex AFS student in South Africa and resident for 7 years in London, this is just gold dust.
5) its location. Two points here, one objective and one subjective. Stanford is the pulsing heart of Silicon Valley, and for someone interested in technology, venture capital and start-ups, like myself, this is just an irresistible attraction. Most importantly, Palo Alto feels like home to me, on a purely instinctive basis. I was born a raised in a small town (San Teodoro) in the north-east of Sardinia, Italy. Whilst walking down the streets of Palo Alto, with its low houses, green areas and Mediterranean climate, I felt like I had arrived into a futuristic 3.0 version of my small town. It was honestly a nice feeling. Back home, in the other side of the world.