In January, it appeared Stanford GSB was progressing through a typical admission cycle. Yet, by mid-March, it was clear this year’s process would be unlike any other in Stanford GSB history.
For Juan Manuel González, MA Education/MBA ’16, one of more than 300 alumni who volunteer each year to talk with prospects admits on behalf of the MBA admissions team, the COVID-19 pandemic meant he and many other alumni would need to change how they engaged with admits.
González, executive director of Teach for Mexico (Enseña por México), has talked to dozens of prospects over the past four years, and in December talked to several admits by phone. In January, he met with four of them in person where he lives in Mexico City. The MBA admissions team then assigned another four admits to him after round two in April, so rather than talk with people individually, he organized a virtual happy hour with the entire group.
“I wanted the admits to feel a connection to the GSB community,” González explained. “The amazing thing about the happy hour was that they realized the culture of the school can live through a virtual experience” in the same way it lives through a phone call or an in-person meeting. “The admits understood that the GSB community is at the core of the MBA experience,” he said.
That virtual event was one of hundreds of creative, small-group interactions the MBA admissions team and alumni kicked off on April 12 and ran through April 29. Each session brought up to 12 admits together with one or two alumni who shared perspectives on how and why they came to Stanford GSB and their career paths; they also fielded an array of questions. The sessions spanned the globe with participants connecting from Dar es Salaam, London, Mumbai, Riyadh, Seoul, Singapore, São Paulo, Tokyo, Warsaw, and other cities in Europe and the U.S.
The new enrollment efforts provided an opportunity for admits to first speak with alumni, then participate in the formal virtual Admit Day program on April 25, and finally have follow-up conversations with alumni. The Admit Day program featured Dean Jonathan Levin; Kirsten Moss, assistant dean, MBA admissions and financial aid; and others, including faculty member Keith Hennessey, who led a class immersion on the economics of the coronavirus crisis for almost 200 attendees. Admits were invited to participate in Q&A sessions hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Center for Social Innovation, Joint and Dual Degree Programs, and the Bechtel International Center, alongside more than 20 student-led virtual chats.
Dima El Machnouk, MBA ’19 and co-president of the Middle East North Africa student club last year, participated in Zoom calls with 10–15 prospects and admits during the latest cycle, her first since graduating. El Machnouk reflected on her own experiences talking with alumni as an admit in 2017: “The admissions process was fun. Talking to alumni and hearing their stories made me want to go to the school — because I already felt like I was part of the GSB. Once I arrived, I was excited about growing the community — and now I am getting calls from admits who want to hear about my experience. It’s part of the cycle for building our community.”
For El Machnouk and González, one consistent question asked by admits was whether they would actually fit into Stanford GSB’s culture, a question often answered by having further conversations with alumni and staff. Another common inquiry centered on the value of the student cohort and how students might best engage with the community at the school and once they graduate. The number of alumni actively engaged in the admission process and the stories about their own experiences highlighted the strength of Stanford GSB’s tight-knit community.
Indeed, the level of alumni involvement and engagement in a single admissions round was unprecedented — the admissions team confirmed more than 880 virtual connections between admits and community members. This past June, the admissions team completed the final round of admissions for the upcoming academic year, with the cohort nearly set for the fall.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a tremendous shift to Stanford GSB’s admission process, yet it also created unforeseen engagement opportunities for the admissions team, admits, and alumni. Asked why he volunteers his time to meet with prospects and admits every year since graduating, González summed up how many alumni feel about their experience. “The GSB has changed my life,” he said. “For me, going to the GSB seemed unattainable — my job now is to show other people that it is attainable.”
— Chris Campaña