On-stage for Class of 2015

I’m presenting to the incoming MSx Class of 2015!

I remember being here a year ago and soaking up everything they had to say… Today, I’m the alumni sharing my experiences with Herbert Yang (Sloan ’13), Michelle Morris (Sloan ’14) and Mary Jacobsen (Sloan ’14).

I only hope that I said something useful to the incoming students.

In general, my advice to incoming students would be:

Take your obligations to your classmates seriously, but don’t take yourself very seriously

It is important to realize that study groups (summer quarter in particular) are often pre-set groups that you have no control over. Work hard to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone in the group. You need to quickly understand that you are not the center of the universe – so being late or missing group meetings is not acceptable behavior. I happened to be very lucky summer quarter – our group was very easy going but also was very serious about getting our assignments done with high quality results and projects were always completed on time. Not everyone will be this fortunate, but even if your group doesn’t gel quickly, don’t be the guy that makes the group unnecessarily unpleasant.

Front-load your GPA

Let’s be honest – GPA is not terribly important at Stanford GSB and is particularly not important in the Sloan / MSx program, unless you don’t make the minimum GPA to graduate. The entire GSB is graded on a forced curve – so professors must balance grades in the class. Sure, everyone can get a “P” then no one needs to receive an “LP” – but it never works out that way. It is actually quite easy for them to spot the high and low performers in the class – but the middle gets very mushy. And occasionally, grading will feel entirely arbitrary… So, to avoid that becoming an issue in your last quarter (when you might not have the flexibility to add a class you really want to take because your GPA is in the toilet), make sure you get as high a GPA as possible in the summer quarter. Then, you can relax and never worry about it again…

Plan, plan, plan all the classes you want to take for the entire year — but remain flexible

The Stanford GSB registration process is not entirely terrible and has a few interesting twists (like super-round) that works pretty well in helping you get a least a couple of your most wanted classes. However, you need to consider that several “must have” classes are only offered in one quarter per year. Also, if you are incorporating classes from “across the street” in other schools (such as Engineering, Law, Medicine, etc.), class times / days often don’t align neatly with GSB schedules. So, if you have a “must have” Engineering class, be prepared to deal with schedule conflicts that couple wipe out 2 or 3 possible GSB class times.

After planning out your entire year, remain flexible. It is impossible for you to learn the entire course catalog and understand your educational priorities with 100% accuracy in the first few weeks of class. Inevitably, you will learn of a class that you might want to take – don’t be afraid to reexamine (and possible rearrange) your entire schedule when that happens. Take the classes that you will find most useful and enjoyable – don’t take classes just because they fit neatly into your schedule.

Get over FOMO as quickly as possible

The Class of 2013 told this to us, and I will repeat it to future classes. You need to understand that you will NOT be able to do everything. During the summer quarter, the pace is quick – but the MSx’ers are the only students at GSB, so it seems like you’ll be able to join every club, drink at every FOAM, get “H”s across the board and take 3 Engineering classes per quarter. WRONG!

As soon as the MBAs and other students around campus arrive, the pace of events will be unbelievably fast and will inevitably conflict, forcing you to decide which is more important. The first couple times this happens, you will be devastated that you can’t make both events. Or worse, you’ll leave one event early to run to the other event.

AVOID THAT TEMPTATION!! The sooner you get over FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), the sooner you will be able to rationalize and prioritize your schedule and get real value out of these events. And it will be far less stressful too!

Strongly consider getting across-the-street

Some of the best classes I took last year were not even in the GSB. The selection of across-the-street classes will be very individual – so don’t try to convince your GSB classmates to take Engineering classes they have no interest in taking. But DO decide which classes you might be interested in taking as early as possible. Many graduate classes have a long list of pre-requistites – these can often be waived if you just take the time to go speak with the professor.

Enjoy yourself

The one thing that I never forgot – I was here to have the time of my life. It was a short 11 month journey back to topics, classes, discussions and opportunities that I would have no other way to explore. Stanford is an unique place – take advantage of it! But most importantly, make sure you’re having a good time – otherwise you’re probably not doing something right.


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