In the first installment of our MBA Life series, we talked to Knewton’s Nathan Lasche about his experience at HBS. We found out how Nate felt about class size, the people he met, Cambridge and Boston, and the weather. Now we’ll hear from Ben Jackson, friend of Knewton and current JD/MBA student at Stanford. And, in fantastic life-path chiasmus, Ben was an undergrad at Harvard just as Nate was an undergrad at Stanford. Ben was kind enough to speak to me a few days ago about his experience with Stanford GSB.
So let’s get right into it:
Ben’s general impression of the GSB? “It’s a fun place to get an awesome education. I was immediately struck by how comfortable I felt there.” (A little research had told me that Stanford makes great efforts at reinforcing community, by, for one thing, bringing together academic and residential life.) “The campus is about three minutes from residence where everyone lives their first year… The new campus will be only 20 seconds away from that residence.”
Pros and cons of the enmeshed community: “When you’re in this intense first year experience, it’s great to be around people with the same stresses. They understand… But being so close can also reinforce your stress. Hearing someone else describe a worry, you might think, ‘Well, I wasn’t stressed about that, but now I am.’”
What happens after the first year? “The majority of GSB students move off campus with other GSB students and live near other GSB students.” About 60 or 70 other GSB students live in Ben’s neighborhood. “There’s really no downside. Off campus, you have a little more space, a little more freedom… [But] to get a bit business school-y, there are a lot of efficiencies to being near everyone, like if you need a ride to school or if you want a quick study break. You’re still near everyone, but you also have a critical distance.”
Speaking of distance: “Palo Alto is about 45 minutes from San Francisco. It’s undeniably suburban. You pretty much have to have a car… Having lived in Cambridge and Boston for eight years, it took a little while to get used to not being able to wake up on a Saturday morning and get a breakfast sandwich from down the street… It’s a lifestyle thing. I don’t go to the city [San Francisco] that much, which suggests I’ve gotten used to the suburban life. It feels like a vacation when you’re in that kind of environment. Part of the relaxed atmosphere is that you aren’t in an urban setting where you have to fight with cars and tourists all the time. It’s also a lot easier to get a tennis court.”
What about community? (The key difference from HBS is the size, since a Harvard class is about two and a half times larger than a Stanford class.) “What we lack in size, we make up for in responsiveness… When you call someone, they’ll actually take your call. They do a lot to keep alumni engaged, and I’ve had success reaching out for class projects and internships… To reinforce the community, Stanford hosts a weekly speaker series — called Talk 10, or Talk 11 [if you're the class of 2010 or 2011] — where students volunteer to give a talk of about 30 minutes, with 30 minutes of Q&A… Usually around 50 to 100 people show up to hear someone give their autobiography. It’s great to hear their stories and see them opening up… so much more than resume highlights… People can get emotional sometimes. It’s something I didn’t expect. No one feels they have to give a speech, or to attend, but I’m amazed at the depth people go into and also at the regularity of attendance.”