What's it like to study on Stanford's prestigious MSx programme? | TopMBA.com

What's it like to study on Stanford's prestigious MSx programme?

By Laura L

Updated October 11, 2022 Updated October 11, 2022

Javier Araya, from Chile, is one of 84 ‘uniquely seasoned’ industry leaders on the Stanford Graduate School of Business MSx programme, and a Class of ‘23 fellow.  

The one-year accelerated master’s in business programme is aimed at mid-career, experienced professionals and attracts a high profile of accomplished and diverse leaders, positioned to make a real positive impact. 

This year’s cohort includes over 20 experienced entrepreneurs, 18 current or former CEOs, nine military, government or diplomatic professionals, five law firm partners and 15 professional investors – including Javier.  

While prestigious, the MSx programme comes with a hefty price tag of almost US$194,000 (~£169,000 GBP) per person, so how does the student experience compare to other postgraduate business degrees? 

Why did you choose to apply for the MSx at this stage in your career? 

“I come from an entrepreneurial background and after building two successful start-ups and having sold one, I started asking what’s next?” Javier said.  

A successful angel investor (someone who invests their own assets in small businesses in exchange for a share), Javier sits on the board of directors for one of his start-ups and brings with him a wealth of experience in applying technology to optimising business processes. 

He said: “The Stanford MSx programme was perfect. I get to take a step back for a full year to explore different paths and think about what I want to do next. I can hone my skills in one of the best business schools in the world, and I get to do it all from the heart of Silicon Valley – the mecca for tech entrepreneurs. 

“I feel like the programme was built for me.”  

Why did you prefer the MSx programme over an MBA or EMBA? 

Given that Javier is in a mid-career position, ready to advance his already successful career even further, he was keen to expand his professional networks with those at a similar or higher level to his own. For Javier, that high level of peer-to-peer learning was one of the greatest selling points of the MSx.  

He said: “I felt that peers on an MBA programme might have been too early in their careers to provide value to my experience. With an EMBA, the part-time element put me off as I didn’t feel like it was the best way to build the strong relationships I was looking for. 

“The MSx set up gave me a full-time programme with no distractions, surrounded by highly accomplished mid-career professionals.”  

In the welcome meeting, the school’s dean, Jonathan Levin, spoke about the co-learning experience on the MSx programme. At the time, Javier thought it was simply marketing speak, but soon saw the reality of Levin’s claim once classes began.  

“Professors will start a discussion around a topic, and the students jump in to share valuable insights on how we’ve applied different concepts to our previous roles, or how the same approach can have very different outcomes across different cultures or even industries.  

“As an example, we once discussed the ethics around pricing and priorities in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. It turns out that one of my peers in the class was the executive in charge of coordinating the distribution of vaccines for one of the largest laboratories in Africa.  

“The amount of accumulated expertise and accomplishments my cohort has is humbling and nurturing. You can always find someone that has experience in virtually any topic, or connections with someone that’s working in it.” 

How is the MSx programme giving you the transformational skills and experience to make a positive impact? 

“There are innumerable resources available for students at Stanford GSB,” said Javier. “If you want to connect with leading industry experts, become a thought leader on a particular subject, pursue an ambitious career goal, or simply achieve whatever you set out to do, there are resources and opportunities you can leverage to bring you closer to your target.” 

In Javier’s case, pursuing his ambition to make a positive impact through entrepreneurship is supported by the school's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Venture Studio and Center for Social Innovation.  

“Each of them gives me access to further thinking around enterprise, and alongside modules to encourage ideation and creation in start-up ventures, and student-run clubs for entrepreneurship, I’ve got a great set of tools to help me take that next step successfully,” he said.  

The Stanford GSB MSx programme is highly customisable, with over half of the course comprised of elective modules. Not only can students choose from over 130 electives from Stanford GSB’s curriculum, but they’re also encouraged to choose modules from Stanford’s other schools including education, engineering, humanities and sciences, law, medicine and sustainability.  

“On a one-year programme, you don’t have time to lose on classes that don’t add value to your career plan,” said Javier. “We all sign up for the same programme, but we end up having a very customised curriculum based on our own objectives and interests.” 

Is the return on investment worth the cost of the programme? 

Measuring the programme with a traditional return on investment (ROI) formula – calculated by how many years you can pay back the course tuition from your expected graduate salary – doesn’t work for the MSx programme, according to Javier.  

He said: “When we talk about the course, we talk about ‘the MSx experience’ and that’s because the programme goes so much further than the curriculum.  

“The MSx experience is the programme plus everything that happens outside of the classroom and official course activities. It’s the relationships we build, the business opportunities we discuss over lunch, the dots we connect between classes and happy hours, the friendships built between our families, the causal dinner with a leading VC executive, and much more. 

“The return on investment for that is gargantuan. Don’t get me wrong, if I had come here for a salary bump then yes, it most likely will pay off. I’m not too worried about that.” 

Thinking back to the beginning of the programme, Javier remembers a message from Stanford GSB that he paraphrased: “It said, ‘In this programme, we are not going to teach you how to make money. If you were accepted into one of the best business schools in the world, it is because you already know how to make money.’  

“It’s true, in my case. The salary increase will be a part of my safety net plan, but my focus is on stretching my goals and pursuing ambitious projects – the kind of projects you can only dare to dream of as a student at Stanford.”     

What advice would you give to candidates considering the MSx at Stanford?  

“Be mindful that in order to be successful, you must have a clear career goal before you apply,” said Javier. 

“It’s a one-year intensive programme, so the exploration time is limited. You need to be extremely intentional and strategic in how you invest your time. There are several activities and initiatives happening all at the same time, each more intriguing and interesting than the other, so FOMO is real. 

“You have to make tough decisions and stick to your goal. Ask yourself, does it add to my game plan?” 

Together with a couple of his peers, Javier is working on improving payments for SMBs in B2B transactions, with the help of his newly acquired business knowledge on the MSx programme. 

Javier said: “Studying at Stanford GSB has exceeded my expectations. It’s inspiring to meet so many interesting professionals with ambitious plans to reshape their organisations and industries.  

“In my case – just a quarter of my way through the programme – I’ve found a team of like-minded people with deep insights in the payments space and with complimentary backgrounds and skills. The programme has absolutely been an accelerator towards my goals.” 

This article was originally published in October 2022 .

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