The MIT Sloan Fellows, Stanford MSx, and LBS Sloan Masters: one-year alternatives to regular MBA programs

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: October 15, 2019)

The Sloan Programs, exciting MBA alternatives for experienced leaders

Over the last few applications cycles, we have received an ever increasing number of inquiries regarding three 1-year MBA programs aimed at senior managers:

  1. The MIT Sloan Fellows program (probably the most popular amongst our clients)
  2. The Stanford MSx program
  3. The London Business School Sloan Masters program

In this post, we will review what makes these programs particularly attractive to some of the most experienced MBA applicants. We will also highlight the key facts that candidates should consider before starting the application process.

What makes the MIT Sloan Fellows, Stanford MSx, and LBS Sloan Masters programs so appealing to older applicants?

  • They target experienced leaders: These programs are truly designed with senior leaders in mind. While exceptions exist, it is close to impossible to be considered without at least 6 to 8 years of solid professional experience, and a track record of career success. It is also essential to be able to demonstrate solid leadership skills and a potential to reach a senior level / executive position in the mid to long term after graduating from these programs. While many candidates realize that they would benefit from an MBA degree, those in their thirties often hesitate to apply because they might be considered too old by traditional MBA programs. These three masters programs are actually a great alternative for them to consider.
  • They are 1-year MBA programs: While shorter than most elite Full Time MBAs, these programs offer a much richer experience than executive MBAs (often delivered part time, either on weekend or during a limited number of weeks during the year). They therefore offer the best of both world: a full-time, immersive on-campus experience that minimizes the time spent away from the workforce. For senior managers, the total cost (incl. opportunity cost) of a full-time MBA might be difficult to justify. Furthermore, candidates with 10 to 15 years of work experience often have families: the shorter format allows to minimize the impact on the participants’ spouse and children.
  • They are quite intimate: The London Sloan Masters program hosts 60 students every year, while Stanford’s MSx program welcomes 90 fellows. MIT’s Sloan Fellows MBA program has a somewhat larger class, with ~120 students admitted every year. The small classes allow students to know all of their peers well by the end of the program. They contrast sharply with the 400+ MBA intakes that the more traditional MBA programs at these 3 schools recruit every year. Several of our past clients who have attended one of these programs have praised the tight-knit and collaborative culture that usually prevails. This creates a much needed support system, in an otherwise very challenging environment (because of the fast-paced nature of these Masters).
  • They are also very international: Stanfords’ MSx welcomes close to 70% of international students (vs. 45% for its regular MBA), while London Business School and MIT Sloan have more than 80% international students in their classrooms. This gives every participant, including local ones, an opportunity to really be exposed to a different cultures, as no country represents a vast majority of the student body.
  • They offer cross-registration opportunities, with other programs (including Harvard!): All three Sloan Fellows programs offer students to take electives courses alongside regular MBA students. This gives participants access to a broad array of electives (e.g. more than 70 possible electives at LBS and more than 100 at Stanford), not even counting the option to conduct independent work (e.g. MIT’s IAP, LBS’ Independent Project), or participate in international projects (e.g. MIT’s Global eLab or London Business School’s International Assignment). MIT Sloan Fellows participants even have the chance to cross-register at Harvard. As an MBA student there, I often sat in classes alongside with MIT Sloan Fellows participants, and even became close with a few who shared my interest in the tech space.
  • They welcome career-switchers: While many participants to the Sloan programs are sponsored by their employer and return to their previous firm post graduation, a significant proportion of participants actually switch career (we estimate that 40%-60% do depending on the program). Spend time looking at the school’s career pages for more (here is LBS’ career page for Sloan Masters participants). Note however that traditional recruiting services (e.g. recruiting fairs) might not be offered to participating students (MIT is very explicit about it, writing that “candidates who are seeking employment after the program should be fully prepared to spend 3 – 5 months engaged in a job search after the conclusion of the program).” Nonetheless, a lot of career services are offered (e.g. coaching, professional development workshops, etc.) on campus. MIT Sloan Fellows I met while at HBS actually went on to work for different employers, or even successfully started their own ventures. Stanford’s CMC (Career Management Center) is a good illustration of the kind of services you can expect while enrolled in the MSx program (and after you graduate).
  • They’re designed with families in mind: All three schools emphasize the role that partners and family can play in the Sloan Fellows experience. Stanford and MIT even have dedicated sections on their program pages. Partners are able to take classes on campus, and usually have access  to all the facilities and services on campus (gym, library, etc.). Priority access to on-campus housing is also offered to families, ensuring that they are truly part of the program’s community.

How to successfully apply to the MIT Sloan Fellows, Stanford MSx, and LBS Sloan Masters programs?

First, there are a few key questions that these programs will try to answer when reading your application, and you should address them proactively through your resume, essays, and LORs:

  • Can you thrive in a demanding academic environment? Admissions committees will want to confirm that you can deal with the academic workload, and will look for evidence of intellectual horsepower. However, while competitive, these programs will value your business experience more than raw stats, and can even offer GMAT waivers (LBS, MIT) in some cases. Find work-related examples that show your ability to deal with complex concepts, and highlight your analytical skills.
  • What are you bringing to your classmates? Throughout your application, make sure to highlight you professional network, and how it will benefit your classmates. Do not forget to mention things like expertise in a popular field that might interest your classmates (e.g. web services, Media, consulting, tech…), or access to influential leaders, access to the investment community, etc. .
  • Are your professional goals clear and realistic? 83% of Sloan students find a job within 6 months of graduation at LBS (vs 3 months for MBA grads). The admissions committees will want to ensure that their students have a clear vision of what they intend to do next (e.g. go back to their employer, start a consulting career, etc.). There is no right or wrong career path, but if you intend to switch careers, you should make sure that your goals are realistic (how will you leverage your past experiences in this new field?) and that you have done your homework to understand how the transition will happen, and how earning your Masters degree will help you get there.
  • Are you a fit for the program? Doing your homework is essential here. These Masters are intense programs, and you will be interacting with a small class for a whole year. As much as possible, try to demonstrate that you know what you are getting into, and that you will fit in this environment. All three schools are clear about the qualities they look for in applicants, and if it does not sound like you, you might want to consider another type of program. Also, they detail quite clearly what their experience is about, so make sure that this aligns well with your expectations. Try to attend info sessions (ideally in person, or online), meet former students, and do a campus tour and attend a class if you can. This will not only allow you to confirm that the programs are a match for you, but it will also demonstrate your motivation to the admissions committees.

What are the key pieces required for a successful application?

  • A strong business resume: The most important piece to your application is your resume. You will need it early on in the applications process, as you might want to bring it to information sessions, and will need to hand it over to your recommenders. This is often the first document that the adcom will review, so it’s generally good practice to start your application by crafting a strong resume. See this post for more details.
  • Essays: All programs will ask you to write one or several essays to support your application. This is an important exercise, although one that often seems daunting to some experienced candidates. As a first step, it is usually good practice to lay out a list of five to ten strong anecdotes that you will leverage throughout your application. Be as clear as possible regarding the leadership skills or personality traits that each story is meant to convey. Also, comply with instructions given by the school (e.g. word count – try not to go beyond +5% above suggested word count). This may seem obvious, but make sure to read each questions multiple times, and address every aspect of it: every word matters.
  • LORs (letters of recommendations): You will not get into a leading program without strong support from your recommenders. They need to be extremely enthusiastic and supportive about your application. Coaching your recommenders is not an easy exercise, especially when they do not necessarily possess strong English skills, or have never written a LOR before. Start working with them early, explain how important their letter is, and try to only pick recommenders who are comfortable writing a strong LOR. Also, prepare a small Recommendation Pack, including your resume and suggested topics / accomplishments that they could consider when answering the school’s questions. Picking the right set of recommenders is probably the most important decisions you will have to make as an applicant (after your choice of programs).
  • Interview: Once invited to interview, preparation is essential. Too many candidates underestimate the amount of preparation needed to secure admissions at schools such as MIT, LBS, or Stanford. In what is often a fast paced interview, having a set of strong anecdotes ready to use to answer behavioral questions is essential, as is the ability to tell your story in less than 2 or 3 minutes. Additionally, you want to come prepared with a list of 5-10 relevant and interesting questions to ask the adcom. These questions need to show your interest for the program, while confirming that you have done your research already.

If you intend to apply to one of these programs, brace yourself for an intense journey, during which you will learn a lot about yourself. Hopefully these tips provide some good guidance as to where to start. We’re happy to discuss your profile as part of our free consultation service, and for those comprehensive coaching, we provide that, too. We are looking forward to hearing from you.

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