MJ attending the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, USA

My name is Michael-john Dippenaar. I attended the University of Stellenbosch, studying my Bachelors in commerce (Honours) in Financial Analysis during 2016.

I attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business in June/July of 2016, participating in the Summer Institute for General Management (SIGM) program.


Attending Stanford University Graduate School of Business is arguable the most defining decision I have made in my professional career.

I was ecstatic to find that I was accepted to attend the SIGM business school program during June/July of 2016 at Stanford University. Previously, I had applied for a Summer Exchange through the University of Stellenbosch’s PGIO office, and had unfortunately not been successful.

Why is this important to you as a prospective applicant? Don’t give up – I know of brilliant students who did and didn’t get accepted into an exchange, both making great successes of their futures. And, I also know students who decided on that day to record a simple video and try their luck, who got accepted.

The difference is if you are not willing to let go of your burning urge to see the world, meet exciting and diverse people and truly broaden your perspectives on a cosmopolitan world, then don’t give up trying.

I applied to an independent summer school (a program not affiliated with the University’s international office) which is a timely process and dependant on the guidelines of the particular partner University, so read up carefully and spend a few good hours/days on your application.

The Summer Institute for General Management (SIGM) program focuses on broad finance principles, whilst providing participants with a strong foundation in business management fundamentals. The program further aims to introduce the diverse students base, which has an international student acceptance of more then 50%, to MBA topics through classes offered entirely by the Stanford MBA program faculty. On an extracurricular level, the program offers participants exclusive opportunities in professional development through the Stanford Career & Development offices, personal engagement opportunities with business- and non-profit leaders from leading companies through multiple guest speaker events and the opportunity to build a diverse network of talented peers from across the world.

From a logistical side, the Stanford University website, and the program co-ordinators were very good at sufficiently preparing prospective students for the program. They provide information on the course, traveling to the USA and Stanford and course content before hand as to prepare you before arriving. At this stage, I would have appreciated more help from the University of Stellenbosch and the international office to help prepare for this experience.* Especially with regards to your visa and funding. Funding is always an issue, especially with top quality programs. I tried to find support from almost every department of the University, from my faculty, the International office, USKOF and student affairs and many more. You’ll definitely find some help, but start early and you’ll need to try different avenues, in my case resorting to private additional beneficiaries and loans. In terms of visas, I luckily already had a qualifying 10 year J-1 visa that served as sufficient for my attendance.

Preparing for the trip, I was quite scared; being thrown into a program with participants from Oxford, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford University itself, some of who had already been signed up by Google, JP Morgan and other international conglomerates, was quite daunting. I felt underprepared academically, insecure personally and like I was being thrown into the metaphorical shark-pond competing with the big leagues.

Experience at the host University:

 Once arriving at Stanford, the energy was electric. The managers of this program (in my case Josh and Christina) really put in a lot of effort to ensure that each participating member receives top class support from an operational side.

Upon arrival, you are invited to lunch with participating course members, after moving into your accommodation. Accommodation is on campus in Stanford residences, either the business school or law school buildings, and is determined by a pre-arrival questionnaire you need to complete. Hopefully you get placed in a four-room quad, as living with the other participants is an amazing cultural experience.

The campus is world class with sufficient laundry services, close by shops and just a bus ride away from the heart of the Silicon Valley, Palo Alto or the neighbouring towns. I recommend familiarising yourself with the Caltrain as that will be your main form of transportation to the City – which you should be sure to see and experience for yourself!

There is a good balance between attending classes, extracurricular activities, socialising and other participation. Do everything, meet everyone and don’t miss out on weekends full of adventures by keeping to yourself. There are many local Stanford students in the program, which helps a lot with general FAQ’s.

Classes run after breakfast from 8h30 until 16h30. The last hour consists of a guest speaker, practical skills building or networking opportunity. In order to really get the best out of each class be sure to do your reading (50 to 150 pages) daily before each class. You’ll find the classes differ substantially from what you’re used to, with a strong focus on case studies and problem solving. You’ll further find that the faculty member serves as a moderator; engaging in the conversation, but stimulating discourse between the class for actual content. This was an amazing experience as you truly get to value a class of 60 participants actively engaged. For that reason it’s important to be sure to have read up and before class as to make the most of this learning opportunity.

Be sure to experience Stanford’s campus in your free time. Grab some kicks and jog, play touch football or rent a bike to see the outskirts of campus. There are loads of fun activities to do and you always find someone like-minded and willing to join for most of them.

 Return to Stellenbosch:

As mentioned before, the Stanford experience was arguable the most defining moment of my life.

Firstly, let me explain the Stanford experience.  When you are invited to attend the SIGM program, you’re invited to become a Stanford student for 5 weeks. As the campus is divided into schools of professional crafts (law, engineering, medicine) and with a more then 50% international cohort, you are not seen as a International Student (with your PGIO bag) as in Stellies, but rather a participating Stanford student. You eat in the dining hall with Stanford students, you gym and exercise where the top athletes exercise and you experience campus as they would.

This results in a holistic experience and something I valued quite a lot.

Secondly, the people. The SIGM program consists of a group of roughly 120 participants, with an international delegation of minimum 50%. This results in global representation of different view and diverse participation. Stanford prides itself on such diversity, and it was lovely to see how this can be fostered in a professional environment, similar to Stellenbosch. With participants from over 40 countries, I had the opportunity to engage personally with students from top Universities across the world, including Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, the University of Kota, and the Indian institute of Science Bangalore (IISB). This creates a global interpretation of worldviews and broadens one’s horizons way beyond one’s conventional way of thinking that is fostered in our traditional South African culture.

Furthermore, the program enticed me to rather then follow the traditional path of getting a professional degree and climbing the corporate ladder, to truly find my passion, invest in making a difference in my community and contribute through my skill of entrepreneurship and business to my local community.

I would recommend this program to anyone with a curious inclination towards innovation, a cosmopolitan view on the world and a burning desire to change the world.

As South Africans we generally feel sub par in relative performance. We feel, and are constantly reminded, that we are a third-world country, and as such should play with all the other third world countries and not poke our heads in on the big-boys’ tables of the likes of the international super powers.

Traditionally, specifically in the Afrikaans culture, the stigma of starting your own venture is seen as risky and frowned upon when compared to job security and benefits that comes with it.

Being thrown into a bigger pond with different fish helped me realise that we can compete with whomever we want, from whichever University or country. This led and was confirmed to me personally (and I’m not trying to be arrogant, but merely proving a point; of which I’m really proud) by the SIGM faculty and participants awarding me the Dean’s Award for Contribution and Leadership.

It’s an exciting prospect; sticking your head out, trying and achieving success. I want to tell you to take a breath and make the jump, ‘cause you might be surprised by the results. Feel free to contact me directly any time for advice or further assistance.

It was liberating to realise that there are places that actually admire and encourage real innovative thinking. Open your mind to different perspectives.

I am unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to have gone to the Summer school, attending the GSB and will be sure to make my way back to California in the future.

*We are working on developing stronger support structures for students attending independent summer schools.