MIT’s Sloan School vs. Harvard Business School

by John A. Byrne on

MIT's Sloan School of Management

There’s no doubt that MIT’s Sloan School of Management and the Harvard Business Schools offer two of the finest and most prestigious MBAs in the world. They’re both in greater Boston, with MIT in Cambridge and HBS in Boston; they both have a general management approach; and both are fortunate to attract the world’s best students and faculty.

The flagship program at both schools is the full-time, two-year MBA. Harvard has been more protective of its MBA degree than MIT which offers a variety of other graduate-degree granting programs in business, including an Executive MBA.

MIT also has a dual degree program in which 50 students a year work toward both an MBA as well as an MS in science and engineering. There’s also a master  of science in management studies, a one-year degree done in partnership with a select group of international schools. And there is a one year Master of Finance degree in which incoming students arrive in the sumer for a turbo finance class. This year, MIT has enrolled an entire cohort of 60 students in that program.

Here’s how these wo excellent schools compare with each other:

Geography: No difference here at all. Both schools are in Boston, one of the world’s most dynamic and inviting cities. It is both an academic Disneyland and a city of working class folks. Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is just minutes away from Harvard. So is world-class arts and culture of all kinds. The winter months can be tough, with lots of cold and snow.

Size: MIT’s entering class of just under 400 students is less than half that of the Harvard Business School of more than 900. But it’s still considerably larger than Dartmouth whre the target class size is 240. Nonetheless, the scale of the MIT program is a big difference from Harvard where it’s far easier to get lost in the crowd. Total full-time MBA enrollment at MIT is only 792, versus Harvard’s 1,837.

Culture: While it’s a myth that competition is cut-throat among students at Harvard, it’s also true that the HBS environment is more competitive and intense. Size helps to breed some of this competitiveness among students, but so does the dominance of the case study method of teaching (see below) and the grading system. MIT is another story. Case studies are no more important than lectures or team projects, and the smallish size of the student body makes it far more likely that everyone in the class knows everyone else. “We’re a small school, and it’s all about the culture and the community here,” says Debbie Berechman, executive director of MBA programs at Sloan. “It’s an environment of ideas and innovation. The culture is collaborative, innovative, and energetic. Having a positive impact is one of our values. People are very much focused on the future and on opportunities. It’s very laidback and accessible, very ideas-based.”

Facilities: Harvard Business School is like a university onto itself with 33 separate buildings on 40 acres of property along the Charles River. HBS has its own state-of-the-art fitness center, a massive library, and a chapel. Strategy guru Michael Porter and his Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness even has his own building on campus. There is no other business school that can even remotely match Harvard for its expansive classrooms and study halls. At MIT, five core buildings make up the Sloan School on the east campus of the institute. A new 250,000 square foot building, dubbed E-62 for its location on the east side of the campus, will officially open. It’s a world class, modern four-floor structure with new classrooms, study rooms, and a 200-seat dining hall. The Sloan School, unlike Harvard, does not have its own library, but rather shares it with the university.

Teaching Methods: At MIT, there’s a bit of everything: lectures, simulations, action-learning projects, and case studies. “It’s an evenly distributed pie chart across all of them,” says Berechman. “The core to a large extent is lectures and cases and simulations. There is a team project in the organizational processes class, and there is a communications lab as part of communications.” At Harvard, the case study thoroughly dominates. Sure there are team projects, simulations and experiential learning in the mix, but it’s primary learning tool at Harvard is the case study. There are 30 cases in a course. The ten courses you’ll take at Harvard in the first year alone will require that you read 300 case studies. As a current HBS student who blogs under the non de plume “MilitarytoBusiness” explains, the average student in a 90-plus person class gains air time to comment on a case every other class. “That means that the professor determines half of your grade on an average of 15 comments over the period of three-to-five months. That’s not an incredibly deep well of information to help differentiate 94 highly talented students,” he says. That is the consequence of case studies in a 90-plus person class environment. Obviously, the system breeds a certain level of competition. In contrast, there is no forced grading curve at MIT as there is at Harvard. Faculty individually decide how to grade in each class and many feel that there is significant grade inflation. Oddly, MIT has a 5.0 grading scale (students need a 4.0 to graduate).

Program Focus: Unlike Harvard where the core curriculum takes up the first year of the program, MIT has a one semester core with just five classes and the option of one elective. There are no waivers, regardless of your level of experience or your background in any of the core subjects. The incoming class at MIT is divided into six cohorts which are then carved into ten teams that are meant to be as diverse as possible. At Harvard, the incoming class is divided into sections of 90 students each who go through the core classes together as well.

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  • Varun

    Amazing analysis and loads of interesting information about the schools. Nice work here.

  • J Asalde

    Incredible article. Congratulations!

  • s g

    Very useful article. Most articles about B-schools (especially the ones published by the schools themselves) are full of words like “innovative”, “ethics”, “leadership”, and “transformative”. In other words, you have no idea what a school is going to be like. This article has enough detail (grading policies, class size, etc) to let me know what Harvard or MIT would really be like.

    Looking forward to more articles like this one.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/pranavindia/ Pranav

    Good Analysis…Want to know more,more and more about MIT as I’m from Engineering background and I always consider MIT as my ‘Theater of Dreams’.

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    MIT is a sensational school. I can understand why you’d want to know a lot more. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a lot more information on all the top schools, including in-depth profiles of individual schools such as MIT.

  • http://N/A Joseph Dahmen

    I graduated from Sloan in 2004, and can attest that the core, or the first semester there, is as “militarily” focused as can be–when I worked at the Cap Group (i.e., in investment management) in California over the summer after my first year at Sloan, I actually had to explain the minutiae of cash flow projections and analyses for a fellow Harvard MBA who also was doing her summer internship at this company with me, and who had been a 3-year analyst at Morgan Stanley. The bottom line is that Sloan is extremely challenging from a technical standpoint, independent of your previous academic background (I had an MIT Masters of Engineering degree before attending Sloan), and the school ensures that in order to graduate from it, you must be grounded in the fundamentals of business boot camp–I would say more so than any other of the top B-schools. Basically all Sloanies, without exception, are extremely well versed with numbers as well as with concepts and qualitative issues. When Sloan lets a “poet” in, the school makes sure that his or her quantitative GMAT score is very high, so that this person will be well adjusted in Sloan’s quantitative environment; I also was surprised to find out that many of my Sloan cohorts had Master’s degrees (as in my case) and even PhD’s, primarily from top schools.

  • Spencer Maxwell

    on alumni networks

    mit grads have access to the entire mit database of alums

    hbs grads only have access to the business schools alums

  • Kumar

    Very nice article on MIT Vs Harvard. Provides a good perspective into their 2-year programs. Are there any rankings for business schools that offer a 1-year full-time program?.

  • amitabishnoi

    very good comparative study of both. it gives a very clear picture of colleges with their plus and minus points ………….

  • Brentwood

    To Spencer Maxwell… HBS grads do have access to the entire Harvard alumni… you posted incorrect info.

    We use the general Harvard alumni website in addition to the HBS alumni website.

  • Jon

    Can we reconcile the apparent discrepancy between those two statements?
    “At MIT, possibly because of the technical bent of many of its students, about 10% start entrepreneurial ventures out of Sloan.”
    “about 3% of Sloan grads start their own companies before or immediately after graduation.”

  • Ken

    To Spencer Maxwell. I would much rather have access to an “only-HBS” alumni network rather than to a Berkeley-MIT-Caltech “full-network”. Those HBS alumni will help you get into VC/PE, then help you establish your own company and once you are there you can eventually hire a bunch of “Sloanies” to do the grunt work nobody wants to do.

  • kindergartenteacher

    Oh my I wish I had a degree from either so that I could poke fun at the intelligence of either Sloanies or HBS folk in the future, and do it with a straight face

  • Bruce Vann

    Can’t you do that without a degree?

  • Htun Naing

    Hello John,
    I want to know about Harvard’s admitted percent of international students. Do international students compete with US students for seats or is there any quota for international students? Thanks for wonderful article MIT vs Harvard.

  • Alex

    I like the statement from MIT that they don’t want fresh grads to rush out and start companies. I entirely agree having done that mistake. So the numbers some times don’t tell a full story. I think MIT should not dilute themselves just to get the stats up and so should HBS.

  • http://www.incae.edu Eduardo

    Excellent article on MIT vs. Harvard comparison. I was lucky to attend both, getting my Masters at MIT and my doctorate at HBS. Having been at both schools almost seven years ( five for the doctorate) I can validate most of what the article mentions. Some additional considerations:
    • The teaching at both schools is simply outstanding, HBS of course, mastering the case method and MIT having excellent lecturers. Many Harvard doctoral students (myself included) preferred to take some required non-case courses at MIT.
    • The MIT culture is much more casual and open.For example, I was allowed to take graduate economics and political science courses as electives in the second year. Harvard cannot be beat in facilities and networking.
    • In some fields at times MIT has dominated Harvard. In Finance for example, at one point MIT had several future Nobel Prize Winners and superstars doing work in Finance ( Merton, Samuelson, Scholes, Modigliani, Black, Myers). Its only real competition at the time in Finance was Chicago. Most of what is taught in the field now was developed at MIT.
    In summary, you cannot go wrong with these two schools!!

  • CJ

    I noticed that, too. When I hear “entrepeneurial venture” I think “fancy word for company”. But maybe this is not the case.

  • Bog

    Regarding networking, I agree! However, history
    seems to disagree with you regarding who is hiring who… MIT produces entrepeneurs, HBS produces CEOs.

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