Wharton vs. Harvard Business School

A Harvard Business School case study class

At the most simplistic level, you can think of Wharton as the school of facts and Harvard as the school of stories. Wharton is a numbers-driven, fact-craved MBA institution. Harvard is a story-driven place, as evidenced by its near total reliance on the case study method of teaching. As J.J. Cutler, deputy dean of Wharton’s MBA Admissions and Career Services, puts it, “We are a fact-based and data-driven school. We do not have a charisma-style approach. We let the data drive us and help lead us to the solutions.”

That sounds like a disguised knock on Harvard, and it might very well be. Yet, it gives you a clue as the basic difference between these two great MBA schools. Though Wharton and Harvard live in very different places, Philadelphia vs. Boston, finance vs. general management, facts vs. stories, they attract many of the same aspiring candidates who make up the very best of the world’s MBA applicant pool. These are world-class educational enterprises with best practice admissions offices, MBA programming, career services staffs, and alumni offices.  Obviously, the faculty at both these schools is second to none, with Wharton leaning more toward the conventional B-school research side and Harvard leaning closer to professional practice and pragmatic relevance.

One rather startling fact to keep in mind: When Thomas Robertson became dean of Wharton in 2007, he said his goal was to double the school’s $690 million endowment over five years. At the time, Harvard Business School’s endowment was a whopping $2.8 billion. That’s right: Harvard’s endowment was four times the size of Wharton’s. That treasure chest buys a lot of faculty, great staff, and world-class buildings. The financial crisis hasn’t helped Robertson with his goal, and it has also led to a setback in the HBS endowment which shrunk to $2.1 billion at the end of 2009. But the numbers give you a sense of Harvard’s strength and dominance in the world of business school education.

How else do these two exceptional schools differ from each other? Let’s start with the major business school rankings.


Over the years, Wharton has done better than Harvard in many of the rankings, from BusinessWeek to the Financial Times. More lately, however, Wharton has lagged a bit–not much, just a spot or two. Currently, Wharton is slightly favored by both The Financial Times, which ranks it number two, and The Economist, which ranks it number three. Otherwise, BusinessWeek, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report give Harvard a higher rank. The P&Q rank–which factors into consideration all the major rankings weighted by their individual authority–puts Harvard at the very top at number one and Wharton in fourth place, behind only HBS, Stanford, and Chicago. These are the up-to-date rankings from each ranking organization.

MBA RankingsHarvardWharton
U.S. News & World Report15
Financial Times32
The Economist73
  • Dee

    Actually, HBS is in Boston, across the Charles River from Harvard college and most of its grad schools.

  • Oakmont

    Agreed – terrific program – but not really comparable to an MBA/eMBA and a certificate and not a degree. See my comment further down. Great program though. Thx!

  • Oakmont

    HBS PLD program is an amazing program with tremendous talent and resources behind it, but comparing it to an MBA program whether traditional one that caters to executives like Wharton’s MBA for Execs is not fair to either program. Harvard’s PLD program awards a certificate upon completion and not a degree. It is shorter and the level of detail is not the same as an MBA program. It also offers any advantages, especially if one already has an MBA from earlier in life, than obviously why would you get another. Additionally, if you take additional courses after completion you can achieve alumni status.
    I am currently in a Cornell MBA program for execs and one of my cohort completed PLD and is just prior to starting at Cornell, and while loved it and sings it’s praises, he also readily says that it is not comparable to an eMBA program at all. He indicated that a lot of his cohort there already had an MBA from earlier years – and did not need the degree, a certificate was fine.
    Great program and option but not really comparable. Also quite expensive when dividing into the days of the program. Good option though – thx!

  • amr
  • domo
  • Birchtree

    Interesting! Thank you for the information – I was not aware of the “Fellows” candidates aspect of the Wharton for Executives program.
    Among top eMBA programs, Wharton seems to favor a younger class than most of their peers, and so there may not be as much disparity anyway, not sure, but regardless, I see your point.
    In the end, I would still personally advise in favor of Wharton for free, with sponsorship. I think that would be my clear opinion, unless someone just had some major lifelong ambition or goal to attend Harvard, I would take Wharton for free. Additionally, I would personally rather go to school with and be exposed to excecutive level MBA students (but I am speaking as someone more in that demographic – so tainted) rather than younger professionals 2-5 years out of undergrad who are looking to explore (rightfully and understandably) who and what they desire to be in terms of career…just my opinion.
    In the end, an MBA for Executives (eMBA) earns the very same MBA degree as the full time program grants – it is just a format that hits a different segment – and rightly so…
    My conclusion – this would be a VERY nice problem to have – but I would personally take Wharton paid for…

  • Guest

    As I stated above, the Wharton EMBA has a group of candidates who are called “fellows” who have less than 8 years experience. Many of these might be in jobs where they are already making post-MBA salary or slightly above, but would be willing to take a pay cut to go and graduate from HBS. So in the end, you will have some people that would be a good fit for either program. I was wondering what people would choose if given the option.

  • colmbian

    then, you can’t really compare full time MBA with EMBA, each one of them is for totally different people with different career goals and prospective You should be very carefully, full time normally for someone who is thinking of life experience beside education, and most likely to change career!, commitment is different, lifestyle is different, and by far more expensive! EMBA is for people who most likely to stay at the same organization or industry, they are well established and achieved many, they need to move up little bit! Please note: the value of Full time MBA for older student is exactly same as the value of EMBA for younger applicant! meaning, if you are older than the class avg by say 4 to 5 years, you in risk from the job prospective, similar, when you are younger than the avg age of EMBA by say 4 or 5 years, then there is a risk on doing an EMBA! Think about what you want, don’t let the money disrupt you, yes, it is nice to have sponsorship, but most importantly, your goal of doing the study..

  • guest

    Of course, you are right. But Wharton EMBA has the group of candidates who are called “fellows” who have less than 8 years experience – usually fast trackers. The catch is that they have to be fully sponsored by their company. These people are typically excellent candidates for both programs.

  • Guest

    Full time program at HBS – not their exec ed programs.

  • Simon

    which program at HBS that you compare with Wharton EMBA?

  • Birchtree

    IMO, I would 100% take the sponsorship at Wharton for Execs over HBS. They are both extraordinary schools obviously, even though Harvard is Harvard. But the ROI for paid for tuition is unbelievable and hard to pass by. Typically though, an ideal Wharton for Execs candidate is not the ideal match for a traditional full time program – usually at two different career points…

  • Guest

    Clarification – free ride is only for Wharton. Employer would not provide funding for HBS.

  • Guest

    If you were offered a free ride (fully sponsored by your employer) to Wharton’s MBA for Executives or HBS, which would you choose?

  • Tom Cross

    Here’s a radical thought—why not go to the school that is best for YOU and ignore what others think is best?? The best way to do that is to visit the campus, sit in on some classes and talk to students and faculty. And then make up your own mind!

  • Mark,

    Absolutely. Very shortly. It’s the next one I’m working on.

  • Mark

    Hi John, I believe many people would love a Booth vs Wharton review! Do you plan to do it?

  • Dr.J.Sarkar

    If Wharton is a school of facts and data driven,it should also select it’s full time MBA students more on the basis of actual facts rather than on the basis of stories told in the eassys and recomendation letters.Such stories can be influenced and more attractive.But facts like GMAT score,Academic performances and the quality of academic institutions,job experience and the company profile,interview etc cannot be influenced and more appropriately indicate quality of MBA aspirant.So wharton need not follow Harvard or Stanford in giving that much importance to eassys and recommendation letters.Let the actual facts and datas determine the selection of MBA students

  • This article aihecved exactly what I wanted it to achieve.

  • Gosh

    Actually Wharton is number 1 in FT, on par with LBS

  • For an insider perspective on Harvard, check out Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, by Philip Delves Broughton. Broughton, former Paris bureau chief for The Daily Telegraph of London, embarks on the MBA journey at HBS and shares both his criticisms and compliments of the experience.

    At first Broughton, an atypical MBA student, struggles to find his place within the famous Cambridge, MA campus. His memoir-style book shows what daily life on the HBS campus is like, and examines the motives and values of the Harvard community. He explains business school basics, from how he prepared for class, to group dynamics, to the case study method. Broughton entered HBS at a slightly older age than most b-school students, and his wife gave birth to their second child during their time in Cambridge, which gives him a different perspective than many MBA’s.

    Though he remains critical of his experience throughout the two-year MBA program, including the curriculum, professors, and fellow students, he clearly learns a lot from his time at Harvard, and the reader does as well. This book is a great read for anyone considering business school, especially those that may not fit the standard i-banker/consultant profile.

    Need help with your application essays?

  • siddharth patil

    An exceptional review!