Wharton vs. Harvard Business School

by John A. Byrne on

Statue of Ben Franklin on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

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 learning 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 Rankings Harvard Wharton
Poets & Quants 1 4
BusinessWeek 2 4
Forbes 3 5
U.S. News & World Report 1 5
Financial Times 3 2
The Economist 7 3

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  • 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!

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