Top Feeder Colleges to Harvard B-School

Perhaps the best way to get into Harvard Business School is to already have studied at Harvard University. And if you didn’t have the opportunity to collect an undergraduate degree from Harvard, then it would probably help greatly if you went to Stanford, Penn, Yale, or Columbia University.

At the very least, those prestigious institutions are the top five feeder colleges for HBS’s incoming Class of 2013, according to an analysis of Facebook profiles by PoetsandQuants. Harvard undergrads make up an estimated 9.4% of the class with an estimated 86 MBA candidates out of an incoming class of 918 students. Together, all five schools account for 26.7% of the entire class.

As our earlier analysis of Wharton’s incoming class showed (see Top 25 Feeder Schools for Wharton), it’s an impressive group with largely prestige credentials. About 30% of Harvard B-school’s incoming class this fall hails from one of the original eight Ivy League schools (slightly less than Wharton’s 33.1%). Subtract out the international schools in the sample and those eight institutions account for roughly 38% of Harvard’s entire class (versus 44% at Wharton). The vast majority of the students come from more expensively priced private schools.

The data was collected from the Facebook page for the Class of 2013. Poets&Quants was able to identify and confirm the undergraduate backgrounds of some 638 members of the group. We then used that sample to estimate the number of students from any one institution in the full class of 918 first-year MBAs.

An estimated 49 students got their undergraduate degrees at Stanford, 45 from the University of Pennsylvania, 37 from Yale, 27 from Columbia, and 26 from Princeton.

Despite the tony schools at the top of the list, HBS admits appear to be drawn from a slightly wider selection of public schools than Wharton. In the HBS sample, for example, there are at least a pair of students each are from Arizona State, Ohio State, the State University of New York, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Iowa, and the University of Washington. There’s also at least three from the University of California’s Davis and Irvine campuses as well as a minimum of four students from the University of Florida.

The U.S. Military Academy, which failed to make the top 25 feeder schools at Wharton, figures much more prominently at Harvard. With an estimated 15 West Pointers in the class, the academy boasts the 15th largest contingent of undergradates in HBS’ new crop of MBAs.

Boston-area schools also are well represented. Besides the large contingent from Harvard and MIT (see table on next page), the class has at least five undergraduates from Boston College, two from Boston University, and a pair from Babson College.

Of course, the pedigree of one’s undergraduate degree is just one of many factors used by admissions to decide whether to admit or deny an applicant. Unlike GMAT scores, grade point averages, however, it’s one of the more mysterious factors because no B-school publicly discloses the colleges attended by their admits. Yet, the school where an applicant earned his bachelor’s degree can loom large in an admissions decision, often given far more consideration than most admissions directors will admit (see Getting Into Wharton: Does College & Work Pedigree Trump Merit?).

“School and job pedigree count more than schools would like to publicize because the mythology of admissions is that everyone starts equal, and schools are open to all comers,” says Sanford Kreisberg, an MBA admissions consultant who runs “But schools are not equally open to all comers, and job pedigree especially can be critical, even more so than schooling. You are not getting into Harvard Business School or Wharton from the local bakery or real estate office.”

While the information is eye-opening, though, it can be difficult to draw firm conclusions from the data. For one thing, it’s a slightly incomplete sample. For another, it’s only for the current incoming class. And finally, it’s not known with certainly how refective the sample of admits might be with the entire applicant pool.

Regardless, buried in all this infomation are some compelling factoids and insights. Among them:

  • Some 6.3% are from the Ivy publics: Berkeley, Michigan, UCLA, UVA, and UT-Austin (vs. 7.7% at Wharton).
  • Some 17.6% come from public universities (versus Wharton’s 16.7%)
  • The three largest international schools represented are the Indian Institute of Technology and Britain’s Cambridge and Oxford Universities.
  • A surprise of sorts is the high percentage of students from Georgetown which claims 1.7% of the class. This was even a bigger surprise at Wharton where some 3.3% of the incoming class is from.

(See next page for our table of the top 25 feeder schools for Harvard Business School’s Class of 2013)

  • sherwinwill

    Stanford has been the most selective university in the US for the past 4 years. latest acceptance rate was 4.7%

  • marcus

    BTW Stanford undergrad has the lowest admit rate and highest yield of any US university. Stanford undergrad and biz schools are the most selective in the US

  • JohnAByrne

    It’s always hard to make generalizations on this, but I would say it depends on the school. There are some MBA programs that are hell bent on reporting very high GMAT averages for both bragging rights and for rankings because U.S. News uses those numbers in the methodology to crank out its ranking. Admission consultants put Wharton, Stanford, and MIT in this category. Other schools, including Harvard and Tuck, are going to be looking for most candidates to get over 700. Once you pass that threshold, GMAT no longer becomes a significant issue in admissions. Frankly, the two cases you mention are most likely to be neutral, meaning that an adcom will put more weight on other parts of your application–interview, recommendations, essays, work experience, and the perceived quality of your undergrad institution and employer–than either the GPA or the GMAT because in either case the numbers are really superb and not an issue.

  • JR

    Do top b-schools place more importance on gpa or gmat?An applicant with say 3.5-3.6 and 770-780 is better or worse off than an applicant with 3.8-3.9 and say 720-730? (assume everything else equal)

  • stanford rocks

    i don’t think there is any doubt that Stanford is the absolute cream of the crop in pretty much everything. I am a Penn & Harvard alum and I guess I should be more biased towards my alma maters(which are both of course amazing), but Stanford has become the absolute top in my opinion

  • marcus

    btw… Stanford’s undergrad admit rate is the lowest in the county at 5.07%… as is the Stanford GSB. just saying

  • Sudhanshu

    Why is there such a stark difference between the number of undergraduates entering HBS from Stanford compared to MIT while both are similar tech-focused institutions. Is this because of the grade deflationary policy by the latter?

  • JohnAByrne

    Applications fell at most business schools. It’s mostly cyclical. They went way up when the recession started. They typically go down after that.

  • JohnAByrne

    If you have a high GPA, it won’t hold you back. By high, I mean 3.7 or above.

  • BabsonGradLookingatHBS

    Hey John,

    What do the top MBA programs think about Babson College? How will they view it in terms of (i) workload and (ii) prestige?

  • JohnAByrne

    I wouldn’t read too much into that. It could well be a one-year anomaly due to a larger percentage of the actual applicant pool having UC-Berkeley degrees. The more important point is that HBS clearly respects Cal grads and that it is a good place to go if you want to get into Harvard Business School.

  • AH

    I am rather surprised by how much better UC-Berkeley places than Michigan or UCLA at the most reputable b-schools in this country.

  • We’re working on Chicago Booth now. These take a fair amount of time to do, though.

  • Guy Fawkes

    John, has your team prepared lists for the top feeder schools to Stanford GSB, Kellogg, Booth and UCB Haas as well? It will be good to see the entire picture for the M7 to see if the same schools are well represented.

  • HandsomeMan

    there should be a count for Mormons – there’s a HUGE disproportionate number of Mormons at this school.

  • hopeful

    Hi John

    Do you have any understanding why application to HBS fell from 9524 to 9134? I haven’t been able to find any analysis but I’m sure it would be a talking point.

    Kind regards


  • Mitch

    First, a disclaimer for the comment that follows: This is pretty good reporting. It draws on actual, publicly-available (contrary to what others might think) data and brings to bear some information that otherwise might not be known.

    Having said that, I don’t think the article is really as illuminating, or as controversial, as many people initially think. By way of analogy: Is it unfair that Duke is over-represented in the NBA (relative to other schools)? No. Duke draws in the most elite basketball players in the country and then sends those already talented basketball players to the highest level–the NBA. Do I have a chance to play in the NBA if I went to University of Central Arkansas? Sure, but I have a greater burden to prove that I am NBA-worthy, because my track record isn’t as strong (side note: Scotty Pippen went to University of Central Arkansas). In other words, top schools draw in lots of ivy applicants and accept a lot of ivy applicants, because ivy applicants have a proven track record of success. If schools were to do otherwise, it would be like not drafting players from Duke, simply because I don’t want to have too many Duke players on my NBA roster.

    Put differently, if I am an NBA recruiter, I might look at (1) points scored, (2) games against top-25 opponents, (3) rebounds, etc. If I draft 30 players based on these criteria, 3 of them might be from Duke. But, it doesn’t follow that they were drafted _because_ they went to Duke. It is the old causation vs. correlation problem.

    In other words, without knowing the underlying credentials of the applicants, I don’t think this provides much in the way of meaningful inferences.

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    OK, John, what is the intersection of Ivy grads and employees of elite firms in the classes at Wharton and Harvard?

    Also, data-mining FB is stalking. Your argument is that Harvard and Wharton students are savvy enough to know the risk they’re taking when they put their information on Facebook. That’s like arguing that anyone who goes out in public knows the risk he’s taking. You’re making a stalkers argument. In fact, all those Harvard and Wharton people intended their information to be visible to other people at Harvard and Wharton. You know this and you’re arguing from a loophole.

    Also, I don’t know what you think you’ve proved. Goldberg will surely get into Harvard, Wharton or Stanford in 2012. As for the rest, if Harvard prefers its own graduates and Wharton prefers Princetonians, I think it’s possible that these people are simply more qualified than applicants from less fancy universities.

  • smclean

    Well I would like to say thanks for these articles that give more insight into what elite MBA programs look for. I have spoken to many admission teams from different MBA programs at various meet and greets in person as well as online chats and get pretty much the same response…..”we look at each application holistically”.

    It’s almost as if they are all reading from the same script. It’s hard to believe that these top schools evaluate every single application the same, I just wish they would come out and say it. I don’t understand why these programs state they view each applicant the same yet a good majority of those accepted are from a handful of select schools.

    I think it would be great if one of these top programs decided to be different from the rest and brought more transparency and honesty to their admissions process. Then hopefully other schools would decide to follow along.

    But that’s not happening anytime soon! 🙂

  • ben

    alright John, I take back the terrible comment. I do find it hard to put credence in your projected numbers based on the sample of facebook users. I have to believe the remaining 1/3 of the classes, not on facebook, have very different/unique stories and undergraduate experiences.

    I appreciate your hard work and continue to read. Apologies for being that guy sniping from anonymity.


  • Ben,
    Sorry you feel that way. But I would like to take issue with the two major points you raise.

    First, there is no inaccurate data in the story whatsoever. This is exactly what it is and nothing more: a detailed analysis of the class based on publicly available information. Moreover, the information was double checked against additional sources, such as LinkedIn profiles. And when we estimate what we believe to be the actual numbers in the full class, those estimates are based on sample sizes that are far in excess of what is deemed acceptable.

    Secondly, I really take issue with your insinuation that we are “creepily stalking Facebook.” At this point, everyone knows that if you put information on the Internet, you’re putting it in the public domain. The only exception is when you are in a closed, gated community. Certainly, everyone knows and understands this, especially an audience that is sophisticated and savvy enough to apply to Harvard or Wharton. What we’ve done here is nothing less than good, smart Internet-based reporting. It’s really naive to think otherwise.

    Finally, a note about why I think this is a valuable story. It’s because it puts into the marketplace important information that would otherwise be unavailable. It makes more transparent the process of admissions, and I think transparency is a very good thing. If elite business schools so thoroughly give preferential treatment to people with Ivy League degrees who work for a dozen or so firms, it’s only fair that applicants know the score.

    Needless to say, it took many days of research work to accurately collect this information, verify it, and then publish these stories. They were not, as people often get online, jazzed up news releases or opinion on someone else’s reporting. How we got this information, what we did with it, and how we reported it is as clear as can be to the reader. Those are the obligations of a good journalist. Then, it’s up to the readers to decide whether the data is worthwhile or not. Clearly, you’ve decided the story is “terrible.” And that’s perfectly okay as well.


  • ben

    another terrible article, based on inaccurate data, extrapolated by creepily stalking Facebook. Really not impressed. More importantly, I don’t think anyone applying to these schools really believes that everyone has an equal chance. Everyone is aware of the long shot odds of acceptance, but they apply, anyway, partly because they don’t want to look back on wonder “what if”.

  • havstar

    I’m hoping on the off chance one of these top schools will admit someone from a lesser school with an equally as impressive resume.