How B-School Class Sizes Stack Up

Ever wonder exactly how large or small an elective or core course might be at a top business school’s MBA program?

There are schools that are routinely known to have so-called intimate cultures with small class sizes of highly collaborative MBA students. Think MIT Sloan, Dartmouth Tuck, and Cornell’s Johnson School of Business. Yet, an analysis by Poets&Quants paints another picture.

Guess which top ten school has the smallest elective classes? The answer is a surprise because many consider the school something of an MBA factory. It’s Wharton, which averages just 30 MBA students per elective class. That compares with 47 at MIT and 43 at Columbia Business School. The top ten school with the smallest elective courses? Stanford, where the average elective class is just 33 students. That’s quite a contrast with Harvard Business School which boasts the largest elective class sizes among the top ten at 54 students per class (see the table below).

Harvard, in fact, is clearly the outlier among the top ten schools, with the largest core and elective classes. HBS’ core courses average 91 students per class, nearly double Stanford’s 48-student average. One reason Stanford’s numbers are so small is because several seminar-like electives at the school are capped at 15 students. It’s something of a surprise to find out that after Stanford the smallest core class sizes are at Wharton (58), Chicago Booth (58), and Berkeley Haas (59).

Delivering an MBA education with smaller class sizes is a huge expense because the cost of employing a full-time faculty member is roughly $300,000 a year when benefits and research support are included. Spreading that sum out over a larger number of students is a way for schools to balance their budgets.

The tables below, based on data reported by the schools to BusinessWeek, show the average size of elective and then core courses at each of the top ten business schools as ranked by Poets&Quants.

Move further down the rankings list and there are still more surprises. You’d expect, for example, that Cornell’s Johnson School, which has a reputation for being among the smaller MBA classes, to have equally small class sizes. Not so. Cornell’s core classes average 83 students, the highest average for all the top 20 schools outside of Harvard. Its elective classes average some 53 students each, higher than any school with the exception of Harvard’s 54-student average.

The school with the smallest elective class sizes in the top 20? Yale’s School of Management where only 25 MBA students sit in the typical elective class. That’s likely to change in the future because as reported by Poets&Quants the school plans to increase its student-to-faculty ratio in the near future. The smallest core classes, meantime, are are Emory’s Goizueta School of Business where just 47 students are in the average class.



  • Joe

    So that’s how Harvard can teach twice as many MBAs… they pack them in like sardines in a can. Lol. Cornell too? I can imagine how tired those teachers would be at the end of the class — that is, if they really care about teaching effectively.

    I think that the ideal average size of a core class should be the same as the ideal for an elective (whatever that number is). After all, the same level of teacher-student engagement is necessary in both. It should be small enough to encourage participation and teacher’s attention, and big enough for it to be economically viable.

    Harvard’s I think is too big – there’s too much profit maximization going on in there. But I suppose Harvard had delivered half their value once you are accepted. After all, the only consistent reason to go to Harvard over Wharton or Chicago Booth or Kellog or MIT Sloan is their brand.

  • Zoolander54

    arjen, smaller class size likely means more attention from the teacher.  It also means each student needs to be more prepared for each lesson as the chances of being cold called increases with decreasing course sizes. Therefore for the motivated student who wants to get the most out of his/her course, try to get into the schools with the smallest course sizes.

  • Arjen Robben

    To be honest with you, to a certain level it doesn’t matter much (maybe a class size of 150 would). I go to one of these schools, and my core class has 70 people, electives, about 40. There is not much difference, if you don’t want to participate, even a class of 2 people won’t help you out. You will have to stand up by yourself, which is real life of business anyway

  • JohnAByrne


    Good question. I used the terms interchangeably to mix it up a bit. But I’m really referring to class size in every instance. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Bethany

    Great post – very interesting! One question – what is the difference between elective classes and elective courses?

    “Guess which top ten school has the smallest elective classes?… It’s Wharton, which averages just 30 MBA students per elective
    class….The top ten school with the smallest elective courses? Stanford, where
    the average elective class is just 33 students.”