How I Decided Among HBS, Stanford & Booth

I was lucky enough to gain acceptance to three business schools in round one: Harvard, Stanford and Chicago Booth. But in the lead up to the notification dates for these schools, I was wracked with nerves; I’m sure many of you will empathise. The relief of getting into these schools was significant – and very much celebrated! But once the euphoria had evaporated, and the excitement subsided, it quickly sunk in that I needed to make a decision. After visiting the schools and researching them extensively, I could very much picture myself commencing with any of them in the coming fall.

Like most engineers, I turned to a spreadsheet to support my decision making. I brainstormed a total of 25 criteria on which to evaluate each school and assigned a weighting factor based on their relative importance to me. These criteria covered everything from teaching methods and resources for starting a company, to the relative challenges of maintaining a long-distance relationship (cost of flights, time difference, etc.) and the weather. In doing this, I relied on the work done by a previous dual admit, which I found on the Poets & Quants website, and just modified the criteria, weightings and scores to suit my preferences.

As is the norm when you’re admitted to business school, I had students and alumni ambassadors reach out, keen to offer their perspective and answer my burning questions. So along with my own independent research, I used a series of Skype calls with these ambassadors to help me to land on scores for each school. These interactions were useful; however, I had to remember that it was their role to “sell” their school on these calls, and to get me to sign on. At times, it was difficult to tell if what they were saying was completely genuine, or if it was “spun” to deliver a more positive point of view.

ON HIS SCORING SHEET, HBS & GSB SCORED ‘DECISIVELY HIGHER’ THAN BOOTH

As it came time to tally up the scores for each of the schools, I found that the Stanford and Harvard scored decisively higher than Booth. However, Stanford and Harvard were practically indistinguishable: 7.39 vs 7.36. Now I expected the numbers to be close, but I could hardly feel comfortable basing one of the biggest decisions of my life on a margin of less than 1%!

While my scores for Harvard and Stanford were essentially the same, the spreadsheet exercise provided a comprehensive view of the advantages and drawbacks of each school. Further, I made a couple of useful observations:

  • I noticed that although the overall scores were similar, I scored Harvard higher on outward facing measures (such as brand recognition and alumni network size), whereas I scored Stanford higher on inward facing criteria (including cultural fit and the quality of the learning environment).
  • I realised that endlessly researching the schools was not going to add much value. At this stage, I wasn’t likely to learn anything from additional research that would sway my decision.

I’d learned a lot from the spreadsheet exercise and from speaking to students and alumni, but I was going to need a different approach to make this decision.

EMOTIONALLY TRYING TO ADMIT MY LIMITATIONS

I spent several weeks reflecting on where I want to take my career and where I need to develop in order to get there. I had done this to an extent through the application process and in preparation for the interviews, but this time I felt I had to dig a bit deeper and face up to some uncomfortable truths. What are the things that I’m objectively good at vs the things that I just think I’m good at? Or the things that I’m actually good at vs the things that I want to be good at?

At times, it was emotionally trying to admit to myself where my limitations are – but I’m glad that I went through this process as it has provided me with greater clarity on where I need to focus in the coming couple of years. It also delivered clarity on which school is right for me. An MBA from either school would certainly be a life changing experience, but Harvard felt like the safer option, whereas Stanford would be a leap outside of my comfort zone.

After visiting the Harvard campus and researching the school, I could certainly see myself addressing many of my gaps there, but I was left wondering whether the academic rigor of the program and ubiquity of the case method would offer the right environment for me to grow practical skills for starting a new business or developing and launching a new product. I’ve thrived in an academically demanding environment before, and I’m confident that I could do so again – but I’m convinced that a thorough, hands-on application of knowledge is key to really unlocking the potential of my MBA.

WHY I FINALLY PICKED STANFORD

At Stanford, I saw myself facing challenges that I wouldn’t find anywhere else: challenges that are substantially different to those faced in my corporate oil and gas career. Courses like “Design for Extreme Affordability” offer me the opportunity to get hands-on experience innovating and developing new products and businesses to solve real-world problems. While traditions like “Talk” will require me to develop my story-telling skills and allow myself to be vulnerable around people with whom I have little familiarity. I ultimately chose Stanford because I believe that my experience there will be more frightening, more uncomfortable, more challenging and ultimately – more transformational. That to me is the most important consideration when deciding where to spend the next two years of my life, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in opportunity costs (direct costs, and foregone salary and benefits).

When it came time to accept the offer to Stanford – and decline the once in a lifetime offer to Harvard – I remember sitting there at my computer for over an hour. I was recapping on two months of anxiety over this decision, second-guessing the logic behind my decision, and just asking myself “what if?” I finally ratified my decision and the weight of the last couple of months was lifted. Since then, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Stanford pre-matriculate community: it’s a group of outstanding people from all walks of life, who – just like me – are ready to dive head first into the upcoming challenge.

There are many people out there who would easily choose Harvard for the brand, or Stanford for its linkages to the tech industry, and there’s nothing wrong with that – if those are the things that they really value. But the decision for me was a little more nuanced and challenging. Ultimately though, I landed on a decision that was best for me, given my background, and what I hope to take away from my MBA experience.

GSB-bound Dane Renner

Dane Renner is an MBA candidate at Stanford Graduate School of Business (class of 2019), an experienced chemical engineer, and an LGBTI+ advocate. His stats are off the charts: He racked up a 3.8 GPA in commerce and engineering at the University of Auckland in New Zealand as well as a 770 GMAT (44V/50Q). In addition to Stanford, he was admitted to both Harvard Business School and Chicago Booth School of Business. This is the first of a five-part series by Renner who will chronicle his interview preparation, with recaps of his HBS and GSB interviews, how he decided which school to attend and what he intends to do to prep for his MBA experience. 

The Series:

HOW I GOT INTO HBS, STANFORD AND BOOTH

LESSONS FROM MY BOOTH, HBS AND STANFORD INTERVIEWS

  • Joe

    Does the HBS MBA person really exist? Is the world really full of people that awful? Is he just a troll trying to make HBS look bad, or is that place full of evil sociopaths?

  • FormerTeacher

    Tell me how you really feel…

  • HBS MBA

    You don’t have the same academic background as other “folks”, because the schools that you listed are a JOKE. Maybe in your next life you will have the opportunity to choose between HBS and Stanford, but this life was definitely wasted.

  • FormerTeacher

    Ah, you got me… that was my problem. I was never good enough to get into a “prestigious company”… it’s just too bad I wasn’t accepted into and worked within TFA, MBB, and for two PE/VC funds investing in ed… oh wait, I did… and all before I got my “Yale” MBA. Turns out, there are a bunch of us who are working to improve society for its most marginalized folks and have the same academic and career chops as the best of our peers; not all of us with the ability to work at Goldman or Google have to sell our souls to “prestigious companies”. Anything else you need to know, “HBS MBA”?

  • HBS MBA

    No wonder you couldn’t make it to a prestigious company. Heard Yale’s career services are still in a very long process of being developed.

  • FormerTeacher

    That’s easy: neither offered a full-ride, unlike my school.

  • HBS MBA

    lol why didn’t you go to HBS or Stanford, which are certainly better than the schools that you listed?

  • FormerTeacher

    Haha – you’re funny. I’ll tell you this, I attended one of these schools: Columbia, Kellogg, Tuck, or Yale.

  • HBS MBA

    You are a troll making things up, give us your school name and let’s see if it’s real. If you don’t do, then we all know who is right.

  • FormerTeacher

    1) I went to school on full scholarship, but even so the money only goes so far in the short term… something about teaching a man to fish vs giving a man a fish
    2) The high majority of my colleagues have a MA and nearly all our leadership has doctorates; working in the upper echelons of K12 public education is no joke (even the program I am part of has a 2-3% annual acceptance rate)
    3) Again — I’m guessing you knew all of this being the smart HBS MBA that you are… so either stop trolling OR troll better. None of this D-league crap.

  • HBS MBA

    You could’ve fed a small community Africa with the amount you spent on MBA. Your knowledge gained is not making any difference, you’re probably ashamed having an MBA when people around you do the same thing and barely graduated from community colleges.

  • FormerTeacher

    Haha — that’s legit. That said, I am of the belief that the world is full of people who want to do well for others but are slightly misinformed about how to do it in a way that has the biggest impact. Moreover, people who tend to work in these spaces generally don’t have an MBA so the perspective and ideas I am able to bring are different from the status quo. Finally, there are a ton of benefits an MBA provides in the longer-term which make the two year investment well worth it. (but my guess is that you totally knew that even as you made your comment and were simply making a good joke)

  • HBS MBA

    Honestly, you don’t need an MBA to do good for the world. You wasted 2 years of your life by going to a fancy school, and you could have used these 2 years to do more good. What an entitled piece of garbage you are!

  • FormerTeacher

    Guess what “FingWanglll” — I actually work in urban K12 public education – more specifically in improving student outcomes for our most marginalized students (racially, socioeconomically, special needs, etc.). Do I have an MBA from some fancy school – sure. But I actually see business school as teaching the language of ‘productivity’ and am working day-in and day-out to improve the productivity of our society, especially in how it works for our most marginalized people. I am not sitting here worrying about whether I should go to Stanford or Harvard (or god-forbid, Booth!)… I am trying to do the best I can for the world that has given me so much by the lottery of my birth for those whose lotto numbers didn’t come up the same way.

  • Nope. It’s because he applied to HBS, Stanford and Chicago Booth and he got into all three schools.

  • Very Slow

    i have read all three of your articles. Please write a fourth. I don’t think I quite yet understand the magnitude of such extreme complexity that went into this enormous decision of picking a or b.

  • Anon

    I think P&Q made sure it was in the headline of all 3 articles he wrote because it was #3 on their ranking the last 2 years.

  • Ms.Mathy

    Oh wow I didn’t know people thought so little of these schools

  • ActualMBA

    True, very smart girl. Now go make me a sandwich.

  • Spartan 22

    Why was Booth even in the headline? This read like the anguish of choosing between 1A and 1B. At a certain level, when both brands (alongside your own status as a top performer) open every door conceivable for you and either decision is a proverbial no-brainer, agonizing over which to choose seems like a waste of effort.

  • ActualMBA

    At least that’s in the NY state. Imaging ending up in nowhere in New Hampshire.

  • ActualMBA

    How is that politically incorrect? Lol

  • ProspectiveMBA

    True, but politically incorrect.

  • tem

    You could be just unlucky and end up in nowhere in Ithaca !

  • ActualMBA

    Study and work harder, and you will not be in a pathetic position of choosing between Darden, Fuqua and Tuck.

  • ProspectiveMBA

    An article on how to decide between more accessible MBA programs with similar characteristics (rank, culture, geography, career opportunities, costs, etc.) would be more useful to prospective MBA students and resonate with a larger audience. For example, choosing between Darden, Fuqua and Tuck; or Stern, Columbia and Cornell.

  • FingWangIII

    With all due respect, I would like to remind you very important thing: this website is very specialized in MBAs, all stuff related to MBA admissions, applications, scores, stories, choices, rankings, all MBA related things should be covered in order to present good experience for the P&Q readers. So, it is pretty normal that people share their experiences, and choices so that the other will benefit from them.

    As you are actually here in P&Q, and not with the 99%, I’ve a good message for you ” Hey “FormerTeacher”… how about you spend some time doing actual work for actual people in the real world. How about you figure out what the non-1% looks like. Get off your high horse, burst your bubble, and wake the %&#$ up!”

  • FormerTeacher

    This guy is a d-bag. I got the same score on the GMAT (same splits too) and you don’t see me writing some puff-piece about the agony of making the most privileged of choices (oh no… should I go to Harvard or should I go to Stanford… poor me!).

    Hey “Dane”… how about you spend some time doing actual work for actual people in the real world. How about you figure out what the non-1% looks like. Get off your high horse, burst your bubble, and wake the %&#$ up!