Harvard Business School vs. Stanford GSB

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Let’s just say it right out: Stanford and Harvard are the two best business schools in the world. In terms of prestige and status, you can’t do better than to win the coveted MBA letters from either Stanford or Harvard. So it’s not surprising that a large number of people who apply to Stanford also apply to Harvard and vice versa. When Harvard gets turned down by applicants it accepts (about 11% of those who gain an offer), more often than not the applicants go west to Stanford. The same is true when Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (known as GSB) is passed over by accepted applicants. They inevitably head for Harvard Business School.

Forget the persistent stereotypes about these powerhouse schools, that Stanford is the place for those who want to do a startup and Harvard is the the place for those who want to climb a more traditional corporate ladder to the top of a Fortune 500 company. That may have been true many years ago, but it’s not true now. There are some dramatic differences between these two MBA educational giants. Most notably:

Geography: This is an obvious point, but an important one. Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley on a campus dotted with massive palm trees that sway in the afternoon breezes. In the winter months, when Harvard students are bundled up and trudging through ice and snow, Stanford MBAs might still be wearing shorts. The Stanford campus is located between San Jose and San Francisco, which is about a 45-minute drive away. The Harvard Business School, of course, is in Boston, one of the world’s most dynamic and inviting cities. Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is just minutes away. So is world-class arts and culture of all kinds. But the winter months can be brutal in New England so the east-west difference is a big one.

Size: With about 390 students per class, Stanford pretty much guarantees that almost every student knows each other. A Stanford class is less than half that of Harvard which has the largest MBA enrollment of any top U.S. school. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Stanford is just 765, versus Harvard’s 1,837. It’s the difference between “intimate scale” and “large scale.”

Facilities: The campus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is small and compact: a complex of eight new, separate buildings created around three quadrangles opened in 2011 and a single residence hall. Harvard Business School, on the other hand, is like a university onto itself with 35 separate buildings on 40 acres of property along the Charles River. Harvard has its own state-of-the-art fitness center, a massive library, a new innovation lab, and a chapel. Strategy guru Michael Porter and his Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness even has his own building on campus. There is no other business school in the world that can even remotely match Harvard for its expansive classrooms and study halls. Stanford’s new Knight Management Center, named after Nike founder and Stanford alum Phil Knight who tossed in $100 million of the $345 million cost, has given the school modern, up-to-date, world-class facilities. The available square footage increased by 30% over the previous 280,000 sq. foot of space when Stanford lacked even a single classroom with windows (HBS boasts more than 1.5 million square foot of space).

Stanford now has 13 tiered classrooms, up from 11, 20 flat-floored classrooms, up from eight, and 70 breakout and study rooms, a huge improvement from 28 previously. The larger number of breakout rooms, in particular, have helped the school to more effectively deliver a curriculum that emphasizes smaller seminar-style courses. A new 600-seat auditorium replaced the previous 324-seat model. There also are eight 16-person seminar rooms, to allow for more intimate instruction, eight showers for MBA students who also can use the university athletic center next store, and an 870-car underground parking structure on a campus where parking was always an ordeal. But that still makes it 35 buildings to nine, if you’re counting.

Culture: When Harvard Business School opens its essay section inquiring about “your three most substantial accomplishments”, it’s not a leap to believe that Harvard – a bastion of higher overachievement – is signaling that “accomplishment”, past and future, is paramount. That Harvard people value getting things done comes through loud and clear. My favorite question on the Harvard application, though, is one of four optional essays, with a 400-word limit: “When you join the HBS Class of 2013, how will you introduce yourself to your new classmates?” This gets at the aspiring students’ sense of identity, and how they present themselves, and may shed light on how they might fit into a diverse group of students. The answer might also shed light on applicants’ anxiety about joining such a potent group.

Stanford Business School, on the other hand, starts by asking about values and aspirations: “What matters most to you, and why?” and then, more directly, “What are your career aspirations?” Not that Stanford is entirely focused on ideals; they also give applicants a choice among four other essay options, one of which inquires about experience on a high-performing team. As far as I could tell, Stanford was the only one of the top ten that didn’t specify the maximum number of words for their essays. It says something affirmative about the place that they trust applicants to use their own judgment about how much to write.

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  • Jakson

    It’s been pretty consistent for the past five years. S admissions acknowledges the dual admit numbers to their students, but they don’t publicly disclose them (not really their style to brag). And consultants who sees large numbers of dual applicants will tell the same story.

    Undergraduate stats are a different ballgame. I didn’t even realize they were close. It seems like Harvard’s brand is still above everyone for undergraduate, although it appears Stanford is gaining ground. But for b-school, Stanford has become the top dog.

    (P.S. Stanford’s yield is only lower because when they lose out on students, they lose out because they have worthwhile equity at booming startups. They very rarely lose students to other MBA programs. Sometimes to Harvard of course, very rarely to anywhere else.)

  • marcus

    Stanford is the elite business school in the US as measured by overwhelming dual admit advantage, admit rate, gpa, gmat and basically every measure of business school selectivity. the rest is rationalization.

  • John C

    Who is John A. Byrne, and why has he written 3 articles saying that people prefer Stanford Business School over Harvard Business School?

    Not even sure if it’s actually true. Doesn’t he have anything better to write about?

  • John C

    NYT ran a story a few months ago suggesting that Stanford
    (undergraduate) is strongly preferred over Harvard (undergraduate) among
    dual admits based on surveys of high school students who use a certain
    college application service. Many Stanford people wrote excitedly that
    not only does Stanford have a lower acceptance rate than Harvard, they
    also beat Harvard with the dual admits!

    I had a hard time believing it because Harvard has a higher yield (82%)
    than Stanford (76%). The whole thing was exposed to be bogus when the
    Stanford admissions office disclosed at the Stanford Faculty Senate meeting that they actually lose to Harvard 65:35. The survey the NYT used had a small sample size
    and was biased because most of the users of the application service were
    from California and Michigan, thus more likely to choose Stanford over
    Harvard, with very few from the East Coast.

    Now there are stories all over the internet about how people overwhelmingly
    choose Stanford Business School over Harvard Business School (based on
    some surveys of limited sample size), which also rings bogus. Harvard
    Business School has a much higher yield (90%) than Stanford Business
    School (about 80%). I know that Stanford people will trumpet it whether
    or not it’s true, but you probably shouldn’t believe it until more
    credible evidence comes out.

  • dardentrash

    H/S is clearly a trash bin for tools who are afraid of finance and math. Wharton is an empire with the most prominent alumni and billionaires.

    Only new applicants in the most recent generation who are clueless and buy into P&Q BS think H/S even comes close to Wharton.

  • dardentrash

    Wharton dominates financial markets. H/S are tools who can’t handle numbers and resort to case studies.

  • Alex

    Wharton is a dumping ground for H- and S-rejects. That everybody knows.

  • f22raptor

    it’s hard to adequately emphasize how obsessed the world is with the Ivy League

  • f22raptor

    confirming we only know about HSW in places like UK, Asia, Dubai, etc. W more only in financial firms. We associate Kellogg with cereal, and never heard of booth. We know about MIT/Columbia, but they’re not on the same level as HSW.

  • Samuel

    I agree HSW are pretty much on the same level in terms of international brand, probably H/W in terms of sheer impact and network, and W in terms of finance/quant.
    John probably compared these 2 because they have a more similar approach with cases at the core of the approach. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a new article between the big 3 HSW.

  • BenjaminFranklin100ftw

    <–THIS, yeah stick to the FACTS not random broad generalizations

  • alsothis

    Not to mention Wharton’s alumni are unmatched in terms of shaping American business and influence

  • HSWpleaseletmein

    And in terms of buildings/infrastructure, Huntsman Hall at Wharton is much more imposing and impressive than the Baker library or any of the GSB buildings.

  • HSWpleaseletmein

    These facts put things into the proper perspective. This article is otherwise based on no facts besides fluctuating application numbers – Wharton had higher GMAT than HBS, and many things can affect the yield – preference for case studies, fear of Wharton’s curve, hatred of finance or numbers. And for most of history, Wharton dominated and H/S were not even relevant. And W has always dominated research output since its founding in 1881.

  • dardentrash

    yes the facts speak for themselves. this is why the articles and authors should be careful not to make subjective statements like this that risk destroying their objectivity

  • ikillufoo

    Also summarizing other facts about Wharton people here have discussed. Arguably it has the best claim to being the “best,” whatever that means.

    1. First business school in the U.S. First business school in the world affiliated with a University (why Wharton markets itself as the world’s first collegiate business school)

    2. Domination of virtually all finance rankings.

    3. Highest pay based on the new report released on MBA figures. Undergrad is a guarantee every year.

    4. Their history is basically factual. Wharton has had a lot of innovations, while other schools pale in comparison and even try to obscure their lack of historical significance.

    5. Their research output and number of citations received is miles ahead of any other school.

    6. Vast majority of the world’s Central Bank governors and Finance Ministers who chose to study abroad have a finance degree from Wharton.

    7. They account for the vast majority of billionaires in finance.

  • ikillufoo

    I would also like to see information on MIT and LBS.

    Also – John, when you say “2 best,” I assume you mean “2 of the best?”

    In finance, which many people want to go into, the undisputed world leader is Wharton.

    Wharton: Always #1 in USNWR finance rankings every single year- USNWR itself is owned by Wharton alum (he’s the Editor in Chief)
    Currently tied for #1 overall, and maybe it’ll break away next year for the sole title.

    Wharton was #1 in Bloomberg BW for 8 years consecutively, and looks like it will start it’s second reich.

    Wharton was #1 in Financial Times in the WORLD every year between 2000-2009, and again 2011. As the financial markets rebound (and they will sooner rather than later), Wharton will regain it’s top #1 world position again. Then we shall see.

  • Hask

    This article is antique. Stanford is way ahead of HBS now. 70%+ of dual admits chose GSB over HBS in 2014. The caliber of students is much more impressive at the GSB than HBS. Just go and meet them and you’ll see for yourself. This article needs an update/rewrite.

  • JBrof

    The fact that Stanford GSB takes 3 out of every 4 cross-admits with HBS says something. Everything else is a lagging indicator. This is from a source very close to the GSB and has apparently been confirmed by the Dean. HBS might still have a higher yield, since it has a much bigger class and admits many students who don’t get accepted to the GSB, and HBS’ yield on those students must be close to 100%. Shockingly, the GSB takes slightly higher than 3 out of every 4 cross-admits among international student. Apparently, the only major competition the GSB has for MBA students is from industry (prospects deciding to forgo an MBA).

  • glemna

    that is why it is such a roaring tiger economy and will destroy china..it has the best business schools! heheh

  • hokf

    living proof that all this BS about FIT is only that–complete bullS(*&…so many applicants apply to both even though they are supposedly “opposite” in culture…

  • Gopal

    True about the semantics. But you or I are not right people to assess choice for an entire community. there are a multitude of Indians who would choose IIMs over the schools mentioned. And their reasons and success would be no less important than yours or mine when we think of cutting edge management research or selectivity. In terms of opportunities that it affords and the respect it gets around the world IIMA,B and C would be not be a bad bet.

    On the other hand if IIMs would allow it (it currently does not) Im sure multitude of foreign candidates would apply to it as well, regardless of the research that it produces simply because of access and the status IIMs have in the Indian Context.

  • Sachin Wordsmith

    This is where we get into semantics. Just sending the score doesn’t constitute applying. You need to write the essays, submit LORs, the CV etc and pay the not inexpensive application fee for a complete application. All these aren’t really there for the IIMs. The score is all it takes to be invited for future rounds. Anyway it really doesn’t matter though,which the most highly selective school is. If I/as many had to pick one school only among the IIMs and GSB, without a second’s hesitation it would be GSB.

  • Gopal

    I do disagree with ARs point though but not due to the reasons Sachin mentioned.

    One also needs to check a box and actually say which schools should your applications go to. And IIMA,B,C and probably L also received many more applications than Stanford. ALso 238K people took the gmat last year. And since IIMs accept GMAT scores as well you can attribute some of that volume to them as well. And more over about 200k gave the CAT last year and ticked A and B and C as their schools to apply to.

  • Sachin Wordsmith

    Disagree. A higher number of people write the CAT, which serves as the entrance exam for the IIMs, but that doesn’t mean they are “applicants”. If you are making that comparison, you can as well say Stanford is again the most highly selective School. More people give the GMAT than they do CAT.

  • YoYoMa

    I REALLY wish this would be updated. It’s been over 4 years!

  • Alpheus Legoke Mokgalaka

    This an excellent comparison, genius vs intelligence, HBS vs Stanford, Harvard might be best but ”why Stanford had fewer intakes?” Do you think small buildings, few sponsors, etc. have major impacts? Harvard emphasizes and encourages students to be an aspirant career seeker, have excellent presentation skills, be diverse and have anxiety to learn. I will like HBS!

  • B

    Hi John,
    Thanks for this. It would be great to see the insights on Wharton, Booth, Haas and Columbia Business Schools.

  • marcus

    Stanford is the most competitive B School in the country by a long shot. Harvard, Wharton etc are great safety schoolz if you don’t get into Stanford. Harvard is also great if you want that consulting, marketing sort of safe post MBA job. Stanford is more for the folks interested in starting their own company and swinging for the fences. Harvard is a good safety in more ways then one.

  • disqus_JGP1tL6mRq

    As someone who’s just been through both applications (and admitted to both), let me say that the processes are intensive and interesting. Spend the majority of your time on the essays and recommendations.

  • John

    Jobs provided numerous talks at GSB and it’s where he met his wife. That’s a closer association than Gates or Zuckerberg have to HBS (both undergrad dropouts).

  • Chloe

    You know what they say here: HBS is the Stanford of the East Coast and GSB is the Harvard of the West Coast. They are both titans. No comparison.

  • michael

    thank you so much for writing this article. remarkably nice compare and contrast

  • feshKer


  • Guest

    You’re commenting on a 3 yr old article so you’re not going to get much discussion.

    That said, Harvard’s brand is still incredibly powerful but you’re overestimating it. There’s been a big shift the last 2-3 years (especially in Asia) where Stanford is edging out Harvard. Couple this with the new Forbes list that ranks undergrad Stanford #1 and it might get more momentum.

    Harvard is still incredibly powerful but these days it and Stanford are on the exact same level to the people who matter.

  • Kamikaze

    Internationally, HBS’ name value and prestige trumps GSB by a long shot…

  • Dan

    In response to your claim – “There is no other business school in the world that can even remotely match Harvard for its expansive classrooms and study halls”

    Attended classes in both HBS & MIT Sloan. New Sloan classrooms & study rooms are way better than those at HBS. HBS Campus is great and nice but Charles river & Boston skyline view you see from Sloan is priceless. Also MIT is more closely aligned with Stanford than Berkley. So fair comparison would be MIT vs Stanford than MIT vs Berkley.

  • AR

    The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) would be at higher positions than Stanford in terms of selectivity of business schools with less than 1% getting in…

  • Undecided

    Hello, I just got accepted to both HBS and GSB. I went to Harvard undergrad and work at a Big 3 consulting firm in Boston. Which would you choose?

  • Yup

    That’s awesome — especially the Design Thinking part, because I don’t think the school’s push toward Entrepreneurship started just two years ago. Cambridge kind of sucks though. Two great schools nonetheless.

  • kingfalcon

    Of course the photo is old. This article is 2/12 years old at this point.

  • Justin

    John, can you write up a Cornell Johnson vs UVA Darden comparison?

  • Being Honest

    The purpose of an MBA is to brand yourself as a member of an elite institution, to meet and network with other members of the institution, and to gain access to career paths that non-MBAs don’t have.

    The best American applicants (former employees of KKR, or Bain, or Google) don’t go to II-whatever. They go to Harvard, or Wharton,or Booth. They lend prestige to the university, and confer it upon its graduates, which makes the school more desirable. It’s a vicious circle. The fact that these Indian schools have extraordinarily low acceptance, to be perfectly honest, is irrelevant: it’s the QUALITY OF STUDENT that is relevant. Harvard, and Stanford, and the other M7 schools, are the clear leaders in those areas. That’s what you should be looking for, not a low acceptance rate and high test scores.

    Maybe II-whatever wouldn’t be a bad idea if you want to stay in India,
    but American employers would not view the degree as meaningful. If you want to get a job at Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey, or Google in the Western hemisphere, you should go to GSB/HBS/Wharton.

  • Jeremy

    HBS has been making a BIG push towards Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Design Thinking over the last two years, while enrollment of “finance people” is down. I think you’d be quite surprised about the culture at HBS today.

  • coedk

    Despite your horrid grammar mistakes, I find myself agreeing with you. A lot of the sites that admissions people at these schools have put up have repeatedly said that having a good GMAT score is the equivalent to being tall when you want to join the NBA, it helps but you can get there without it. For example, I think just last year Stanford accepted people with a 530!

  • Leslie

    and keep the color codes consistent!

  • stanfordalum

    Your picture of stanford gsb is the old campus that closed over a year ago. The new campus is much more impressive.

  • Hi guys, your articles about comparison of business schools are all distorted

  • Guest

    great post on EJMR from a TA at a top school…

    As I see it, there are literally two types of people in the MBA
    program:1. The “Poets”: Translation? They have trouble working their way
    around a $5 pocket calculator. They’re really good in bullshitting useless stuff
    out of their ass and it shows from their previous undergrad degrees and work
    experiences. Let’s just say I’ve seen my fair share of people who did an
    undergrad in things like Communications, Political Science, Art History, etc.,
    and with work experiences like HR, Marketing, etc.

    2. The “Quants”: These are by far the worst. Typically you’ll see people with
    some economics / finance / engineering type undergrad and had some experience at
    a finance or consulting firm. They are clearly smarter than the Poets. But
    because of peer effects or what not, just because they know they are smarter
    than the Poets, they immediately infer that to mean they are smarter than
    everyone else in the world. They think that a “financial model” means Excel
    spreadsheets. And they think “finance” to mean building DCF spreadsheets,
    working out the CAPM and hitting the occasional “Regression” button in Excel.
    But the moment you start to going into more mathematical intricacies and deeper
    thoughts about the financial models, they immediately shut off and exclaim
    “Irrelevance to the real world!”. I guess they don’t want people to pop their
    fragile superiority complex bubble.

  • Guest

    I think you missed the point, John. The keyword was “likely.” Both schools are almost diametric in terms of culture, and perhaps inspire disparate business personalities. I think most would agree.

    Concoct your own euphemisms.. Phil Knight vs. Mitt Romney. Brogues vs Sneakers. Tux vs. Flip Flops. Get the idea? Relax man.. all in good jest

  • Abhinav

    @Anupam, agree with points
    1 & 2. note in point 2 you have spoken of willingness to spend. ability to
    spend and willingness to spend are two very different things and somewhere in
    your post you have failed to recognize that difference. i may have the money to
    spend on something but i hesitate to do so because I don’t think it is worth my

    Maybe our definitions of ‘impoverished’ differ. I’d say half the Indian MBA
    applicant pool would have  1-2 years work experience and earn between 3 –
    5 lakhs per annum and the rest would be fresh graduates. the guys that make
    about 4 lakhs per annum in the software industry in India, get paid about
    $60,000 for doing the same job for the same company in the US owing to higher
    living costs among other things. if you consider them impoverished then I rest
    my case. It is your opinion vs mine on a subjective term.

    Agree with you on the experience, diversity, exposure fronts. Disagree with the
    contacts, networks bit and if you do a little more research i know you will
    come around on this one.

    there is a reason the best consulting firms, finance firms among others recruit
    from IIMs – specially A,B & C. the IIMs cater to a different market than
    Bschools abroad. its demand and supply man. if corporates didnt want guys with
    low or no work ex, Indian bschools would have made a drastic change to the
    criteria a long time ago. the fact is that they do.

    please dont feel sorry for my perception Anupam. it is indeed well thought out,
    though my posts dont do complete justice to my research. i will definitely
    apprise you should the need for another ‘personal note’ arise.

    maybe you should broaden your mindset – you need to understand that the markets
    being catered to by bschools abroad and bschools in India are very
    different.  at present, the Indian market suits me just fine. were I 5
    years older, the same size wouldn’t fit me anymore. think about it 🙂 cheers


  • John

    That’d be like an HBS fanboy mentioning Bill Gates or Zuckerberg to desperately try to associate them with HBS.

    Actually… no, it’d be nothing like that, ’cause at least Bill Gates and Zuckerberg went to Harvard. Steve Jobs is not associated with Stanford in any way, let alone with GSB. 

  • Gopal

    While it is easy to make such bold and sweeping statements about the youth in India and the lack of knowledge they possess about the world of MBAs out there is it equally easy to ignore the fact that 62.5% of all the Professionally run (non family owned) large enterprises are headed by IIM A alums alone? Does their success not signify the relative irrelevance of the diversity angle.
    Ok the previous one was just to be a little provocative since the tone of the response seemed that way.
    Let me start off by saying that MBA whether we like it or not is a career move decision, whether vertically or sideways or diagonally but a career move. And careers that get build depend on the opportunities that a school is able to provide. Independent observers one after the other keep saying that it is easier for someone to land a job at GS or Mck out of IIM A,B or C than any other bschool in the world.
    If the MBA as a life changing diverse opportunity was the criteria why do all well established Bschools talk about starting salaries and break them up into every single possible dimension of function role geography and dedicate more than 3/4th of their brochures to that?
    Why would the industry not just Indian industry but all the global want to recruit from IIMs for their global operations?
    We can keep talking about all the dimensions along which Harvard and Stanford and IIMs are different but I hardly find any merit in the sweeping statements you make about the choices students at IIM make. That actually is going along a tangent to what the workplace and industry is signalling with its actions.


  • Anupam

    @Abinav, IIMs are definitely the best in India but there can never be any questions of drawing parallels between the IIMs and atleast the top 50 B schools in the world.People don’t choose to do an MBA for it’s ROI.
    The reasons why so many people in india want to get into the IIMs for their MBAs :-
    1–they don’t have much information regarding the b schools abroad .
    2–and even if they do they are not willing to spend that much on an MBA abroad.
    If ROI mattered so much for people then no one would attend Harvard,Stanford and the biggies like them,everyone would have come to india to study at IIMs.And yes money is a key factor why Indians prefer IIMs over MBAs abroad,it’s because people start thinking about the expenses and the ROI that leads them to IIMs.which puts forth the fact that indeed the impoverished lot form the applicants’ pool.
    People at the top 50 b schools have on an average 4 to 5 years of work experience in diverse fields.The interations,exposure,networks and the contacts they make at those places is gonna help them more in their corporate career than the MBA degree itself.
    Whereas a typical class at the IIMs has 70 % engineers and the rest non-engineers with little or no experience.You can scale the magnitude of differen es between the ‘great’ IIMs and the best out there .
    On a personal note,I feel sorry for your perception of an MBA as you seem to have gone for the IIMs just for the sake of ROI .
    And for your 3rd point, your perception represents that of a typical youth in India aspiring for a low cost MBA ready to compromise the quality of an MBA by studying in an IIM.

  • mr. architect goes to b school

    Great smackdowns…can you do Harvard vs Wharton. Also a real estate focused one that covers real estate programs like at H/W/C/NYU.

  • Nando

    Hi John,

    I’m from Brazil and I am thinking about applying for a full time MBA at Havard, Stanford, Berkeley or Tuck.

    I’m currently working as a senior consultant at Ernst & Young.

    I started to work for EY three years ago as a full time consultant and recently I had my second promotion to Senior Consultant.

    I have a 3.2 GPA and a GMAT score of 680. I know that’s not a good GPA but I had to work 6 hours a day during my business administration course and there wasn’t much time to study.

    During my first year of undergraduation I have worked for the Junior company at the university. Also, throughout my business administration course I was invited by the university to teach finance in extra classes to other students. I gave these extra classes for a year and a half

    I’d like to know if I have a chance to get in into at least one of these schools. I’m 24 and I think I should apply for the first round in october 2012.

    Please let me know what you think.



  • Abhinav

    to all those making the comparison b/w IIMs, HBS, GSB… just wanted to point out some interesting facts.

    1. IIM Calcutta – the first IIM, was setup in collaboration with MIT Sloan, Paul Samuelson was part of the core team too.
    2. IIM Ahmedabad was setup in collaboration with HBS which is why even today IIM A follows the CASE method. So much for those who termed the knowledge gained here ‘bookish’ or someth to that effect.
    3. No, ‘impoverished’ people are not the applicant pool of the IIMs.
    4. The ROI on an MBA at an IIM or for that matter most schools in India is much much better than the ROI abroad specially in the US.
    5. The Common Admission Test (CAT) is conducted BY THE IIMs. While most schools accept CAT scores, one has to apply to them seperately. This is equivalent to HBS/GSB conducting GMAT and accepting your application by default if you ranked at the 99.7th percentile or higher in GMAT and you have a good academic record.
    6. Lastly and most importantly, once one has made the cut through CAT (by getting a 99+ percentile), some schools, not all, require one to answer a few Qs much like the essays one has for HBS/GSB/Most Global MBAs. These questions will be evaulated and finally only those students, from the top 1 percentile, with the best profiles will be selected. Therefore, a 99+ percentile is only a prerequisite – after that you have regular parameters GD/PI/Essay/Work Ex/Academic record evaluated before acceptance 🙂

    Dont intend to spark off another debate here. Just presenting facts for your benefit. PS: If I had to choose between IIM A/B/C or GSB/HBS/Wharton, I would pick one of these IIMs because the ROI is much much better, faster. Cheers 🙂

  • Rohit Beri

    Hi John,

    Would love to see a comparison between Sloan Fellow Program offered by MIT Sloan, Stanford GSB and LBS.

    Poets and Quants in my opinion is the best site I have come across on Business Schools.

    Thanks & Regards,

  • MBA Aspirant 2012

    Nice article series this is John!

    HBS and Stan are very different in their philosophies and culture (as also indicated by their admission essays). One gets to know that when one starts researching.

    In India and the China, the population is so high that everything is competitive from the day you are born, getting to pre-school, getting to school, getting to college, getting to post-grad college, finding a good flat to live in and so on. Comparison and competition starts right from the day you can walk (even before that actually.. ohh, my son can walk in 6 months, oh.. my daughter can speak all the english alphabets in 10 months and shit). So a comparison to foreign schools or other things cannot be on the same basis.

    Said that, it’s only sensible to make the best of the opportunities one gets.

    Also someone mentioned that Indians are always there to comment on every article: well, this again is a population mismatch thing 😛 !

  • Interesting

    Here’s how I see it. One school is more likely to produce a Steve Jobs than a George Bush.

  • Striving to hbs

    @john. As one of commenting friends stated that iim grads are from impoverished backgrounds.. Well money makes the big issue to think of hbs.. students from india cannot afford 70 lakhs INR for an mba program.. Does hbs offers financial aids for their programs? If so, will they offer loan for the entire fees?

  • Yahonnan

    @Jason “It just feels rather greedy/shallow to use alumni network … when explaining why you chose a school ”

    The primary reasons for doing a MBA are
    1. Networking
    2. Branding

    Why on earth would you ignore the alumni network when choosing a MBA program.
    Here is a clue: the actual content of your MBA program is largely irrelevant.
    It is all about the brand and the networking opportunities.
    On the two parameters that actually matter, HBS reigns supreme.

  • Thanks Mike. Great idea.

  • MikeG


    Very nice analysis. Really appreciate that you include the full statistics you cite. As a quantitative analysis geek myself, and former McKinsey consultant with a Stanford MBA, I would suggest a minor tweak to your ranking graphs: reverse the y-axis scales so that 1 is at the top. Then the higher-ranking school will be visually higher as well.

  • Jason

    Yes it does. It just feels rather greedy/shallow to use alumni network or weather when explaining why you chose a school (although important factors in your mind).

    Thanks John.

  • Jason,

    It’s hard to ignore things like the alumni network, brand name, geography, weather, and case method because those are pretty big things. The much larger size of the class and the faculty at Harvard offer significant differences–you will get to meet more classmates, graduate into a much larger network of alums, and the larger faculty means more class choices. Overall, Harvard’s resources are simply extraordinary if not breathtaking. Next to Harvard, even the new beautiful Stanford campus seems small. One big issue on the curriculum: Stanford has adjusted it so that if you are well versed in certain subject areas you can take advanced courses. Harvard is still a cohort program where every incoming student takes all the same classes in the first year. The plus on the Harvard side is you really get to bond with your classmates. The plus on the Stanford side is that you won’t be going over material you already know. Hope this helps.

  • Jason

    Hi John

    I was wondering what are good reasons to choose Harvard over Stanford? Ignoring things like alumni network, brand name and geography, what are things that intrinsic to the program. I think the case method is great, but do you have thoughts on others.

  • MBA2011,

    I completely agree. Just need to get around to it. We recently did an interview with INSEAD Dean Dipak Jain which we’ll be running early next week.

  • MBA2011

    @jbyrne Would love to see a B-School Smackdown that includes INSEAD!! How about Wharton or HBS vs. Insead?

  • Stanley

    True you have written about GSB’s campus, but for the purpose of this (undated) comparison you do the school a disservice. Just sayin’
    On another note, I wish you’d date your posts.

  • Stanley,

    Not at all. You’re reading an analysis that was written long before the new campus was opened. We’ve done significant coverage of it here: Stanford’s New Ambitious $345 Million Campus and Stanford: New Campus To Increase Yield

  • Stanley

    You do a disservice to the GSB. It just unveiled its new campus.

  • no better quants than IIMS !

    quants in iims are best in the world by long distance!
    there is no room for poets there. The entrance exam math is insane! So mostly engineers get there!

    The talent with numbers seem to be believed and no the top schools of the the world( whose class runs a muck with indians for last decade and half acknowledge it( it is a like a shoalin temple!)

    But iims schools don’t have facility of a stan or har or any top 50 schools in usa by any stretch of imagination as indicated by my previous post!
    students come from extremely humble and economically impoverished background!

    But situation is changing quick and fast just like china( the executive mba now costs 55k, so they are getting there!).
    Having said all that CAT is not the toughest dog in the town! The indian civil service is the biggest, toughest,hardest,scathing exam around.
    you get 4 chances for glory with nearly half mil competing for just 1k seats( so one in 500 has a chance!). And the candidates here are both quants and poets and folks are not casual takers! In india all exams are insanely tough and point of ridiculous and awe compared to western countries( there are very few schools offering top education, hence a dog fight! situation is changing as I speak by the way!)

    But to become word beaters still they have to travel to stan/har/mit/yale.. to get vaccinated by the acknowledged elite to rule the world( citi ceo,pepsi ceo, some deans of top institutes are indians. So they are getting there!).
    you see, IIMS get top jobs but not noble prizes!
    Dig sanjay’s point?

  • let us cut to the chase! In terms of quant ability IIM STUDENTS are no 1 hands down and all the other institutes in the world are ordered to hold the candle to them( no american,russian,chinese,jap any body can come close). you have to study 16 hours per day for one year to have a decent chance of passing CAT! The same thing cannot be said to a GRE OR a GMAT exam.
    IIMS teach pure text book knowledge nothing more nothing less.
    But when it comes to leadership, outside the box thinking, holistic over all leadership,managerial hands down training the HYPSM are head and shoulders above IIMS( let us say 20 years at least). The IIMS funding is 0.0001% of harvard endowment( may be like 10 million compared to billions of all these schools). So we cant compare ( the glamour and glitz don’t exist here! Only the cold days of new england can match the hardship endured at iit’s and iims).
    None of the IIMS institutions have noble laureates while harvard and stanfords are studded with them!
    IIMS tution in modern era with residencial facility is hardly 10k compared to 150k plus it takes to graduate from these schools.
    Most of the indians don’t even know all the elite schools in the world despite being admitted to iims.
    So while IIMS produce top class mba grads who can give you the financial profile of the company in 3 hours and not 3 quarters. HYSP..M can give you managers who can help build next generation big firms. Both are needed to make it happen!
    If IIMS start thinking globally which is happening these days with their executive programs charging in the range of 50k they are soon catching up with the best in the west( ah that scenario is scary, the class has more than 60% international audience!).
    And the recent financial ranking proves that ( salary offered is 175k for iims having spent 10k to get a degree at the age of 23 is a stupendous bargain than going broke to get HYPSM and be broke till you hit 35!).
    considering these variables IIMS students are talented better than hars and stands but they are not well rounded.

    So they will have to travel further to the land which created MBAS to become the full product and change the game!
    I hold 2 masters from both the countries and I know what is cooking!
    I rest my case!

  • kd

    I am an MBA from IIM, and I know it is very hard to get admitted to the top IIMs; it’s equally hard to get an admission to top IITs as well. So the student bodies at the top IIMs and IITs are really very good. But having said that, I don’t think it is even fair to compare IIT/IIMs with HYPSM – the Indian Institutes do not even come anywhere closer. In terms of the intellectual abilities of the student bodies, may be they are somewhat comparable to the top colleges in the US, more so with the US colleges ranked in the top 10-15 than top 5 – but in terms of the faculty, resources, placement, research, global prestige and many other factors, the Indian Institutes are far behind – IMHO.

  • Venkat

    I do not see any ground to compare IIMs with the likes of Harvard or Whartons or Stanford. What in the heaven are we doing…… Are we saying that by comparing IIMs with these schools that we are any where near to them. Nope, atleast not today or in next 4 to 5 years. If IIMs need to be globally competitive, they should stop listening to HRD ministry first, next open the school for global faculty and scrap the CAT selection process. Instead intake should be through GMAT transcripts, past academic / career achievements and personal interview. Get the international students to study and keep the lecture to just 10% of class hours. Rest should be experimental learning, case modules, market research, selective analysis of informed content & scrutiny of what is taught and what is learned. Now tell me are we there any where near. We need to go a distance before we can dream of this.

  • nsf


    Running the numbers, HBS’ published yield rates seem inconsistent with the % admitted and # matriculating while Stanford’s are consistent. Is it possible that HBS is including waitlist acceptances in the yield calculation but not the admit rate?

    My calculations are below (assumed the GSB ’11 yield rate was the same as ’12):

    HBS ’12 HBS ’11 GSB ’12 GSB ’11
    # Applied 9524 9093 7204 7535
    % Admit 11.2% 12.2% 6.8% 6.5%
    % Yield 89% 89% 79% 79%

    # Matriculating:
    Implied 949 987 387 387
    Actual 903 937 389 385

  • Toro

    The day care center in my current employer has 50 children for every available seat, therefore it’s more selective than Stanford MBA! The fact has spoken, Stanford is not selective at all according to my employer’s day care center. I like how IIM’s website actually states something to this nature comparing itself to all the top MBA programs.

  • Jon

    I find it odd that these two schools are without a doubt (per this website and article) the best two business schools, yet Businessweek is given the most weight in the P&Q rankings. I understand the statement that the Businessweek rankings are the most “influential” rankings, but I think this shows that they are not the most accurate rankings and therefore should be a given less weight than the USNews rankings which Correctly ranks HS, 1 and 1.

  • Rich

    I really don’t get the point of the discussion debate. How can IIM be more selective when everyone at IIM will attend Stanford given the chance and probably no one at Stanford will attend IIM even if it’s free. Okay maybe not this extreme but you get the point.

  • The dog chaser

    It’s interesting that whenever a topic comes up, we always see one or two very lovely Indian friends coming out to remind us that stuff is just as good or better in India… Ok, ok, please, we’ve all learned that by now…

  • Niteen,
    I agree with you. One can hardly compare Harvard/Stanford and the IIMs. There are many reasons why.
    1. Like you said, if an applicant gets into all 3 institutes, as long as they can raise money for the education, there is not doubt that none would choose the IIMs.
    2. The IIM selectivity calculation assumes whoever writes the CAT applies to IIM. Though it may be true that anyone who takes the CAT aspires for the IIMs, it can also be similarly assumed that anyone taking the GMAT aspires to be in Harvard/Stanford. Otherwise, the basis for comparison itself is skewed.
    3. Selectivity may ensure quality education, but being more selective does not mean that the college offers better education. More people apply to IIM only because
    a. many of them do not know about Bschools abroad
    b. many do not want to spend that much money on an MBA
    c. Its a ticket for all engineers disillusioned with their field to move to
    another field. I really doubt one can get into Harvard/Stanford with just that
    and not because IIMs are better than all the Bschools in the world

  • niteen

    SS, you are getting caught up nitpicking the quantitative details about “selectivity” and are failing in spectacular form to see the bigger picture.

    in terms of a graduate business education, IIM is not even close to being on-par with Stanford or Harvard. all things being equal, if anyone was admitted to IIM, Stanford, or Harvard, i’m fairly positive, all things being equal, that they would opt for the latter two.

    also, application volume is not the sole indicator of selectivity. there are countless applicants who want to matriculate into stanford but don’t even bother applying because they know they won’t make the cut. you know, because standord is so SELECTIVE in its admissions.

  • shiva

    i personally feel that we are talking about schools which produce leaders not managers ;here discussion is going on gmat scores and gpa but see the selection procedure harvard and stanford or ISB gives u A application about different questions in order to find the true leadership qualities and ur potential and how u act in real situations and not just an entrance test and and an interview of ur accomplishments . Gmat is just a factor to show that u have an intellectual capacity for the rigor curriculum and simply these schools develops ur leadership qualities that are already there to a transformation for a better society. i had seen the CAT application which contains only of ur accomplishments and not any matter for producing leaders .personally if u are an indian try ISB than IIM after some experience ,u will be surely happy about it

  • AC

    This comparison of the selectivity of the IIM’s and GSB/Harvard is totally flawed.Every student who appears for CAT is being counted as applying to the IIM’s.The selectivity of the IIM’s and the selectivity of GSB/Harvard is totally different.Even one who gets 1%ile in CAT is considered as one who have applied to the IIM’s.But the same is not the case for GSB/Harvard.As John pointed out earlier that all the Stanford applicants have an average GMAT score of 700.So u can say that only a limited number of very good candidates apply to GSB/Harvard.So this comparison b/w the selectivity of IIM’s and GSB/Harvard is totally fragile and flawed.

  • Anon

    Having studied at both an IIT and Stanford, personally, if I had to hire someone for a quantitative job I would probably prefer someone from an IIM since H/S will admit students based on a bunch of parameters including diversity of the class, which filters out people with really strong quant skills but who are not that well rounded otherwise.
    For a job involving any of the softer skills like marketing/people management or requiring international work, on average, I would generally prefer someone from a US college since they would be well rounded. In some ways I think it’s like Caltech vs Harvard for undergrad.

    Regarding people from the IIMs doing a 2nd MBA in the US, the main reason seems to be to be able to find a good job in the US (it’s tougher to get a H1B for a managerial job since there is no shortage of MBAs) and to some extent, learning if the MBA was done fresh out of college (based on anecdotal evidence).

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    You know, I’d never consider getting an MBA in India (or even traveling there), but the facts speak for themselves. The IIMs ARE far more selective (and their standards higher) than the US brand name programs.

  • SS

    (A) Quote re Indian Institutes – “None of the seven institutes are even acknowledged by The Financial Times’ global ranking” – That is a factually incorrect statement- IIM A is currently ranked #8 by FT for 2010 masters in management (http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/masters-in-management)
    The MBA program at the Indian School of Business is #12 in the “Global MBA Rankings 2010” http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/global-mba-rankings
    (B) Quote ” the school really does not compare with Stanford on any level” – Global top 10 and does not compare??? really?? or are you inventing your own personal rankings?
    (C) Quote”There is a tremendous amount of self-selection going on at Stanford and Harvard which is why the average GMAT score of their entire applicant pools is above 700″ – did you bother to compare the self-selection at IIM? Or compare the admissions test at IIM with GMAT? The Indian admissions test is MUCH tougher than the GMAT. A Gmat score of 700(for international applicants) would be barely enough to be even considered for admission to the Indian Institutes.
    (D) Quote”I will try to be more precise” – appears to me that has not happened yet. You continue to still incorrectly state that “Stanford is the most selective business school in the world,” which is completely at odds with the facts. Plus, as Yodda might say to you, no such thing as “try” – either do or do not.
    Take some time to look around and check facts, the world is bigger than California (really).

  • DD

    Hi John,
    Considering IIM’s value proposition, their selectivity is too good to be true. And that actually is the case.

    Almost every Indian who wants to go to a b-school appears for CAT (the Common Admission Test for MBA in India). The scores of this test are used by hundreds of b-schools in India. So its not that every student who appears for CAT is actually applying to IIM Ahemadabad.

    It is like calculating selectivity for Harvard and Stanford on the basis of how many people appeared for GMAT in that year.

  • This article helped a lot! Thanks a lot P&Q

  • Srikar, well said. This is no knock on the Indian Institute of Management. It is a great school and doing wonderful things. But it’s not in the same league as a Harvard or Stanford for a premium MBA experience.

  • Hi John, new postings to an old post…hmmm:) your article provides an amazing insight into the ‘World’s Top 2 Programs’. Period.
    That said on a personal note I wish Harvard too had a program like Stanford’s MBA/MA(in Ed) because not only is US realizing the importance of education (especially primary education) but also are countries like India and China looking at education as a prominent factor to maintain their unprecedented growth rates.To make it a more organized sector and to build world class Education Companies the marriage of business + education management is the need of the hour! Though HGSE exists, it is a different school altogether-it essentially deals with the science of education. As for the other point on IIM v/s S/H/W – I will just say,”look at linkedin profiles or gather data from other sources; even after graduating from an IIM the majority again apply to H/S/W for a full fledged 2 year FT-MBA!” So, that’s self explanatory and a request to my fellow Indian applicants just in case you intend to compare-Do not!!

  • Arthur,

    As you say, selectivity is “typically” the ratio of admits to applications. I agree with that statement. But don’t think you can ignore the actual quality of the pool of applications. There is a tremendous amount of self-selection going on at Stanford and Harvard which is why the average GMAT score of their entire applicant pools is above 700. But I will try to be more precise. Thanks for weighing in.


  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    John, selectivity is typically the ratio of admits to applications but can be something like the mean/median GMAT or GPA of accepted applicants. Any given ranking may include selectivity as one factor in assessing the relative merits of different schools, but selectivity does not incorporate rank information. Otherwise, you’d be going in a circle, i.e., basing rank on rank.

    You say: “Just because there is a crowd of people wanting to get into a school, doesn’t make it the most selective.” This is worrisome because it does. By definiton. “Global reputation and image, quality of students and faculty, and the value of the alumni network” have nothing to do with it.

    Try to be more precise.

  • Actually, you’re wrong. It’s more like 770 applicants to every one seat. So why do I think Stanford is still the most selective business school in the world? It’s because as good as the Indian Institute of Management is, the school really does not compare with Stanford on any level–global reputation and image, quality of students and faculty, and the value of the alumni network. With 99% of the students native Indians, there is no diversity whatsoever, and with the average age of a student at the very best IIM in Ahmedabad just 23, there is very limited work experience. None of the seven institutes are even acknowledged by The Financial Times’ global ranking, while The Economist ranks only one campus–Ahmedabad–at 85th, behind such institutions as Thunderbird in Arizona and the University of Queensland in Australia. The school also fails to make the non-U.S. rankings of BusinessWeek and Forbes. Just because there is a crowd of people wanting to get into a school, doesn’t make it the most selective. That is one criteria clearly, but more importantly, it’s the overall quality of the institution and the education it is offering students that truly matters.

  • SS

    @Author – LOL, Quote from the article – “Stanford is the most selective business school in the world..” – did you bother to check facts ?
    Try the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) where the selection ratio for the MBA is more like 1200 (yes Twelve Hundred) to each seat, compared to 19:1 at Stanford per your own writing. Unless you think “World” = “California”, you should correct the article.

  • Very good point, Steve. It’s a very hard thing to fairly assess from the outside. Certainly, the greater percentage of alums who give back to their schools each year are far more likely to be deeply connected. That’s why I’m so high on the Tuck School network.

  • Steve

    This is a thoughtful discussion of the merits of each school. It is, however, an issue that few MBA applicants will be in the enviable position of deciding.

    In my view, an even more thorough comparison would have a more detailed discussion about the usefulness of alumni networks. One primary reason I sought a top MBA was access to a network of people who could lend advice, job referrals, and with whom I could discuss ideas. Anecdotally, Stanford’s is reputed to be more passionate about helping out their fellow GSB alums, whereas HBS’s is more numerous and incomparably connected in the upper echelons of the business world. Perhaps John will have a chance to discuss that parameter if he ever revisits the topic.


  • Deborah, you are so right. In fact, I fondly recall sitting down with James Thompson, who had been the director of Stanford’s Public Management Program, in the late 1980s and having a wonderful conversation with him about social enterprise. Back then, it was the only true rival to Yale University’s program in public service. For those who don’t know about it, the program was designed for MBAs interested in the public and non-profit sectors. When I first encountered the program in the late 1980s, more than 100 students sought PMP certificates which required three public management courses from among 20 electives in this area. I have another connection to this program: it was founded in 1971 by Arjay Miller, former president of Ford Motor Co., who was a central character in one of my books, The Whiz Kids. Miller, of course, became dean of the business school. Stanford was a pioneer in creating a way for MBAs who landed more lucrative summer internships to pledge to donate some of their earnings to help subsidize classmates who did their internships with non-profits. Stanford also was among the first schools to create a loan forgiveness program for students who took jobs in the public sector after graduation.

    At this year’s commencement, 86 of the graduating students walked off with PMP certificates, off from the peak year of 2004 when 134 were awarded PMPs but the highest number since 2006. Today, Stanford says the certificate requires a minimum of 16 PMP elective units, including an approved Economics course. Students may specialize in one of three areas — government, nonprofit management or socially responsible business. There’s also an annual public management initiative in which students explore a topic of social or environmental interest. Teams of students compete each spring to lead the following year’s initiative, with the winning team selecting a topic to explore in detail throughout the academic year. In 2009-10, students engaged in the question: “Debating Tomorrow: How will business change after the crisis?” The PMI topic for 2010-11 will be “Demystifying D.C.: Is America Ungovernable?”

    So thanks for reminding all of us Deborah.

  • Deborah

    I would have mentioned Stanford’s expertise in social innovation (even had Public Management program back in ’80s, maybe earlier), ties to the Stanford d.school, deemphasis on grades and extremely collaborative culture.