Teaching Methods: At Stanford, there’s far less reliance on case studies. Team projects, experiential learning, lecture and simulations make up half the teaching. Obviously, teaching methods vary by course. In “Managerial Finance,” for example, Stanford MBAs will largely be taught via lecture and discussion, with case studies accounting for about half of the work. In “Strategic Leadership,” however, most of the teaching (60%) is via case study, with about 10% lecture, and 30% experiential learning. At Harvard, the case study thoroughly dominates. Sure there are team projects, simulations and experiential learning in the mix, but Harvard’s primary learning tool is the case study. There are 30 cases in a course. The ten courses you’ll take at Harvard in the first year alone will require that you read 300 case studies. As a current HBS student who blogs under the non de plume “MilitarytoBusiness” explains, the average student in a 90-plus person class gains air time to comment on a case every other class. “That means that the professor determines half of your grade on an average of 15 comments over the period of three-to-five months. That’s not an incredibly deep well of information to help differentiate 94 highly talented students,” he says. That is the consequence of case studies in a 90-plus person class environment. Obviously, the system breeds a certain level of competition.
Program Focus: Both MBA programs have a general management focus. The biggest single difference is in entrepreneurship. Stanford’s location in Palo Alto, just down the street from Sand Hill Road, known for its concentration of venture capitalists, as well the mindset of its students makes the GSB the ideal place for would-be entrepreneurs in technology. The words to focus on, however, are “in technology.” Harvard’s size makes it a formidable player in entrepreneurship. Harvard, for example, has its own building devoted to the subject, the Arthur Rock Center, named after the HBS alum who invested in both Apple and Intel. Harvard boasts 35 faculty members who teach entrepreneurship, the second largest faculty group at the school, versus Stanford’s 10 to 15 teachers, a number that includes adjunct instructors. All first-year MBAs at Harvard have a required course in entrepreneurship and can choose from nearly two dozen second-year electives on the topic–pretty much the same number of courses that Stanford offers. As a percentage, more Stanford grads are likely to either start companies or immediately work for early stage companies than grads at Harvard. Indeed, in 2015, about 16% of Stanford’s graduating class launch companies right out of school, versus about 9% at Harvard. However, 15 years out of HBS, about half of its grads end up as entrepreneurs–roughly the same percentage as Stanford. Even more surprisingly, Harvard alums compose nearly 25% of the entire venture capital industry. Clearly, it’s a myth that Harvard is the breeding ground for corporate chieftains, while Stanford is the hotbed for entrepreneurs. In the most survey of b-school deans and directors by U.S. News & World Report, Stanford ranked second in entrepreneurship vs. Harvard’s fourth-place showing. In this same survey, Stanford did slightly better than Harvard in finance, marketing, and non-profit management. Harvard edged out Stanford in general management and international business.
On-Campus Recruiting: If you’re aiming for a top MBA job at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley, the Harvard- or Stanford-punched MBA will easily get you in the door. The small size of the graduating class at Stanford, however, along with the more entrepreneurial mindset of the students, puts it at a disadvantage in getting large numbers of company recruiters on campus. In fact, more than 90% of the companies that hire Stanford grads hire only one a year. That’s one major reason why Harvard gets more campus recruiters than Stanford, or for that matter than any other business school in the world. It’s also why half of Stanford’s graduating MBAs do self-directed job searches. Stanford has an edge in technology, given its location, and geography also plays a part in where MBAs land their first jobs. Some 52% of Stanford grads stay in the west, while only 15% of HBS grads migrate to the West Coast. About 18% of GSB grads land jobs in the Northeast, compared to 38% of HBS grads.
Alumni Network: You can’t really go wrong by being part of either the Harvard or the Stanford alumni network. Over the years, BusinessWeek surveys of MBA graduates show that Harvard, Stanford and Dartmouth boast the strongest alumni networks of any business schools in the world. With 41,378 living MBA alums, Harvard’s network is larger and more global. Stanford, meantime, boasts 16,852 living MBA alums, with a strong concentration in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Harvard also has more global reach because of the size of its network. Because Stanford is clearly the underdog to Harvard’s size and massive resources, it’s very likely that alums try to be a bit more helpful to each other than those at Harvard.