Berkeley’s Haas School vs. Stanford’s Business School

The UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

The UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

It is one of the great and storied university rivalries anywhere in the world: Cal vs. Stanford. The fierce competition between one of the world’s great public universities and one of the world’s most elite private institutions extends from athletics to academics, including to these two highly ranked business schools. Separated by some 31 miles and the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business have much in common. Their proximity to Silicon Valley puts both insitutions at the forefront of entrepreneurship, venture capital, and technology.

But there is one essential difference between these two great institutions of learning. As an elite private, Stanford has resources that would be impossible for a public university to claim. Those resources are put to good effect in hiring the best available faculty and support staff in admissions, programming, career services, and alumni affairs. Along with Harvard and Dartmouth, Stanford is offering a premium MBA experience. What do we mean by that? There are few, if any distractions, from the flagship two-year, full-time MBA program. At Berkeley’s Haas School, in contrast, there’s an undergraduate population of 700 students, a part-time MBA program of 750 students, and an executive MBA program with 70 students. So Berkeley’s more limited resources–its roughly 80 full-time faculty members in particular–are stretched across a larger number of programs that can detract from its ability to offer the absolute best full-time MBA program. Stanford has a staff of about 100 full-time faculty members, including three Nobel Prize laureates in Michael Spence, Myron Scholes, and William Sharpe (Berkeley has one active Nobel winner: Oliver Williamson). Aside from this basic difference, the Haas School is unquestionably one of the best business schools in the world.

In what other ways do these two stellar schools differ from each other? Let’s start with how both schools fare in the major business school rankings.


In the rankings, Stanford has historically performed much better than Berkeley. The only major ranking in which Berkeley bests its Northern California rival is from The Economist which places the Haas School third, its highest showing in any ranking, and Stanford seventh. Of the five major rankings, we consider The Economist the least credible due to its odd methodology so we wouldn’t put much weight behind that result. The biggest rankings gap between these two schools occurs in The Financial Times ranking which rates Stanford fourth and Berkeley 28th. The P&Q rank–which factors into consideration all the major rankings weighted by their individual authority–puts Stanford at number two and Berkeley ninth. That makes Haas the highest rated public business school in the country. More interestingly, perhaps, is that Berkeley has consistently beaten UCLA’s Anderson School, which is now ranked 16th by us. Some 20 years ago, UCLA more often than not came out on top. These are the up-to-date rankings from each ranking organization.

MBA Rankings Stanford Berkeley
Poets&Quants 2 9
BusinessWeek 6 10
Forbes 1 12
U.S. News & World Report 1 7
Financial Times 4 28
The Economist 7 3


Historical Rankings by BusinessWeek:

Berkeley’s Haas School has shown dramatic improvement in the BusinessWeek ranking in the past four years. The school earned its highest ranking ever from BusinessWeek in 2006 when it was rated the eighth best business school in the U.S. In 2008, Berkeley came in tenth, the school’s second-best rank from the magazine ever. In BusinessWeek’s estimation, Berkeley is the second best public business school in the country, behind only Michigan which is ranked fifth. The best Stanford has ever achieved in the BusinessWeek survey is a fourth place showing. Over the years, Stanford has clearly outperformed its public university rival as the chart below shows. Still, Stanford has had a highly inconsistent run, going as low as number 11 in 2000 and as high as number four in three different surveys in 1994, 2002, and 2004. The answer for this lackluster performance for such a stellar institution is understandable. BusinessWeek measures customer satisfaction. While students rate these schools very highly, recruiters often have other issues. At Stanford, some recruiters dislike the fact that so few of the school’s MBAs are on the open market. Too many of them are headed for newer companies or directly become entrepreneurs that recruiting at Stanford is often frustrating for many companies.


Historical Rankings by The Financial Times:

Unlike BusinessWeek’s rankings, The Financial Times includes business schools from all over the world. So the FT is ranking both Berkeley and Stanford against such places as London Business School, which ranked number one in this survey in 2010 and 2009, and INSEAD, which ranked fifth these last two years. Stanford has done much better than Berkeley in the 11 surveys charted below, ranking third on five occasions, fourth in four separate years, and no higher than sixth in 2009. The Haas School, on the other hand, has never had a higher rank than 12 and that was way back in 2000. It has been ranked as low as 32nd in the world, in 2008, and 31st, in 2009. Berkeley’s showing in the Financial Times survey is a reflection of the methodology’s attempt to measure what the newspaper calls “the diversity and international reach” of the school. Even though international students at Berkeley make up 39% of the incoming class in 2010, the schools tends to do less well on some of the FT’s measurements, including “international mobility” and “international board,” factors that favor European schools where countries are not much larger than most states in the U.S.




Stanford and Berkeley are the two most selective business schools in the world. Much of that has to do with the quality of these two institutions, but you also can’t exclude their Northern California location near Silicon Valley. No school is more choosy than Stanford which says yes to only 6.5% of those who apply for admission. Its average GMAT score, 726 for the Class of 2011, is also the highest. Berkeley, meantime, accepts just 11% of its applicants which makes it harder to get into than even the Harvard Business School. It hasn’t always been that way. With just 240 open seats in every entering class, the Haas School has become an increasingly hot place to go for the MBA degree. Applications to the school have risen an average 11% a year in the past five years, to 3,626 in 2010 from 2,170 in 2005 (in 2010 applications fell, pushing the acceptance rate to 11.6%). Even so, Berkeley’s acceptance rate went from 23.1% five years ago to half that today. It’s yield number, the percentage of applicants who agree to come to the school, rose four full percentage points in the past year. GMAT range is for the middle 80%.


Admission Stats Stanford Berkeley
Average GMAT 726 718
GMAT Range* 680-770 680-760
Average GPA 3.66 3.59
Selectivity 6.5% 11.0%
Yield 79% 54%


Most people think Stanford is a small MBA program, given its peer group of elite schools such as Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago, and Northwestern. And it is. But its rival across the bay is even smaller. Berkeley’s class size of 240 is more than a full third smaller than Stanford and slightly less than Dartmouth’s Tuck School. Not surprisingly, both Haas and Stanford offer intimate and close-knit community environments. Stanford’s study body offers slightly more diversity than Berkeley’s, with a bit more women, international and minority students. Typically, Berkeley’s international numbers are higher but the financial crisis in 2008-2009 made it harder for those students to get loans to finance their education. For the Class of 2012, Berkeley’s international contingent is back up to more typica levels–39%. The numbers below are for the Class of 2011.


Enrollment Stats Stanford Berkeley
Total MBA Enrollment 765 494
Women 34% 29%
International 33% 31%
Minority 21% 18%


Stanford seems to open its doors to far more poets than Berkeley. Students who did their undergraduate work in the humanities represent 47% of the Class of 2011 at Stanford, versus only 14% at Haas. That’s a surprising difference given the many similarities between these two schools. On the other hand, Berkeley is much more open to enrolling business and economics undergrads than Stanford. About 45% of Haas’ Class of 2011 have business or econ backgrounds, versus just 17% at Stanford.


Undergrad Degrees Stanford Berkeley
Humanities 47% 14%
Engineering/Math 36% 36%
Business/Economics 17% 45%

Jobs and Pay:

The severe recession of 2009 hit Berkeley and Stanford hard as it did all the best business schools. Nearly a third of Berkeley’s and Stanford’s Class of 2009 didn’t have jobs when they graduated. Grads from both schools fared much better three months after commencement, but these numbers are rare lows for two of the best business schools in the world. The estimates of median pay 10 and 20 years after graduation as well as over a full career come from a study by PayScale done for BusinessWeek and do not include stock options or equity stakes by entrepreneurs. We suspect that if you included stock, Stanford and Berkeley grads would do even better due to the liberal use of options in Silicon Valley.


Jobs & Pay Data Stanford Berkeley
Starting salary & bonus $132,769 $121,124
MBAs employed at commencement 69.1% 65.3%
MBAs employed 3 months after commencement 85.4% 80.8%
Median pay & bonus 10 years after commencement $149,000 $134,000
Median pay & bonus 20 years after commencement $206,000 $185,000
Median pay & bonus over a full career $3,327,145 $2,960,527

Where MBAs Go:

With Wall Street in near total collapse during 2009, the big, global consulting firms stepped up to take a large percentage of the best graduates at the top business schools. This was especially true at both Stanford and Berkeley which saw record numbers of MBAs go into prestige management consulting positions. At Berkeley, consulting saw an amazing 65% increase in the number of grads the industry took off the Haas campus. At Stanford, consulting firms hired roughly one third of the class, 32% versus 27% a year earlier. Stanford MBAs going into finance, meantime, dropped to 27% of the Class of 2009 from 37% a year earlier. The biggest surprise in the numbers below? Berkeley send more than twice the percentage of MBAs into technology jobs than Stanford (that’s quite a surprise given Stanford’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley). The reason: More Stanford MBAs historically go into finance. Even in the depressed environment fo the Class of 2009, Stanford sent 27% of its MBAs into financial jobs versus jsut 15% for Berkeley. Berkeley’s top ten employers of the Class of 2009 were McKinsey & Co. (15), Deloitte Consulting (8), Adobe Systems (8), A.T. Kearney (4),  Boston Consulting Group (4), (3), Genentech (3), McKesson (3), Symantec (3), and Yahoo (3). Stanford does not release its top employers, but students named three major players there its recruiting excellence award winners: McKinsey,, and DaVita Inc., a major healthcare concern.

Industry Stanford Berkeley
Consulting 32% 26%
Technology 12% 26%
Private equity/LBO 9% 2%
Consumer Products 7% 6%
Healthcare/Biotech 7% 10%
Investment Management 6% 1%
Investment Banking 4% 2%
Hedge Funds 4% 1%
Nonprofit 4% 5%
Cleantech 4% 3%
Venture Capital 3% 2%
Financial Services 3% 5%
Media/Entertainment 3% 2%
Real Estate NA 3%


Stanford and Berkeley are located in one of the most livable and desirable places in the world: Northern California. The area’s diverse geography ranges from the sandy beaches of the Pacific coast to the rugged, snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in the east, both a mecca for those who enjoy the outdoors, whether biking, kayaking, or skiing. The Stanford campus, dotted with swaying palm trees and poppies in the spring, is located between San Jose and San Francisco, which is about a 45-minute drive away from downtown San Francisco. Anyone who has visited the city inherently understands how easy it is to leave your heart there. Berkeley is a 15-minute BART ride to San Francisco or about half an hour by car. The Haas campus sits comfortably on the eastern edge of the university across the street from California Memorial Stadium. Berkeley is the funky and eclectic west coast equivalent of New York’s East Village, with used bookstores, record shops that still sell vinyl, lots of cafes, and limitless purveyors of beads and bumper stickers that carry protest messages.


With about 390 students per class, Stanford pretty much guarantees that almost every student knows each other. At Berkeley’s Haas, it’s even smaller with about 240 students per class divided into four cohorts. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Berkeley is just 494, compared to Stanford’s 766. At both schools, you’ll find an exceptionally diverse group of people. Berkeley’s incoming class in 2010 includes a CIA analyst, the summer program manager for the Boston Ballet, the head of Disney Online China, adviser to the undersecretary of the treasury of Turkey, and the first secretary to the Korean minister of strategy and finance. One student developed renewable energy resources for off-grid communities in Nicaragua, and another has launched 30 telecom products. Five students are Fulbright scholars.


It’s been more than 40 years since political activist Mario Savio passionately implored thousands of Berkeley students to “put your bodies upon the gears…of the machine” to halt racial discrimination in the U.S. Yet, that spirit to tackle injustice is still part of the DNA of the University of California at Berkeley–even at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business where one of the institution’s core cultural attributes is to “question the status quo.” Haas Dean Rich Lyons is arguably the first B-school dean to clearly articulate his school’s culture and, more importantly, to consciously use it to shape the school’s MBA experience and its students. At Berkeley, it’s less a fundamental rewiring of the school than it is making the existing wiring more evident. As Dean Lyons puts it, “We wanted to find the heartbeat that has been here a long time. We went after culture because we felt we could write things down that other schools couldn’t.”

As a result, he has “codified” the school’s four guiding principles:
Question the status quo: “Being able to envison a different reality, to take intelligent risks, and to learn from failure, as well as having the courage to speak our minds.”
Confidence without attitude: “Being able to make decisions based on facts and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arroagance, leading through trust and collaboration.”
Students always: “Having a mindset of curiosity and lifelong learning, seeking personal growth, and practicing behavior that tells others we can learn from them.”
Beyond yourself: “Considering the long-term impact of our actions and the facility for putting larger interests above our own.”

If you’re tempted to think this is little more than a public relations exercise, Dean Lyons will tell you that he is making these cultural attributes a key part of the admissions process, of orientation, and of the ongoing MBA program. The upshot: the principles are reinforced at every stage, from the questions Berkeley asks of applicants on its required essays and in alumni interviews to the classroom discussions in core and elective courses. You’ll find several, if not all, of these principles in evidence at many of the best business schools, including Stanford, but you will be less likely to find a better champion of them than Dean Lyons who is walking the talk. There’s also a California mellowness that pervades the cultures of each of these schools. They are small, tight-knit, and highly collaborative places. For institutions that attract smart, already accomplished, yet still highly ambitious people, the competition among students is kept to a minimum.


The campus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business is small and compact: just four buildings, including one residence hall. Most of the MBA courses at Stanford are taught in windowless classrooms in the South Building, constructed in 1966. That will change in 2011 when a new and impressive GSB campus is completed about 500 yards east of the current location on Memorial Way. The Knight Management Center, named after Nike founder and Stanford alum Phil Knight who tossed in $100 million of the $350 million cost, will bring the business school up to nine world-class buildings. Stanford still will have only one dorm–The Schwab Residential Center–that houses just 220 of its 766 students. Even though the Haas School moved into an attractive new management complex back in 1995, the place still looks brand new. It consists of three buildings connected by bridges and surrounding a courtyard where students gather from Consumption Functions. If anything, the school has now outgrown its space because one of the most frequently heard complaints among students is the lack of rooms for study group and club meetings. There are no separate dorms for Haas MBA students who tend to live all over the Bay area.

Teaching Methods:

Stanford estimates that case studies make up 40% of the teaching vs. 50% at Berkeley. Team projects make up 15% of the estimated class work at both schools. Good old-fashioned lectures, experiential learning, and simulations make up the rest. Obviously, teaching methods vary by course. In “Managerial Finance,” for example, Stanford MBAs will case studies account 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. The quality of teaching at both schools has been a long-time complaint of students, largely a result of the research focus of the faculties at Haas and Stanford. It’s one of the reasons why Haas has created a Center for Teaching Excellence that helps profs with one-on-one coaching to become better in the classroom, and why Stanford makes a big deal of its annual awards to the best teachers named by students. As one recent Stanford grad told BusinessWeek in a survey: “There’s an overemphasis on the theoretical, esoteric, and ephemeral” at Stanford. “The faculty members don’t want to teach, and in many cases, aren’t prepared to teach.” We think that is a wild exaggeration but you get the point.

Program Focus:

Both MBA programs have a general management focus. 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. “Our entrepreneurship curriculum is stunning,” says Stanford Dean Garth Saloner, “and our courses are taught with a faculty and a practitioner. All the cases are ours, and the protagonists in the cases are almost always in the classroom.” Stanford devotes 10 to 15 teachers to entrepreneurship and offers nearly two dozen electives in the subject. Berkeley, of course, is only 30 miles away so its access to Silicon Valley is almost as good, but Haas only has four electives in entrepreneurship: “Opportunity Recognition–Technology and Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley,” “Entrepreneurship Workshop for Startups,” “Business Model Innovation in New Ventures,” and “New Venture Finance.” As a percentage, more Stanford grads (about 15%) are likely to either start companies or immediately work for startups than grads at Haas. Indeed, about 10% of Stanford’s graduating class launch companies right out of school, twice the percentage as Berkeley grads (though you won’t be surprised that at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000, 14% of Haas grads started companies straight out of school). At Berkeley, students have the option of earning a certificate in one of five different areas of study: global management, real estate, health management, entrepreneurship, or technology. There’s also additional opportunity for specialization in social entrerpreneurship, energy and clean technology, and corporate social responsibility. Stanford, meantime, offers a certificate in a Public Management Program (PMP) that is a pioneering program teaching leadership in the social sector. In the 2010 survey of B-school deans and directors by U.S. News & World Report, the deans tend to rank Stanford above Berkeley in most specialty categories. The two exceptions: social entrepreneurship where Berkeley has come on strong and international business (see below). In non-profit management, Berkeley edges out Stanford by one place, No. 2 to Stanford’s No. 3, while in international business, Berkeley comes in at number 9 against Stanford’s 11th place showing. We don’t put too much credence in these specialty rankings, but they are a data point to consider. The sustainability rank comes from the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes project.


Program Specialties Stanford Rank Berkeley Rank
Management 2 9
Finance 5 7
Entrepreneurship 2 7
Marketing 4 9
Manufacturing 5 15
Social Entrepreneurship 3 2
International 11 9
Information Systems 9 12
Accounting 7 13
Sustainability 3 5

Source: U.S. News & World Report 2010 specialty rankings and the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Gray Pinstripes ranking.



Stanford has turned the basic MBA curriculum inside out. It introduced a new and highly innovative program in 2007 that has even won recognition from rivals at Harvard Business School. The new program puts more critical thinking, leadership development, expanded global content, and a global experience requirement into the MBA. It also allows students more flexiblity in customizing their coursework to account for their ability level. The program begins with a set of “management perspectives” courses, including one focused on the global context, followed by a set of customizable core courses in 11 “management foundation areas.” Each of the 11 areas offers at least three choices for students based on their background and experience. You can take the base-level course, an accelerated version of the course for students with a reasonably strong background in the field, or the advanced-applications option for students with very strong backgrounds in the subject.
Not to be outdone (these schools are big rivals after all), Berkeley has also introduced a new curriculum designed to create innovative leaders. The school has identified ten core competencies that define an innovative leader and is systematically insuring that those capabilities are addressed in every aspect of the curriculum. The fundamentals of business, ranging from accounting and finance to marketing and strategy, continue to anchor the core courses. As part of what the school calls Berkeley Innovative Leader Development (BILD), however, each core course has been reviewed for elements that contribute to innovative leadership. New content has been added to some courses, and two existing core courses–”Leading People” and “Leadership Communications”–have been restructured to offer additional leadership skills, such as the ability to influence others. The revamped curriculum requires that all students take a series of courses, workshops and coaching exercises that develop innovative leadership skills, such as probleming finding and problem solving. Students also must take one of eight experiential courses in which they hone these skills in a real-life setting. Last year, Virgin America, Cisco, Disney, Panasonic, Visa and Wells Fargo were among the companies participating in the experiential courses. Berkeley’s elective catalog covers about 130 courses per year, a quarter of which are available to its part-time students.

On-Campus Recruiting: Most national and multi-national recruiters come to the Bay Area and make two stops: Stanford and Berkeley. So if you’re aiming for a top MBA job at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, or a position at Amazon, Google, or Yahoo, the Berkeley- or Stanford-punched MBA will easily get you in the door. Stanford may have a slight advantage in finance, largely due to the fact that a higher percentage of its grads have gone into finance over the years.

Alumni Network: Stanford and Berkely are schools that have a clear and convincing edge if you want to work in Silicon Valley or the West Coast. With 16,852 living MBA alums, Stanford can claim the deepest concentration of MBAs in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley–and especially in the technology industry. Berkeley claims more than 32,000 alums, a number that includes part-timers, executives, and business undergraduates. Berkeley grads include Intel CEO Paul S. Otellini (’74), Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen (’93), Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez (’84), and Duckhorn Wine Co. founder and CEO David Duckhorn (’62). Stanford grads include Nike’s Phil Knight, financier Richard Rainwater, and financial services giant Charles Schwab.The bigger difference exists not in the names of the prestige alums, but rather in the value of the overall alumni network. Stanford beats Berkeley in this game. Over the years, BusinessWeek surveys of MBA graduates have consistently shown that Harvard, Stanford and Dartmouth boast the strongest alumni networks of any business schools in the world.