Harvard Down on Finance Types

Harvard Business School has accepted significantly fewer applicants from private equity and finance and a record number of women who will make up this fall’s entering class of MBA candidates.

Admits from private equity and venture capital fell to 13 percent from 18 percent a year earlier, while those from the investment banking and investment management fields dropped to 12 percent from 14 percent. All told, there is a decline of seven percentage points in finance types, year over year.

The decline in successful finance candidates confirms an earlier report by PoetsandQuants in December that in its first round acceptances for the Class of 2013, Harvard was turning down highly qualified applicants from private equity firms and ibanks who in earlier years would have gained acceptance. While the actual number of admits affected is relatively small—seven percentage points would represent some 64 out of a class of 918 students in total—it’s still a noteworthy shift at a school where the makeup of the class tends to be remarkably stable from year to year.

The composition of the incoming class was made public over the weekend when Harvard Business School posted the details on its website with no explanation or fanfare. A spokesman for the school noted that these are “preliminary figures subject to possible change by the time September rolls around.” Harvard is the first of the top-ranked business schools to disclose the composition of its incoming fall class. The shift away from finance is likely to have reverberations at several other schools, especially Wharton, Columbia, and Chicago Booth, which tend to admit more candidates with financial backgrounds.


Women, meantime, will make up a record 39 percent of the incoming class, up three percentage points from 36 percent for the past two years. It’s the highest percentage of women ever to enter Harvard Business School. Only 28% of the Class of 1995 was female, and in 1975, just 11 percent of the class was composed of women. The new percentage brings Harvard closer to Wharton, which at 39.7% has the highest percentage of women in any top 25 ranked business school.

This is the first class entered under new Dean Nitin Nohira. For admission consultants and others who read Harvard’s tea leaves, the feeling is that Nohria is changing the profile of the traditional HBS class. Several admissions consultants say the school appears to be favoring a more diverse set of applicants from manufacturing, healthcare, the military, the government, and non-profits over those from such financial powerhouses as Goldman Sachs, KKR, and Blackstone.

The possible reason: to increase the odds that a higher percentage of future MBAs go into a more diverse range of job opportunities, including more politically correct fields such as social enterprise, entrepreneurship, and health care.


“This confirms my prediction after round one results that HBS is becoming more hostile to private equity, venture capital, investment banking and financial management and more open to women,” says Sanford Kreisberg, president of HBSGuru, an MBA admissions consultant. “This is bad news for private equity and venture capital, unless you just consider this year a fluke.”


Harvard also reported that the median Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score for the class matched last year’s highest level ever: 730. The incoming class had a range of GMAT scores from 490 to 790 versus last year’s 510 to 790. The average age of an incoming MBA jumped by a year to 27 years old.

Applications fell by four percent, roughly 390 applicants, to 9,134 from 9,524 a year earlier, though Harvard’s class size slightly increased to 918 from 910. The result: the school accepted 12% of its applicant pool, up from 11% last year. Harvard said 90% of the accepted applicants are expected to enroll in the fall.

Part of the reason for the decline in private equity and finance may be explained by the percentage of admits with undergraduate degrees in business. They fell to just 20 percent of the incoming class, down from 23% last year and 26% a year earlier.

Deirdre Leopold, Harvard’s director of admissions and financial aid, may have prepared applicants for the change when she sent an unusual email to all interviewed applicants a day before the official notification in the first round. In that email, she explained that the diversity of Harvard’s class was more important than the quality of the candidates in the admission process. ”If my job were to rank order candidates from high to low in order of individual strength, whatever that might mean, different decisions might be made,” she conceded.

Among other changes, successful applicants with backgrounds in manufacturing showed the largest single jump, to 14 percent from nine percent. That confirms, according to Kreisberg, what Dee Leopold often says to rejected candidates: “‘Well, if you had been working for Toyota, this might have been different.’” Kreisberg further notes, “Their darling cohort, healthcare and biotech was flat at six percent both years, which leads me to believe good candidates in that field are hard to come by. That’s especially true because that figure includes all the new 2+2 kids who were screened exactly for that and similar backgrounds in life sciences and health-care when they were admitted two years ago.”

The 2+2 program allows seniors in college to apply to Harvard Business School. If admitted, they are required to get two years of work experience before coming to Harvard for its two-year MBA program. “Could it be that many of those declared life-science types wound up working for financial firms during their first two years of 2+2???” asks Kreisberg. (See the following page for a complete comparison of the Class of 2013 vs. 1012.)

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