HBS Shows Increasing Love Of STEM Admits

HBSsignIt’s hardly a secret that Dee Leopold, managing director of admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, loves prospective MBA candidates who apply with undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But now the stats prove that Harvard is increasingly favoring applicants with so-called STEM backgrounds on their resumes.

The school revealed yesterday (June 3) that 39% of the Class of 2015 will boast STEM educational backgrounds, up five full percentage points from 34% last year. It is the single biggest tealeaf to be found in the new preliminary class profile published by HBS. As recently as 2005, admits with engineering, natural sciences and tech backgrounds represented just 31% of the class. In 1995, they composed only 25% of the incoming students (see table on admissions trends over the past four years on following page).

The increase in STEM undergraduates, moreover, comes entirely at the expense of undergrads in the humanities and social sciences, who will represent 18% of the new HBS class, down from 22% last year. Economics and business majors again led in educational background, composing 43% of the Class of 2015—exactly the same percentage as last year.

ADMITS FROM ASIA UP A FULL FOUR PERCENTAGE POINTS IN CLASS OF 2015

The new 39% STEM record, along with other details on the Class of 2015, was released by Dee Leopold, Harvard’s managing director of admissions and financial aid. She noted that the class profile, which includes the median GMAT score as well as the lowest and highest GMAT for the class, is preliminary. “We anticipate that we will lose a few people and add a few from the waitlist,” she wrote in a blog post. “We re-post the class profile in late August at matriculation.”

Harvard is typically one of the first of the most prominent business schools to announce its class profile. Stanford, Wharton and most other top schools have yet to release stats on their entering classes this fall. That’s because HBS admission decisions tend to have a ripple  impact on all the other schools. So its class profile is solidified earlier than any other. Wharton won’t publish its Class of 2015 profile until mid-July, while Stanford, partly due to its smaller size, does not release data until September.

“Dee Leopold has consistently said that she wanted to attract STEM undergraduates to apply to business school,” says Betsy Massar, an HBS alumna and founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm. “She’s looking for creative minds with rigorous training.  That doesn’t mean that people who major in history should give up.  It just means that the reality of a business education requires quantitative analytical skills, and poets should add some math or science training to their portfolio of skills.”

Adds admissions consultant Sandy Kreisberg of HBSGuru.com, “HBS not only reads the newspapers, they read the early editions. So, when they read about success at the intersection of tech and business and layoffs or slow growth in finance, over the past five years or so, well, this is what you get.”

The only other obvious trend in the class profile is a significant increase in the percentage of Asian citizens in the entering class. Admits from Asia—147 in total—will account for 16% of the Class of 2015, up four full percentage points from last year.

FEMALE ADMITS ALSO HIT A NEW RECORD: 41% OF CLASS

In a year in which Harvard Business School celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first women admits to its full-time MBA program, the school expects to enroll the highest percentage of women ever to the class that enters this fall. The school said that women will represent a record 41% of the incoming 941 MBA students, up from 40% last year and the year-earlier total of 39%.

It’s a vast improvement from only a few years ago. Only 28% of the Class of 1995 was female, and in 1975, just 11% of the class was composed of women. Harvard is now closing in on Wharton, which has led the best schools with the highest percentage of female MBA candidates. Last year, 42% of Wharton’s admits were women.

“Many of these changes also reflect what’s happening on a macro level,” says Chioma Isiadinso, a former HBS admissions official who is founder of EXPARTUS, an MBA admissions consulting firm. “For example, HBS wants more women and more science/engineering types. Female applicants from STEM backgrounds will have a significant edge in the pool that female applicants coming from non-profit where they are over-represented. This all feeds into the shaping/building the class argument that many applicants miss. There is a massive difference between being admissible and being admitted–it comes down to how your brand will fit into the class profile the school wants that particular year.”

WOMEN RECEIVING BAKER SCHOLAR HONORS THIS YEAR ALSO HIT A NEW RECORD

And clearly this past year has been one of insuring that women feel very welcome at Harvard Business School. Only last week, when the Class of 2013 graduated, Harvard announced that the percentage of women receiving Baker Scholar honors, awarded to the top 5% of the class, also hit a new record. Out of 47 Baker Scholars, 38% were women, the highest number in the history of the school.

Those numbers represent a complete turnaround for the school. Only a few years ago, women were routinely underrepresented in the top honors doled out by the school. Though women accounted for 36% of Harvard’s Class of 2009, only 11% of the school’s Baker Scholars were female. For the Class of 2010, only 20% of the Baker Scholars were women, though women accounted for 38% of that class.

Those changes are largely the result of a concerted effort by the school to encourage women to speak up in class discussions, to make the school’s faculty more mindful of their calling patterns in class as well as how their grades are distributed.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.