HBS vs. Stanford: How A Dual Admit Candidate Weighed The Pros & Cons

Steven Pearson was an HBS & Stanford dual admit

Steven Pearson was an HBS & Stanford dual admit

By the time Steven Pearson applied to Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, he had half a dozen years of work experience on his resume, including nearly two years at McKinsey & Co’s Palo Alto office and Vector Capital’s San Francisco headquarters.

So when he got the good news that both HBS and Stanford wanted him for their MBA programs, he initially took a highly analytical look at both schools, grading them on a scale of one to ten on 21 different criteria from the overall power of the school’s brand to the grading policies for its courses.

He divided the characteristics up into six discrete areas: academics, professional concerns, lifestyle, community, brand, and the actual financial cost of the MBA. Pearson then weighted each attribute, based on its importance to him (see table on the following page for his detailed analysis).

With the discipline he learned at both McKinsey and Vector, where he led due diligence on leveraged buyouts of tech companies, Pearson carefully evaluated both the MBA programs at the world’s two best business schools. At the end of the day, Pearson’s decision to go to Harvard Business School was based more on gut than anything else. Instead of deciding which school was better, he decided which school was better for him.

Though he ultimately concluded his analysis was useless, at least as far as helping him with a tough decision, it’s not really not a bad approach for someone who has to decide between two schools, or for that matter, among several schools that have said “yes” to your application. For one thing, he pretty much nails the most important attributes of an MBA program. For another, his system of grading and weighing the personal importance of each grade could have made his decision easier.


Still, beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder–and judgments are often subjective, based on where you’re coming from and what you have been able to ferret out during your own research. That’s why what Pearson is grading is far more important than his individual grades.

Just look at the spreadsheet for the proof of the pudding: His obvious preference for more of a mix of teaching styles over case studies–the dominant approach at HBS with a few projects thrown in–led Pearson to rate Stanford slightly higher than Harvard, a score of eight versus a score of six. But if you prefer learning by case study, it’s clear you would have given HBS the edge. Instead, Pearson seemed to like the idea of a mix of lectures, cases, projects and experiential learning.

The same is true of how Pearson rated grading. He gave Stanford a much more significant edge, scoring the school’s non-disclosure grading system a nine. Harvard, which still has a grading curve, got a measly 4. Once Pearson adjusted the scores for how important grading was to him, he awarded Stanford a whopping 63 points to Harvard’s 28.


How come? It’s a known fact that MBAs at Stanford don’t take grades as seriously as they do at HBS. So if you’re less keen to compete for grades, Stanford is the gentler, easy place. For a high achiever who believes grades are important, Pearson’s scores would have been completely flipped. In fact, one dual admit interviewed by Poets&Quants told us that the reason she choose HBS over Stanford was because she found GSB students less attentive and prepared for class. She witnessed three students in a row “pass” on cold calls from a professor because they hadn’t completed the required reading for the class. And that was in the one pre-selected class by admissions that she audited.

Pearson, who graduated from HBS last year in the Class of 2013 and is now CEO of a social media startup called Friendemic, offers some sage advice to others who are lucky enough to be in a similar predicament: “Decide which school is better for you, not which one is better.”