Harvard | Mr. Startup
GRE 327, GPA 3.35
Darden | Mr. Leading Petty Officer
GRE (MCAT) 501, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Ms. Almost Ballerina
GRE ..., GPA ...
Darden | Mr. Federal Consultant
GMAT 780, GPA 3.26
Stanford GSB | Mr. Rocket Scientist Lawyer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.65 Cumulative
Harvard | Mr. Polyglot
GMAT 740, GPA 3.65
Darden | Mr. Engineer Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Stanford GSB | Mr. Navy Officer
GMAT 770, GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. Public Finance
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Systems Change
GMAT 730, GPA 4
Tuck | Mr. Consulting To Tech
GMAT 750, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Ms. Ambitious Hippie
GRE 329, GPA 3.9
Harvard | Mr. Milk Before Cereals
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3 (16/20 Portuguese scale)
Harvard | Mr. Sales To Consulting
GMAT 760, GPA 3.49
INSEAD | Ms. Hope & Goodwill
GMAT 740, GPA 3.5
INSEAD | Mr. Airline Captain
GMAT 740, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBB to PM
GRE 338, GPA 4.0
IU Kelley | Ms. Biracial Single Mommy
, GPA 2.5/3.67 Grad
Darden | Ms. Unicorn Healthcare Tech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.5
Stanford GSB | Mr. MBA Class of 2023
GMAT 725, GPA 3.5
Chicago Booth | Mr. Guy From Taiwan
GRE 326, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Energy Reform
GMAT 700, GPA 3.14 of 4
Ross | Mr. Verbal Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.3
Ross | Ms. Packaging Manager
GMAT 730, GPA 3.47
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Wharton | Mr. Sr. Systems Engineer
GRE 1280, GPA 3.3
Chicago Booth | Mr. Semiconductor Guy
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3

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

Headshot of Steven Pearson, who breaks down the pros and cons of HBS vs Stanford.

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. HBS vs Stanford.

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: HBS vs Stanford. 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 HBS vs. Stanford 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.”

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.