When you strip away all the discussion about GMAT averages, salary stats, and rankings, you can pretty much reduce the business school game to a single metaphor. Schools are not unlike cars, with distinct attributes that can tell you something about the people who go to one institution over another.
Which institution is the Lamborghini of business schools? The Aston Martin? The Volkswagen? Or, for that matter, the BMW or the Volvo?
Of course, there is one big difference between buying a car and an MBA degree. If you have the money, you can drive any car you want off a dealer’s lot. But you can’t always attend your No. 1 choice of a school, given the highly selective nature of the top MBA programs.
The reality is that many of the best business schools are far more similar than they are different. Still, with apologies to Tesla, here’s a tongue-in-cheek comparison of the schools’ reputations with cars you may either love, hate or feel indifferent about:
HBS is like a British exotic car of varying quality – Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Aston Martin. They are Establishment, top hats and all. Like British exotics, HBS is really known for its heritage and prestige (with sport performance and classic styling to back it up). Some drivers are able to break the “unapproachable” mold and will take their cars for a bit of a joyride, but some are trapped in the pomp and circumstance of their cars. Only drawback is that they are incredibly high maintenance (more reliable than Italian exotics, but the repair costs are astronomically high) and insist on being noticed. And watching an HBS alum “fail” a la Jeffery Skilling is like seeing a Bentley stranded on the side of the road – everyone else can’t help but gloat.
Stanford is like an Italian exotic – from iconic marques like Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Alfa Romeo, to super exotics like the Pagani Zonda, as well as the “all style and no substance” that are the Maseratis. In terms of styling and performance, they are bold, distinctive, and anti-authoritarian much like Stanford – built as if to be a complete counterpoint to the British exotics. They aren’t the most reliable cars, but they sure look good, and they are the ultimate joyride car, risks be damned (few cars can replicate the exhaust note of a Ferrari). If HBS is about prestige, Stanford is about rebellious sex appeal. Just like not every Stanford GSB alum is of the same caliber, knowledgeable “car guys” know that there’s a huge difference between Ferarri and Maserati – the former is a real sports car, while the latter is a piece of sh*t. But to the uninitiated, they draw attention in equal measure.