Sneak Peek At HBS’ Class of 2017

Harvard Business School's Baker Library at night

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library at night

For the first time ever, Harvard Business School is enrolling more students with backgrounds in venture capital and private equity than those in consulting or any other field. For this fall’s incoming group of MBA students, 17% of the entire class–or 166 out of the 940 first years–will hail from VC and PE firms versus just 16% from consulting, down two percentage points from last year. That’s an even more significant decline in consulting types from the Class of 2012 when incoming students with consulting backgrounds accounted for 22% of the class.

The subtle shift from consulting over the years puts Harvard at the low end of its rivals. Last year, Stanford Graduate School of Business, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Chicago Booth all enrolled classes with former consultants representing 20% of their incoming students, while Columbia Business School and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management depended on consulting for one in four of its most recent classes, 25%, and Dartmouth Tuck was even slightly higher at 26%.

At the same time, the admissions shift sets up HBS to place an increasing number of graduates two years later into the highly lucrative private equity and venture capital fields. Last year, the most highly compensated Harvard grads entered those two fields, earning median base starting salaries of $150,000, compared to $135,000 for the MBAs who went into consulting. More importantly, however, the backend rewards of those jobs are considerably higher. Some 41% of VC and PE-bound graduates at HBS reported other guaranteed median first-year compensation of $75,000. The consultants, in comparison, reported other median income of $25,000 and only 12% of them got the extra money. Both fields awarded HBS grads median signing bonuses of $25,000.

Even Wharton and Columbia, given their long-time tilt toward finance, recruit smaller percentages of students from those two financial sectors. Last year, for example, Wharton reported that 12% of its incoming class came from VC and PE, while Columbia’s number was just 8%–or less than half the HBS total. Roughly 15% of Stanford’s incoming MBA students last year came from venture capital and private equity.


Applications to Harvard Business School’s MBA program, meantime, rose for the fourth consecutive year to 9,686 candidates as the admissions office enrolled a record 948 students in the Class of 2017, up from 940 last year. Harvard maintained its median GMAT score for the incoming class of 730, a level first reached by HBS in 2010 for the Class of 2012.

In a preliminary profile of the new incoming class, Harvard revealed that applications to its MBA program rose slightly over last year by just 1.5%, or 143 applicants. Since the recession-induced trough in academic year 2011-2012, when applications fell to 8,963, the number of MBA candidates at HBS has risen by slightly over 8%.

Dee Leopold, managing director of HBS admissions and financial aid

Dee Leopold, managing director of HBS admissions and financial aid

This year’s acceptance rate of 11% is slightly better than last year’s preliminary number of 12% (though by the time the final numbers were in last year the acceptance rate was 11%). HBS said the lowest GMAT candidate it enrolled has a score of 510, while the highest score in the class is a 790. The average undergraduate grade point average is 3.67–same as last year and just a wee bit lower than the record 3.70 achieved in 2013.


Harvard also managed to  maintain the high watermark for women in the class at 41%—exactly the level hit last year—though the size of the international cohort will decline ever so slightly to 34% from 35% last year. Nonetheless, HBS said that 64 countries will be represented in the Class of 2017, down from 72 a year earlier. Some 28% of the incoming class this fall will be composed of U.S. ethnic minorities, up three percentage points from last year’s 25% total.

Harvard Business School is the first to disclose its class profile stats. Most schools, which still have applicants on waitlists and in some cases are still evaluating stragglers, won’t release their numbers until the late summer or early fall. In the spirit of full transparency, HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold is first to disclose what the incoming class of MBA students are like.

Among the biggest surprises for the 2014-2015 application season is a significant increase in enrolled students from North America, up four full percentage points to 71% from 67% a year earlier. The majority of the increase is from Canada. U.S. enrollment creeped up only slightly to 66% from 65%. Students from Africa, South and Central America, and Europe all showed slight declines (see table on following page). Students from Asia–accounting for 14% of the class–remained just about the same. Asians will fill 128 seats out of the 948, compared to 129 of the 940 a year earlier.

(See following pages for a complete comparison between HBS’ Class of 2017 and Class of 2016)


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