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He Got Into HBS, GSB, Wharton & Booth. Now He Has To Decide Where To Go

Justin: I think I’m more interested in VC than PE. I’ve looked at some growth shops, some more early-stage PE, but my background and my side interests lend me toward venture capital.  I’m also interested in the start-up scene, maybe not in the very early stage, but maybe joining an early to mid-stage startup after school as well. I am also interested in entrepreneurship, but that will most likely be after I get some operational experience three or four years after graduating.

Betsy: Sounds like what a lot of students are interested in, so that’s fair.  I will tell you this: everybody knows its very difficult to get a job in VC out of business school. You have your own venture firm that you founded, but it’s still going to be a little bit of an uphill battled to get a job in venture capital if you want to do that straight out of business school. Especially if you don’t have an engineering degree. I think that that also is part of it. They want people who have experience in VC before and people who can actually understand the mechanics of tech startups.

Justin: Like you said with tech, I think with VC, networking is obviously important, whether I’m in Boston Silicon Valley or San Francisco, you still have to network your way into that industry.

John: If you look at the career stats from both schools, Stanford really nails it, knocks it out of the parks, for both VC and PE.  It’s surprising how many Stanford MBA go into finance, given the fact that it sits in Silicon Valley, and it’s surprising the advantage that Stanford MBAs apparently have in the VC/PE area.  More than any other school in the world, they’re funneling more graduates, year after year into those two fields than Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Chicago or certainly any of the European schools.

Betsy: Interesting! I was just talking to a recruiter who was saying that she thought that at least on the PE side Harvard might have an advantage.  So I guess you can find numbers that can support you either way….

Harvard boasts 7% – 9% of students graduating from HBS join start-ups and they have an average salary of $125,000 a year, so they have real a real salary, Stanford boasts 15% of its students go into startups but it doesn’t have a salary number. I think it is a little bit higher because Stanford has a tendency to encourage people to go off and do their own thing, and Harvard has a tendency to be like an east coast institution: a little more structured and a little more organized, and I think students are more likely to do more normal things.  Having said that, you [Justin] are saying you might want to do a start-up, that’s actually becoming a more normal thing.

When you go to admit weekend, you really need to talk to students who are there and ask them about their own personal experiences about finding opportunities that are not related to the Career Development Office.  It sounds like that might be the direction you’re headed. The career offices on both campuses will do everything they can to help you, but a start-up with five or six people that’s just getting going, that’s maybe a year old and maybe has a prototype, those are not going to come and sit in a corner room and interview candidates. It’s just not part of their schedule.

Justin: For students whose interests may lay outside of a VC or a startup, does HBS see more of the larger, blue chip recruiters since there are more full-time students?

Betsy: I think that on a raw level, yes, HBS would and probably get more global recruiters because of where they are located. A recruiter told me that some recruiters don’t want to go all the way to California to try to recruit Stanford students who don’t want to leave California.

John: Most of the mainstream recruiters love Stanford students but they tend to dislike Stanford. Here’s the reason why: the pool of available people is so small compared to many other schools. And the kids are harder to get. If you say 16% start their own company right out of the school, another high percentage go into early stage companies which hire just-in-time and off the schedule, and you take out a certain percentage of the internationals who go back to their home countries, and sponsored students, the actual number of people you can even hire from Stanford, from the point of a Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, McKinsey, Bain, BCG, is so small. It shows up in one survey after another, mainstream recruiters do not like Stanford.

Justin: From an academic perspective, HBS is known mainly for their case method and they have a fixed set of core classes in the first year, do most students you speak with and who go through the school view this as more positive or negative.  I can see it as a positive in that for students who don’t know exactly what they want, it may offer more of a foundation of courses, and some other students like the flexibility of, say a Booth or a Stanford. So I am interested in your thoughts on that.

Betsy: I loved the case method and I’m biased, because I went through the case method it taught me more about how to form an opinion quickly and how to make an evidence-based argument in front of my peers. When you think about the case method, it’s the original crowd-sourced answer to a problem through an 80 minute class. I think it’s a super way to do it.

You’ll notice also at Stanford that there are case classes; if you have not already been to the campus, you’ll see that most of the classrooms are designed in the amphitheater style, so they are taught, in a way, like case classes.  So you’re asking two questions; do you think that only having case method is the right way to do it – although Harvard is being a little more flexible with FIELD.  Actually, I think the case method is brilliant, and if you’ve ever sat in on a Harvard class, you can’t beat it, so I’m just going to love that.

As far as the core curriculum in the first year, the required curriculum, Stanford does have a little more flexibility, but sometimes you have to say to yourself, “be careful what you wish for.”  If I had not taken some of the courses that I was required to take, and by the way, Stanford does have required core courses, so it’s not like you can do all of it by yourself.  I am glad that I went through the process of having required courses and I am glad that everyone else had required courses, because you’d be surprised what you can learn when you think you know what you are talking about. When you are in the business school environment surrounded by people with so many different experiences from different industries and different countries, you still continue to learn. From a pedagogical standpoint I think they are both fun and you’ll learn a tremendous amount from both. We keep going back to the fact that you can’t go wrong.

You’ll notice in this whole conversation that I’m biased because of my own personal experience, but also I love the Stanford campus and I love the energy around the Stanford campus.  We can find numbers and we can find all kinds of reasons statistically to prove one or the other.  It can be done. But the reality is that when you go to campus and you meet with the students for admit weekend, or you do the research with recent graduates in your home town or people who you know whom you trust, and you do all that homework, you’re going to get a better feel for one or the other. And you’re going to know in your heart and in your gut what you think is the right thing to do.

It’s not a head decision; it’s a heart and soul decision.  Where are you going to enjoy your two years? Because your career is going to be brilliant no matter what. You’ve got all the choices in the world. I don’t know if you have any questions about the ambiance, because it’s not just about the specific post-graduation career numbers. We cannot predict, for example, if we have another 2008-like financial crisis; that will affect things in the next five years.  Or like the students who graduated from businesses school in 2001 and 2002 had a lot of things going on. There are a lot of exogenous things that could happen that we aren’t going to know about, so you want to set yourself up to have the most options, and really the best time in the two years you are there, as well as what is going to create the most opportunities and fun for your life down the road?