In the past few weeks, Justin Ernest has been wrestling with a decision common to many MBA applicants who are lucky enough to be admitted into a number of elite business schools. Accepted to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and Booth, he’s been weighing the pros and cons of each school before deciding where to send his deposit for entry into the Class of 2019.
It’s not a no-brainer decision for him or for any applicant. Many would simply think he has to choose between HBS and Stanford, generally acknowledged to be the two best business schools in the world. But other factors can easily come into play, whether it’s financial aid, geography or your ultimate career choice.
A senior analyst in capital markets for Coca-Cola Co., 26-year-old Ernest is based in the Atlanta area, did his undergraduate studies in finance at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, and thinks he wants to pursue a career in venture capital or private equity. He has faced some family and personal obstacles which makes a financial aid package loom large in his decision.
ATTENDING HBS & STANFORD ADMIT WEEKENDS AND SPEAKING WITH MANY MBA STUDENTS
So how did he decide where to go? For him, even HBS and the GSB could have been off the table if either school did not offer some scholarship assistance. So for Ernest, it came down to Harvard and Stanford. His process for making this decision involved numerous conversations with students and visits to the back-to-back admit weekends at both schools. At those admit events, he says, Ernest met just over 30 applicants who have won dual admits to both HBS and the GSB in the round one application pool. His sense was that those lucky candidates were evenly split between the two schools in where they were leaning.
After an earlier conversation with Ernest (see He Got Into HBS, GSB, Wharton & Booth. Now He Has To Decide Where To Go) we caught up with him again to learn how he came to a final decision. Once again, we’ve enlisted the help of Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. Massar is herself a Harvard MBA graduate who has had a career in finance both on Wall Street and in Asia, and who actually worked at Stanford GSB for a time. Massar did not provide consulting advice for Ernest’s applications but helps guide our conversation with him. Here’s a transcript of our latest talk which is also available on our latest edition of P&Q Live, our weekly podcast:
Betsy: Justin, welcome! I bet you feel a little bit of a relief after having gone through the process. It’s all over but the shouting, right?
Justin: Yes, thank you John and Betsy. It’s been a long couple of months, and I’m very excited to get this decision out of the way.
Betsy: Did you go to both Harvard and Stanford admit weekends? How would you describe each of them, and if you could feel the culture for each school?
Justin: Yes, I did, I went to Stanford first, and then HBS the following weekend. They were both very well organized, as I’m sure you can imagine. I thought Stanford was a bit more focused on fit and individual personality, while HBS seemed more focused on the academics, the case method and post-MBA jobs. You could feel a slightly different culture at each school. For me the biggest difference I noticed was the size of the classes; at Stanford I noticed that it was much more intimate and smaller, and at HBS it was a much larger class size. Both schools did very well organizing the event, and they pack a lot into three days.
Betsy: What are some of the things the schools do during admit weekend. I heard that at Harvard they put 400 people in a room and then you all talk to each other. Is it like speed dating? And then there are smaller groups. How does a school court you?
Justin: I actually thought it was more broken up at HBS—by interests, say entrepreneurship or finance, and Stanford was more like throw everybody into the same room for dinner and lunch and we’d all talk. Stanford did a really good job of personalizing the admit weekend. The staff was very friendly; they made sure that there were enough social events so that the students could meet the admits. HBS did a very good job with tours and the academic structure and explaining first year vs. second year. Both different, but both effective.
Betsy: Two questions: did you find that meeting other admits influenced your decision, and did you find that meeting current students influenced your decision?
Justin: Yes. What influenced me the most was meeting other students. Being able to talk to students on the phone before admit weekend, setting up time over coffee to meet them at admit weekend. And also meeting admits. Just meeting the large, diverse class of people from all different industries and backgrounds, you really get a sense of the types of folks that you’ll be interacting with over the next two years. For me that was very eye-opening. Everybody was obviously impressive and for me it was just fun and exciting to see from both schools what was different and the similarities as well.
Betsy: Would you say one school courted you more than the other?
Justin: I’m not sure that any one school courted me more than others. I will say that I was very surprised with the personalization that HBS gave me. I took my mom because she was interested in seeing Boston and the campus. They treated her very, very well. The staff reached out to us three or four days in advance and asked if there was anything that we wanted to see or needed; they set up meetings with the faculty and other students. There are a lot of people who say it is easy to get lost with the HBS class size, but I thought it was interesting and important to see that personalization. So for me that was the most surprising factor.
Betsy: Your mother must have been thrilled to come to Boston with you.
Justin: She had never been, so she was very excited about that.