Who Gets Into Harvard & Stanford’s MBA Programs Might Surprise You

You’ve seen the rather vague class profiles on business school websites that purport to tell you who really gets in. Those superficial looks at the latest class give you the general outlines os the latest entering classes of MBA students. But they don’t tell you very much about the true preferences of a school’s admissions officials.

By searching through more than 1,200 LinkedIn profiles, one of the leading MBA admissions consulting firms has gotten to the bottom of who really gets into the world’s most desired MBA experiences at Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business. A team led by Matt Symonds, co-founder of Fortuna Admissions, was able to identify and analyze the educational and work backgrounds of 893 of the 930 members of Harvard Business School’s Class of 2020 and 353 of the 419 students in Stanford GSB’s equivalent class.

The result of their research is the most revealing analysis of enrolled students at HBS and GSB ever published–down to the specific feeder colleges and employers, undergraduate majors and actual job titles of recently entered classes.

Their conclusions are eye-opening. Among other things, Fortuna found:

  • More than one third (37%) of Stanford’s class of MBAs earned their undergraduate degrees from a traditional Ivy League university or Stanford itself. At Harvard Business School, more than a quarter of the class (27%), also hail from those nine prestige colleges.
  • Even beyond the Ivy League, where you get your undergraduate degree is a major factor in MBA admissions. Half of the entire HBS class, in fact, comes from only 24 universities. Some 53% of Stanford’s MBA Class of 2020 earned their undergraduate degrees from only 19 undergraduate institutions. After the elitist Ivies, at the top of the lists were such schools as Duke, Georgetown, NYU, Notre Dame, MIT, Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Northwestern University, and UT-Austin.
  • Applicants from McKinsey, Bain, and BCG get clear preference from Harvard and Stanford. At HBS, slightly more than one in five (21.2%) MBA students had worked at one of the three global consulting firms. At the GSB, it was more of the same, with 19.8% of the class having worked for MBB.
  • Applicants from a top-tier bulge bracket bank, such as Goldman, JP Morgan, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America or Citi, account for 14.1%, of the MBA students in the Harvard class.
  • The big tech firms were also well represented, though not nearly as dominant as consulting and banking. At Stanford, Google is ahead in tech with five students in the class, while Facebook and Amazon each have four. Three students had worked for YouTube, while only one came from Apple. One big surprise: Microsoft sent the same number of students – two – as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In fact, seven enrolled candidates worked in philanthropy. At Harvard, 5% of the class came from just five tech firms: Google, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and Uber.

Poets&Quants has already published summary reports on the studies on Harvard’s Class of 2020 and Stanford GSB’s Class of 2020. To dive more deeply into the findings, Poets&Quants Founder John A. Byrne and Fortuna’s Matt Symonds held a live webinar recently. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

John A. Byrne: Matt, you and your team at Fortuna did some remarkable sleuthing, looking through hundreds and hundreds of LinkedIn profiles to come up with the ultimate MBA class profiles for Harvard and Stanford. These stats, frankly, are embarrassing to the schools. They suggest incredibly elitist admissions policies. I’m just going to give a few tidbits to start us off: 37% of the MBA students enrolled at Stanford the year before are from an Ivy League undergraduate institution or Stanford. At Harvard it’s 23%. Roughly one in five had, at one point, worked for one of three firms: McKinsey, Bain, or BCG, which suggests to me that, yes, these are terrific candidates, but it also suggests to me a diversity problem that doesn’t show up in class profile statistics. So Matt, what’s your take on what you discovered by going through all these profiles and coming up with your analysis?

Matt Symonds, co-sponsor of Fortuna Admissions

Matt Symonds: We get the chance to sit with the deans and with the admissions directors at these top schools, and I can remember that two years ago at the CentreCourt event in San Francisco, we had Kirsten Moss, who, at a previous stage in her career, had been the admissions director at Harvard Business School, and who was joining us just three weeks into her new position at Stanford GSB. And I remember her saying, ‘I have a real problem with Stanford’s GMAT score.’ If you remember, it was at a record 737, an eye-popping average. She felt that 75 minutes of data sufficiency or critical reasoning really didn’t do it for her in terms of the sort of backgrounds, experience, accomplishments, stories, and curiosity that they were looking for.

And, of course, people have looked at school websites and what do they find for Harvard and Stanford? Pretty much the same class profile. In fact, if you look for the Harvard class profile of 2020, you can’t find it anymore. Well, you certainly will be able to in the Poets&Quants archive, but they only have their class of 2021 figures, and as we show on the slides we’ve prepared for this webinar together, it’s pretty basic stuff.

These schools, as opposed to the, from, of the first things that you see, is just the sheer volume of applications that these two schools attract, and embedded in that, the fact that Harvard’s MBA class is about 2 1/2 times the size of the GSB, just how selective Stanford is. Usually it’s, what, one in every 18 or 19 applicants that make the grade. They share their average GMAT scores, they share their GPAs, so those are the basics (see below).

Source: Class profiles published by Harvard Business School & Stanford Graduate School of Business

Byrne: Let me just say this, Matt. I see a lot of blandness in these officially published class profiles, but I also see a disingenuous attempt to make it appear as if the class is far more diverse than it actually is. When you look at the number of undergraduate institutions cited by both Harvard and Stanford, you might think that they’re far more open to graduates of public universities, state and community colleges when in fact they are not. You look at the number of organizations that people come from, 540-plus, and those numbers reflect mere token members of the class because such a large percentage of each class is made up of people from elitist and prestige organizations, particularly the three big global consulting firms known as MBB and the bulge bracket global banks. These numbers on undergraduate institutions and employers, moreover, were never revealed by these schools until after we did our initial analysis of the feeder colleges (Harvard and Stanford) and feeder companies (Harvard and Stanford) to these schools nine years ago. That analysis was also embarrassing to these schools, which is the only reason why HBS and GSB put these figures into their class profiles.

To request a copy of the full summary report on the HBS or Stanford GSB Class of 2020, view the Fortuna Admissions Deep Dive Analysis of the HBS Class of 2020

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.