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

Company feeders to Harvard and Stanford MBA Programs

Top ten company feeders to Harvard and Stanford MBA Programs

Anyone wondering where the private equity and venture capital crowd are, they’re certainly very present on the deeper dive of more than 500 employers that fed people to these schools, but you see much smaller numbers. Bain Capital crept onto the list, so yeah, it’s the big consulting firms, and it’s the big banks. I want to come back to the big banks because there’s another trend I think that we see. They are a great place to start your career, whether it’s Citi, Barclays, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Goldman, Morgan, and JPMorgan, but just how many people then move on after perhaps two years of a rotational program is interesting. Those applicants often get an interesting position working in PE or VC, and that seems to really work for these two schools. So a big bank is a great place to start your career. Far fewer of those individuals are still with JPMorgan or Morgan Stanley by the time that they actually apply to these schools.

MBB at Harvard and Stanford MBA programs

MBB at Harvard and Stanford MBA programs

Byrne: What does all this say about the diversity of the class? On some level, Harvard and Stanford seem like nothing more than finishing school for consultants and investment bankers.

Symonds: Well, it’s certainly a great place for them to build the next steps of their career. For many of them, perhaps having worked the sort of hours involved at MBB or the investment banks, the rigor of business school might seem like two fairly light-years. We talk about the triple jump that people will make, where they switch geographies, sectors, and functions. We see many more of the McKinsey, BCG, Bain students going back to those companies after, perhaps, doing one year at a school like INSEAD, which places such high numbers to MBB. In a two year MBA program, you’ve got that internship between year one and year two. So you explore. You’re surrounded by an incredible mix of talented, ambitious, open-minded classmates. Who knows where the next steps of your career might go.

Consulting is one of those options. When we reflect on Stanford’s recruiting numbers, a third of the class has not confirmed a position coming out of the MBA program within three months. Most deans would never sleep at night if they knew that 33% of their graduates hadn’t found a job yet. But there’s a confidence among Stanford MBAs, whether it’s the next high-growth, fast-track unicorn, or something else that they’re looking to pursue. They’ve got, certainly, remarkable networks, and they’re set for the next steps of their career.

Then, you start to see further down where you bring in those voices from the Fortune 100. It was interesting to see the oil and gas sector with the likes of Exxon Mobil that had eight admits to Harvard, followed by Shell and Chevron with five, Saudi Aramco, the world’s highest market-cap company in the world. They provided three, and even GE’s subsidiary, Baker Hughes, had another three. You see this. We saw a lot of applicants coming from oil and gas about four, five years ago. Oil was $28 a barrel. The majors were laying people off a lot of people so going to business school made a lot of sense. You’ve often read on Poets&Quants about how tight the U.S. job market is right now, and perhaps people postponing their business school plans, but I don’t think people would put off those plans if they actually got an offer from the admissions offices in Boston and Palo Alto.

Byrne: Matt, when I look at both the undergraduate institutions where these students came from and then the companies where they’ve worked, these statistics suggest to me is an incredibly risk-averse admissions process where admissions people are taking very few bets on people. Instead, what they’re looking for is an undergraduate institution that is already highly selective and has filtered out a lot of people, and then they’re looking for an employer who does the same thing: highly selective employment practices. Then, on top of that, they’re still looking for high GMATs and GPAs, so everything is aligned, to not only find ‘the best people’ but to ensure that they can’t make an admissions mistake.

Symonds: As you know at Fortuna I have nearly 40 former admissions directors, associate deans, and associate directors of the top 10 business schools, and we talk about, the processes that they have in place to make admit decisions. They talk about past performance as one of the best predictors of future achievement or success.  Yeah, here you have the safe bet, and I think, perhaps, this is the entrepreneur in both of us that’s talking. You know, we lament, perhaps, not having a greater diversity. John, Iyou created a site dedicated to the genius misfits, as Steve Jobs framed it.  Those individuals are the ones that are going to, as Stanford likes to put it, change lives and change the world.

I think that there’s an inbred confidence, perhaps. You know, ‘I’ve got my Ivy League education. I’ve worked at one of the major blue-chip firms,’ and naturally one of these business schools is the next step so there’s a pathway. There’s a comfortable pathway. They can take risks. They can see individuals that, perhaps, you know, not all of us had the stellar academic moment at the age of 18, 19, 20 years old, but there are other ways to be able to demonstrate that. You’re that much safer coming out of the U.S. Navy, both in terms of an undergrad. I think the Naval Academy scored much higher than West Point in these classes. We talked about the three M’s of Harvard; McKinsey, Mormons, and the military. You certainly see it in these numbers with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army, and the great majority of them, as these numbers reflect, are using a business school as a transition to civilian life. Clearly Harvard is attracting many more of them than Stanford.

Interestingly, in both Harvard and Stanford have more female students who were consultants pre-MBA than males. You see a complete reverse, and far steeper reverse when you look at banking where there are more male bankers at both of these schools, but for the Class of 2020, there were more women who were consultants than men admitted.

Byrne: By a large margin or a little?

Symonds: It was about 51 1/2, 52%, so it’s fairly gender-balanced. Another very interesting point was how many successful women applicants came from industry. This was particularly true for Harvard Business School. As the school looks for patterns of leadership, perhaps the idea of imagining a woman professional in a male-dominated offshore oil rig is a plus. Being able to talk about how they managed to successfully thrive in a male-dominated environment is something that has connected with the admissions offices. Almost all of those from the industrial sector were women. In tech, it was about half and half. I think, on the software side it was dominated by men, and at the product management level, there was far more gender balance.

Byrne: It’s really interesting to me that Harvard and Stanford are accepting more women with consulting backgrounds because the percentage of women who go into consulting is quite small compared to men. So these statistics loom even larger than they might appear at first glance.  I would bet that the percentage of women at top consulting firms is probably not much more than 30%, maybe even less, so that analysis from your data is really remarkable. What that means to me is that if you’re a white male, and you work for McKinsey/Bain/BCG, you may end up at Wharton, or Columbia, or MIT. Not so bad, okay, not bad at all, but obviously Harvard and Stanford are showing a preference for women here.

Symonds: The white male banker is clearly an overrepresented profile in any of the applicant pools of the M7. What was really interesting is how these firms act as a great first step. As many as 11 admits from Credit Suisse, and Citi, and Barclays, but none of them, or perhaps one of them, was still with the firm as they were successfully admitted to either of these two schools. They’d all gone on after the first 2 1/2-year average. Some, of crouse, had stayed in their industry. Many then took that chance to move to a BlackRock or KKR, spread their wings and gain extra experience. Makes sense, right? I mean, if they’ve already proved their worth in the hothouse of investment banking and then gain that additional experience in private equity, that’s a strong professional resume you’re presenting to any school.  From what we’re seeing on these resumes is that the preference from Harvard is for the individual who has made a move after two years or so.

Feeder banks to Harvard and Stanford MBA programs

Feeder banks to Harvard and Stanford MBA programs

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