Class Profile: Harvard Enrolls Smallest MBA Class In Decades

Masked students in Harvard Business School’s Baker Library

Harvard Business School‘s new MBA class profile is out and as expected it shows that the school has enrolled its smallest MBA cohort in many years: Just 732 students, roughly 200 fewer MBA candidates than a more typical incoming class. Last year’s cohort totaled 938 students. The shortfall occurred after HBS gave all Class of 2022 admitted students the option to defer their enrollment for a year or two and decided against pulling more of its applicants from an enlarged waitlist.

The Class of 2020 represents the smallest entering class at HBS since the early 1950s when enrollment was impacted by the Korean War and a new $15 application fee established to discourage casual candidates from applying to the school. The reduced numbers of MBA students will cause a significant financial hit to tuition revenue estimated at $16.4 million this year as funds from tuition fall to roughly $123 million from $140 million in fiscal 2019.

For Harvard, it was a year in which its MBA application slump failed to recover (see chart below). Applications for the class rose less than a percent to 9,304 from 9,225 a year earlier. That’s significantly down by 10.1% from the 10,351 candidates who applied for admission to Harvard’s MBA program three years ago in 2016-2017. That record stands in contrast to Columbia Business School which just reported record application volume on a more than 18% rise and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business which saw a 25% jump in MBA applications. Both Columbia and UVA, however, extended their application deadlines to accommodate candidates impacted by the COVID pandemic.


With the incoming class some 200 students short, mostly international candidates who could not obtain student visas and chose not to start online, HBS was able to significantly increase the percentage of Black Americans in the class to 11%, much higher than the more typical 5% to 6% representation of more recent MBA classes. But the actual number of Black Americans in the Class of 2022 was not all that different, with 52 students out of the 732. More interestingly, HBS reported its URM numbers as a percent of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents in the class and not of the entire enrolled class as Wharton and Stanford do. That sleight of hand pushed the Black American percentage from 7.1% to 11% and for Hispanics from 6.1% to 9%. The school is expected to release an anti-racist report and action plan at the end of this month, the result of an Anti-Racism Task Force of students, staff, faculty and alumni that has met over the summer months. Harvard also increased the percentage of women in the class by a percent this year to 44%.

Not surprisingly, given the number of deferments, international students compose just 33% of the class, down from the 37% HBS reported a year earlier. That percentage, however, was impacted somewhat by new reporting standards adopted by the school. In previous years, Harvard included permanent residents in its international number. The new standard includes only those without a U.S. passport or permanent residency. Nonetheless, candidates from Asia appeared to take the biggest hit in the class, falling to 11% from 14% a year earlier, as Harvard relied more heavily on U.S. applicants to fill the class. Students from the U.S. rose by four percentage points this year to 67% from 63% last year.

Chad Losee, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid, said the deferments granted by HBS may well open the door to larger cohorts in the future. “As I’ve noted before, we are actively exploring increasing our class size beyond our typical 930 for the next two years, though that has not been approved yet,” he wrote in a blog post. He noted that the deferral option extended in 2020 was “a one-time exception because of the onset of the pandemic.” Admissions has since returned to its more typical practice of not offering deferrals outside of personal emergency situations.


What didn’t change at HBS this year is probably more important than what did. The school maintained its rigorous admission standards in every way. The median class GMAT score was 730, exactly where it has been for many years. GMAT scores ranged from a low of 620–30 points higher than last year–to a high of 790, a near-perfect score on the test. The median quant score was 48, same as last year, with a range of 40 to 51, while the median verbal score came in at 42, also a point higher, with a range of 27 to 51.

A record 22% of the enrolled class submitted a GRE score to gain entry into Harvard’s MBA program. That’s two percentage points higher than last year’s level, itself a record, and up from only 12% three years ago, showing increasing acceptance of the GRE as a viable alternative to the GMAT exam. HBS said the median verbal and median quant score for enrolled students with a GRE was 163, with a verbal range of 148 to 170 and a quant range of 145 to 170. The average undergraduate grade point average for the class remained static at 3.7. The average years of work experience came to 4.7 years, exactly the same as last year. The school did not disclose its acceptance rate, estimated at 13% by Poets&Quants, nor its yield–the percentage of admitted applicants who enroll–estimated at 87%.

As is often the case, changes in the educational backgrounds of Harvard’s newest students also were largely inconsequential, though undergraduates with engineering and math backgrounds are definitely on the rise. The largest single chunk of MBA candidates majored in economics or business: 41%, a decline of two percentage points from 43% last year and 46% two years ago. Students who majored in the humanities and social sciences total 18%, down one percentage point from 19% last year.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) majors make up 41% of the Class of 2021, up three percentage points from 38% last year and 37% from two years ago. That bump is likely the result of 2+2 students who were admitted under HBS’ deferred enrollment program for younger applicants. The 2+2 program heavily favors STEM undergrads, with 57% of the latest admitted group having a STEM degree.

Harvard also disclosed that its newest class has undergraduate degrees from 121 domestic universities, down from 137, and 111 non-U.S. universities, down from 155 a year ago. The disclosure of this data is meant to convey that the school is open to applicants from a wide variety of both public and private institutions, though the HBS relies heavily on undisclosed feeder schools (see Who Gets Into Harvard & Stanford’s MBA Programs Might Surprise You).

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