Harvard v Stanford: Business School Showdown

18/10/20179 minute read
Harvard v Stanford: Business School Showdown

Harvard V Stanford
Welcome to Battle of the Business Schools!

We are here to help you decide which school is right for you.

In the ring, we have: Harvard Business School vs. Stanford Business School.

Here are our categories:

  1. Facts and Figures
  2. Weather
  3. Size
  4. Ideology
  5. Curriculum
  6. Culture
  7. Life after Business School

A Business school degree is a very valuable asset to add to your portfolio, especially if you are looking to make a career change or go into high-level management.

Not only will you learn a lot, you will also widen your network , make new friends and meet many intelligent people from around the world.

As we break down comparative qualities of these schools, keep in mind that your best fit school and the best school may not be the same. And that’s okay!

First, we need to go over some lingo:

  • B-School: Shorthand for Business school
  • HBS: Harvard Business School
  • GSB: The Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • MBA1: first years at GSB
  • MBA2: second years at GSB
  • RC: First years at HBS
  • EC: Second years at HBS

Got it? Great!

Biz School 1

Face off: Facts and Figures

Ranking (US News and World Report 2017):

Harvard School of Business (tied with Penn's Wharton School of Business) The Stanford Graduate School of Business (tied with MIT-Sloan and Northwestern-Kellogg)

GMAT Score:

Harvard: 730

Stanford: 737

Acceptance Rate:

Harvard: 11%

Stanford: 6.1%

Percentage ofWomen Per Class:

Harvard: 43%

Stanford: 41%

International Students Per Class:

Harvard: 35%

Stanford: 40%


Harvard: $144,000 USD

Stanford: $137,736 USD

Bottom Line:

While Harvard is currently ranked higher than Stanford, the rankings shift every year with Stanford often stealing the number one spot. Almost all of the other statistics are relatively even- including the acceptance rates because GSB is about half the size of HBS.

Both schools are even in the preliminaries, unless you’re looking to save a few bucks- in which case, Stanford is for you.

Round 1: The Weather

This decision is relatively simple.

Do you like the sun or the snow?

Bottom Line:

If you answered sun, Stanford is for you.

Snow? Harvard wins.

If only all of life’s decisions were this easy...

Round 2: Size

Biz School 2

Although this may seem like it belongs in the facts and figures section above, B-school sizes can be deceiving.

Stanford:417 per class, 75 per section

You have a better chance of getting to know everyone in your class at GSB because of the small class sizes. However, smaller classes mean smaller alumni networks (about 28,000 students).

Harvard: 935 per class, 95 per section

You probably won’t meet everyone in your class at HBS; however, you will get to know your section mates very well (more on that later). Additionally, the larger class size allows for a much larger alumni network (about 83,000 students).

Bottom Line:

If large class sizes don’t scare you and a deep connection to your section mates is important, Harvard is your second round winner.

If you want the chance to get to know everyone in your class and don’t mind a smaller alumni network (let’s be real, 28,000 is not that small): Stanford is your second round winner.

Either way, there are many more factors you should analyze before choosing a school.

Round 3: Ideology

Biz School 3

You can tell a lot about a B-school from its application questions and its principles.

Stanford: GSB’s first essay question is, “What matters most to you, and why?

This question allows you to think deeply about your values and aspirations, while allowing admissions officers to see what is truly important to you.

Harvard: HBS’s essay question boils down to “what more would you like us to know as we review your application.” This open-ended question allows you to share anything you’d like with the school.

Bottom Line:

Your aspirations and values matter at GSB. The school wants students with big goals and dreams. They want you to learn to lead with integrity and compassion, while maintaining your own values.

HBS is looking for leaders. They measure your future success on your past success. The school loves future CEOs who are able to affect change using new methods.

If you’re a dreamer, Stanford wants you.

Already a superstar at your consulting firm? Harvard will love you.

Round 4: Academics

Biz School 4

The biggest difference between the two schools is their curriculum.


Collaborations Between Graduate Schools: GSB allows you to take classes at the other grad schools on campus, including the engineering school.

First Year (MBA1): Stanford’s curriculum is personalized. Everyone is separated by their past experience and is further assessed through a series of placement tests, which allows you to take more difficult courses in the subjects you are already comfortable in.

By winter quarter, you can even choose electives!

Course Types: While many courses at GSB are case based, most courses also include a mix of experiential learning and lectures. There are also more than 160 entrepreneurial courses offered.

Class Environment: GSB tends to be a bit more laid back and not as competitive as HBS. Classes are more intimate and less argumentative.

Taking a Break: Although GSB encourages students to pursue their own businesses, if you withdraw from the school, you need to reapply.


Collaborations Between Graduate Schools: You can cross register during your second year. Not only can you pick between classes at other grad schools at Harvard but you may also take classes at MIT’s Sloan School of Business and Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

First Year (RC): There is no flexibility during your first year at HBS. You are put into a group of 90 students and take every single class with them, in the same seat of the same classroom… all year long. During your first year you will also participate in a FIELD course, during which you will travel to a foreign country to solve customer service challenges. You cannot choose elective courses until your second year (EC).

Course Types: HBS is known for its case based learning. Much of your grade is based on your class participation. When you begin to choose electives, you have the option to choose between a multitude of classes including 32 Entrepreneurial (mostly case based) courses and 17 FIELD courses which are more experiential and less case based.

Class Environment: Due to the big class size and the case based curriculum, HBS is notoriously competitive. Classes tend to be strict and intense.

Taking a Break: You may leave HBS for up to 5 years. Some students take this opportunity to focus on their start-up.

Bottom Line:

If you want to have more flexibility in your schedule, go to Stanford.

If you’re looking for a more rigorous, case heavy schedule, go to Harvard.

Round 5: Culture

Biz School 5

If you are looking at business schools, you’ve probably heard that Stanford is the place to go if you want to be in tech/have a startup, and that Harvard is the place to go if you want to be on Wall Street or be a consultant.

Both of these statements are stereotypes that are not necessarily true.


While there are many more people from tech backgrounds at Stanford than there are at Harvard, other industries are represented as well. You most certainly do not have to come from the tech world to go to GSB, nor do you have to create a startup once you leave. In fact, if you don’t come from either of these backgrounds you will bring a relatively unique perspective to your classes.

Take a look at the top industries in this year’s incoming class:

Investment Management/Private Equity/Venture Capital: 20% Consulting: 18% Technology: 16% Social Life: There are more than 70 student clubs and social organizations at GSB. Some highlights include FOAM: a weekly club where you pay a yearly price for all you can drink beer and wine, BPL: a beer pong league, Big Ideas: a club to discuss ideas that can transform the world and a multitude of weekly small group dinners. Not to mention, San Fransisco is only a short drive away!

How to Know if You Will Fit In: **GSB allows you to take a look at a "Week in the Life" of many of its students to see if you will fit in on campus.**Can you see yourself socializing with these people? Attending study sessions with them? Being intellectually challenged by them?


HBS technically has less tech people than GSB, but not by much. There are a lot of bankers and consultants and most classes are pretty diverse. However, there is still a lot of interest in startups and entrepreneurship.

Take a look at the top industries in this year’s incoming class:

  • Consulting: 15%
  • Private Equity/Venture Capital: 15%
  • High Tech/Communications: 15%
  • Financial Services: 11%

Social Life: Since you have the same classes with the same people for the entirety of your first year at HSB, your section becomes your social life. Many social events are organized by your section. However, there are also a lot of clubs on campus, which give you ample opportunity to meet and socialize with people who are not in your section.

How to Know if You Will Fit In: Similar to GSB, HSB also has a list of its current and past students. Reading through their backgrounds will give you a good idea as to what kind of people go to HSB and whether or not you will feel comfortable there.

Bottom Line:

24% of HBS graduates end up on the West coast. Don’t think that you are tying yourself down to a specific location or industry by going to one school vs. another. Both schools will welcome you, regardless of your past work experience. Read up on current students to figure out where you think you will fit in best because the friends that you make at B-school will be an asset for the rest of your life.

On a more simple note:

If a beer pong list sounds like your cup of tea, Stanford’s your best bet.

Looking for section socializing? Harvard sounds like the place for you.

Round 6: Life After Business School

Biz School 6

Going to B-school does not automatically make you a CEO. Regardless of where you go, your future depends on you and your hard work.

Stanford Job Offers:

90% of all GSB graduates who were seeking employment received an offer.

$136,000 USD is the median base salary for GSB graduates.

Harvard Job Offers:

94% of HBS graduates received a job offer.

$135,000 USD is the median base salary for HBS graduates.

Stanford: Percent of Graduates Going Into Specific Fields:

Finance: 29%

Technology: 24%

Consulting: 16%

Consumer Products: 8%

Harvard: Percent of Graduates Going Into Specific Fields:

Finance: 33%

Consulting: 23%

Technology: 17%

Consumer Products: 5%

Bottom Line:

While Harvard tends to have a more recognizable and therefore, a more “respected” B-school program, Stanford graduates are catching up quickly. Either way, B-school is not going to make you a millionaire the second you graduate.

Final Decision

In the end, it’s all up to you. Where do you want to be located? What kind of learning environment do you feel most comfortable in? Do you want to take time off?

Remember, the connections you make in B-school are extremely important, so take the time to think about what kind of people you want to be surrounded by.

Both Harvard and Stanford are excellent Business schools, so don’t worry about picking the best one.

Simply figure out what’s best for you and you will go far.