Putting together MBA applications is a monumental step for your life and career. Some MBA hopefuls have their sights set on one particular business school, while others have a roster of schools they’d be happy to attend.
If Harvard Business School (HBS) and Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) are on your list, know they’re prestigious business schools equipped to provide you with a comprehensive MBA education. But which is the better business school?
We’ll walk you through all HBS and GSB offer so you can make an informed decision. Read on to learn more about what these schools look for in applicants, admissions statistics, and how to choose the right school for you.
HBS vs GSB: About the Schools
HBS and GSB are reputable schools boasting impressive name recognition. U.S. News World Report ranks GSB as the No. 1 best business school in the country, while HBS claims an impressive No. 5 spot. Making an informed choice about which business school is right for you starts with background information about each school.
HBS Culture, Location, and MBA Programs
HBS is located in Boston, Massachusetts, a historic city and home to Fenway Park. HBS prides itself as the only top U.S. business school “with a self-contained, residential campus that forms its own vibrant community in the heart of one of the world’s great cities.”
Harvard’s tight-knit campus environment invites MBA students to participate and interact with peers and professors beyond the classroom to help build long-lasting relationships. The school’s core values, “including integrity, honesty, respect for others, personal accountability, and a dedication to excellence," lay the foundation of the Harvard experience.
Harvard’s only MBA program is two years long and full-time only, offering students a general management education rooted in real-world practice. HBS also offers seven joint MBA degrees in collaboration with other Harvard University graduate schools.
GSB Culture, Location, and MBA Programs
On the other side of the country lies GSB in Stanford, California. Like Harvard, Stanford offers various residential options to integrate work and life, so single, married, and those with families can find a living space to suit their needs.
Stanford has a unique environment, and “classrooms, study areas, and other facilities were constructed with an emphasis on technology, collaboration, and sustainability.”
GSB is situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, allowing its students to benefit from the proximity of the San Francisco Bay area as they study business. Similar to HBS, GSB offers a two-year, full-time MBA program.
HBS vs GSB: What Do They Seek in Applicants?
Knowing what business schools are looking for in applicants can help you add nuance and value to your application. Fortunately, HBS and GSB seek similar attributes in their applicants.
HBS believes people can display leadership in many forms and look for evidence of your potential in your application. Harvard states the admissions committee looks for leadership “on any scale, from organizing a classroom to directing a combat squad, from running an independent business to spearheading initiatives at work.”
GSB believes past actions are excellent predictors of future behavior and want to know what positive changes you have imparted in organizations or communities where you have assumed a leadership role.
The admissions committee seeks behaviors in your application to support your leadership potential, such as “strategic thinking, initiative, persistence, results orientation, engaging others, and developing others.”
Analytical Aptitude Versus Intellectual Vitality
HBS seeks students who can thrive in a fast-paced, demanding environment and actively participate in class discussions. The MBA program relies heavily upon case and field-based learning and “depend upon the active participation of prepared students who can assess, analyze, and act upon complex information within often-ambiguous contexts.”
Stanford looks for similar qualities in the form of considering “your interest in seeking new knowledge or expertise; your willingness to test and challenge assumptions; and your ability to develop new ideas or perspectives.” GSB wants to know how you take the initiative in your learning, find creative ways to solve problems, and how you may engage with others in the classroom.
Personal Characteristics and Community Engagement
The bottom line is Harvard is looking for respectful, highly ethical students to impact the MBA program positivelyogram. A stellar candidate can teach and learn from their peers and supports the people and community around them.
Stanford wants to know who you are because “values, beliefs, identity, passions, experiences, and ambitions will help shape the perspectives of your classmates and enrich our community.” The admissions committee wants to know how your background has shaped you and what diverse perspectives you’ll add to the MBA program if admitted.
HBS vs GSB: Admission Stats, Class Profile, and Demographics
Admissions statistics, class profile data, and student demographics are excellent tools to use and see your chances of acceptance, how you stack up to past admitted students, and the diversity of a program.
Admissions Stats and Acceptance Rates
Recent data shows HBS received 9,773 applications and enrolled 1,010 students. Assuming every student admitted to Harvard’s MBA program enrolled, HBS’ acceptance rate would be 10.3%.
Stanford GSB shared recent data showing 426 students enrolled out of 7,367 applicants. Like HBS, Stanford did not provide information on admitted students who decided not to register. Using the numbers available, Stanford only accepted 5.8% of applicants.
Besides GSB’s much lower acceptance rate, there are not many glaring differences in the rest of both schools’ class profile data. Below is a breakdown of each school’s key class profile information.
HBS Class Profile and Demographics
HBS’ class profile data shares multiple elements of the incoming class, such as 46% of the class is made up of women, and 37% are international students. Read on to learn more about class demographics, including race and ethnicity, education, pre-MBA industry, and more.
Race and Ethnicity
HBS’ multidimensional reporting means students could identify all racial or ethnic groups they belong to, which is why the column on the right adds up to more than 100%.
Most students are from the U.S., followed by 13% from Asia, and 8% from Europe.
The average GPA of the class is 3.69, with most coming from an engineering, business and commerce, or economics background.
Incoming HBS students had an average of five years of work experience on average. Most came from the consulting, venture capital and private equity, and financial services industries:
- Consulting: 17%
- Venture Capital/Private Equity: 15%
- Financial Services: 12%
- Manufacturing.Industrial/Energy: 11%
- Technology: 11%
- Consumer Products/Retail/E-Commerce: 9%
- Nonprofit/Government/Education: 8%
- Healthcare/Biotech: 7%
- Military: 5%
- Service: 3%
- Media/Entertainment/Travel: 2%
HBS accepts the GMAT or GRE as part of admissions requirements: 71% of the incoming class submitted GMAT scores, while 29% submitted GRE scores.
GSB Class Profile and Demographics
Stanford GSB’s recent data states 44% of the class are women, 48% are U.S. students of color, 47% are international, representing 63 countries and 66 languages spoken. GSB also released data about the incoming class’ race and ethnicity distribution, prior education, and more.
Race and Ethnicity
Like HBS, GSB uses multi-identify reporting, meaning the column percentage will be greater than 100% as students choose all identities that represent them.
Incoming Stanford GSB students’ average GPA is 3.78, and 19% hold advanced degrees.
Most students hold undergraduate degrees in engineering, economics, and business and commerce.
Incoming GSB students have an average of 4.8 years of work experience. Most students came from the investment management, consulting, and technology industries.
- Investment Management, PE and VC: 20%
- Consulting: 19%
- Technology: 16%
- Government, Education, and Nonprofit: 8%
- Healthcare: 8%
- Arts, Media, and Entertainment: 6%
- Consumer Products and Services: 5%
- Military: 5%
- Manufacturing: 4%
- Clean Technology, Energy and Environmental: 3%
- Real Estate: 2%
- Financial Services: 1%
- Other: 3%
Stanford accepts GMAT and GRE scores: 76% of the class submitted GMAT scores, 25% submitted GRE scores, and some students submitted both. The below graphic shows score ranges and averages.
HBS vs GSB: Academics
An MBA from HBS or GSB will provide the essential business training you need to succeed and excel in your career. Your education’s delivery differs in each school: HBS gives you an intensive case- and experience-based curriculum, while GSB emphasizes a mix of speakers in larger settings, small class sizes, and group collaboration to encourage peer-to-peer interaction and one-to-one coaching.
HBS’ famous case method allows you to make difficult decisions from different perspectives to practice in experiential field programs and independent studies. Other students are encouraged to challenge your choices for a diverse and comprehensive learning experience. The goal is to provide you with the tools and insight you need to apply your skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios.
GSB also uses case methods in course delivery, but it’s not emphasized on the same scale as Harvard. At GSB, you’ll “learn through case studies, lectures, small-group seminars, simulations, prototyping, role-playing scenarios, hands-on experiences, project-based courses, and multifunctional teams.”
Both programs emphasize diverse perspectives and global experiences to prepare you for any business situation once you graduate.
HBS vs GSB: Application
The HBS and GSB applications require everything standard of a typical MBA application. This includes your official undergraduate transcripts, professional resume, two letters of recommendation, valid GMAT or GRE scores, and application fees or waivers. However, the HBS and GSB applications require supplementary essays:
HBS Supplementary Essay
HBS’ application requires one supplementary essay:
"As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?”
There is no word limit, and you’re encouraged to write in clear, concise language to help the admissions committee understand your world. Although the essay prompt can vary from year to year, the HBS supplementary essay is a space best used to further highlight your candidacy using information you haven’t shared in the rest of your application.
GSB Supplementary Essays
GSB’ application requires you to write two supplementary essays:
“Essay A: What matters most to you, and why?
For this essay, we would like you to reflect deeply and write from the heart. Once you’ve identified what matters most to you, help us understand why. You might consider, for example, what makes this so important to you? What people, insights, or experiences have shaped your perspectives?”
“Essay B: Why Stanford?
Describe your aspirations and how your Stanford GSB experience will help you realize them. If you are applying to both the MBA and MSx programs, use Essay B to address your interest in both programs.”
Stanford states the length of your essays combined should not exceed 1,050 words and recommends you write up to 650 words for Essay A and 400 words for Essay B. These prompts tend to stay consistent but could still vary from year to year. Use the Stanford GSB essays to give depth to your application and explain why Stanford is the best-fit school for you.
HBS vs GSB: Career Outlook and Salary
An HBS or GSB education can open many opportunities for you as you navigate the job market post-graduation. A comparison of employment report data from each school can show you what your professional life can look like in the future:
HBS: Main Industries and Salary
According to recent HBS employment data, most students pursued work in the consulting (23%), technology (19%), and private equity (14%) industries. By function, most graduates work in finance (33%), consulting (25%), general management (11%), and marketing (11%).
HBS graduates enjoy a median base salary of $150,500, 51% received a median signing bonus of $30,000, and 65% received a median performance bonus of $37,000.
GSB: Main Industries and Salary
Recent GSB employment data states most recent graduates found employment in the finance (34%), technology (28%), and consulting (15%) industries. By function, most graduates work in finance (32%), marketing and sales (24%), and general management (23%).
GSB graduates reported a median base salary of $156,000, 71% reported an average expected performance bonus of $35,000, and 51% received a median signing bonus of $26,500.
How to Choose the Right School
Choosing the right school comes down to your learning style, how you feel you’d mesh with each school’s culture, and what your post-grad plans entail.
HBS is an excellent school if you think you’d excel in a curriculum based mainly on case studies gaining real-life experience in the field. GSB’s course delivery method is more flexible and varied. If you like to learn using multiple teaching methods, GSB may be a better fit for you.
Poets and Quants suggests GSB embodies a laid-back atmosphere, technological innovation, and idealism, while HBS denotes colonial prudence, incumbent might, and realism. “At Harvard, MBAs prepare for leadership by dissecting cases, posing questions, and defending ideas. Stanford’s culture is more confessional, a ‘know thyself’ exploration that culminates in intimacy and community.”
Your career aspirations also play a significant role in which school you choose. If you’re longing to work at a tech giant in Silicon Valley, GSB may be the better choice. If your dream job is working at the Boston Consulting Group or a related role, you may want to study at Harvard.
No matter what school you choose, know you’ll be learning at one of the nation’s best business schools. Both schools will help you advance your career, offer opportunities for personal growth, and teach you the skills you need to succeed.
1. Are Harvard and Stanford Ivy League schools?
Harvard is an Ivy League school, and Stanford isn’t. However, both are part of the group of M7 business schools.
2. How important are the supplemental essays?
The HBS and GSB essays are crucial to your application. They demonstrate your writing skills, humanize your application, and let your personality shine. Supplemental essays serve as a way to differentiate you from other applicants, especially if you have similar test scores, GPAs, and credentials.
3. How much work experience do I need before I apply for HBS or GSB?
Harvard states the MBA program is designed for students who have full-time work experience, while GSB says no work experience is required to apply for the program. However, if you’re looking to pursue an MBA fresh out of college, consider what’s best for you and your professional career before applying.
4. Where am I more likely to be accepted?
Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be admitted to HBS. However, don’t let either school's lower acceptance rates discourage you from applying. If you meet all eligibility requirements and spend enough time and effort perfecting your application, you boost your chances of acceptance at either school.
5. How much is tuition at HBS and GSB?
Tuition at both schools is roughly the same: $73,440 at HBS and $74,706 at GSB.
6. Should I seek the help of an admissions consultant?
HBS and GSB are top-ranked, competitive schools. While there are many things you can do to polish your application on your own, you may want to seek an admissions consultant’s help.
These experts understand the nuances of the schools’ application processes and what admissions committees seek. A third-party perspective can also ensure your application is polished to perfection and ready for submission.
HBS and GSB have excellent MBA programs. You can apply to both of them if they align with your career goals and values. They have similar application requirements and can provide you with the tools and skills you need to succeed in your career path.
HBS is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a rigorous case-based curriculum, and GSB is great for those looking for more diverse teaching techniques. You can expect to excel in whatever career trajectory you want to pursue post-graduation at either business school.