Leader among the Leaders: HBS versus Stanford GSB

Life could be tricky when it comes to making a choice between two titans. Both Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business are highly prestigious institutes for MBA courses, leaders in their own right. HBS and Stanford GSB are places where leaders are nurtured. However, making a choice among the two could be a daunting task. While both offer world-class education and a thrilling student life, certain differences makes them stand apart. To begin with geography plays a major role.

Rankings: Irrespective of current Rankings, HBS and Stanford are always talked about in the same breath, and are usually considered amongst the top 3 business schools in the world. The rankings from all top magazines shows that US News considers both schools to be #1, Business Week places HBS four notches above at #2, while Forbes places Stanford just slightly ahead.

Specialty Areas: Banking, Consulting Private Equity & Health-care: By its sheer size, HBS finds a large number of students in every category. HBS is the largest school for hiring into banking and consulting positions, and has a very large number of people with these backgrounds to begin with. It also means there is more competition for say getting into Goldman Sachs. If you were at Stanford, it would be a lot easier because the numbers are smaller and there is so much more interest in working at the leading tech firms.

Health-care: Till last year, HBS was not focused on the health-care sector (This was a Wharton domain). Stanford surprisingly has even less focus on healthcare. So if you were looking to build a network in the health-care sector, you’d be best off at Wharton, and most likely within the next five years, HBS too. HBS started to give out scholarships to attract the best health-care group to join the school.

Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital: We love entrepreneurs, but HBS doesn’t seem to be a place where people talk often of building the next Google, Adobe or Apple. This may be due to the simple fact that HBS alums are so successful, they don’t need to take risks that entrepreneurship demands. Due to Stanford’s proximity to the world’s largest collection of VC firms, a significant number of VCs drop by Stanford. If we look at the degrees held by the world’s top VCs, it seems to be a mixed bag from all three top schools. John Doerr (Kleiner/HBS), Michael Moritz (Sequoia/Wharton), Vinod Khosla (Sun/Stanford) and Jim Breyer (HBS/Accel) make it hard to choose one over the other. But when you look at the large numbers of VCs in the West Coast with Stanford connections (including undergrads), then inspite of the size of HBS, Stanford dominates. Harvard, by its sheer size of classes, produces greater number of entrepreneurs in a general manner while, Stanford is the first choice for those who want to become entrepreneurs in “technology” sector. When one looks at the technology businesses started out of HBS, and the quality of the business plan competitions that have run there, it is clear that Stanford has the more tech-savvy entrepreneurs. In Boston, MIT Sloan dominates the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Location: Located in Boston, across the Charles River, the HBS offers an exciting life in one of the world’s most dynamic and inviting cities, Boston. On the other hand, Stanford GSB, considered to be one of the most selective business schools in the world is situated in the heart of S, California. Its campus, located between San Jose and San Francisco, offers balmy winters as opposed to the icy winter months at Harvard. Other parameters that differentiate the two can be outlined as follows:

Where do you want to live: There are Harvard and Stanford alums in large numbers around the world. The same isn’t true of the business schools, because Stanford is so small. If you will live in the US, Stanford is an equally good network, but if you’re going to rely on networks in a foreign country, HBS stands out. The most famous Indians came from HBS, and there is a significant network in India. In fact we recommend people consider HBS first, and Wharton second, because of the numbers of students graduating from these schools, over Stanford.

Size: Harvard Business School is the first or second largest b-school in the world in terms of MBA enrollment. Its total full-time MBA enrollment accounts to 1,837 whereas, that of Stanford is just 765! We’re proponents of the larger school of equal quality, so you know where our biases lie. Should you wonder about how size translates into resources – HBS is the richest school, and has the world’s largest business library. In case you’re wondering how to spend your evenings, there’s 6 million volumes to choose from.

Teaching Methods: Harvard’s MBA program depends heavily upon case studies. At Stanford, emphasis is upon team projects, experiential learning, lectures and simulations. One can also see the difference in the entrepreneurship status among the two. The current class size at Harvard is 900 students, divided into ten sections (A–J) of 90 students. Stanford offers a more intimate environment with far lesser number of students taken per year. Other courses offered at both HBS and Stanford GSB are:

GMAT, Selectivity & Yield: Laying stress upon values and aspirations and experiential learning and team projects Stanford is known for its extremely selective nature. There’s also an observable difference among the campus recruiting procedures of the two behemoths. Harvard witnesses a melee of recruiters and companies as opposed to the fewer companies that visit the Stanford campus. This is precisely because most of the Stanford’s graduating MBAs opt for entrepreneurship over company jobs. There is a slight difference among the GMAT score requirements.

Dual Degrees


  • MBA/MPP (Master of Public Policy)
  • MBA/MPA-ID (Master of Public Administration-International Development,
  • Doctoral Programs
  • Non-degree executive programs like: the Owner/President Management Program (OPM), a part-time, multi-year program for self-employed entrepreneurs; the Advanced Management Program (AMP), an eight-week intensive course for senior managers; and the General Management Program (GMP), which combines campus and distance learning and is intended for middle managers.

At Stanford GSB:

  • One-year Stanford Sloan Master’s Program for mid-career executives,
  • PhD Program for future academics,
  • Executive Education programs for experienced managers,
  • Faculty research program

Related posts:

  1. HBS 2+2: The New ?In? Thing
  2. A full ride from Reliance to Stanford GSB (Applications now open)
  3. In conversation with Pratik Agarwal- First Indian at HBS 2+2
  4. Goldman Global Leaders
  5. Roanak Desai (Stanford): A real tragedy
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