GSB overtaking HBS?

So it seems pretty clear that GSB and HBS are in their own league at the top of business schools. But I'm curious to hear some thoughts on the notion that GSB is starting to separate itself from HBS as the new leader. Here are some of the supporting comments I've heard:

  • GSB is clearly more selective. Many assume that if you got into GSB, you also got into HBS. However, the reverse is not true.

  • HBS has been slow to adapt. It is such a large, old organization that it has failed to keep up with the GSB in adapting with the changing times. HBS has been trying to adapt and jump on the tech and entrepreneurship wave, but is not as flexible as GSB (HBS leaders have mentioned this issue)

  • HBS used to lead the pack in finance placement; however, we now see GSB placing a higher portion of its class into finance, and, because of its small size, those students are going to the best firms out there

  • GSB has leveraged a unique culture that appeals to a wider audience. There's the notion that HBS continues to stress a competitive academic environment (grading on a curve, disclosing grades, case study participation, etc), whereas the GSB promotes a collaborative culture that stresses career preparation, personal growth, and network development over the traditional "academics-first" mindset. This also speaks to HBS' lack of flexibility. Students wonder why they'd want to endure the rigor of the HBS experience if GSB flaunts a more student-friendly environment while also maintaining the same (or higher) standard of excellence.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Are these points valid? Which school would you choose?

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Comments (53)

  • Analyst 1 in PE - LBOs
May 29, 2020 - 7:36pm

I would take GSB. Clearly, your opportunities will be endless no matter which school you choose.

I just think the experience GSB experience sounds way more enjoyable. If I'm going to take 2 years and pay that kinda money, I want it to be something I truly enjoy. My brother went to HBS and it definitely propelled his career, but he was not a fan of the culture

I also think that although these schools may currently be on equal footing, Standford will be the clear leader down the road.

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
May 29, 2020 - 8:03pm

Hmm idk if I'd say GSB is running away with it lol. I'd still put H/S on the same level. I would agree though that Stanford may have a more significant positive trend and outlook. Takes a lot to beat the Harvard name.

Personally, I'd choose GSB just because I like the teaching style and location better. I also think you'd have a better shot at landing a solid PE role from GSB given the class size and culture. But I'd consider myself lucky to get either.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 29, 2020 - 8:08pm

I'd take HBS. The harvard name is just too fucking beautiful to pass up

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 30, 2020 - 1:49am

You can't compare admissions like that. There are a ton of people who choose to go to school in a close-ish region and/or where they want to settle down (this is how I chose my schools at least).

The entire west coast has two top schools, Stanford and Cal Tech. Berkeley, UCLA, and etc. aren't in the same league as Harvard and Stanford's competitors. There aren't any schools out there that are worth applying ED/restrictive EA over Stanford so Stanford gets all the west coast focused apps they could ever desire.

On the east coast, MIT, Princeton, and to a lesser extent Cornell are competitors for STEM. Yale steals away liberal arts students and aspiring lawyers and politicians. Wharton and Dartmouth steal away aspiring financiers. Columbia steals away a bit of everything with their NYC location. These schools take big ED/restrictive EA classes, which means there are fewer available apps to Harvard. Fewer apps means higher acceptance rate.

  • Intern in Consulting
May 29, 2020 - 8:35pm

I think this is the sentiment that is changing. Harvard's name is as old and prestigious as it gets.

But if GSB continues to display higher gmat/act averages, lower acceptance rates, same or better placement statistics into the most popular fields, higher student/faculty/employer ratings, more flexibility, etc year after year... how long can the Harvard name alone justify that decision haha.

It'd be a tough call for me because I want to stay in the east coast, but GSB sounds like a sweet experience.

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Restr
May 30, 2020 - 2:29am

I think you meant Gmat/GPA*? I agree though. The stats point toward GSB. I recognize the weight that Harvard's name carries. But let's not kid ourselves in acting as though it is a meaningfully stronger brand than Stanford. Both are seen as the top of the top. Both will change your life and earn you the same level of respect in any business setting.

At the end of the day, I think most just choose the school they feel is a better fit for them. My guess is that the reason most dual admits choose GSB is it's laid back culture and the warm weather lol.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 29, 2020 - 9:05pm

GSB has been closing the gap, but HBS is the golden ticket for a reason. Google HBS alumni and Stanford GSB alumni. On one hand I see Jaime Dimon, Bloomberg, George Bush, Ackman, Dalio, Romney, Schwarzman. On the other... Tom Steyer lol

The name and the history will take a long time for GSB to overcome. Maybe sometime later this century GSB will be the consensus choice but HBS has been the king forever and imo still is seen as the best business school

  • Intern in Consulting
May 29, 2020 - 9:16pm

Uhh GSB has alumni like - JFK, Phil Knight, Charles Schwab, Rich Handler, as well as the founders of companies like: Alphabet, Cisco, HP, Capital One, Gap, Trader Joe's, Micron, Netflix, and The list goes on forever.

What opportunity would HBS give you that GSB wouldn't?

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 29, 2020 - 9:49pm

JFK dropped out after a semester and Rich is an instagram meme. Regardless this is a moot point, HBS' alumni are clearly a notch above.

  • Intern in IB - Gen
May 29, 2020 - 9:17pm

Well, that's the tradeoff that will continue because of class size as well. HBS will have more an extensive alumni network in high positions now and in the coming future because it's over twice the size of GSB. On the other hand, GSB being smaller allows it to have a lower acceptance rate and be more selective. It's an interesting choice all undergrad and grad schools make as they balance out whether to accept more or less kids.

  • Analyst 2 in PE - LBOs
May 30, 2020 - 12:11am

I would love to hear what doors the HBS "golden ticket" open that the GSB backing does not lmao

May 29, 2020 - 9:26pm

I think it's an interesting time to be in the valley even if you're not palnning on a tech career. Being at the center of that would add to the education in and out of the classroom and is a meaningful differentiator IMHO.

Also think the benefits of a smaller class outweigh the benefits of a larger one. 20 years ago with fewer ways to meet people, maybe I'd want the bigger class. But these days there are so many ways to grow a network that I'd place little value on having 2x the class size.

The 4 people I know who had this choice in the last few years all chose GSB.

Jun 3, 2020 - 7:25pm

Both are obviously great. GSB is having a moment right now (as is Silicon Valley) but as with all b-school decisions, you should reflect on what you really need and want out of b-school.

  • Network. So GSB is very skewed to tech and to the Bay area, with about half the class there. Obviously that's great if you are focused on either or both of those. Conversely if you take a less than 400 person class and have half in one metro, you are getting pretty thin outside that. The number of GSB alums in a class in even major hubs like Singapore, Chicago, or London can get very small (a class may have say ~5 GSB alums vs ~50 HBS in say a London) and as you go to places like Houston or Sao Paulo or Sydney, it gets very thin indeed. The brand is also weaker. Harvard's brand power is bigger internationally. Indeed, you could argue that Wharton would be better than GSB in many international markets because the reputation is also good and the density of alums (especially with undergrads) is so much higher. At some point, it's hard to have reputation if you don't have presence. B-school is a long term investment and if you ever need to move or get access outside NYC/LA/SF, tapping into that network will be very valuable.

Conversely, GSB alums (like most smaller business schools) are probably person for person more responsive and can benefit from the rarity factor. In something like PE there may be an advantage to being less common, but in something like hedge funds the far greater number of firms with an HBS alum is a big advantage.

  • **Entrepreneurship **- Stanford has a great reputation on this that is well deserved but the stereotypical Stanford entrepreneur is a different flavor - someone building a B2C company in the valley shortly after school and leveraging the location and ecosystem. About half of HBS students eventual found businesses but they tend to do so later, after working for a while and gaining experience. If your form of entrepreneurship is more like launching a private equity fund or building a B2B company, you will probably find the breadth of the HBS network more valuable for getting access to more rich people, institutional LPs, and Fortune 500. Of course Stanford has its share of all these, and it also has a culture that really encourages entrepreneurship.

  • Culture: So GSB has that California cool, while HBS has the old school Ivy glam. GSB is more free spirited, and probably places a higher weight on having a unique story. This can be magical and awesome, or it can feel listless - there are probably a higher proportion of GSB grads who have bounced from thing to thing without real traction. GSB's more casual vibe can sometimes feel fake, per the duck stereotype (furiously paddling beneath the surface while seeming serene) - maybe HBS students seem more hyper, or maybe they're just owning their ambition. While GSB's intimate class is well touted, a good HBS section can be exceptionally close knit from spending every day together for a year.

  • Recruiting. GSB is really built around a networked job search and has much less (even propotional to its class size) OCR. This is self reinforcing - the smaller class means a lower yield, as does the focus on a networked search. GSB's more experimental/exploratory vibe also impacts this - I know recruiters who complain that the Stanford career office advertises how low the proportion of people who work at their summer employer is, something that makes firms wonder if GSB students are too fickle to be worth an on campus effort (though they are usually happy to talk if you reach out). Location also matters hugely for a networked search - bopping down to New York or being in the Bay area, as the case may be.

  • **Academics **- yes, GSB is more relaxed, but arguably you get what you pay (your time) for. Long after they graduate, many HBS alums say they learned a lot in business school as a whole, whereas Stanford alums cite a few classes. The social dynamics of the case method and the forced curve means most students make a real effort to contribute to the class discussion, which is richer as a result - Stanford classes can seem lifeless by comparison. Professors feel it too and many spend a huge amount of time preparing. Not all professors are great but teaching is unusually important in the tenure process at HBS. The public debate and multiple perspectives of case education also tends to improve pattern recognition, persuasiveness and poise, which have long term benefits. Case method is polarizing and best experienced in person. It's less great for either really soft skills (like the role playing in Stanford's famous touchy-feely class) or super intense mathy stuff, but it tends to work well in disciplines like strategy or political economy that blend some analysis with qualitative perspectives. Stanford's curriculum has more student choice, but HBS would say that teaching others the disciplines you know best hones your communication skills and that the section experience brings valuable bonding. Stanford's academic crown jewels are probably the classes taught by leading practitioners, but these are a minority of most students' curriculum. Again this depends on what you're solving for but I do think the higher average academic effort of HBS students yields benefits that alums often speak highly of when they look back.

Like with all these things, your mileage will vary. Few people get into both but each school pursues a different strategy and has some very different strengths.

  • Analyst 1 in PE - LBOs
Jun 4, 2020 - 12:58am

Check out GSB's placement report. A larger % of their class goes into PE than HBS.

I'm reality, you can place well into PE/HF from any of those three schools. Opportunities will probably be very similar, with an edge to HBS and GSB for their reputations

Jun 4, 2020 - 2:51am

For traditional PE in the USA, you're splitting hairs but I think GSB has a slight edge for placements out of school since I think you get great access at either and there are fewer GSB students so you stand out a bit more. (Longer term if you want to raise a fund, it might flip as network breadth and raw numbers matter a lot for that and HBS has a lot of reach).

If you want venture, I would do GSB. No disrespect to HBS which also does well but GSB's tech ecosystem is unmatched.

If you want HF, there are some great GSB public investors especially on the West Coast, but HBS overall has a much bigger footprint and I probably would go with that especially because that's a field where most firms recruit irregularly and access is hard to get, so the affinity matters.

Geography also matters a lot and can change this equation.

Most Helpful
  • VP in PE - Growth
Jun 3, 2020 - 8:29pm

While I appreciate the comments, it is hard to accept a lot of these arguments as they are backed by some pretty large generalizations and assumptions. For reference, I am a GSB grad, and my SO attended HBS.

I have found great success in leveraging the GSB network outside of a major hub and far from the west coast. Also important to note that no HBS alum will turn down a productive call with a GSB alum (and vice versa). So the networks often collide.

When comparing the experiences of my SO, her peers, my peers, and myself, I can confidently say that one can't identify a material difference in quality/quantity of opportunities provided by alumni base.

Also nice to note that GSB beat out HBS for Bloomberg's most powerful alumni base survey ;). But I regress.

I'll be honest, tough to let this one slide haha. Most b-school grads will concede that GSB is by far the leader in entrepreneurship. HBS boasts a great program; however, it is not their specialty.

"There are probably a higher proportion of GSB grads who have bounced from thing to thing without real traction. GSB's more casual vibe can sometimes feel fake"

Tough to grasp these generalizations. Many note that the major driver for HBS-GSB dual admits (including myself) to select GSB is its unmatched culture. I found it to be a culture that demands personal development, the broadening of one's perspective, and the willingness to pursue one's dreams. It was truly a life-changing experience.

My SO enjoyed the rigorous, competitive culture of HBS. She grew tremendously and I'm sure most HBS alumni would agree. Tough to rank culture as it depends greatly upon the individual.

As a personal data point, I did a summer internship with a top consulting firm in New York, and an additional internship with a hedge fund in Connecticut, during my time at GSB. Both came via on campus recruiting.

Many students choose to find jobs and internships via the network, especially in Silicon Valley; however there is an endless amount of employers from all around the world who come to campus religiously

Also important to note that many top employers will take 1-2 grads each from HBS, GSB, and Wharton. Statistically, your odds of landing a top spot are higher from GSB. This was very evident when comparing success rates among those of us recruiting for PE and HF's out of b-school.

Some very, very bold claims here. I look back to my time at the GSB and can pinpoint specific classes and professors that changed my life. Granted, the rigor may not be at the level of HBS, which makes sense given one focuses on the case method and discloses grades and the other doesn't. However, the GSB employs some of the most influential individuals in their respective fields and the depth and intellectual stimulation provided in each class is, truly, life changing. To say that HBS, GSB, or Wharton simply offers better "academic opportunity" than any of the others is unrealistic.

Both schools represent tremendous opportunity. Both will open doors that will change your life forever. To argue if one is better than the other is likely an impossible venture.

Jun 4, 2020 - 4:49am

I'm actually in a pretty similar position to you (but maybe older). I don't disagree with any of the positive points on GSB and was very focused on them when I was looking at schools.

My main concern was the framing of the prior thread, which felt like was often superficial (who has more famous alums you won't meet, or lower admit rate, which is mostly a function of class size - most people I know at each school were not dual admits and I know dual admits who have done each) or compared how HBS did on Stanford's areas of strength without thinking about vice versa.

I'm not taking anything away from GSB when I say that some of Harvard's strengths are more obvious to me now (with time and seeing what my SO experienced) than when I applied.

  • I was skeptical of the claims made about the case method but now find those claims more persuasive. I think it's actually a pretty good way to learn most MBA curriculum. It makes things memorable and builds communications skills and pattern recognition. Aside from that I'm not sure we're saying anything too different on academics - Stanford has these amazing crown jewel classes with some world class folks and the HBS culture means students and professors really bring it. While that can feel like a grind the discussions are often fun and my sense is most HBS students get a lot out of it. And I have seen enough people really level up their executive presence at HBS to believe the institution trains that well.

  • GSB culture is very special, but it's not perfect. There are bad days and bad apples anywhere. I know some folks from GSB who didn't like it or even regret going. The negative stereotype on HBS students is too uptight - the negative one on GSB is maybe the opposite. By contrast, I thought of HBS as a very cold culture and didn't appreciate how warm and close a good section experience (which you're not guaranteed) could be. It's really like an extended family and over the years I have seen how the bonds have been very strong through deaths, divorces, illness and other tough life events. During the lockdown I'm witnessing some very candid conversations about race, the rioting and the mental health impact of COVID on people's kids and marriages. I didn't understand the supportive side of the HBS culture when I was considering it.

  • GSBers will run through fire to help people from the school and it's amazing. It's a very generous alumni culture and the mentorship and help I've gotten from certain GSB grads has been literally life changing. I don't think the average enthusiasm is at quite the same level at HBS (though it's good). But life is long and can take you to unexpected places, where a broader network has value. My career has taken me into investing in industries and geographies I didn't expect as an MBA. Through that and ultimately fundraising for my own business, I have found the reach of the HBS network to be really impressive and frankly for what I do now, better. And yes, you're right, people will always take a productive call from someone from the other school, (especially if you get a warm intro from your SO) and I've benefited from that. But when you're sitting around a few years out of school trying to figure out how you can talk to someone in X, Y, Z, having more options for a warm(ish) intro has value.

  • You may have better odds with on campus recruiting at GSB since while there is less supply, there is also less demand. The blue chip professional services firms love folks from GSB and many great smaller firms also recruit there. However, I counted the OCR opportunities at each during my year and HBS's lead at that time was very substantial. People should weigh that appropriately since OCR will work much better for students whose prior resumes are a tight fit than those who are slightly off center, especially in a bad market. The pushback I mentioned is from recruiters at big AMs about why they don't like recruiting at GSB. I would say that the GSB career services staff seemed better to me, but there's been enough turnover I can't have high conviction in whether that's still true.

Both schools are extraordinary, life changing opportunities. Employers in my subfield also love Wharton/Booth/Columbia/Sloan alums for their superb technical skills and hungry attitude. I know plenty of people who get into HBS or GSB and don't get into some of those. There is a lot of luck.

I used to really believe OP's premise that Stanford has pulled a little bit away and that almost anyone with the choice should take GSB. Being little older now and having a better sense of HBS's strengths, I now disagree with that generalization and think about that in a more nuanced way. If you're blessed to have the choice, you should really reflect on what you want out of business school and do your homework on which set of strengths you most need. Hopefully this thread and other folks sharing their experiences helps with that.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Mar 12, 2021 - 4:49pm

Do you think I have a chance for the HBS/GSB deferred program with my profile? 

Profile: Junior at UCLA/USC GPA: 3.6, Top BB SA in top group (GS TMT/MS M&A) -> assuming return offer/recruit for MF PE. Assuming 750+ GMAT (34 ACT). Founded two successful businesses, software E-comm $700K ARR that sold for ~$2M, and subscription apparel business, brokered partnerships with Barneys NY (now Saks) and Nordstroms, ~$500K NTM Rev, raised $100k at $2.5M valuation. Board of NGO. 

Jun 8, 2020 - 2:31pm

Interestingly, I know only of one person who got into GSB but not HBS.

Good undergrad. Took a year out after graduating and worked for an intergovernmental organisation where he helped set up some insanely challenging project in Africa. Then MBB (top performer) pre and post business school and now works in PE.

That was a good few years ago now but still.

  • Consultant in Consulting
Jul 24, 2021 - 5:37pm

Yeah I agree, there are clear differences in tiers. Wharton can't be compared to Harvard and Stanford.

That said, while GSB and HBS are in their own tier, I do agree that GSB is overtaking HBS now.

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Cov
Jul 25, 2021 - 12:07am

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