HBS vs GSB: Harvard Business School vs Stanford Graduate School of Business

InGenius Prep


As the leading business schools in the world, Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business compete for the most talented MBA applicants in the world. While often mentioned in the same conversation and thrown together on applicants' school lists, the programs are actually quite different.

Understanding these program differences is crucial for two reasons: (1) understanding the nuances of different programs will allow you to effectively tailor your application and (2) you need to determine if both schools are strong matches for your particular personal and professional goals.

How do you decide which program is best for you?

Let’s compare HBS and GSB side-by-side and closely analyze the differences between these competitive programs.

Admissions Statistics: HBS vs GSB

HBS Class of ‘17 Statistics:

Total Applications Received: 9,686

Total MBA Enrollment: 937

% Admitted: 11%

Yield Rate: 91%

Median GMAT: 730

Average GPA: 3.66

Women: 42%

International: 34%

Average age: 27

GSB Class of ‘17 Statistics:

Total Applications Received: 7,899

Total MBA Enrollment: 407

% Admitted: 5.15%

Average GMAT score: 733 (Range: 570-800)

Average GPA: 3.75

Average TOEFL score: 112 (Range: 100-120)

Women: 40%

International: 40%

HBS vs GSB: What Does Each Program Look For in Applicants?

HBS is looking for leaders. The school is looking for potential leaders and future CEOs, who have the ability to influence, motivate, inspire, and convince other people to affect change without being too authoritative or using traditional leadership methods.

For HBS, it is best to apply early and avoid waiting until round three to express your interest.  

Stanford GSB looks for students who possess leadership potential and whose principles are aligned with the school’s values. It prefers individuals who can engage rigorously in research-supported learning processes, interdisciplinary studies, and community service.

In the GSB admissions process, recommendations and essays are extremely important.

Considered the most selective business school in the US, Stanford GSB prioritizes round 1 applicants.

Comparing Mottos and Guiding Principles: HBS vs GSB

Harvard Business School lives by six principles—The HBS Difference—that make it unique and outstanding:

  1. Global Intelligence
  2. Learning in Practice
  3. Entrepreneurship & Innovation
  4. Residential Learning Community
  5. Alumni Relationships
  6. Publications & Resources

Stanford GSB aims to establish ideas that enhance the understanding of its students about leadership and management to make them innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who can change the world. It is guided by the below values that provide the context within which the school strives for excellence:

  1. Engage intellectually
  2. Strive for something great
  3. Respect others
  4. Act with integrity
  5. Own your actions

“The Stanford Dynamic” or the principles that make the school unique is comprised of three primary ideologies:

  1. Management is a “noble calling,” and the Stanford culture cultivates innovative, knowledgeable, global leaders.
  2. A strong community and a selective MBA are important. Because there are fewer than 400 students per class sizes, there is great opportunity for individual focus – a bonus given Stanford’s abundant resources – and an incredibly strong, active alumni network of over 25,000 around the globe.
  3. The problems and the solutions of tomorrow are still unknown. At Stanford GSB, the focus is on the future. Students graduate with strong management skills but even more importantly, they acquire the capacity to manage despite uncertainty.

Comparing Curriculum: HBS vs GSB

HBS’s first-year curriculum is totally set; there is no flexibility. Students are divided into groups of 90 students and take every single class together in the same classroom and in the same seat for the first year. There are no electives or choices during the first year.

This first year also includes FIELD – Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development, which provides experiential and immersive small-group learning. FIELD allows to enables students to apply what they discussed in case study analysis and action planning in the field.

It is not until the second year—or EC, as HBS calls it—that students get to choose their courses and take electives.

GSB boasts a personalized curriculum that helps students develop their vision and gives them the skills necessary to achieve it. In the first year, students develop their general management knowledge and gain global experience. In the second year, students tailor their experience by taking different electives and seminars. GSB also encourages its students to walk across campus and take classes at other Stanford schools.

The HBS Teaching Approach

HBS is known for its unique and intense classroom experience. In particular, HBS is know for:

Case Method: One of the highlights of the Harvard MBA experience is the case method, which was pioneered and perfected by the HBS faculty. This method places students in the role of decision-maker and requires them to confront real issues faced by companies, nonprofits, and government organizations. These case studies, which are written by HBS faculty members, are difficult and incomplete, requiring students to exchange perspectives, rigorously deliberate, and exercise judgment under extreme pressure.

Class participation is central to the learning and education model, as student’s grades in most courses are heavily based upon the quality of his or her participation. This means that students and faculty work together closely.

Cold Call: It is important that applicants are aware of the infamous “cold call.” Professors open the class discussion of a case by choosing, at random and without warning, one student to provide his or her overview, analysis and action plan. During your time at HBS, you are bound to get cold called.

Discussion Groups: Right when students get to HBS, they are assigned to 6- or 7-person Discussion Group, consisting of individuals from different sections. Throughout their first year, they will work and collaborate with these students to prepare for cases. 

Comparing Cultures: HBS vs GSB

Classes at HBS are big, ranging from 900-1,000 students per class. The learning model at HBS creates a very competitive atmosphere. Students, in addition to competing in the classroom, have been known to compete socially and financially as well. The general atmosphere is serious and strict.

The program at Stanford GSB is mid-sized, with classes around 400 students every year. 

At Stanford GSB, the environment is more laid back and less competitive than HBS. Classes are intimate and take full advantage of the school’s inspiring community to expose students to real experiences outside the campus. Students are generally engaged and energetic in academic, social, and career-oriented activities. They have access to educational groups, facilities, and events across the larger Stanford University campus.

Comparing Post-MBA Opportunities: HBS vs GSB

In 2015, 31% of HBS graduates went into finance, 24% of HBS graduates went into consulting, and 20% went into technology. Far behind, 6% went into health care, 5% went into manufacturing, and 4% went into nonprofit or government.

At GSB, the Class of 2015 chose careers in a wide variety of industries—finance and technology being at the top at 31% and 28%, respectively. Consulting decreased to 14% (down from 16% the previous year), and healthcare increased to 6%. At GSB, 16% of the Class of 2015 decided to go into entrepreneurship.

At HBS, the Class of 2015 earned an average base salary of $130,000.

At GSB, the Class of 2015 earned an average base salary of $133,406.

HBS and GSB have remarkable programs and opportunities to offer.

As you prepare to apply and build your business school list, do your research and choose your school list wisely! Apply to the schools that offer the best educational experience and career possibilities for you.







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