MBA School Choice: Stanford Vs. Berkeley Haas

Their close proximity to Silicon Valley’s tech scene means these two schools have much in common, yet there are crucial differences for MBA applicants

Separated by just 30 miles and the San Francisco Bay, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business share many similarities. Their close proximity to Silicon Valley puts both institutions in the heart of America’s technology, entrepreneurship and venture capital scenes. Yet there are many differences between them. 

Stanford vs. Berkeley Haas: Rankings and MBA class 

On rankings, Stanford has historically performed more strongly than Haas. In the current US News table, Stanford is ranked first and Haas came in seventh place. In the Global MBA Rankings from the Financial Times, Stanford was ranked third last year while Haas was ranked number 12. In the most recent ranking from Bloomberg Business Week, Stanford came in first place while Haas finished eighth. 

The difference in the rankings reflects the greater level of selectivity at Stanford, whose admission rate is 8.9 percent compared with 17.7 percent at Haas. This means Stanford can admit a stronger class in terms of average GMAT score (733 vs 730 at Haas), average GPA (3.8 vs 3.6). The proportion of international MBA students at Stanford is 35 percent compared with 21 percent at Haas. Stanford also admits more women (47 percent vs 39 percent). But Haas has a higher proportion of under-represented minority students (39 percent vs 37 percent at Stanford). 

Overall, both schools enrol fewer students than peers such as Harvard or Wharton. Stanford currently enrols 436 students compared with 502 at Haas. This means that almost every student knows each other. The top pre-MBA fields at Haas are consulting (21 percent), financial services (17 percent), and tech (10 percent). At Stanford, most of the students come from investing (20 percent), consulting (17 percent), and tech (14 percent).

“Both programs are known to be collaborative, with a self-aware, well-rounded and inspired student culture,” says California-based admissions consultant Stacy Blackman. “For institutions that attract smart, already accomplished, yet still highly ambitious people, the competition among students is kept to a minimum.” 

Elle Wisnicki was admitted to five business schools, but chose Haas for its people. “It was important to me to be part of a welcoming, supportive student culture, especially one that speaks up on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” she says. 

Wisnicki enrolled at Haas last year and says the diversity of the MBA class and the school’s strong healthcare resources and robust entrepreneurship network were also key selling points. Together with a Haas graduate, she has started a small business in the wellness space.  

Stanford vs. Berkeley Haas: MBA admissions and culture 

Stanford and Berkeley are both highly selective institutions. Yet, Stanford is the more competitive program by a significant margin, receiving some 7,300 applications per year compared with 3,700 at Haas. The application requirements are virtually identical, although the specific essay prompts differ. Haas and Stanford both require transcripts, resume, GMAT or GRE, essays, and two letters of recommendation. 

Beyond that, Haas is focused on its “Defining Leadership Principles”, which are to question the status quo, possess confidence without attitude, to be students always, and to go beyond oneself. Eric Askins, current Haas admissions director, says: “Candidates should be familiar with the Defining Leadership Principles and be able to craft their narrative in a way that allows us to see how they could fit into the culture at Haas.” Applicants need an authentic approach and should not be robotic or formulaic.

Stanford seeks talented, diverse and smart people who will make a significant impact in business and society. “Stanford students seem to have this ‘X’ factor associated with them, almost like an unexpected trait or experience,” says a former admissions officer at the business school. 

They added that Stanford wants to avoid people who are looking at an MBA as merely the route to their next job in the corporate world, as well as people who are hyper-competitive. “Stanford is more willing to consider candidates that took risks, failed, learned from their experiences and returned more resilient than ever,” this person says. 

Stanford MBA student Martin Aguinis says that his classmates stand out for being humble, friendly, diverse and brilliant. “On a typical day, I find myself hanging out with people that represent different countries, industries, and perspectives, yet share a similar zest for life and passion to push forward. It’s also remarkable how helpful everyone is.” 

He only applied to Stanford because of its strong reputation for entrepreneurship. During his first year, he successfully started and exited a company called AccessBell together with his classmates. They sold the integrated video conferencing company to Tata Group. 

Stanford vs. Berkeley Haas: MBA program comparison 

On teaching, Haas has a 14-course core curriculum including an Applied Innovation required course. Case studies make up half of the classroom instruction, while team projects take up 15 percent of the coursework. Good old-fashioned lectures, experiential learning, and simulations make up the rest. 

Haas recently beefed up its offerings in its three priority areas — innovation, inclusion, and sustainability — by adding a new certificate in business sustainability, courses in carbon footprinting, and CSR metrics. Haas is enhancing training in business communications and persuasion skills, doubling coursework in statistics and data analytics, and creating a new course on leading diverse teams.

Stanford has a first-year core curriculum that is designed to equip students with foundational managerial skills and holistic leadership insights. There’s far less reliance on case studies: team projects, experiential learning, lectures and simulations make up half the teaching. “Stanford’s culture is more confessional, a ‘know thyself’ exploration that prepares the individual to become not just a skilled manager but a great leader,” says Blackman, the consultant. 

Stanford vs. Berkeley Haas: Location 

On location, Haas is based on the University of California Berkeley campus, in the East Bay. Berkeley is a sunny and energetic city with a vibrant, student-driven culture. “It is famous for its long history of student activism, and it has a more urban feel than the stretch of Silicon Valley where Stanford is located,” says Liz Bender, managing director of The MBA Exchange, an admissions agency. 

“By contrast, GSB is located on the Stanford University campus in the city of Palo Alto,” she adds, in the South Bay. “It has a quieter, more suburban feel, with low-rise buildings and tree-lined streets.” 

Wisnicki, the Haas student, describes the East Bay as a truly magical place to live. “The ease of access to hikes, lakes, creeks, climbing, parks, diverse communities and live music provides the perfect balance to the everyday drive of business school,” she says, adding that Haas students “love the outdoors”. 

Stanford vs. Berkeley Haas: MBA career outcomes 

Both Berkeley and Stanford have expansive, sprawling university campuses, and both are within easy commuting distance of the hundreds of companies, large and small, that are headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The career outcomes are equally strong for both institutions, with a similar proportion of graduates (about three-quarters) entering the most popular post-MBA fields of consulting, finance, and tech. At Stanford, 91 percent of students seeking jobs received offers after three months last year, compared with 89.5 percent at Haas. 

Stanford graduates report a higher average starting salary, $156,000 compared with $139,000 at Haas. The top fields at Stanford were finance (34 percent), tech (28 percent), and consulting (15 percent). At Haas it was tech (32 percent), consulting (25 percent), and finance (15 percent).

In true Silicon Valley fashion, a sizable percentage of the graduating class at both Haas and Stanford choose to work for startups after graduation, whether launching their own businesses or joining one, as Wisnicki and Aguinis have done. 

Bender at The MBA Exchange concludes that both business schools offer prospective students a compelling option. “While Stanford may be better known, Haas is also an excellent business school that’s close by,” she says. 

“For applicants who are eager to break into Silicon Valley, both institutions offer top-quality instruction, strong peer and alumni networks, and enviable employer relationships. In fact, these two schools have much more in common than one might expect.” 

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