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Should you Choose Stanford or Berkeley For your MBA?

Should you Choose Stanford or Berkeley For your MBA? main image

For 120 years, Stanford and Berkeley have clashed in the annual Big Game — an infamous football match played by the Stanford Cardinal and California Golden Bears. One of the ultimate sporting rivalries, the match draws tens of thousands of spectators and has featured some of the greatest players in the history of football.

The rivalry between Stanford and Berkeley (the Bears) is legendary. The Big Game is fought on the football field, but the competition extends far beyond sport to the universities’ business schools.

At first glance, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business have much in common. Their proximity to Silicon Valley means the two Californian schools excel in entrepreneurship, venture capital and technology.

California is also a gateway to South American and Asian economies, and many global companies are headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It’s a prime location for students aspiring to international business, says admissions consultant Stacy Blackman. She says, “Studying in the center of Silicon Valley provide access to industry lecturers, case studies, team projects for local companies, on-site company visits and more.”

Yet there’s much that distinguishes Stanford and Berkeley from one another and fuels their huge rivalry.

Curriculum, teaching methods and facilities

Both MBA programs are exceptionally well-regarded, offering highly-customized, global and experiential learning.

At Haas students take 12 required courses as part of the core curriculum, then major in a subject of their choosing. Experiential learning is at the heart of the program, with students able to take one of about 20 “applied innovation” courses, and working on team projects with major firms, such as consultancy work.

At Stanford, the curriculum can also be customized, and in the first quarter students no longer have required courses. Students are, however, required to participate in an international experience during the two-year MBA, such as a global internship or exchange program to another school overseas. According to current Stanford MBA student Thalia Elena Hernandez Duran, the course also focuses heavily on developing interpersonal skills and on social impact. She says, “I believe this is unique and unmatched by other programs.

“When I was applying I knew I wanted to do something in a developing country related to social innovation and fortunately, I was able to participate in the Kenya-Rwanda Global Study Trip focusing on social innovation this last spring break.”

Because Stanford is a private institution and Haas isn’t, the former has more resources to dedicate to teaching and facilities, according to Esther Magna at Stacy Blackman Consulting.

She says, “Stanford has far more resources and it shows through its facilities and faculty calibre. GSB also has less distractions, as it only has the two-year, full-time MBA program. Haas has part-time and EMBA programs, and it encompasses the undergraduates that are part of the Haas school. GSB also has more faculty, approximately 100, whereas Haas has around 80.”

Admissions requirements, selectivity and student culture

Admissions requirements are comparable, with test scores, competitive GPA, recommendation letters and essays expected by both schools.

Stanford’s application essay prompts have remained the same for years: “What matters most to you, and why?” and “Why Stanford?”

Haas’ application essay prompts have historically focused on personality and have been more creative, for example, a previous essay asked candidates about their favourite song. One applicant, a football player, said they used “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey to pump himself up before each game, according to a former admissions officer.

Stanford is more selective, with the lowest acceptance rate of any MBA program. Those who are admitted refer to it as “winning the lottery”, according to Blackman.

Both MBA cohorts are known to be collaborative, with a self-aware, well-rounded and inspired student culture that is different to the hyper-competitive vibe at some US business schools, say admissions consultants.

Tiffany Tran, a Haas MBA student who also applied to Stanford, bears this out. She says, “Every Haas student, alumni, and faculty member who I connected with was genuinely excited for me to apply and offered their support during the application process.

“This culture of ‘beyond yourself’ is truly rooted in the business program and I knew I wanted to be part of a school that embodied this value.”

Career destinations

Career aspirations should be a key factor in deciding which program to pursue. It’s no secret Haas and Stanford’s location is ideal for those who want to work in tech.

Career placement data for both schools shows tech dominance. For Haas, tech represented roughly 32 percent of the graduating student class in the years of 2010-2013. Whereas in the graduating class of 2014, tech representation leapt to 43 percent. Since then, it has decreased to around 37 percent, which is still very high compared with peer schools.

Similarly, Stanford’s placement in the tech industry was consistently between 30 and 35 percent between 2012 and 2016, with the class of 2015 having the highest placement of 35 percent.

Like Haas, the most recent report shows a relative decrease, Stanford now sending about 25 percent of students to tech.

However, Stanford has a greater focus on entrepreneurial career paths than Haas, according to a former Haas admissions team member, who says: “GSB is better recognized than Haas for its graduates who have become successful tech leaders and entrepreneurs. GSB is focuses more on start-ups and entrepreneurship. Haas has more graduates going into more traditional post-MBA roles (consulting, product management, finance).”

The bottom line, of course, is both schools are exceptional, and you can’t make a bad choice between them. The decision will likely come down to culture, according to a former Stanford admissions officer, who says: “I advise applicants to draw their own conclusions — visit the schools or engage virtually to get a sense of whether one would fit.”

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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