Of the M7 elite business schools, Harvard Business School (HBS) and Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) have long competed to become the best destinations for talented MBA candidates. Although both of them are often added to one’s MBA school list, each school has unique characteristics. While HBS is popularly known for its competitive atmosphere and well-established Case Teaching method, GSB gains its reputation with an intimate learning environment and a diverse community of MBA fellows who are driven to change the world. To dig deeper into their differences, let’s go through our comprehensive comparison between the HBS and GSB journey through 3 main stages: Admissions (before getting in), Experience (when studying) and Post-graduate career (after finishing).

1. HSB vs GSB Admissions: How to apply?

1.1. Overall requirements

Whether it is getting into Stanford MBA or Harvard MBA, the application requirements for each are generally alike. Required application documents include:

  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • English Language proficiency
  • Updated Resume
  • Recommendations / Letters of Reference

If you are applying for both schools, preparing these same types of documents beforehand is a must. After that, you can now be ready to rock your application by concentrating on other distinguished parts of admissions for HBS and GSB: essays and interviews. 

1.2. Essays


Essay 1: (For Class of 2022) As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program? (no word limit)

Essay 2: (For interviewed candidates only) Submit a post-interview essay to reflect on the whole application process within 24 hours after the interview.


Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

Essay 2: Why Stanford?

Total word count for both essays may not exceed 1,050, in which 650 words are for Essay 1 and 450 words are for Essay 2.

Optional Short Answer questions (200 words): 

  1. Think about times you’ve created a positive impact, whether in professional, extracurricular, academic, or other settings. What was your impact? What made it significant to you or to others?
  2. Tell us about a time within the last three years when your background influenced your participation in a situation, interaction, or project.

Although the number of essays required differ in HBS and GSB, it can be seen that both schools desire to know about the candidates as much as possible and provide many sharing opportunities. 

In an HBS application, you will face an open-ending question with no word limit that is scarily confusing to most MBA applicants. Yet, this should also be seen as a plus point. Candidates have hundreds of topics to choose from, and there is no restriction on which parts of your career and personality to highlight to the Admission Committee. Whatever your story is, remember to stick to the values embraced by HBS: habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged in community citizenship.

Harvard also has a special post-interview essay that is rather spontaneous to test how you perceive your application in the most honest way. Your essay might include further aspects of yourself that you could not share elsewhere in the process, what you want to emphasize and some explanation for your mistakes.

However, it is a totally different story for GSB. Stanford provides 2 writing requirements, each with focused questions to tackle. While it may be easier to brainstorm, the limitation in topic might make your essay just “another one of those stories” if it’s a relatively common storyline, written in a relatively common motif. 

Thus, we recommend you to tackle the short-answer questions to gain extra points, even though they are optional. These answers help demonstrate a more comprehensive and unique portrait of yours. The key challenge now comes down to ensuring all your essays are connected as a comprehensive story of your overall application.

1.3. Interview

The key difference between HBS vs GSB admission lies in their interview process. 

HBS interview: Formal and intense

The HBS interview is conducted strictly in the fixed schedule for 30 minutes. Interviewers have already gone through your application tons of times and deeply understand your profile beforehand. The interview questions are rapidly and continuously asked, focusing mainly on candidates’ careers and goals. Agility and flexibility is what you want to show off during this interview

GSB interview: Personal and casual

In contrast, a GSB interview takes an opposite approach. Interviewers have only read your resume and the interview is conducted blindly. It can take up more than 45 minutes in a much more conversational atmosphere. Some candidates are even interviewed at Starbucks. AdCom from GSB will not ask many questions regarding your career path, but rather want to understand you deeper on a personal level. Yet, do not be fooled by this pleasant vibe. In order to succeed in this round, thorough preparation is required in order to respond wittily with specific examples.

2. HBS vs GSB Experience: What is it like to study there?

2.1. Overall experience

In general, both schools have their own unique characteristics that bring students completely different feelings. 

HBS offers a rigorous academic experience driven by cases. MBA classes at HBS run rapidly that require full concentration to overcome intense workload. The overall experience here is mostly about stepping out of your comfort zone. 

GSB, on the other hand, focuses on a fulfilling experience. It possesses a friendly, personal atmosphere that brings comfortable feelings to share and listen. Interpersonal interaction among students is highly emphasized and classes are not the only place to learn at GSB.

2.2. Academic experience

HBS: A rigorous academic journey

Average number of enrolled students at HBS is around 900 students, which is the highest among the top MBA programs. During the first year, each classroom at HBS will involve 90+ students with diverse backgrounds and interests to participate in its sections. 

In terms of its curriculum, HBS requires students to participate in the compulsory courses over the first year (Required Curriculum – RC). These classes will cover the basics of finance, leadership, organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, etc. After that, students are free to build their own classes list in the second year (Elective Curriculum – EC). 

Harvard is the birthplace of the Case method and gained global reputation for it over the years. Students study cases that are normally 10-20 pages long, understand the context, define existent problems and make decisions to solve them. After that, they have to exchange their perspectives under extreme pressure caused by professors’ deliberate judgement. Within the first year, you are required to take part in approximately 300 studies. Thus, if you are an HBS applicant, be prepared for the enormous workload ahead.  

During classes at HBS, there seems to be no resting second. As the school brands itself: “We challenge you to think differently”, differences are embraced in this environment. Case discussions are usually heated with questions and disagreements with no mercy. You are expected to go all in: explain cases, pose problems, and defend your ideas in front of 89 other smart MBA fellows.

In addition, after a long case discussion, professors can randomly call a student up for an extremely challenging question and expect him/her to deal with it immediately. While this is often seen as an intellectually stressful experience, it can be used as a process to enhance and sharpen your thinking at HBS. 

GSB: A diverse learning experience

Stanford GSB has a much smaller class size – only around 400 students each year. Thus, unlike HBS, GSB boasts itself about close interaction between students, small-group collaboration and one-to-one coaching. 

GSB’s curriculum requires students to participate in all core courses during their first year. These courses are divided into 3 main themes: ‘General Management Perspectives’, ‘Critical Analytical Thinking’, and ‘General Management Foundation’. Then they are allowed to customize their own learning path in the following year from over 100 courses divided into specific areas. 

During a section, GSB does not solely rely on case-based teaching methods, but integrates many different innovative learning models that are varied by courses. Some popular ones include: 

  • Team projects 
  • Learning by doing
  • Role-play simulations
  • Interdisciplinary classes

This teaching style represents the dynamic value at GSB, a uniqueness of which is the great emphasis on soft skills (Touchy Feely, presentation skills, etc.). The school is seemingly providing a more relaxed culture than HBS, with grade non-disclosure, no class Wednesdays, and ample vacations/breaks. 

2.3. Student Community

At a glance

Looking at the stats about students demographics at 2 schools do not show much difference: 

Class of 2022



Average GMAT



Average GPA



International students



Women MBA students



Black American Students



Hispanic/Latinx students



Asian American students



As the top 2 MBA schools in the world, HBS and GSB have excellent student bodies with high GPAs and test scores. They are all quirky, talented and achieving candidates that are carefully selected. Needless to say, being able to sit in the same class with these people is an honour. Besides, both schools also try to build a diverse community of students from different locations and backgrounds, as evident in the table. 

Thus, the culture of these two communities is what truly matters. Below is an overview of the cultures explained by their alumni’s experiences. Yet, we recommend you visit both schools in person in order to know which place brings you the feelings you desire.


With over 900 students per class, the diversity at HBS is remarkable. You will meet bright, curious people coming from a broad array of interesting backgrounds both professionally and personally. That said, generally speaking, the student body still leans towards management, finance, and consulting. 

It’s a common perception that HBS students are generally competitive. Yet, they are also said to be down-to-earth and very supportive of helping you whenever you reach out to them. 

Outside of the academic scope, the social life with 900 students at HBS is also an intriguing experience. The Student Association organizes a lot of social events to help everyone connect, including happy hours, campus events, informal events with sectionmates, etc. Extracurricular activities such as clubs are also popular in HBS. Join a club, get to know your friends at a personal level, and have fun times outside the rigorous classroom experience here. 

In short, such a large class size might be intimidating for some people. However, at HBS, networking with all students and finding valuable connections are not that difficult.


Compared to HBS, GSB is much more famous for its student community. Most alumni from GSB said the people are the best part of studying here. 

Stanford GSB has a relatively small class size that provides a lot of opportunity for students to know each other at a personal level. Their students are also carefully selected to build a beautiful, close-knit mix of exceptional people. Compared to HBS, the people at GSB are said to be more supportive and socially contributive, as its admissions process tries to weed out any arrogant or inwardly focused.

As reflected in its motto: “Change people. Change organization. Change the world.”, GSB students are all driven to make a difference in the real world to make it a better place. Each is passionate about changing or creating something bigger than themselves.  Much as they are ambitious and overachieving, MBA students at Stanford are all humble. Everyone is always willing to share their stories and listen to yours. 

GSB MBA fellows also develop a signature supportive culture. Whatever problem you have, your classmates will do their best to give you the resources you need. Sharing notes of different classes with each other is a normal activity. Getting better together is the main motivation 

2.4. Alumni network

Speaking of the schools’ alumni network, Harvard definitely holds a higher position for its much larger global spread. Over 47,000 MBA alumni across various fields all over the globe bring extraordinary networking opportunities no matter where you work. 

Stanford GSB, however, only has 19,000 MBA alumni. A large proportion are working and residing in regions of the US. While its size and diversity might be inferior to Harvard’s, Stanford’s smaller alumni network is much closer and more helpful to each other. 

3. HBS vs GSB Post-graduate career: The story after graduation

Since HBS and GSB are both prestigious schools for MBA, getting the Stanford MBA degree or Harvard MBA degree can ensure you will find the best jobs you desire.

For the class of 2020, graduates from HBS and GSB MBA have lucrative jobs that bring a median salary of around $150,000 to $156,000 per year. Both programs yield successful professionals working in different fields. The most popular industry is Finance, in which 34% of MBA alumni of each school land their jobs.

While HBS MBA degree is generally highly appreciated among numerous industries, Stanford GSB has its edge when it comes to Technology. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, GSB definitely possesses the advantage of networking opportunities and recruitment proximity. 28% of graduate students work in the tech industry in their first jobs. Besides, building a new start-up is also a Stanford graduates’ career path, with 18% of MBA students becoming entrepreneurs after graduation.

Further information can be found at Harvard HBS Employment Report (Class of 2020) and GSB Employment Report (Class of 2020). 

4. Key takeaway

Who should apply for Harvard HBS?

Answer: An ideal candidate for Harvard HBS would be an ambitious person who always reaches out of their comfort zone and is willing to strive hard for their career goals. He/she should be intellectually driven and view the rigorous and intense classes at Harvard as an exciting point to push themselves forward instead of causing frustration. In other words, Harvard HBS is not for the faint-hearted. 

Harvard HBS is not for the faint-hearted

Who should apply for Stanford GSB?

Answer: GSB would be the wonderful destination for someone who embraces a fulfilling experience and desires to gain personal development in all aspects. He/she should be able to think big and aspires to make a change in real world problems. An even more ideal GSB hopeful would also have high interests in Technology and ambition to start their own venture.

Stanford GSB is the place to transform yourself

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