Face Off: Stanford GSB vs Berkeley Haas
Are you working on the Stanford MBA application? Or maybe UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business has you intrigued. Decisions, decisions! The school selection process for MBA applicants can seem overwhelming. With so many great business schools, how do you decide which one is right for you?
In SBC’s blog series Face-Off, we tease out the strengths and differences between two elite b-schools. Today, let's see how UC Berkeley Haas and the Stanford GSB perform head-to-head. We have former Admissions Officers from Stanford GSB and Berkeley Haas on our team and thank them for sharing the thoughtful advice below.
How do the admissions requirements and selectivity compare between the pair?
The Stanford Graduate School of Business is more selective and has the lowest acceptance rate of any MBA program. Yet their admissions requirements are comparable, with test scores, competitive GPA, rec letters, and essays expected by both schools. Regarding essays, the Stanford MBA application prompts have remained the same for years: “What matters most to you, and why?” and “Why Stanford?”
In contrast to the Stanford MBA application, the essay questions at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business have historically focused on personality and moments. For example, a previous Haas application essay prompt was, “Tell us a six-word story that reflects a memorable experience in your life-to-date. Elaborate on why it is meaningful to you." This season, the school asks, "What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why?"
Some years, Haas would ask about a favorite song. A former Haas Admissions Officer now at SBC fondly recalls her all-time favorite song essay submissions. "That's easy," she shares. "It was a football player who picked 'Always Be My Baby' by Mariah Carey—he described how he used it to pump himself up in the locker room before each game. Another applicant wrote a very personal story about an original song he wrote for his fiancée.”
Class stats for Haas and Stanford are comparable, although admit odds/ selectivity is much more competitive. Stanford has the diversity edge where women, international students, etc., are concerned, and the rankings reflect this difference.
Admissions at Berkeley Haas
Berkeley Haas has rigorous admissions standards. Beyond that, “Haas is really focused on its experiential learning and its Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself," shared a former Berkeley Haas Admissions Officer who is now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team. "Candidates need to know the principles and talk about why at least one of the principles resonates with them."
We also asked the former Haas Admissions Officers on our team what Haas does not want. Their consensus was: Haas tends to get annoyed with applicants who know nothing about Haas or why they are applying there. Candidates need an authentic application approach and speak for themselves and not be robotic or formulaic.
Eric Askins, current Haas Admissions Director, adds: “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.”
Admissions at Stanford GSB
We asked the former Stanford AdCom on our team, “What does Stanford GSB Admissions look for?” Here’s the consensus:
Stanford GSB seeks talented, diverse, and smart people who will significantly impact business and society. Stanford GSB students seem to have this ‘X’ factor associated with them, almost like an “unexpected” trait or experience. They take risks, push beyond the imaginable and lead with passion.
We asked the same former Stanford GSB Admissions Officers, “What does Stanford GSB Admissions want to avoid?” The consensus is: People who are looking at an MBA as merely the expected step in getting credentials for their next job in a corporate/firm ladder and/or the hyper-competitive types.
The former GSB AdCom team at SBC added: GSB’s smaller size means that it is more conscious of class balance and diversity. GSB is more willing to consider candidates that took risks, failed, learned from their experiences, and returned more resilient than ever.
How does the quality of the MBA cohorts compare, and what about the culture?
Both programs are known to be collaborative, with a self-aware, well-rounded, and inspired student culture. For institutions that attract smart, already accomplished, yet still highly ambitious people, the competition among students is kept to a minimum.
The student class at Stanford has higher academic stats and is more diverse overall relative to Haas. Nonetheless, applicants should think more about fit than generalizations.
How do the two curriculums and teaching methods compare?
Berkeley estimates that case studies make up half of the classroom instruction, while team projects take up 15% of the classwork. Good old-fashioned lectures, experiential learning, and simulations make up the rest.
At Haas, the incoming class of just 296 students is divided into four cohorts of 74 students who go through the core classes together. Haas has 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.
The Haas School has recently reformed its core curriculum. It's now enhancing training in business communications and persuasion skills, doubling coursework in statistics and data analytics, and creating a new course on leading diverse teams—likely a first for any top business school in the United States and consistent with the school’s focus on diversity and inclusion.
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. The first-year curriculum is designed to equip students with foundational managerial skills and holistic leadership insights.
At Stanford, there’s far less reliance solely on case studies. Team projects, experiential learning, lecture, and simulations make up half the teaching. However, teaching methods do vary by course. In classes such as “Managing Growing Enterprises,” or “Startup Garage,” for example, Stanford leans heavily toward experiential learning. However, in “Strategic Leadership,” most of the teaching (60%) is via the case study method, with about 10% lecture and 30% experiential learning.
What are the advantages of being based in Silicon Valley?
Berkeley Haas is only 30 miles away from Silicon Valley. Stanford, meanwhile, is in the heart of Silicon Valley.
It is no secret that the location of both Haas and GSB is ideal for goals in the technology arena. Studying in the center of Silicon Valley provides access to industry lecturers, case studies, team projects for local companies, on-site company visits, and more. Silicon Valley is home to technologists, innovators, life science visionaries, and venture capitalists. The location can facilitate finding the right job for technology talents and interests.
Functions within the tech universe, such as entrepreneurship and venture capital, are more associated with the brand/prestige of the MBA program than Silicon Valley itself. Haas’s employment reports lack data on entrepreneurs and venture capital placement specifically.
Our clients usually favor HBS, GSB, and Wharton (over Haas) for the arenas of entrepreneurship and venture capital. By contrast, GSB does report graduates into both entrepreneurship and venture capital, as we would predict because of its stronger brand.
More than tech
At the same time, “These career paths aren’t the only ambitions that Haas and GSB empower," notes SBC founder Stacy Blackman. "For example, the Bay Area is a prime location for students aspiring toward international business. California serves as a gateway to South American and Asian economies, with many of the world's global companies headquartered in the Bay Area."
Because Stanford is a private institution and Haas is not, does Stanford have more resources to dedicate to teaching, facilities, etc.?
Stanford has far more resources, and it shows through its facilities, faculty caliber, etc. GSB also has fewer distractions, as it only has a 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.
The GSB also has more faculty, approx 100, whereas Haas has around 80. These numbers are possibly higher at Stanford because of the exclusive focus on the full-time MBA. Stanford’s MsX program (non-MBA) is a recent addition and a small program.
What are the critical differences that prospective MBA students should consider?
Career aspirations should be a key factor in deciding which program to pursue. A former Haas Admissions Officer on the Stacy Blackman team shared, “GSB is more entrepreneurial-focused. GSB is better recognized than Haas for its graduates who have become successful tech leaders and entrepreneurs. GSB is oriented more to the start-up, entrepreneurial focus. Haas has more graduates going into more traditional post-MBA roles (consulting, product management, finance).”
Recruiting trends are comparable; however, consulting is dominant at Haas, whereas Stanford has a more robust placement to finance careers. Tech is also comparable. Geographic outplacement is slightly more diverse for Stanford grads. Berkeley grads, meanwhile, tend to favor jobs more locally in the West.
Final notes on each program
The Haas School is known for its diverse and talented faculty, staff, students, and alumni. They have created an innovative academic culture that stresses cooperative teamwork, entrepreneurship, and a global point of view. There's also an emphasis on new ideas and fresh perspectives. “TRANSFORMATION” was a theme of the Adcom. The program focuses on developing Berkeley leaders. Haas believes in helping people find meaningful work.
Unlike some other programs, Stanford’s GSB never publicly releases grades, keeping them a private matter between students and faculty members. The GSB offers a highly customized program. After a shared experience in the first quarter, students no longer have specific required courses but select courses to meet their own distribution requirements. With the help of a faculty adviser, each GSB student creates a study plan to challenge and push themselves, tailored to their experience level.
Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. If you are looking for guidance on your MBA application, we can help with hourly and comprehensive consulting services. Contact us to learn more.