What does it take to get into one of the highest ranked and most selective business schools in the world of MBAs, Maria’s alma mater – Harvard Business School?
HBS recently enrolled its largest class in history. In this week’s episode of Business Casual, hosts John, Maria and Caroline dig into the class profile including the average GMAT, GPA and demographics and talk about the contributing factors as to why this class is the largest ever.
The team also tackles a fun topic that occasionally comes up in various message boards – should you pursue an MBA with the objective of finding a spouse/life partner?
[00:00:07.750] – John
Hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co host Caroline Diarte Edwards, and Maria Wich Vila. Maria is the founder of Applicant Lab and Caroline, of course, is the former head of admissions at INSEAD and a co founder of Fortuna Admissions. This week, we’re going to talk about two things. Harvard Business School recently disclosed their new class profile, and the big headline is that they’ve enrolled the largest single class of MBAs in the school’s history, 1010 1st year MBA students will get into that in some detail, along with other aspects of the class profile and whether or not it’s a reflection of the entering classes overall at other schools this year. And then we’re going to also talk about a fun topic that I think a lot of people might get a kick out of. It’s a bit of entertainment as well. I’m an obsessive reader of Reddit as pertains to business schools, and there was a recent post on there, and I’m just going to read the headline because it’s intriguing enough and we’re going to talk about this and have some fun with it later on.
[00:01:24.990] – John
Is it dumb to pursue an MBA, at least in part to find a wife? We will neutralize that and say in part to find a spouse, taking it from both angles. And we’ll have a really, I think, lively discussion about that topic with Maria and Caroline. But first, the Harvard Business School class of 2023 profile just in rough terms. There was a increase in application volume to 9773 applicants. That’s a pretty big jump. And I will say that while it’s 5%, Wharton was up two and a half and Wharton Kellogg actually was down 20%. A lot of us expected that number to actually be higher. It’s not a record at Harvard. It is the largest application volume in four years. I believe we expected it to be higher largely because Harvard did not participate in the big implications last year due to the pandemic, largely because it’s two deadlines pretty much ended before the pandemic really hit the United States. So everyone was thinking, oh, this could be a record year for Harvard, including myself. And it turns out that it was not. However, the school did get 10.7 candidates for every available seat in the class.
[00:02:50.690] – John
And the reason why there are so many more than 1000 students who joined the Harvard Business School class of 2023 is because 100 of them deferred from last year due to the pandemic. So if you recall, last year was unusually low for Harvard 732 students when it typically enrolls a class of 930. The school is expecting similarly sized class next year when another 100 deferrals will come into the crop. So, Caroline, what do you make of all this?
[00:03:27.160] – Caroline
We knew that they were going to have a bigger class coming in. I think it’s great that they have maintained pretty good diversity despite the increasing numbers. I think it’s very impressive that they still got a 730 GMAT, given all of the disruption with test taking over the past year. And a lot of people had to take the online test, which wasn’t necessarily as easy to do as the traditional test. A lot of test centers were closed, people had to sort of cancel dates. Just the accessibility of the test was much lower over the past year. And so on average, I’d imagine Canada not been able to take it as many times, or if they’re going to retake, they might not have been able to retake as they may have done in the past. So maintaining 730 despite that context is quite extraordinary. So I think that GMAT is just one data point.
[00:04:21.860] – Caroline
But I think it shows that it’s an incredibly strong class academically and speaks to the wonderful pool of candidates that they attract and their ability to really sort of cherry pick the best out of that.
[00:04:37.020] – John
Yeah. And that 730 has been pretty stable over quite a few years now as a median for the class at Harvard. Interestingly enough, I’ll just point out that for whatever reason, Wharton actually has a 740 median GMAT score this year, which blows my mind since ten points higher than Harvard and a 733 average. Some people think that Wharton is over indexing standardized test scores. Caroline, actually, you have another theory on this, which is that a disproportionate share of financial candidates tend to apply to Warden, given its reputation and finance, and those people are more quant heavy and are likely to score higher. That’s your reasoning, right?
[00:05:24.280] – Caroline
Yeah. I mean, it’s just got such an amazing reputation. Right. For finance, and I do think it tends to attract people with a strong quantum background and perhaps a slightly disproportionate percentage of those candidates, and therefore they’re going to have a very high, incredibly high average scheme and the applicant pool to start with. So I think it’s driven by that perhaps more so than over indexing the GMAT.
[00:05:51.210] – John
Yes. And then the undergraduate GPA for Harvard’s new class is 3.69, and that’s just a Weebly down from the 3.7 from the previous year, but nicely above Wharton at 3.6, and Kellogg is at 3.7 pretty much the same. Let’s face it, Maria, this is your alma mater. What do you think of these numbers? 46% women, 37% international?
[00:06:17.570] – Maria
Yeah, I think the international percentage is roughly the same as it has been in previous years. So I’m glad to see that the Pandemic has not severely limited international students ability to join the class. I’m excited to see slow but steady progress on the female student front. I think it’s fantastic that it does keep sort of inching upwards every year. One of the things that I was happiest to see is that I think almost 30% of the class was admitted with a GRE score, and this is something that we admissions consultants have been telling people for years because there are so many rumors out there on the message boards that are not true. And one of them is that like, oh, my gosh, if you apply with a GRE score, you are going to put yourself at a disadvantage. And if you’re really serious about this, you’ll apply with a GMAT score. And I think maybe 1520 years ago that was correct. But now it’s not. And so even three years ago, the entering class of 2020, 15% of the class submitted a GRE score, and this year it’s 29. So almost 30. So let’s do the quick math and say it’s double.
[00:07:27.770] – Maria
So twice as many people are in the class now with the GRE score. And so I think that that is hopefully of some relief to people who find the GMAT format to not be their strongest, to not allow them to show off their strongest academic skills. So I was really pleased to see that.
[00:07:47.550] – John
Yeah, I asked Chad Losing about that yesterday. We did an interview based on the numbers that came out, and he said, I hope the message is getting out that we’re really, truly agnostic when it comes to a standardized test. So applicants really should take the exam that allows them to put their best foot forward. And he’s also attributing the increase to a greater diversity of people who are coming in from all different kinds of backgrounds to get an MBA, since the GRE obviously is more accepted for other grants may be thinking about, okay, do I get a master’s in public policy or master’s another topic that’s not necessarily business. And then they may be thinking, okay, but what about business? And the GRE allows that flexibility. And therefore, in that net, you might catch people who you otherwise would miss with the GMAT, which is his logic on why it’s increased so much in recent years. And clearly they have no preference whatsoever. So you’re right. And yet you go on a lot of these discussion boards and you’ll see people say, no, you got to do the GMAT. It’s the preferred tasks. And you’re right, it used to be that was the case.
[00:09:00.130] – John
No longer is true beyond the numbers, in a way, you look at these numbers that come out in class profiles and they kind of sell these classes short. And this is what I mean by it. We know that the people who are attracted to business education at this level are truly exceptional. They come from every walk of life. They have amazing accomplishments already. Most of them have about five years of work experience. And they’ve done really fascinating, interesting things. So when you look at these numbers, GMAT’s GRE’s, percentage of acceptance, class size, women, international, underrepresented, minorities, GPAs. They kind of undersell the magic of a business school. Maria, do you agree?
[00:09:47.450] – Maria
Well, yeah. I mean, that’s the same reason why not to keep bashing on message boards, but that’s the same reason why when someone posts on a message board like, I have a seven point 20 GMAT and a 3.6 GPA and whatever, like, what are my chances of getting in? And it’s like it’s so much more than that. It goes so far beyond those numbers, which is of great disappointment to people who are maybe not so Proactive in their lives, but who happen to be good test takers. But it is great news to people who go out there and make things happen, and they perhaps are not so strong at things like standardized tests. So it’s really looking analyzing like, oh, it’s 730 versus 733. And what are the tea leaves say about that? What does that say about my chances of getting into one school versus another? Do I need a three point higher average GMAT to get into Wharton? But no, it really comes down to I like to use the I don’t know if you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is a psychological concept that you need. Like, you can’t really care about your emotional spiritual.
[00:10:51.670] – Maria
Wellbeing, if further down on this pyramid, you’re starving to death or freezing to death. And it’s the same thing with admissions. Like, yeah, hey, you have to show academic strength, but that’s sort of table stakes. And then beyond that, it really to go up that ladder or up that pyramid. Increasingly it gets harder and harder because you have to show more and more ability to make an impact outside of yourself.
[00:11:14.580] – John
[00:11:15.020] – Maria
And that’s something that these stats will never capture.
[00:11:17.760] – John
Yeah. And Chad made a point of saying, look, the standardized test score and the GPA help us triangulate his word, who is ready for a rigorous academic program? But both of those data points are only two in a holistic admissions process. And I think that’s especially true at Harvard in most schools that are looking at great MBA candidates. Any other comments on the application volume? Are you, Caroline, a little surprised that it still fell far short of record levels given the fact that Harvard didn’t participate in the pandemic boom last year?
[00:11:59.330] – Caroline
Well, I do think the market has slowed a little bit compared to the huge surge that we saw in the spring of last year. So there was an outpouring of applications then, and it’s cyclical, right. It was not going to be it was not sustainable that the levels would stay at that level. And as you said, Harvard didn’t participate really in that surge to the same extent given that they didn’t have a deadline that fell around at that time when it was the start of the pandemic. And there were lots of applications being thrown out left, right, and center. But it doesn’t really affect them right, because they have such tremendous volume anyway. And it’s not really about the volume. It’s about the quality. And they clearly have incredibly consistent quality coming in. And I do think I saw that when I was at INSEAD, that often when there’s an increase in volume, those additional applications are not always of the same quality as the steady stream of really strong candidates that come through every single year.
[00:13:11.950] – Caroline
So when you get a big surgeon application on average, sometimes the volume drops a little bit. But they have this just incredible pipeline of wonderful people who are applying every year. Right. And so I don’t think they would be very concerned about a few percentage points up here or down there year by year. They still have this hugely successful pipeline that’s coming through, regardless of those variations.
[00:13:43.410] – John
True. It’s worth pointing out because I mentioned earlier that Kellogg’s applications plunged 20% in the same period when Harvard went up 5%. But the year before Kellogg’s applications were up 54% broke the score previously. Where the apps are up this past year, two and a half percent. The earlier year, they’re up 21%. So there is a bit of a roller coaster effect here, which actually Harvard more or less evaded by not participating in the pandemic induced boost applications last year because deadlines were early and they didn’t extend them and they didn’t provide any waivers of GMAT’s or GREs as other schools did. All in all, the big thing, of course, is I think it really is two headlines, probably largest class ever, over 1000 students, which meant that Harvard added another section to accommodate that large number. And that will occur again next year. And then the following year they’ll go back to normal. And then the big rise in the GRE test takers 29%, up from 12% four years ago. That’s quite a big increase, which shows increasing acceptance of G area as an alternative to the GMAT in business school admissions. Now the other thing, and we were discussing discussion boards as well comes from one of the discussion boards at Reddit on MBAs.
[00:15:14.790] – John
And it just attracted my attention because I have heard over the years that many people actually go and get an MBA, not just to find a partner in life, but it is a sort of secondary reason. And so for this one gentleman to ask, is it dumb to pursue an MBA, at least in part to find a wife? I found that kind of fun and interesting. And he said, I’m going to read his post going to be honest, I’ve worked in careers, I’d be in private equity after graduating from College that haven’t really given me a chance to hang out with my friends, let alone date. While my main goal is to pursue an MBA, which would allow me upward mobility in the PE world, I definitely am also thinking about how it would be a great place to find like minded, driven people sharing similar goals. Is this super dumb or idealistic? Are most people doing MBAs already married? Maria, let’s start with you about this, because after all, I believe you met your husband at Harvard Business School.
[00:16:22.280] – Maria
I did. And I can tell you I did not enter business school with that as my goal. But I can tell you a lot of other women did. I think a lot of people in general do, especially the people who work in these crazy intensive analyst programs where, yeah, like, you don’t even get Thanksgiving off. So what makes you think you’re going to get a chance to date people? I remember vividly one of the first or second week of school, the women of my section had a lady’s brunch. And I remember going and being a little bit horrified at how many of them were just overtly. Like, yeah, I’m here to find a husband. And I think a lot of women were very open about that. The rest of us call them that. They’re there for the Mrs degree and not the MBA. Yeah, it was pretty funny. And I was like, wow, I’m actually here to learn. And the irony is that some of the women, many of the women who were there explicitly to try to find a husband did not find one in their two years. And I was not trying to find a husband.
[00:17:22.890] – Maria
And I did. So I don’t know what that says about how the universe works, but yeah, I met my husband. We met through the Entertainment and Media Club because that was my former industry and his former and current industry. But we started I got interested in him because I was the humor editor for the weekly campus newspaper. And he submitted something that was so funny it made me laugh out loud. And I sent it to a friend of mine. I was like, this is the funniest thing ever. And normally there had been another guy named Mark Taylor who had always written something funny. And I was like, man, Mark really outdid himself with this one. This is the best thing he’s written yet. And then I looked at the byline and I’m like, wait a minute. Larry Wasserman that guy from the Entertainment and Media Club. He wrote that. And so then at the next Entertainment and Media Club event, I was like, that thing you wrote last week was the funniest thing I’ve read. And we’re going to be friends. I’ve decided we’re going to be friends. And so he was like, okay. And then now almost 20 years later, here we are, Married, Child, Mortgage.
[00:18:24.140] – Maria
Right. The whole thing.
[00:18:24.970] – Caroline
[00:18:28.070] – John
And Caroline, although you didn’t meet your husband in business school, you did meet him by going to business school and being in Singapore.
[00:18:36.800] – Caroline
Yes, that’s right. So we had met actually ten years before I went to INSEAD, but then coincided again when I started on the campus in Singapore because he was then working in Singapore. And that’s when our paths crossed the game. So we started dating in January when I started the program. And I remember one of my male classmates complaining that they only had 20% women and it wasn’t there if the 20% women started dating people outside of a student cohort. So, yeah, I have to thank for bringing us together again. Of course, his mother tells the story differently and believes that I was pursuing him internationally for ten years in the intervening period and finally managed to call him in Singapore.
[00:19:33.630] – Maria
[00:19:37.510] – John
One of the comments on this board says, I’m going to read this because this is fun. I love the fact that you’re being honest about this because it’s something a lot of people consider but don’t like to divulge, especially not men. I graduated in 2020 and we took stock of all the couples in our class. Out of 30 couples, four are now engaged. 13 isn’t bad. I also met my boyfriend in school and will likely get engaged next year. However, business school dating is extremely tricky and fraught. I have a lot of thoughts on it. Any thoughts long or two years?
[00:20:12.610] – Caroline
Well, it can get a little bit claustrophobic, right? Because you’re all together all of the time and the relationships can get quite complex and you can be in a team together.
[00:20:24.600] – Maria
[00:20:24.890] – Caroline
You’re in a classroom together. So sometimes, if it’s a bit of a roller coaster, it’s not always easy being in the same place as that person all day and all night. Right. Because it’s a very intense experience being a business school. So, yes, it’s not always easy, for sure.
[00:20:43.570] – Maria
And the advice that I always give people is try your best to not date anyone in your section or your cohort if you are in a forced environment where, say, for one semester you are in the same classes with everyone, especially at a place like HBS. For that entire first year, you’re in the same classes with everyone. Caroline is so good at finding diplomatic words. I’ve always admired that she used the word claustrophobic. I would say it can be super crazy awkward. This happened in my section, like two people sort of casually dated, but one of them didn’t know it was casual and the other one thought it was casual, and then so it ended up breaking up and being and then that happened in like end of September. And then they had the whole rest of the academic year stuck in class together. And so if things go south, like maybe hold off or at least wait because my husband was a different year than I was. So we didn’t have that sort of thing. But we did sort of keep it on the down low at first, just because you just don’t want rumors to fly.
[00:21:51.730] – Maria
And we were like, we don’t know if this is going to work and you never know if it’s going to work at first. And the funny thing is that we kept it on the down low for a few months and then a mutual friend of ours tried to set us up on a blind date. And he said to Larry, he’s like, there’s this first year girl that I think would be great for you. And he’s like, there’s a guy I know in my class that I think, can I set you guys up not realizing that we had already come to that same conclusion ourselves?
[00:22:17.410] – Caroline
That’s so funny. Very protective of him.
[00:22:22.700] – Maria
I know, right? So I was like anyone I wrote in one of our class notes things like, if Omar ever tries to set you up with anyone, listen to him. He’s very good at this. But seriously, though, I think Sheryl Sandberg once said, and I disagree with a lot of Cheryl Sandberg’s things, but she did once say the most important career choice you can make is whom you marry. I think this is more important. I think for men. This person, let’s assume it’s a guy who’s working in PE is saying, I’m interested in a wife. Look, let’s be honest. The PE types, they could get the sort of trophy white model who has a paper mache business.
[00:23:04.440] – Caroline
You mean like us, Maria?
[00:23:05.970] – Maria
Like us? Well, I mean, we’ve got brains. It’s an audio only podcast. Yes, indeed. Both of us. Caroline models, but also with praise, if you know what I mean. Like a guy like a person like that doesn’t need there’s certainly no shortage of people with powerful positions who intentionally choose a spouse who is maybe they like being the smartest person in the room, and they don’t want a spouse who’s their intellectual equal, or they want a spouse that’s just going to sort of sit at home and take care of the kids. And that’s great. But if you are looking for a spouse who is going to be intelligent, who is going to be driven, who is going to be ambitious, business school or graduate school in general is a great place to go. And I would also advise that you start off by making friends with people, because even if you don’t date people who are in your MBA class, those people have friends, right? Those people may have friends in the MPA program or the public health program or other graduate schools within the broader University. So I know a lot of people who ended up marrying someone from the School of Public Health or someone from the School of Public Affairs, the Kennedy School.
[00:24:14.730] – Maria
So just cast a wide net. But yeah, if you’re looking for someone ambitious, business school is a great place to go. And I would say more so for women to find a guy who will be supportive of you, as opposed to if you marry someone who might want to try to hold you back or might sort of have these outdated ideas on gender roles. One final thing I will say is that I think the original post said something like, oh, are a lot of people married already? And so that I sort of missed the train. I think there are a lot of people who show up who are married, but it was interesting. There were several divorces in my section and people ended up marrying other people in the business school.
[00:24:53.630] – John
Can be bad for marriage.
[00:24:55.120] – Maria
It really can be right. And I think it can be well, it can be bad for marriage, especially for people who are from more traditional countries where they get married at a very young age. And especially it was interesting. This could just be a coincidence. But there were a couple of women I knew who had gotten married 1920 years of age in more traditional societies where women are not perhaps, maybe you might not be as respected as much and then they got to the States and they were like, wait a minute, this is great.
[00:25:23.410] – John
This is where MBA stands for married but available.
[00:25:26.560] – Maria
Married but available. I mean, some people did it. So anyway, just go with an open mind but don’t try to force it because then I think that just gets weird.
[00:25:37.630] – Caroline
It can be a good stress test for a marriage, but better to do that in your 20s than in your 40s when you got three kids in a big house mortgage, right? Better to find it out sooner than later.
[00:25:53.680] – Maria
Words of wisdom.
[00:25:55.050] – John
There’s a woman who really agrees with you, Maria. She says this definitely happens with MBA students. I’m not sure why people and she’s referring to other commenters on this discussion board are suggesting trying hinge or Tinder. The honest reality is that if you’re looking for an equally paired partner, it’s really hard to find someone of high quality via those apps or just by chance going to do an MBA for career. Also, to find a life partner, which is an equally major decision is valid. I’ve honestly thought the same because as a successful hiring woman in tech with certain values, it’s pretty difficult to also find someone with similar attitudes around lifestyle and ideas for our future. So I think this guy is onto something. I wouldn’t go to business school to find a spouse, but certainly it’s not a bad place to find someone who is like minded, ambitious, more thoughtful and curious about the world and wanting to have a meaningful role in it. So Maria and Caroline, thanks for great discussion. As always days. And to all of you out there, I hope you enjoyed this version of Business Casual. Join us next week. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants.