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Characteristics of the Top USA Business Schools

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You’ve heard it time and time again — going to a top MBA program offers fundamentally different opportunities than getting just any MBA degree. But applying to multiple schools can be a daunting task, and everyone should have a backup plan in case they don’t get into their first choice. Here are some guidelines for analyzing the differences between the top programs, based on interviews with graduates of nearly 20 top US business schools.

Harvard Business School


The top program for liberal arts and social science majors (with as much as 50% of the class coming from those disciplines) HBS emphasizes the art of leadership.


  • Harvard brand name
  • Depth of network
  • Strong ties to finance, private equity and consulting
  • Best for general management and communications


  • Lack of academic rigor, over reliance on case method
  • Stereotype that students have poor analytical and quantitative skills

Suggested Backups

  • Tuck
  • Darden
  • Michigan

MIT Sloan School of Management


The top program for science and engineering majors (with as much as 40% of the class from those disciplines) Sloan emphasizes an analytical, fact-based approach to management.


  • MIT brand name
  • Rigorous, flexible academics
  • Strong ties to finance, high tech and consulting
  • Best for entrepreneurship, high tech and finance


  • Smaller alumni network
  • Stereotype that students are too intellectual and not aggressive

Suggested Backups

  • Chicago
  • NYU
  • Carnegie Mellon

Stanford Graduate School of Business


Stanford takes a balanced approach to management education, with no particular background emphasized over others, resulting in one of the more diverse classes among top business programs.


  • Stanford brand name
  • Balance of qualitative and quantitive emphasis
  • Strong ties to Silicon Valley, venture capital and consulting
  • Best for entrepreneurship and general management


  • Smaller alumni network, poor ties to east coast and international recruiting
  • Stereotype that students are not team players

Suggested Backups

  • Berkeley
  • Duke
  • UCLA

Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania


The top graduate business program for undergraduate business majors (with as much as 45% of the class from those disciplines), Wharton focuses on finance and investment education.


  • Well-rounded academic program
  • Strong ties to finance and consulting
  • Best for finance and accounting


  • Weaker ties to west coast recruiting
  • Stereotype that students are overly aggressive and too finance focused

Suggested Backups

  • Chicago
  • Columbia
  • NYU

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University


With a balanced student body similar to Stanford, Kellogg has distinguished itself as the top MBA program for marketing and brand management.


  • Highly motivated, involved student body
  • Strong ties to brand management and consulting
  • Best for marketing


  • Lack of analytical focus
  • Stereotype that students are team players but not leaders, poor quantitative skills

Suggested Backups

  • Michigan
  • Duke
  • Tuck

Adopted From—

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