Photographer: Neal Hamberg/Bloomberg

These Are the Students Good Enough to Turn Down Harvard Business School

A small group of students were accepted to more than one top MBA program, and where they chose to go is revealing

Who in their right mind would get accepted to Harvard Business School and turn it down? Turns out the answer is: someone who also got into Stanford.

It’s a nice problem to have: You’ve been admitted to two or more MBA programs and can only choose one. As you weigh a host of factors, you might be curious about the decisions of recent students who faced the same set of school choices as you. Using data from students who answered a survey for Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2014 MBA rankings (about half of all 2014 graduates at ranked schools), we’ve identified MBAs admitted to specific pairs of top programs and tried to make sense of where they ended up. What we can't glean from this: insight into financial aid packages, location preferences, or any other factors that might drive an applicant's choice. Still, few things are a purer indicator of which school is truly most desirable than where the most sought-after MBAs—the ones with their pick of highly selective schools—chose to go.

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Duke (Fuqua) vs. Michigan (Ross): 128 students admitted to both programs

Despite Fuqua’s claim to the top spot in Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2014 Full-Time MBA rankings, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, ranked ninth and situated far from sunny North Carolina, claims more than twice as many applicants who get into both schools. Thirty-seven percent of students admitted to Fuqua and Ross select another program altogether.

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Chicago (Booth) vs. Northwestern (Kellogg): 113 students

Hometown rivals Booth and Kellogg have both been No. 1 in Bloomberg Businessweek’s MBA rankings at various points over the years, despite different reputations and strength areas. Booth is known for rigorous focus on quantitative skills, while Kellogg touts its powerhouse marketing faculty. When admitted to both, more students pick Booth.

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Pennsylvania (Wharton) vs. Chicago (Booth): 99 students

Wharton bested Booth for the first time since 2000 in Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2014 rankings, but students were voting with their feet well before that.

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Columbia vs. NYU (Stern): 93 students

Despite a less prestigious reputation than Columbia, Stern enrolls a respectable 23 percent of students who have a choice between both of NYC’s premier MBAs.

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Chicago (Booth) vs. Columbia: 91 students

Perhaps Columbia’s attractive New York location helps it nab more students than Booth, notwithstanding Chicago’s better academic reputation and performance in rankings.

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Northwestern (Kellogg) vs. Michigan (Ross): 88 students

Kellogg and Ross are natural competitors as major Midwestern MBA programs that offer a less finance-heavy environment than Booth. More students choose Kellogg.

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Duke (Fuqua) vs. Virginia (Darden): 81 students

Fuqua’s top ranking was several years away when the Class of 2014 chose where to get an MBA, and Darden has been slipping. Check again next year to see if this close contest tilts toward Duke.

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Pennsylvania (Wharton) vs. Harvard: 69 students

Two of the world’s top business schools don’t closely compete among the elite group of students admitted to both. Most choose Harvard. Interestingly, more than a quarter of these students find neither Wharton nor HBS to their liking, and end up elsewhere.

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UCLA (Anderson) vs. UC Berkeley (Haas): 69 students

The University of California system has a number of good business schools, but UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has traditionally had the best reputation. Time will tell whether Anderson’s seven-spot rise and Haas’s five-spot fall in the 2014 Bloomberg Businessweek rankings alter applicants’ clear preference for Berkeley.

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Stanford vs. Harvard: 63 students

Forget getting into both Stanford Graduate School of Business and HBS—getting into either highly selective program is an elusive goal for thousands of applicants each year. Among the lucky 63 people in our sample who had their choice between two U.S. MBAs with among the choicest pedigrees, the contest isn’t close: Most opt for Stanford.

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