Sunday, October 23, 2011

Service Academy Representation at HBS

For those curious about historical military representation at HBS, I've done some research as to the number of military students at the business school since WWII. Historically the school did not have a way to capture military affiliation for its students, which makes precise numbers difficult if not impossible, but HBS does track undergraduate schools, which naturally includes military academies. I can therefore use military academy representation as a proxy for the total trends in veteran attendance at HBS. I'll explain more of this in a bit. For now, here is the data on US military academy representation at HBS (click to expand):

In the upper right hand corner of the above chart is the total number of military at HBS since 2000, which I have been able to calculate directly in the past (see note here). My data shows service academies  roughly represent about half of the military at HBS over the past 14 classes (to be precise 54% average with a 19% standard deviation), so if that rule stands going backwards pre-2000, we can interpret the above chart not just for service academy interest, but also by doubling the numbers for the total number of military veterans at the school. The one exception of this is probably in the late 1940s, when the number of veterans was probably extremely high, and dwarfed the service academy students.

Here are some observations:

  • The peak years for veteran representation were during the HBS Classes of 1971-1973 (students entering from 1969 to 1971). It's unclear from the data whether the school was being proactive to admit Vietnam Veterans, or whether more veterans were applying. For those classes, it's likely there were over 100 veterans in each graduating class.
  • The average military academy representation since WWII has been around 15 per year, which would support the argument for an average of ~30 military students per year. Since 2000, the average however has been 20 service academy students and 39 total US military per class, so slightly higher than historical average.
  • The lowest representation was post-Vietnam, from 1975-1985.
  • Except for the peak Vietnam War years, representation was very consistent and flat from 1955-1995. Since the mid 90s, there have been some periods of high variability, and a general increase.

Proportion of Service Academies at HBS

One can look at the chart above to see which service academies were represented when, but I also normalized the data to more clearly show the proportion within the academies themselves (click on the following graph):

Some observations:

  • The dominant sources are USMA and USNA, which both have averaged around 7 per year since WWII, with a standard deviation of 5. 
  • USMA slightly leads on USNA, with a total of around 500 USMA alumni versus 450 USNA alumni. 
  • The third highest is USAFA alumni with 78, followed by USCG with 39, and Merchant Academy with 25, although the latter has only had 2 since 1990.
  • Since 2004, USMA alumni have outnumbered USNA alumni by a factor of over 2 to 1.
  • The greatest disparity occurred during the HBS classes of 1965-1969, meaning application years of 1962-1966, when USMA representation was only around 20% of the service academies. If one tries to analyze this as a phenomenon of the Vietnam war years, and compares it to post 9/11, it leads to inconsistent results, since USMA/USNA representation held largely steady post 9/11.

Before reading too much into any of this data, one needs to remember that:
  • Admissions to HBS depends a lot on the philosophy and leadership of both the Dean of the school and the Dean of Admissions, which naturally change over time, and shape the makeup of the admission classes. It is therefore difficult to know if these results are more due to the school or the application pools changing.
  • This data is not official, and while very accurate, it is not 100% accurate... it carries a slight margin of error, though it is the most accurate data I'm aware of.
  • One should not interpret anything here to imply whether one undergraduate source is any more competitive than another, as from an admission point of view, all are highly respected, and one's personal and professional performance far outweighs the actual academy itself.

I hope this helps provide some historical context.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Business School vs. Law School

Most business school applicants are certain b-school is for them. Others though debate business school versus law school. The following is more food for thought...

In defense of law school
By an HLS Graduate (former USMC)

It will come as no surprise to most people reading this that B-school is the most common choice for EASing service members, and not without reason.  Here is the simple truth, most people who enjoyed their time in uniform will enjoy B-School more.  

I remember my first Marine Corps’ birthday in grad shool.  It was at the business school, and pretty much everyone there was from the B-School.  They were collegially chatting and having a laugh, and then there were we three sad souls from the law school joking about how we would make a pretty good fire team.  Frankly I think we were outnumbered by the exchange officers from France.   And as we mingled with the B-schoolers we all had the same reaction: We may have made a mistake.  

But as I reflect on my choice to get a JD I become more and more certain that it was the right choice.  I wont say it is the right choice for everyone, it isn’t, but I do believe it offers something an MBA doesn’t, and that is that it is rock solid evidence that you can sit in a chair for hours, synthesize vast amounts of written information, and write an iron clad analysis of it.  And I hate to say it, but that is what even the sexiest civilian jobs demand.  

So with that in mind here is a framework and some seed ideas about which graduate program is the one for you.

Cost: Time, money, and experience

Direct costs: Of course tuition+room+etc varies wildly but due to the extra year law school will be about half again more expensive than B-school.

Opportunity cost: That third year of law school is a year of salary you are missing out on, so that is a cost.

Subjective costs: without giving a comprehensive list I will submit that most vets will enjoy their classes, extra-curriculars, and classmates more at B-school than at law school.

Total cost: So with the above in mind some very rough numbers might look like this: 120K for an MBA vs. 160K for JD tuition + 70K of missed salary your third year or 230K, making law school almost twice as expensive, and significantly less pleasant.

Revenue: Reinforce strength or be the total package

Despite the extra pain upfront I think that the combination of a law degree and military experience is an especially powerful pairing in the long run. Employers look for basically the same things: leadership ability, work ethic, and intellectual horse power.  And for the average student and MBA covers the bases, but as a veteran you’ve already checked a few of those boxes.

Leadership: Employers are not worried about this one, as an officer or NCO you’ve had more leadership experience than anyone else your tenure.  They are also not worried about putting you in front of clients.  The military taught you to be respectful, to dress well, and to have the kind of bearing that sets clients at ease.  

Work ethic:  They also know that you are a hard worker, sort of.  Most employers’ views of the military are shaped by TV and movies, so they expect that you can run, drill, and execute Saving-Private-Ryan-style missions without complaint.  But they are worried about whether you can sit behind a desk for hours a day and crank through towers of reports or draft killer memos. And a JD will put their mind at ease since you don’t get through law school without becoming an expert at sitting and cranking.

Intellect: Finally there is the issue of intellect.  I won’t say that a JD is more intellectually or academically challenging than an MBA, but I will say that that is the perception.  To succeed on the GMAT and in B-School you need intellect, presence, leadership, quant skills, and a lot of common sense.  At law school the only one that matters is the first, and a bit of the last.  

Fundamentally I think that a veteran with a law degree is especially attractive to the top consultancies and corporations because you check all the boxes.  If you know you want to be a banker and do finance then go to B-School, but if you want to consult or go to industry I encourage you to think about how you would look to an employer, identify any gaps, and then choose the degree that fills those gaps most effectively.

Business School
Law School
US presidents
12 started 7 finished, 3 more became lawyers through independent study
Current Senators
CEOs of fortune 100
Business, finance, consulting
Law, business, finance, consulting, public sector, social sector
Typical early tenure salary (top 10 schools)

-Geoff, guest blogger, former Marine Officer, Harvard Law School Graduate, and currently a consultant at a top management consulting firm.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Harvard Age Curve - Part III

This is the third installment in our analysis of age of admission at HBS. While HBS does not publish specific age data, it has released undergraduate graduation data, which can be used to approximate the age of the HBS class.

The HBS Class of 2013 undergraduate data is available here. You just need to scroll down to its publication date of June 21, 2011. I've re-posted it here:

As I have done in the past, I'm going to use this data to try to capture the trends in the age of admission at HBS. Please note the following assumptions are made:

  • The average student graduates from undergrad at age 22. Some graduate older, but some graduate younger, and this largely cancels out. For the vast majority of HBS students, 22 is the normal age for undergraduate graduation.
  • Students are 1 year older at matriculation than they are at time of application. Since R1 application is 11 months prior to matriculation, and R2 application is 8 months prior to matriculation, this is a reasonable assumption. Between  the time that most students hit the submit button and begin class in Aldrich Hall, the vast majority will have had another birthday.
If one does not want to use either of these assumptions, they should refer directly to the graduation chart above. However, applying these assumptions, and comparing to previously published data, we come up with the following data for the Class of 2013, which I've superimposed on the Class of 2010 and 2012 data:

The data shows us the following (based on the previously listed assumptions):

  • The average age slightly increased. For matriculating students between the Class of 2012 and 2013, the (approximate) average age at time of application went up from 25.06 to 25.38 years, or a difference of 3.8 months. This is 1.4 months older yet than the class of 2010.  So is this a new and intentional trend by HBS admissions? I think unlikely. I doubt they track this kind of data or pay attention to such granular detail. However, it is a helpful anchor point, and we can continue to see how this changes.
  • HBS "sweet spot" is more diversified. In Class of 2012, approximately 78% of matriculating applicants were 24-26 years old at time of application. This number has dropped to 67%, which is definitely significant. The number of students 28 or older at time of application exactly doubled from 5.2% to 10.4%. At the same time, the number of younger, 23 year olds, increased from 9.8% to 12.7%. This is telling me that HBS is not necessarily "getting older" - but perhaps just diversifying their student class a little bit better. The result is that more younger and more older applicants are being considered based on the merits of their application.
  • If you want to maximize your chances of admission, it's still to your significant advantage to apply by the age of 26, as only 1 in 5 students were admitted older.
What's driving this change? One can identify a few key change from the Class of 2012 to Class of 2013 (all data taken from the school's class profile page):
  • PE/VC students dropped from 18% to 13%
  • Financial services (including IB) dropped from 14% to 12%
  • High tech/comm increased from 6% to 9%
  • Manufacturing increased from 9% to 14%
So that's a drop of around 7% in finance, and an increase of around 8% in industry... applicants who come from places that actually "make stuff." It's likely many of these applicants have more work experience than the typical 2-3 years of an investment banker or 3-4 years of a PE applicant. I believe this slight shift in demographic is what is driving the change in age distribution, vice an actual deliberate decision based on age. In general, I don't think HBS looks at age so much as they do at the type of experience an applicant has.

It's taken me several years to absorb these trends, including spending the last two years at HBS itself,  to have a better opinion of why these patterns emerge. There are many other contributing factors, but I think a key one is that older applicants get primarily dinged because by the time they get to their late 20s (or early 30s), more is expected of them... and the types of people who have produced the kinds of results that would impress HBS at that age, no longer seek to apply to business school in the first place. That said, there are definitely exceptions... those are the 10% who are 28+ that make it, and bring a certain special track record to justify their admission. The onus is on the applicant to prove they fall in this category. There are also those who had an extended commitment out of college (PhDs, doctors, pilots, etc), and I think they are given a bit of a break since they are still technically "early" in their new career. HBS is forced to accept them older, if they want them at all.

Whether the new tilt towards industry and away from finance is influenced by the new Dean, Nitin Nohria, or not, is up to speculation. I know that HBS is continuously self-evaluating what kind of MBAs they want to produce, and as much as they tinker with the curriculum itself, nothing will have a greater influence over the graduating class than the selection of those who are invited to be a part of it.