HBS Dean Jay Light on Harvard's Class Size


On Monday The Harbus ran an interview with HBS Dean Jay Light, covering a variety of important topics ranging from the school’s push abroad to Harvard’s reaction to the recent financial crisis. Most interesting for business school applicants, though, was Light’s answer to a question about whether or not HBS plans to increase its class size any time soon.

A question about rumors that HBS will add another section and expand to 1,000 students per class seemed to touch a nerve with Light:


So facts-so let’s talk some facts. Typically, we target 900 to 910 students. I don’t see the class size increasing to anywhere near 1,000. This year the target was 2% higher, and we have about 937, for a few reasons:

First of all, the number of applications we had was up, with great quality applicants. The first round last year was up 25%. So we said wow, our admit rate is going to be one of the lowest we’ve had; does that make sense?

Secondly, we needed to because of what was going on in the financial markets and the endowment, to cut back on expenditures in the budget. So the question is, how do you reduce the net expenses of the MBA program while still holding fellowships steady? And our solution was to admit a few more students, and that allows you to keep the fellowships. In fact, we increased fellowships by $1 million last year. It was not necessarily an easy thing to do.

We appreciate the fact that he acknowledged that increasing the class size (and bringing in more tuition-paying students) helped HBS cover some budget issues. This is something that was widely assumed, and even given Harvard’s financial might, there’s no shame in admitting that the school needed to make some moves to improve its financial situation, as long as the product doesn’t suffer.

Light went on to say that it’s unlikely that HBS will add an 11th section any time soon, but he acknowledged that it’s something they “talk about all the time.” He even added that they in fact did consider adding a section, but decided against it this year.

Light explained that a classroom with 80-100 students is in fact more ideal than one containing 60 students. While Harvard Business School certainly knows the case study method better than anyone, this argument does seem a bit self-serving… If the school ever were to drop its class size, we could see them easily rolling out a new argument that they’ve found that 60 students is in fact the ideal size for a case-oriented classroom.

Ultimately, given the addition of the HBS 2+2 Program students and the continued growth in applicants to all top business schools, we expect that HBS will eventually add an additional section. 1,000 students is probably a mark that HBS will reach sooner rather than later.

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