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HBS Reduces Class Size for Fall 2020

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Harvard Business School is expecting 720 MBA students to enroll this fall, which is roughly 20 percent smaller than its typical class size of around 930. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, students accepted for the Class of 2022 had until June 1st to submit a request to defer for one or two years.  About 700 accepted students confirmed they would be joining HBS this year, and Director of Admissions, Chad Losee, expects to draw a limited number of additional members from the waitlist. Losee announced this year’s enrollment figure after the deferral window passed for admitted candidates.

Clear Admit Co-founder, Graham Richmond, observed, “It is surprising that HBS will only have around 700 to 720 students this year. It seems their blanket deferral policy was more popular than many expected.”

Ripples from the Waitlist

Losee noted in the HBS Admissions Direct from the Director post that the school does expect to draw more classmates from the waitlist, enough to land at a total class size of 720.  According to Richmond, “If HBS isn’t digging deep into their waitlist, this may ease the burden at some of their peer schools, which would have potentially lost students had HBS taken a large number off of a waitlist. Of course, those peers schools may still be worried about melt within their committed class due to visa and logistics issues. The data we have been collecting from hundreds of admitted students at top schools suggest that most students are committed to finding a way to make the fall—and matriculation in general—happen, so we’ll have to wait for the dust to settle before we really know the extent of ‘melt’ we’ll see.”

Section Structure May Also Face Scaling Issues

The smaller class size also calls into question how the learning experience will be structured.  Typically, each class is broken up into 10 sections, with 90 students per section. Now, HBS will either create fewer sections with the same number of students, or only have ~70 students per section to yield 10 sections. Richmond notes, “The section experience is a hallmark of HBS, so this will be interesting to see. My guess is that whether you have 70 or 90 students in a lecture hall won’t make a major difference from a social distancing standpoint. Many of those core classes may even need to be delivered online for the fall semester, with smaller elective courses using the large lecture halls instead. We will need to wait and see how the summer evolves.”

Community Buzz on Future Class Size

In a post on Clear Admit’s MBA LiveWire, one community member wondered how the new class size would influence later classes:

Richmond says, “One thing is for sure, if HBS has deferred 200+ people into the Classes of 2023 and 2024, coupled with the HBS 2+2 slots that are already reserved, we will likely see an unusually competitive admissions process for the next two years. Let’s not forget that the applicant pool is already expected to grow due to layoffs and the impact of COVID-19.  In short, we will likely see acceptance rates dip substantially as more candidates compete for fewer spots.”

Several other factors surfaced in the community conversation:

Leading the Way with Transparency

Before publishing the public post, Losee contacted the HBS community with this message:

“The deferral window closed yesterday, and we are delighted to let you know that roughly 700 students confirmed they will join us in the fall.  After drawing from our strong wait list, and knowing there may still be some small shifts because of extenuating circumstances, we expect to enroll a class of about 720.

“Moreover, the composition of the students who are joining us is similar to those who chose to defer, which means the class will have the diversity we strive for and the critical mass to carry on all of our usual curricular and extracurricular activities.

“We’re equally happy to have given the other admitted students an opportunity to matriculate at a time that works better for them.  We look forward to welcoming all of them to the HBS community over the next two years and will explore increasing our class size a bit as they enroll.”

In conclusion, Richmond applauds HBS’s total transparency—and flexibility—on all of this, saying, “They have absolutely done right by their students/admits in offering deferrals, keeping the class a bit smaller (to ensure high quality) and in keeping everyone informed along the way. I also think it was a smart move to have a simple policy (deferrals for anyone) but to gate it with a time frame, since it gave HBS a chance to very quickly figure out who’s in and who’s out.”

See the full announcement from HBS here.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.