Umm … absolutely, and especially if you plan on going into finance. And here's why. The education you get at HBS or Stanford is not necessarily all that much better than what a top 50 business school offers in terms of academies. However, the difference between a Harvard and University of Minnesota (Carlson) can be compared to … possibly, a high end country club in the Northeast vs. a luxury sports club in Manhattan. Both clubs have nice facilities and both clubs offer the same functional purpose. However, the difference here is access. The nice country club may only accept members with net worth over $ 5M, where the luxury city sports club will take anyone who can pay the monthly $ 200 fee. People value scarcity. That's why going to a top MBA school is so valuable. Prestige is driven primarily by scarcity value, and scarcity value is driven by low acceptance rates. Even among the top three business schools, HBS and Stanford students most certainly think of themselves as "better" than Wharton students, even though Wharton is obviously an amazing school. The curve in perceived value increases exponentially as you move up in rank from one top MBA school to another.
Hey, I agree that this type of behavior can make your stomach turn at times. But, the reason I'm pointing this out, is because this sentiment does drive hiring behavior by some of the most respected firms on Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Have you noticed that nearly all partners at venture capital firms have MBA degrees from either Stanford or Harvard? Have you noticed that pretty much all the partners at the top private equity firms such as TPG, Blackstone, and Bain Capital are HBS alums? Which schools do you think these guys like to hire from? HBS of course! This is not to say that finance whizzes from Chicago or MIT are not qualified. It's just that these firms get so many qualified candidates, why not just continue firing from your alma mater so you can keep the company within the "family." Ok so, some firms are more extreme than others, but my point is, this type of stuff happens. So be aware of it. When you are applying to a top MBA school, ask about access to the most prestigious employers. You WILL find differences between the top 10, top 5, and even top 3 schools. Here are some examples:
• A certain west coast mutual fund: ALL employees have MBAs from Stanford or Harvard (and each summer they only recruit from Stanford or Harvard for interns)
• Certain NYC hedge funds: Preference for HBS and Stanford students even over Wharton (shocking but true)
• Estee Lauder: Not even a financial firm, but they only recruit from Wharton and HBS
• The list goes on …
Take a look at the following pdf, which lays out the universities attended by private equity professionals at Blackstone, Carlyle, Bain Capital, Silverlake Partners, Warburg Pincus and Providence Equity Partners. No surprise eh?
Going to a top school gives you access to the top jobs in finance. The pecking order on Wall Street is unobvious to outsiders, but to business school grades working in finance, the differences between top MBA schools are very much apprehensive (perhaps over-exaggerated, but perception becomes reality).