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McDonald's Hamburger University can be harder to get into than Harvard and is even cooler than you'd imagine
A McDonald's Corp. Big Mac and french fries are arranged for a photograph at a restaurant in Scottsburg, Indiana, U.S., on Monday, July 21, 2014. McDonald's Corp., the largest restaurant chain by sales, posted second-quarter profit that trailed analysts' estimates after a U.S. sales slump lingered. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A McDonald's Corp. Big Mac is displayed on a page of the McDonald's app on an Apple Inc. iPhone 5 in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, April 2, 2014. Fast-food chains including McDonalds Corp. and Dunkin Brands Group Inc. are competing to quickly introduce the best loyalty programs and smartphone apps to try to attract millennials and teens. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This photo illustration taken on February 3, 2015 shows a woman in Sydney looking at a webpage of eBay offering bids for fast-food giant McDonald's Big Mac special sauce. Fast-food giant McDonald's is giving Australians the opportunity to buy a bottle of the special sauce used on their famous Big Mac -- the only problem is it will cost at least 18,000 USD. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN (Photo credit should read SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A McDonald's Corp. Big Mac meal is arranged for a photograph outside of a restaurant in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant chain, posted fourth-quarter profit that was little changed from a year earlier as U.S. same-store sales fell amid shaky consumer confidence and increased competition. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
DUDLEY, UNITED KINGDOM - UNDATED. EXCLUSIVE: A McDonald's Big Mac burger. When Suzanne Franklin fell pregnant, she was at a loss how to eat for two. She had suffered from extreme food allergies for years - and doctors warned her that pregnancy would make the allergies worse. She was allergic from everything from eggs and dairy produce to all fruit and veg - so Miss Franklin found an unusual solution. She found she wasnÃÂ¿t allergic to McdonaldÃÂ¿s Big Macs - so she ate a Big Mac burger every day throughout her pregnancy. And any worries about her unusual diet affecting her babyÃÂ¿s growth were unfounded - as she has given birth to her own 10Ib2 whopper. Miss Franklin, 23, said: 'All those burgers definitely didnÃÂ¿t do him any harm. It was the only thing I could eat safely during my pregnancy, so I just lived on them'. (Photo by Worldwide Features / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
A McDonald's Big Mac value meal a arranged for a photo in New York, U.S., on Friday, July 23, 2010. McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant chain, posted a 12 percent gain in second- quarter profit after attracting more customers with its frappes and smoothies. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A McDonald's Big Mac is seen in this photo taken August 12, 2009 in Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
McDonald's Big Mac is seen in this photo taken August 12, 2009. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A McDonald's Big Mac and French Fries are seen in this photo taken August 12, 2009. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A Big Mac hamburger and french fries are pictured in a McDonalds fast food store in Central London on August 6, 2008. McDonald's launched a campaign on August 6 to recruit 4,000 staff in Britain to satisfy the demand from cash-strapped customers flocking to its restaurants as the credit crunch bites hard. As the rest of the British economy hits turbulent times, the fast food giant said it was serving an extra two million meals a month compared with this time last year. AFP PHOTO/Ben Stansall (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Guests during the McDonald's Big Mac 40th Birthday Party at Project Beach House in Malibu, CA on July 27, 2008. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
MALIBU, CA - JULY 27: Kim Kardashian with McDonald's Big Mac during McDonald's Big Mac 40th Birthday Party at Project Beach House in Malibu, CA on July 27, 2008. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
MALIBU, CA - JULY 27: Khloe Kardashian and Kim Kardashian during McDonald's Big Mac 40th Birthday Party at Project Beach House in Malibu, CA on July 27, 2008. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
MALIBU , CA - JULY 27: Khloe Kardashian (L) and Kim Kardashian play catch with a football near a giant burger during the McDonald's Big Mac 40th Birthday Party at Project Beach House in Malibu, California on July 27, 2008 (Photo by Mathew Imaging/WireImage)
MALIBU , CA - JULY 27: Kim Kardashian looks at a giant 'Big Mac' burger-themed birthday cake during the McDonald's Big Mac 40th Birthday Party at Project Beach House in Malibu, California on July 27, 2008 (Photo by Mathew Imaging/WireImage)
A Big Mac is displayed at a McDonald's shop in Tokyo 05 September 2007. A Japanese government website crashed as people raced to take up an offer of a half-price McDonald's hamburger in exchange for pledging to fight global warming. The Japan McDonald's will sell a Big Mac for 150 yen (1.3 USD), about half the normal price, to anyone demonstrating a commitment to preventing climate change from 07 September to 30 September. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Munich, GERMANY: A McDonald?s employee takes a bite from a Big Mac at a McDonald?s restaurant beside their headquarters in Munich, southern Germany 27 February 2007. Bane Knezevic (not in picture), president of the western division of McDonald's Europe and chairman of McDonald's Germany reported at a press conference that Mcdonald's turnover had increased by 6,2 percent in 2006. AFP PHOTO DDP/JOERG KOCH GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read JOERG KOCH/AFP/Getty Images)
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The program currently has seven campuses worldwide in Oak Brook, Illinois, Tokyo, London, Sydney, Munich, São Paulo, and Shanghai, with an eighth campus opening scheduled for Moscow later this year.
Founded in 1961, Hamburger University now has more than 275,000 graduates and will celebrate its 55th anniversary next year. Here's a look at how it started and how it's evolved.
Vivian Giang contributed to a previous version of this article.
Almost 55 years ago, McDonald's became the first restaurant company in the world to develop a global training center.
Today, there are more than 4,000 corporate universities in the world, and Rob Lauber, McDonald's chief learning officer, tells Business Insider that Hamburger University shares its training practices with other restaurants to help continue to improve the service industry across the board.
It was founded in 1961 in the basement of a McDonald's in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, by Fred Turner, the first grill man for McDonald's and, later, the CEO for 20 years. Over the past 55 years, more than 275,000 have attended a Hamburger University.
The first graduating class had 14 students in 1961. Today, Hamburger University has more than 200 students in one class and, just this year, more than 60 sessions of the 'Restaurant Manager experience' have been completed.
mcdonalscorp via YouTube
A lot of the graduates hope to advance their McDonald's careers by landing a leadership role in the company. In fact, more than 40% of McDonald's senior leaders are graduates of Hamburger University.
Hamburger University has 16 full-time college professors on staff in the US with the ability to teach in 28 languages.
mcdonalscorp via YouTube
Despite the school's name, its professors don't teach the students how to flip patties. In fact, all of the food in the test kitchens and labs are fake.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Hamburger University focuses more on leadership development, business growth, and operations procedures, with a special emphasis on service, quality, and cleanliness to help prepare students for managerial positions in the restaurant industry.
aboutmcdonalds via flickr
The teaching style has progressed from showing training films in 1961 to demonstrating proper procedures in a more hands-on and simulation driven environment in 2015, which provides real-world learning opportunities.
During one training exercise, "fake" customers test the students' service skills by asking for progressively longer and more complicated orders.
Ray Kroc, the Illinois native who bought McDonald's in 1961 for $2.7 million and built it into the most profitable fast-food chain in the world, is known for implementing the "three-legged stool" business model at McDonald's. The model represents the triangular relationship between owner/operators, suppliers, and company employees, and is still taught at Hamburger University today.
Hamburger University in Oak Brook also has a McDonald's history museum titled "Heritage Hall," which features artifacts from the Golden Archives that tell the story of the famous double arches' brand from past to present.
The hall is updated yearly to reflect any changes in the company — or its mascot.
Oak Brook may be the premiere campus, but the Tokyo campus, built in 1971, was the first skyscraper campus.
And the Munich campus, built in 1982, features modern architecture.
The fast-food chain's newest campus opened in Shanghai in 2010. Only eight students out of 1,000 applicants are selected for each term. That's an acceptance rate of less than 1% — well below Harvard University's 5.9% acceptance rate.
Most students see the humor in attending a school titled "Hamburger University," but they also recognize the incredible opportunity they have to attend such an exclusive training program and never miss out on a chance to share their school pride.