Chicago’s Booth vs. Northwestern’s Kellogg School

by John A. Byrne on

The central piazza of the new Harper Center at Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Photo by John A. Byrne

Outside of Boston, which can boast Harvard and MIT, there’s pretty much only one other major city in the world that can lay claim to a pair of world-class graduate schools of business: Chicago. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business are close to each other in several respects. Their full-time MBA enrollments are roughly the same size, while they both offer sizable part-time and EMBA programs as well. Both schools also frequently rank rank near each other in some of the most influential rankings. On the other hand, these are two vastly different schools in their approach to business education. Historically, Chicago has been a quant school that has placed nearly half of its graduates in finance jobs. Kellogg is a general management school, with a strong reputation for marketing. These two schools are highly competitive with each other. When Kellogg MBAs won a Real Estate Challenge competition against their Booth counterparts in June of 2010, Kellogg actually issued a press release on the victory, noting that Kellogg had beaten Booth for the second year in a row. One other similarity? Both schools have new deans. Kellogg is now led by Sally Blount, who had been dean of New York University’s undergraduate business program, while Booth’s new leader is  Sunil Kumar, who had been an operations professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. In some ways, Kumar has the tougher job because he has taken over from a highly popular dean in Ted Snyder who championed more progress at Chicago than any leader in recent memory.

The most dramatic differences between these two MBA educational giants?

Geography: You’d think that the University of Chicago would be in the center of Chicago. It isn’t. It’s in Hyde Park, about a 20-minute train ride to the edge of Chicago’s downtown. Public transporation isn’t ideal, and a crime-infested neighborhood separates the campus from downtown Chicago. Nonetheless, Hyde Park–where President Obama used to live–is a pretty and relatively comfortable place. Kellogg is in Evanston, Ill., about a 30-minute train ride into the heart of Chicago. It has the look and feel of a typical university town such as Ann Arbor, Mich., or Madison, Wis. In either case, you have immediate and quick access to one of America’s greatest cities. As the third largest city in America, Chicago is an exciting place to be, with a thriving music scene, first-class restaurants and bars, and awesome cultural attractions, including the world’s second largest art museum, the Art Institute. It’s a gorgeous place, with 31 miles of lakefront, including nearly 19 miles of bike paths and 33 beaches. The one very big downside: the winters can be absolutely brutal.

Size: Chicago and Northwestern have the largest MBA programs in the world. Chicago has a full-time MBA enrollment of 1,185 students, while Kellogg is slighly larger, with 1,241. At either place, there’s a lot going on, from part-time MBA and Executive MBA programs to significant executive education programming. Indeed, Chicago has more part-time students (1,700) than it has full-time students. Chicago, in fact, offers five full-time and part-time MBA programs, including EMBA programs in Chicago, London, and Singapore, as well as evening MBA and weekend MBA programs in downtown Chicago at its Gleacher Center. Then, there’s a PhD program with about 130 students. Kellogg’s offerings are just as broad: With 1,100 part-time MBA students, the school has both week night and Saturday part-time programs in Wiebolt Hall in downtown Chicago as well as Evanston, along with three different EMBAs, including a program in Miami, Fla., and an equally large PhD program. What all this means is that at both Chicago and Kellogg the faculty is spread awfully thin because it’s stretched across all of these obligations.

Kellogg’s Don Jacobs Center at Northwestern University. Photo by John A. Byrne

Culture: For years, Chicago was known as a haven of sorts for quant jocks. By and large, the finance geeks dominated the student culture, while a formidable and highly acclaimed faculty ruled the academic roost. “It’s not that Chicago is all about finance and numbers,” says Sarah McGinty, a member of the Class of 2010. “It’s about thinking quantitatively, not being quantitative.” Departing Dean Ted Snyder has noted that the faculty culture “collided” with the MBA culture. The result: a great business school noted for its academic rigor (six present and former Nobel Prize winners) and some of the most distinguished professors in the business but little sense of true community. Some of this has changed somewhat over the years, particularly with the opening of the Harper Center. But the school purposely lacks core cohort groups and has no residence halls for its MBAs, factors that make it harder for real community to occur. Some Chicago students say the school still lacks the camaraderie you’ll find at many other b-schools, especially Kellogg, and that some students graduate from Chicago with only a handful of people they would call friends. Kellogg, on the other hand, has a strong student culture of involvement and collaboration. Despite its much larger size, Kellogg has managed to create a smart and down-to-earth community that is nearly as close-knit as Stanford or Dartmouth. There are many reasons for this difference but probably the most influential one is the fact that Kellogg interviews every single applicant. The result: the interpersonnel skills of Kellogg students are extremely high and get greater attention here than Chicago or many other schools. Put highly intelligent, yet friendly and outgoing people together, and you’re going to get a strong culture that approximates a sense of family. It was and still is a big part of the secret of Kellogg’s success (See profile on and video interview of legendary Kellogg Dean Don Jacobs for more insight into the interview policy). Corporate recruiters and MBA admission consultants generally say Kellogg grads are simply “nice,” certainly among the most open, accessible and damn pleasant MBA students in the world.

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