Chicago’s Booth vs. Northwestern’s Kellogg School

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.

  • Booth PT Student

    Thank you for your fair and balanced reply. I found this article so biased and out of line with my current Booth experience that I was surprised they published it.

    I would take nothing away from all the positive things the author said about Kellogg. It’s a great school with many strengths. Booth, on the other hand, is completely misrepresented. I know the full-timers do not live in the same University affiliated housing complex, but they do generally live in large apartment complexes near either the downtown or HP campuses and socialize heavily. They also spend a tremendous amount of time together working as full time students and participating in school activities. There is definitely a sense of community, ever amongst the part-timers. I should know – I’m an part-time student with many friends in both the part-time and full time programs.

    As for only emphasizing Booth’s strengths as a finance school, I’m shocked. There’s so much more to Booth than that. It is definitely an institution that places a strong emphasis on quantitative analysis and financial analytics is definitely one of it’s greatest strengths. But strategy, big data, entrepreneurship and commercializing innovation are such key components of Booth today. I have worked in groups with so many brilliant engineers who are at Booth learning how to refine product design to meet and create market needs. The school is so much more than what the author reduced it to.

  • AP

    “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.” – Do I need to remind you all about San Francisco?!

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  • Tuk Tran

    can someone please tell me what booth officials were smoking when they created this year’s essay question which is clearly one of the silliest on record?

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  • fidel305

    A dysfunctional, parochial family

  • fidel305

    Time for a new assessment. Kellogg is making great strides in entrepreneurship and has reacquired its former head of those programs( who booth had lured away for awhile and rode to improved entrepreneurship rankings) and its new lakefront facility comes on line in 2016 and is as much if not more of a game changer as booth’s Harper center was a decade ago.

    HBS also hired the Sloan Prof who started and ran Sloans entrepreneurship lab and he is now teaching his very popular course at HBS. Entrepreneurship is the tip of the spear in the MBA wars. And that’s a good change from the finance driven MBA of the recent past

  • fidel305

    Yeah, the trip to downtown / river north is safe but only if you drive east and then north on lakeshore drive .

    you take your life in your hands on public transport at night or if you drive another route

    unless there is a well attended event don’t try using the parks or lakefront at off hours , eg for an early morning or end of day run.

    booth is separated from crime infested Woodlawn by one flimsy fence and a few rent a cops

    And there is absolutely nothing going on in the near environs in terms of dining and entertainment options