UPenn’s Wharton School vs. Columbia Business School

by John A. Byrne on

Wharton's Huntsman Hall in Philadelphia

If you get an invite to attend either of these two business schools, you are an exceptional person with huge upside potential. Otherwise, Wharton and Columbia would have dinged you. There are probably more similarities between these two schools than differences. “We are a fact-based and data-driven school,” says J.J. Cutler, deputy dean of Wharton’s MBA Admissions and Career Services.  “We do not have a charisma-style approach. We let the data drive us and help lead us to the solutions.” The same could just as easily be said of Columbia.

Yet, there are important differences. The first is obvious: Columbia is all about New York and the awesome resources it routinely leverages from the capital of the world. Unlike Wharton, it also enters two MBA classes a year, in January for students who don’t need or want a summer internship, and in September for a more conventional full-time MBA schedule. The diversity of exceptional students in both schools is mind-boggling: In Columbia’s Class of 2011, for example, are students who have interned at the White House, managed hedge funds, published books, produced TV shows and launched companies in the U.S. and abroad. The class includes an army ranger and recipient of the Bronze Star, the founder of the largest organic vegetable processing factory in northwestern China, a finalist on American Idol (we’re not kidding), and a three-time Grammy award-winning music producer.

Top Ten Reasons to Go to Wharton?

  1. You want to work for a financial services firm and want the single best degree to do so.
  2. You want lots of choices in courses, joint programs with other schools.
  3. You’re not yet sure what you want to concentrate in and want to insure you have a deep dive in virtually any subject.
  4. You’re up for an intense, competitive culture.
  5. You thrive in a larger environment and enjoy being a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
  6. You want to work, live and play in world-class business school facilities.
  7. You expect to be among the highest paid MBAs in the world.
  8. You prefer smaller, manageable cities to larger, more congested ones.
  9. You think Rocky is one of the best pictures ever made.

Top Ten Reasons to Go to Columbia?

  1. It’s one of the six best MBA programs in the world.
  2. It’s all about location, location, location. That is, New York location.
  3. You want a deep and thorough education, not merely in finance but a subset of it, such as investment management, private equity, value investing or something even more obscure.
  4. You expect to work in New York and want to be part of an extremely strong alumni base in the city where every major company is populated with at least some key players who got their MBA ticket punched where you did.
  5. You are highly competitive and want to go through a tough, competitive MBA program.
  6. You thrive in a larger environment and enjoy being a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
  7. You want to be part of an extremely diverse class, with lots of international exposure.
  8. You don’t mind traffic, people congestion, overpriced housing, and putting up with the hassles of big city life.
  9. You love big city life, or at least badly want to try it out, and you tend to dislike small towns in isolated places.
  10. You root for the New York Yankees, love museums and Carnegie Hall.

The more detailed differences between Columbia and Wharton?

Columbia University

Geography: Columbia Business School is the quintessential big city university. Its location in New York, the business, financial and media center of the world, brings the school massive benefits: a living laboratory of markets and businesses, an endless supply of well-qualified adjunct teachers, and more visiting executives who gravitate to its classrooms to speak and lecture. The school estimates that it gets more than 500 guest speakers a year on campus. That is a networking opportunity that is unique. “We have a big advantage being in New York City because there are so many opportunities for students to visit local alumni in their work offices and for alums to come back and coach students on campus,” says Ethan Hanabury, a senior associate dean at Columbia. He estimates that as many as 3,000 alums come back to the school each year for conferences, classes, recruiting sessions, and mentoring programs. There are few cities in the world that are as alive, exciting and dynamic than New York. The drawback to Columbia’s location is also obvious: As one student put it, “It’s easier to get a little lost in New York, to feel a little less rooted if you’re from outside the area, and to be a little more anonymous.” The social dynamic is completely different as well. Because Columbia MBAs rarely live together but are spread throughout the city, they’re far more likely to be more competitive with each other. It’s easier to stab someone in the back when you rarely see them outside of class. Wharton’s location in the heart of Philadelphia makes it a train ride away from either New York or Washington. Despite some concerns over the neighborhood surrounding the school, Wharton is in an extremely safe and comfortable place. With the fifth largest population in the U.S., Philadelphia is a great, compact city, with world-class restaurants and cultural attractions. Most students who attend Wharton have never been to Philadelphia and are usually pleasantly surprised by the city’s livability. Says Wharton’s Cutler: It’s fair to say that you can’t compare Philly to New York. They are different places. It’s not better or worse, they are different.”

Size: Both Wharton and Columbia boast two of the largest full-time MBA programs in the world. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Wharton is 1,674, versus Columbia’s 1,293. In the September-entry class alone, Columbia brings in about 554 full-time MBAs as well as another 121 Executive MBAs. Wharton enrolls just over 860 full-time MBAs each  fall semester. They’re divided into four groups of about 210 students that are known as clusters. Then, each cluster is chopped into three cohorts of about 70 students. Every cohort moves through the core curriulum as a unit, sharing the first year of their academic experience. You can waive out of the core courses if you have prior experience in the subject and move onto more advanced coursework. Only three courses can’t be waived at Wharton: business ethics, leadership, and communications. It’s a similar story at Columbia which divides up its new students into clusters of 60 to 65 people who take most of the first-year core classes together.

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  • rubicx

    If I were lying, I would be a Wharton alum, therefore I’m telling the truth. I’m pretty sure that I know my own truthful experiences better than you do. Maybe you should post something useful and insightful instead.

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  • Tuk Tran

    can anyone explain why the health care management program of Wharton is run by a dictator/gatekeeper? I wont mention any names but they speak of her like the North Korean leader in Pyongyang…i find this sad…if you dont believe me, just go around and ask..this is VERY UNHEALTHY

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