London Business School vs. UPenn’s Wharton

Size: Wharton is one of the largest full-time MBA programs in the world. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Wharton is 1,674, versus London’s 640. So the difference between the entering class is 860 versus 320. Incoming Wharton students are 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 curriculum 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. A Wharton prof, Alex Edmans, who went to teach at London observed that “While Americans make up the bulk of the Wharton student body, Brits comprise fewer than 10% of LBS, because the MBA degree is less common in England.  This diversity clearly has benefits, but isn’t the unmitigated blessing commonly believed.  It leads to more fragmentation as there’s often not enough critical mass to start something.”

London Business School

Culture: London and Wharton are big-city schools with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with being in active, dynamic cities. Typically, schools in large urban settings tend to have more intense and competitive cultures. It’s easier to escape school in a big city than it is in a college town or rural setting. Still, the smaller size of the London program and the smaller space in which all the action occurs helps to foster a great deal of collaboration on campus. The global nature of the program is a greater constant in London, of course, with as many as 59 languages spoken in a single class. Sometimes, class discussions are hard to follow because of it. Surprisingly, students say the cultures blend together well. “The key personal characteristics of people here are open-mindedness and a decision to work with people from other backgrounds,” says Simpson. In comparison to London, Wharton has one significant disadvantage for MBA students: it has one of the largest undergraduate business and executive educations programs in the world, with 2,621 undergrads and 9,000 executives attending seminars and longer programs. London has no undergraduate business population.

There’s also the downside of London, a much larger city than Philly, and the unusual level of flexibility at London Business School. “At LBS, second years can go on exchange to a huge range of schools; they can also take an entire course in a single “block week” rather than spreading it out over 12 weeks, freeing them to go traveling,” explains Edmans, the Wharton finance professor now teaching at London. “While this flexibility is good for the students themselves, it may come at the cost of the student body as a whole.  At Wharton, the second years stick around and make tremendous contributions to the community – leading societies, coaching sports teams, or helping first-years with interview prep.  Another driver of the cohesiveness at Wharton is that very few students are from Philly, and live close to each other.  Many LBS students worked in London previously, and it’s such a large city that the students are spread out.  This has benefits as well as costs, as alumni remain geographically close to the school, and students can experience the city outside the MBA bubble.”

Facilities: London Business School is probably the only b-school in the world that has its own private entrance to a British pub. It also has one of the least noticeable entrances, marked by a couple of small signs that swing from the overhang of a building facade. Behind it is a different world: a gorgeous building designed in the 1980s by architect John Nash just across the street from one of the world’s most famous parks, Regent’s Park. The property is officially owned by the Queen who requires that it not be shown off for all its domed and arched majesty. As beautiful as it is, the building is overcrowded with narrow hallways and few study rooms. Most students have to walk a block away across a busy street to find a place for their team meetings. It’s a big contrast to Wharton, which can lay claim to some of the best facilities in the world.

Statue of Ben Franklin on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

The B-school campus is composed of seven buildings on and off Locust Walk, the brick-lined pedestrian thoroughfare at the heart of Penn. The buildings are closely clustered around the area of campus known as the “Wharton Quad,” a great meeting place and hub for students. The newest building, Jon M. Huntsman Hall, is home to both the undergraduate and graduate divisions of Wharton. It represents the single largest addition of academic space on the Penn campus in more than half a century. It’s a gorgeous world-class building of 320,000 square feet, designed around Wharton’s cohort learning model. This building alone boasts 48 clasrooms, four computer labs, 57 group study rooms, four floors of faculty offices, a 300-seat auditorium, student cafes and study lounges. If you’re keeping count, it’s essentially three buildings at London versus seven at Wharton.

Teaching Methods: Both schools offer up a variety of teaching methods, from case study to lectures and team projects. There’s really no major difference in the classroom approaches at Wharton and London, though the more flexible space at Wharton offers the opportunity for more experiential opportunities. Wharton says that case studies make up about 35% of the work, team projects account for 25%, and lectures take up 20%. London says that case studies account for a third of the class work, with lectures taking up another third, and team projects making up about 15% of the workload. There’s a heavy emphasis on teamwork and collaboration at London. Much of your success, particularly in the first year, depends equally on the five or six people carefully chosen to be in your study group. The schools say that as much as half of your first year grade is based on team work. What’s more, every London MBA must graduate with competency in one language other than English.

Entrance to the London Business School

Program Focus: The most common misperception about Wharton is that it is largely a finance school, while the greatest myth about London is that it is a school for international business. While it’s true that Wharton boasts a superb finance faculty and London is as international a school as you’ll find anywhere, these world-class schools are far more than their reputations suggest. Wharton offers a dazzling array of course options and program alternatives, with more electives than any other business school in the world–nearly 200 across 11 academic departments (not including courses you can take elsewhere at the University of Pennsylvania). Wharton has a staff of more than 250 faculty members. In contrast, the much smaller London Business School obviously is far more limiting. London’s catalog of electives totals 59 courses, with the most (13) in finance, followed by management science and operations (10), and entrepreneurship (7). One difference, however, is that more of the case studies and classroom discussions are likely to be international. “A lot of what we’re about is sharing the work experience,” says Simpson. “Our strengths are finance and entrepreneurship, though we have a great strategy faculty, too.” Wharton offers more majors (18) to its students than the number of subjects (8) in which London offers electives. Interestingly, Wharton opens a door to allow its students to work with faculty and administration to develop new courses, and they often partner with faculty and businesses on individual advanced study projects. Taking five courses in a field qualifies you for one of those 18 listed majors at Wharton, including such narrow fields as health care management and environmental and risk management. In most specific areas of study, such as international business, finance, marketing, management, and entrepreneurship, Wharton is among the most highly regarded in the world for the quality of its faculty and their research, according to U.S. News & World Report’s latest survey of B-school deans and MBA directors. No school tops Wharton in finance. In marketing, Wharton is second, behind only Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management (Columbia is tied for sixth with Chicago). In management, Wharton is ranked fourth, just beneath Harvard, Stanford and Northwestern. In entrepreneurship, Wharton ranked fifth. In international business, Wharton is second (London is not ranked in this survey).

There are other advantages that London brings to the table: the school allows students to exit its program with an MBA at 15, 18, or 21 months, completing as early as December of your second year. You can frontload your coursework, waive out of core courses, sign up for flexible credit options, or choose a concentration. Moreover, in late 2010, Wharton announced several major changes to its curriculum, including free life long executive education for MBA alums.

  • DrJ$$

    John, is Wharton also included as being part of “the likes of a Harvard or Stanford”, or are you talking about specifically those two schools? I am currently facing precisely the decision Wharton vs. LBS and the answer to the above question will play an essential role… also how do you view Oxford Said? It has such a strong brand in Europe (and globally) and yet it is not mentioned in the top tier of European b-schools.

  • A


    I have a question regarding US recruitment at LBS. If you are an American, and are looking for a global experience, we it be a better idea to do a foreign exchange at LBS instead of attending full time? My concern is the expense of London. I also got a pretty tepid response from an LBS representative when I asked about US recruiting.

  • Planet GPA

    A small business school is really a university-level institution that confers degrees running a business Administration. They could even be known by such names as College of economic, College of economic Administration, School of economic, or School of economic Administration. A small business school teaches topics for example accounting, administration, economics, entrepreneurship, finance, information systems, marketing, organizational behavior, public realtions, strategy, human resource management, and quantitative methods.

    planet gpa

  • Karthik nellian

    Hi John, 

    I guess my comment should be posted here rather than the comments section in the smackdown of Wharton Vs Columbia. I have been following your website, Poets and Quants for a long time now. I would like to thank you very much for the effective detail embedded into every B-school smackdown. It’s really helpful and thank you very much for the same. I was just wondering if you could do a smackdown of Insead Vs London and ISB Vs HKUST, since there are a lot of prospective students just like me, waiting for your analysis and advice before making a clear cut decision. Thanks for the same John. You are doing a very great Job!!
    Best Regards,


  • Dwjerj

    Couldn’t agree more. We desperately need a Chicago-Wharton smackdown! Loooong overdue

  • Foryouankit

     John, we need a Chicago vs. Wharton comparison.  Really confused which one is a better school.  Would love to hear your thoughts

  • Gnut Sucram

    Hi John, I am also interest to know when will you release the smashdowns among Europe Top 3: INSEAD/IMD/LBS, Thanks!

  • mr.ap

    But what if you are european? (like me). If you go to USA you can get your chances there and eventually come back and work anywhere in Europe since you do not need any visa. Whereas the opposite does not hold true. So I think that such a choice opens up more opportunities. And besides, a european with an american degree is more rare, and by attending in US you have expanded your borders. Does it make sense?

  • Sorry: the correct path: @Wharton MBA -> CFA -> the youngest CFO for an startup. 

  • Wow, amazing thoughts about these two amazing MBA schools, but for me, that I want to be a CFA rock star, @WhartonMBA:twitter  program is the best fit for me. Wait for me, Philadelphia. My path is MBA -> CFA -> the youngest CFO for a startup. Regards

  • paramia

    Yes, they aren’t can you compare Rolls Royce with Cadillac..doesn’t make sense.. ::))

  • Marioalejo

    I don’t think so, i know people who entered to LBS and Wharton and finally deciding to go to LBS; outside US, LBS has a great reputation!, is a recognized business school comparable to any US business school

  • seeksleek

    I completely agree !!!! Unless it’s H/S, LBS, INSEAD, IMD, IESE are great choices for European career goals. Plus IESE is an elite school in EU. UCLA is a great school (Great for Cali) but not US top elite

  • Alex

    Hi John,

    You mentioned that you’d be publishing a comparison between LBS, Insead and IMD in Q1. Could you please advise when you’re planning to release it? I may have a choice to make between the schools towards the end of March and your review would come in handy.

    Thanks a lot!

  • USvEurope,

    Yes. But just to help, this decision very much turns on where you most want to work. If it’s Europe, you’re going to be in a much better position graduating from a top business school such as IESE. Only in few circumstances would I suggest that an applicant who is accepted by a top European school, ie. London, INSEAD, IMD, HEC Paris, IESE, and IE, and who wants to work in Europe should go to a U.S. business school. That is when the applicant has received a yes from the likes of a Harvard or Stanford.

  • Arnold,

    This data doesn’t change very much year-over-year so we aren’t updating the smackdowns every single year unless there is something dramatic that occurs.

  • Arnold

    The LBS recruiting data is a year old and doesn’t recent hiring, e.g., McKinsey hired 39 people from LBS last year.

  • USvEurope

    Hi John,
    Could you do a comparison between a fantastic European school and a good US school? I need to make a choice between UCLA and IESE soon, and I am very confused. Thanks a lot.

  • Gosh

    The problem with that kind of comparisons is that it dosen’t give you a winner. In my mind, the only real criteria that one should take into account is how highly a program is regarded worldwide so the weakness of LBS is that it is first and foremost a London story…

  • John

    Hey john,
    Would love a Darden v. Duke smack down. Getting close to decision time. Thanks!

  • Brian,

    Yes. We will be comparing LBS and INSEAD, along with IMD, Oxford and Cambridge shortly. In the first quarter of the new year.

  • Brian


    Can you compare LBS and INSEAD to the “top” US schools with respect to the opportunities they provide in the US? Thanks.

  • Conor

    Wharton and LBS are not comparable. LBS is comparable to <= top 12 US schools. Wharton and Chicago may make sense as Adam mentioned above. Comparing a 323 BMW with a 500 SL Mercedes doesn't make sense just to make some LBS ppl happy. Apologies for LBS people but you are, with a stretch at par with top 12-15 US schools.

  • Adam,

    Thanks much for your kind comments. Yes, indeed, Chicago vs. Wharton is high up on the list. It should have been done months ago! Will get to it soon.

  • Adam Goldman


    I loved the smack down of two global finance giants! Still I can’t wait for Chicago Booth vs Wharton. Is that on the list?!

  • Bruce Vann

    “e) eventually these folks go and loot and cause recession every decade.”

    what do mbas do? they all do same thing, you’re very very wrong on this point. Recessions happened long before MBA’s were thought of and were less severe as the MBA became more popular. MBA’s don’t even have enough power to cause a recession every decade. We ALL caused this because of the trillions of decisions that we made over many years. Perhaps an MBA macro economics course wouldn’t hurt.

  • what do mbas do? they all do same thing!

    They all learn same thing and do same thing more or less! They all have same patois! MBA’s can be serious drones. Meaning they already following a protocol, they are not going to break any rules or go out of the way to change anything, no sparkle, no romance, no jazz and no fizz, they cant let loose with all that baggage they have and they gonna handle!
    The precedent is already set.
    a) pay high fees
    b) get internship
    c) get jobs from the company who have already hired alumni of these schools.
    d) the pay scale is fixed by market.
    e) eventually these folks go and loot and cause recession every decade.
    ranking,fees,number of job offers, sign bonus, year end bonus…..
    It is all good if money only can make you happy!

  • Shern Frederick

    Great article. One concern on the commentary. “Also, 40% of the class at Wharton is international so at least 40% would be non-native English speakers”. International does not imply non-native English Speaker. If one were to assume that the 40% of the internationals at Wharton were from the UK, then it’s REASONABLE to assume that the entire class would be all native english speakers. Being international and not having english as a first language don’t mean the same thing. 40% international may quicker mean “at most” 40% are non-native english speakers, not “at least”.

  • It’s really a great thought & knowlege sharing excerise. I enjoyed the article & comments thoughly. Hopefully I will see such a more eye opening articles ahead.

  • Tim

    Wow – both Jim and Jimi commented. Anyway, Nigel makes a great point regarding the comparison of hires from vastly differing class sizes. Still, I found this article very interesting and a rather fun exercise.

    Anecdotally – I see my company represented as having hired from both schools. I recently met an international grad from one of the schools who is in way over her head at my companu, but that’s neither here nor there.

    Great website – and keep doing these interesting articles!

  • Jimi

    One correction: regarding recruiting, being a recent LBS Grad, I can definitely vouch for Morgan Stanley, Deloitte and the likes being on campus. I know classmates who are working at those firms now, having been recruited through Career Services.

  • Nigel

    I’d like to point to a few flaws in your logic and make some further comments about your article (beyond its obvious Wharton bias). You state that Wharton “cares less” about GMAT. Really ? How so ? because they admitted someone with a 540 ?? Doesnt matter that the vast majority of the Wharton class will need nearly appx 720 as opposed to appx 700 at LBS. How about also comparing the average age / work experiences / industry backgrounds of people so that we get a better idea of the differences in the student body (digging beyond a raw GMAT score) ?

    Then you compare #of recruits by firm. At this point you should consider that it makes no sense to compare #of recruits by firm for a class size of 850 v/s a class size of 400 (actually 330 based on your out of date numbers).

    On that point you absolutely neglect the wonderful community feel at LBS (due to the small class size) not to mention the amazingly collaborative students. I consider this one of the biggest differentiating factors between LBS and Wharton (and most US schools). The social events at LBS are nothing like most American schools. The experience is enhanced with the many many social trips all around Europe taken by students at LBS. They have access and they have familiarity (i.e. say a trip to central Europe organized by someone actually from Khazakistan).

    Another advantage at LBS is its exchange program to most top American schools. This includes Wharton (yes – you can experience both), Kellogg, Chicago Booth, Columbia, MIT, Tuck, Haas, Stern and several others. Most American schools have exchange programs, but not to other top American programs.

    These are just some of the most obvious things I felt that your article was lacking. There are several points but that would make the post almost as long as the article. But I do hope that in future posts you make a better effort of understanding what the school is all about.

  • Luiz Arruda

    Beginning with the MBA 2011 class, LBS’ intake size is 400 students.

  • Jim

    The Wharton class profile (as posted on their website) states that 720 is the median. Nevertheless it could be that the avg=median and in any case it doesnt really matter if the GMAT is +/- 2 or 3 points. My other point though, focused not on class diversity (I am certain that Wharton students are of the highest quality on all aspects, diversity included) but rather on the assumption that the GMAT and escecially the verbal part might be a little more challenging for students that are non-native English speakers.

    One another note, I do understand that comparing a top US school to a top EU school can be quite challenging and can sometimes lead to apples vs oranges comparisons. I mean, even US schools are sometimes hard to compare/rank; eg Wharton vs Tuck, very very different student experiences…

    Anyway, sorry for the long post. Btw, love the site, great articles!

  • Thanks Jim. I don’t believe, however, that the Wharton number is a median but rather an average. We want to compare apples to apples here, and in all cases I’m using reported averages. Also, 40% of the class at Wharton is international so at least 40% would be non-native English speakers. Many of the American students at Wharton have also lived and traveled abroad and are fluent in other languages.

  • Jim

    You might want to include in your article that the average GMAT at LBS is 701 for class of 2012. Wharton has a median (not avg, there is a difference) of 720. Moreover, 90% of students at LBS are non native english speakers versus maybe 30-40% at Penn.