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Michigan’s Ross vs. Northwestern’s Kellogg

Kellogg’s Don Jacobs Center at Northwestern University.

Program Focus: The most obvious difference is that Kellogg has long been known as the business school for marketing. In U.S. News & World Report’s latest survey of B-school deans and directors, Kellogg takes first place in marketing (Michigan is eighth), third place in general management (Michigan is a strong sixth directly behind Wharton and Dartmouth), seventh place in finance (Michigan is 12th). In entrepreneurship, the survey shows Michigan in 12th place direclty behind Northwestern which is in 11th place. It should be noted, however, that only .5% of the Class of 2009 at Ross started their own companies straight from school (compared to 10% at Stanford). in non-profit management, Northwestern is rated fourth, while Michigan is sixth, and in production/operations, Northwestern is considered fourth, with Michigan right behind it at fifth. The only specialty area of study where Michigan beats Northwestern is international business where the Ross school is ranked fourth, behind Thunderbird, Wharton, and the University of South Carolina, and Kellogg is ranked 13th. These are exceptionally strong showings for Michigan, which almost beats every other public university business school in every key specialty.

Curriculum: At Kellogg, the incoming class is divided into cohorts of some 65 students, each dubbed a specific name, from “Poets” and “Cash Cows” to “Jive Turkeys” and “Bucket Heads.” You can opt out of one of the nine fundamental courses in the core and take a higher-level offering, a so-called turbo class, but you pretty much move through the core curriculum with your section. About half of Kellogg’s students waive at least one course. The schools’ offerings are based on the quarter system in which you’ll take between three and five courses per quarter. Kellogg requires a minimum of 24.5 courses. Again, the key differentiator in the Kellogg experience is teamwork and collaboration which is pushed to the maximum. At Ross, incoming students are divied up into six cohorts and go through a set menu of courses together for the first semester and a half. You can waive out of some of these coures but few do other than CPAs who duck the basic accounting course (about 20% of Ross students waived accounting last year). At Ross, each semester is 14 weeks long and then also divided into seven-week mini-terms.

More importantly, the single biggest difference from the Ross perspective is its unique (and this is truly one-of-a-kind) emphasis on so-called “action learning.” After going through the core curriculum, every full-time MBA student is assigned to a five-person team and then lent to a company and a project that starts in the third week of January. There are 150 possible projects to choose from, with a bewildering array of global companies, for the 500 first-year students. This isn’t part of a course and the experience is not optional, as it often is at other business schools. It’s mandatory, intense, all-consuming, and occupies your complete time for seven straight weeks. Each team has two faculty advisers who act as coaches on the project. Some second-year students are assigned to help with team dynamics. In 2010, Google had the most popular project: 246 of the 497 students asked to be assigned to the Google team which had to come up with a strategy and plan for Google to successfully launch a new product in the European and East African markets. The logistics of pulling this off, with companies as varied as Amazon, Citigroup, Colgate-Palmolive, Barclays, General Electric, and Hershey’s, among others, in places as farflung as Peru, Malaysia, Italy, India and South Africa, among others, represents as huge an investment as any business school has ever made to create a truly differentiated experience for MBAs. Ross has four full-time staffers on this one part of the MBA program, while 35 faculty members are involved in advising the student teams and another 10 professors offer support to improve the presentations and deliverables for the client companies. Needless to say, this is Ross’ secret weapon (not only providing a unique MBA experience to students but helping to get more companies interested in the school’s grads), just as the mandatory application interviews at Kellogg have had an outsized impact on getting some of the best student material available in the world).

Kellogg School of Management. Photo by John A. Byrne.

On-Campus Recruiting: Both Kellogg and Ross attract the top MBA corporate recruiters in the world and, just as importantly, both schools have best-in-class career services offices to help with job searches. Getting an MBA at either school will expose you to an amazing array of world-class companies that actively recruit large numbers of MBAs. Outside of consulting, which draws a much higher percentage of Kellogg grads, the stats are remarkably similar in terms of what industries grads from both schools enter. Frankly, the biggest surprise is that Ross has been able to pull off in Ann Arbor. Everyone knows the decline of Detroit has put the regional economy in a tough place. You’d think that would impact recruiting at Ross to at least some extent. It has–but only in the positive. Ross’ career services staff has done an exceptional job at diversifying the recruiters who come to the school, even attracting a large number of high-tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Dell Computer, and Genentech. Ross also does well on the consumer marketing side, with 11% of its class going into that industry–roughly the same percentage that Kellogg puts into consumer marketing despite Kellogg’s number one marketing strength. After consulting (which takes one in four students) and high tech (which takes a surprisingly high 17%), consumer marketing is the third most popular employer at Ross. Finance has much less allure at most these schools: At both Kellogg and Ross, financial services, including investment banking, private equity, and securities firms, hired just 15% of the grads. Part of this can be explained by the financial collapse, however, because at Kellogg alone the percentage of grads going into investment banking fell to only 5% from 12% a year earlier. Kellogg MBAs also seem to do extremely well with the top management consulting firms, including McKinsey, Bain, BCG and Booz, probably because of the high level of interpersonnel skills Kellogg MBAs are known for thanks to those mandatory application interviews. In fact, consulting as an industry hired 38% of Kellogg’s Class of 2009.