Columbia Business School vs. Dartmouth’s Tuck

Size: With a target class size of 240 students, the Tuck School serves up an “intimate scale” MBA program with one of the smallest total MBA entrollments of any elite school. The upshot: it’s generally easier to get “air time” in a class at Tuck without being a hog and it’s more likely your professor knows everyone in the class. The small size of the place certainly assures that every student knows each other. In fact, it’s almost close to impossible for someone not to have had a fellow student in a class or a club. “It’s like the old TV program ‘Cheers,’” says Tuck Professor Paul Argenti, who has also taught at Columbia. “Everybody knows your name. You can mold an incredible world when you take in only 240 students a class.” On the downside perhaps, everybody knows your business. In the September-entry class alone, Columbia brings in more than twice as many students, 554 full-time MBAs as well as another 121 Executive MBAs. Columbia’s total EMBA enrollment alone–650 students–is higher than Tuck’s full-time MBA program. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Tuck is only 510, versus Columbia’s 1,293.

Culture: The size and location of Dartmouth create a fairly unique culture and one that is the extreme opposite of Columbia. While cut-throat competition may be exaggerated at Columbia (it has been said that MBA students once hid books from classmates), it’s undeniably true that the Columbia environment is more competitive and less collaborative than Tuck. It’s a fact of life at a massive city school. A year ago, a graduating Columbia student penned an essay for the campus newspaper in which he  he bemoaned the lack of a supportive and encouraging culture. “There is no community at Columbia,” he wrote. “There is no sense of solidarity. There is no creative energy. Too many people out for themselves.” There’s more than some hyperbole in those comments, but they are directionally correct. The school’s reputation for having a sharp-elbowed culture was reinforced in 2010 when an email from the student Investment Banking Club leaked out. Addressed to first-year students, the email made it clear that some people were not playing nicely with each other: “Some of you have already managed to become notorious for their willingness to elbow their peers out of the circle around senior bankers and virtually attack the bankers with questions, thus preventing other students from networking and participating in the conversation…such behavior shows that you are aggressive and non-collegial, and therefore not a pleasant person to work 100-hour weeks with.”

In contrast, at Dartmouth a few years ago some recruiters told faculty that Tuckies were “too nice” and respectful of each other. Tuck profs have since notched up the competitiveness in the classroom to better prepare students for a real and often harsher world. Yet, the bonding that occurs at the Tuck School among students is second-to-none due to its size, the fact that most first-years reside on its compact B-school campus, and because of Hanover itself (there aren’t many places to disappear). Very close relationships are formed between students and faculty at Tuck for the same reasons. Tuckies are decidedly an outdoorsy bunch: in the winter, students are likely to engage in ice hockey matches, skiing, and ice skating; in the summer, they’re off hiking on Mount Moosilauke on the edge of the White Mountains National Forest, rowing and canoeing on the Connecticut River, or playing rugby and squash. Columbia’s culture is not nearly as tight-knit or outdoorsy, nor should you expect it to be that way.

Facilities: Unfortunately, Columbia Business School has the absolute worst facility of any prestige b-school. That’s no fault of the school’s leadership. For years, several deans have been trying to get a new world-class building to replace the 1960s-built Uris Hall, but politics and highly limited space on campus have made this a long, and difficult quest. Meantime, all of Columbia’s peers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new world-class complexes so the contrast between what Columbia has and everyone else is vast. Uris is an unattractive gray concrete slab of a building, over-crowded and sub-standard in every way. Truth is, even when the building opened in the early 1960s, it was considered so unattractive that architecture students picketed the structure’s dedication. No wonder the school’s elaborate website contains only a single photograph of the outside of Uris among numerous slideshows of the overall university campus and New York. It has been renovated, but has limited places to study and few classrooms. There is no business school residence hall. Instead, some b-school grads get to fight it out for the limited graduate housing with Columbia’s other schools. Half of the MBA classes, including the core, gets taught two blocks away from Uris at Warren Hall, a building on 115th St. shared with the university’s law school. Though the school has two other buildings, they are used for the Executive MBA and executive education programs. So all the action in the MBA program occurs in Uris and Warren on Columbia’s Morningside campus which runs from West 114th St. to West 120th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. This will change, perhaps by 2012, when the b-school is supposed to move to the university’s expanded campus, a 17-acre tract of land in West Harlem from Broadway to 12th St. between 125th and 133rd St. This new university campus won’t be fully built until 2030. All this is in stark contrast to Dartmouth’s Tuck School and its compellingly attractive mix of brick Georgian buildings and modern state-of-the-art brick and copper clad buildings. The Tuck campus is nicely compact: 11 connected buildings, most of them brand new or newly renovated. Stell Hall, with its beautiful cathedral ceiling, carved oak interior and welcoming fireplace, sits in contrast to the soaring glass atrium and massive granite hearth in the newly constructed Raether Hall. Both spaces–reflecting the old and the new–are among the most impressive faciliities of any business schools. Tuck’s three residence halls arguably make up the best MBA dormitory complex in the world. If you’re keeping count, it’s essentially one building at Columbia versus 11 at Dartmouth.

Teaching Methods: The case method is a core part of the curriculum at Tuck and Columbia. But both schools offer up a more varied way to learn with group projects, lectures, simulations and experiential learning. The more singificant difference may well be the increased accessibility of the faculty at Tuck given its size and location. Tuck boasts one of the lowest faculty-to-student ratios of any business school so profs have far more time here to spend with students than teachers do at most other schools. Faculty often have students over for dinner in their homes, something that is much less likely to occur at a big city school such as Columbia, Chicago, Harvard, or Wharton.

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