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.

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.