NYU’s Stern School vs. Columbia Business School

NYU’s Stern School of Business

As Frank Sinatra famously sang it, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York.”

These two business schools have an almost unnatural advantage in being located in arguably the greatest city in the world. Both New York University’s Stern School of Business and Columbia Business School are all about the New York experience and the awesome resources these schools routinely leverage from what is the capital of the world. Columbia 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 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.

Top Ten Reasons to Go to New York University?

  1. You prefer Greenwich Village to Morningside Heights (we’re not kidding!)
  2. You want to specialize in one of NYU’s 20 different specialties, especially an area that Columbia doesn’t touch, such as luxury marketing.
  3. You’d like a certain amount of your coursework to be taken at night. NYU’s massive undergraduate MBA program allows you to take those evening courses, too.
  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 really want to study New York: the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Mets, even Steinway Piano. NYU has classes and case studies that integrate the city in ways that even Columbia doesn’t.
  6. You are highly competitive and want to go through a tough, competitive MBA program.
  7. You want to be in a top ten MBA program and NYU just makes the cut on our ranking.
  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 NYU?


Columbia University

Geography: Columbia Business School and New York University are quintessential big city universities. Their location in New York, the business, financial and media center of the world, brings each 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. “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, who heads up the school’s EMBA programs. Columbia alone estimates that it gets more than 500 guest speakers a year on campus as well as 3,000 returning alums who come to recruit, to speak, and to attend conferences. That is a networking opportunity that is unique. There are few cities in the world that are as alive, exciting and dynamic than New York. The drawback to the location is also obvious: As one Columbia 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 and Stern 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. While both schools call New York home, there’s a vastly different neighborhood vibe to these institutions. Columbia is uptown, on the edge of Harlem, while NYU is in the heart of Greenwich Village. Both neighborhoods have funky attributes.

Size: Total full-time MBA enrollment at Columbia is 1,293, about a third larger population than NYU’s 826 students. In its September-entry class alone, Columbia brings in about 554 full-time MBAs as well as another 121 Executive MBAs. Columbia divides up its new students into clusters of 60 to 65 people who take most of the first-year core classes together. Meantime, NYU enters a class of 390 to 400 students and breaks that down to exactly the same size as Columbia: blocks of 60 to 65 students. Students within a block will often take many courses together, but the core curriculum at NYU consists to only two required courses: accounting and statistics. Then, you choose five out of seven other fundamental courses on a set menu. Most NYU students take three or four blocked courses in the fall and one or two in the spring.

Culture: NYU and Columbia are big-city schools with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with that. 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. While cut-throat competition may be exaggerated at Columbia (it has been said that MBA students once hid books from classmates), it’s true that the Columbia environment is fairly competitive. 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.”

The upshot: NYU may have a slight advantage in being in the village and having superior facilities over Columbia.

NYU’s Vice Dean for MBA Programs Kim Corfman has both a Columbia MBA and a Columbia PhD. Yet if she had to do it over again (yes, of course she’s biased as an NYU employee), Corfman contends she would go to NYU. “I would not go to Columbia if I were an MBA student,” she says flatly. “Columbia does not embrace location. NYU completely embraces its location. We love being in New York. We bring the city into our classrooms and we go into the city. They (Columbia) would probably be as happy on the Palisades instead of Manhattan.”

Ouch. It’s true that NYU integrates the city into its classrooms through a group called New York Initiatives which develops live cases on quintessentially New York institutions from the Metropolitan Opera Co. and Steinway Piano to Mets baseball. The latter is a case in marketing and micro-economics in which students explore ticket pricing issues and how to bring more families to the ballpark. But it strikes us as a little unfair to say Columbia doesn’t take advantage of its New York location. For one thing, some 3,000 Columbia alums return to its campus every year for different events, including class lectures and conference keynotes. Thanks to its New York location, Columbia is able to get 300 alums to come back each year for its mentoring program for MBA students.

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 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.

Even though NYU has a more modern and attractive facility downtown, the single biggest complaint there is still about space. “It’s probably a complaint that everyone has in New York in general,” says Anika Davis Pratt, NYU’s director of admissions. “Space is something people feel we never have enough of.”

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 NYU and Columbia with the exception of team projects. Columbia says that case studies and lectures each account for 40% of the classwork, while team projects make up 15%. NYU says team projects account for 30% of the workload, twice as much as Columbia, and that case studies make up 25%, while lectures account for 20% of the teaching.

Program Focus: Like New York itself, these two universities pretty much offer a dazzling array of courses and programs. While it’s certainly true that NYU and Columbia are two of the best places in the world to study finance, it’s also true that the most common misperception about NYU and Columbia is that they are finance schools. These schools are more like department stores with widely diverse offerings than they are finance boutiques. “Our single biggest challenge,” says Kim Corfman, vice dean of MBA programs at NYU, “is letting potential applicants know that we have areas that are just as strong as finance. We have a reputation in finance that we don’t want to discount, but we also have great strength in other areas, especially strategy and marketing.”

Or consider that Columbia Business School offers more than 130 electives, an amazing array of choices. There’s a private equity focus and a “value investing” focus, the latter with a curriculum of eight courses alone, from “Legends in Value Investing” to “Distressed Value Investing.” A “media” focus boasts 26 courses at Columbia’s schools of business, film, law, journalism, international and public affairs, and arts and sciences. You can even do deep dives on such specialized areas as “social enterprise” or “healthcare and pharmaceutical management.” With a full-time faculty of 150 plus 50 more adjunct professors, Columbia offers extraordinary flexibility. The same is true of NYU with a full-time faculty approaching 200 professors and another 100 adjuncts.

NYU offers 20 different specializations for MBA students, from luxury marketing to supply chain management and global sourcing. Finance alone has a half dozen specializations: Corporate Finance; Finance; Financial Instruments and Markets; Financial Systems and Analytics; International Finance, and Quantitative Finance. There’s also specialities in media and entertainment as well as social innovation and impact. Almost all of NYU’s MBAs graduate with one specialization, though you can take as many as three. Some 49% of students opt for the finance specialization, by far the most popular, while 22% pick strategy, 19% go with corporate finance, 18% take marketing, 15% select entrepreneurship and innovation, and 8% go with social innovation and impact. “Regardless of how you count, we have more elective courses than any other school,” claims Kim Corfman, NYU’s vice dean of MBA programs. “Schools that have only full time programs can’t offer as many courses. Our full-timers will have part-timers in electives at night. But you also can take the program and take courses only during the day and never see a part-timer in the class.” There are an incredible 291 electives on the books at NYU: 72 in finance, 45 in marketing, 38 in economics, 33 in management and organizations, 27 in information systems, and 25 in accounting. The evening courses meet just once a week, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Not surprisingly, NYU’s largest number of electives are in finance, followed by management, marketing, and economics due to the school’s long-time emphasis on economics history.

With about 650 executive MBA students, Columbia is now forging closer connections between its full-time MBA program and the EMBA curriculum–in the same way that NYU has with its part-time program. “At most schools, MBAs and EMBA students never meet because EMBAs attend class on the weekends and MBAs do their study during the week,” says Columbia’s Hanabury. “we are now offering electives for both programs and bringing classes together. Because our EMBA population is so huge we are able to offer one of the best selections of elective courses in the world. For our MBA students, the executives have interesting positions in companies they might be interested in. For EMBA students, they want exposure to full-time MBA talent and ideas.”

According to U.S. News & World Report’s latest survey of B-school deans and MBA directors, the Stern School edges out Columbia for finance, coming in third to Columbia’s fourth place ranking. (That poll shows that number one in finance is Wharton, followed by number two Chicago.) In international business, Columbia and NYU are in a three-way tie in sixth place with Duke’s Fuqua School. In marketing, Columbia is sixth, while NYU is 11th. In management, Columbia places tenth, while NYU is 17th, below such schools as Cornell, UNC, and UCLA. In entrepreneurship, Columbia (14th) also edges out NYU (21st); in production/operations, Columbia rates a eighth place finish, with NYU at 15th, and in non-profit management, Columbia places ninth to NYU’s tenth place finish.

On-Campus Recruiting: If you want to work on Wall Street, an investment management shop, or a global financial services firm, getting your MBA punched at either Columbia or NYU is as close to a guaranteed ticket to entry as you could ever get. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan-Chase, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse are filled with Columbia and NYU grads. All the major MBA employers recruit at both schools so there are no shortages of opportunity on the job front. We give Columbia a slight edge in recruiting, given the school’s highly consistent superior showing in BusinessWeek’s recruiter polls. Obviously, the Class of 2009 had a tough time in a difficult environment. At Columbia, 62 sponsored-students chose to return to their pre-MBA employers. Many others accepted jobs at small and mid-sized firms.

Alumni Network: Columbia alumni are fully entrenched in the financial, media, and business worlds of New York which essentially means that alums are a powerful and influential bunch. Of the 38,000 living alums, a figure that includes EMBAs, you can find a Columbia connection anywhere in the world. How tight are these networks? Columbia says that as many as 3,000 of its alums come to campus every year to recruit, to speak in class, and attend conferences. The school is trying to more closely connect that strong alumni base with current students who have groused that there isn’t enough contact between them and Columbia’s grads. NYU alums, of course, can be found in just about every company in the New York metro area that hires MBAs, and due to the oversized part-time program with nearly 2,000 students, you may even run into more of them. NYU claims more than 80,000 alums working in more than 100 countries worldwide, but that number includes a lot of undergrads.


Columbia Business School does better than NYU in just about every ranking. The Economist rates NYU 13th in the world versus a 20th ranking for Columbia. Both schools compete to a dead tie in the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking. Otherwise, Columbia bests NYU, according to BusinessWeek, Forbes, and The Financial Times. The P&Q rank–which factors into consideration all the major rankings weighted by their individual authority–places NYU tenth and Columbia at sixth. These are the up-to-date rankings from each ranking organization.

MBA Rankings New York Columbia
Poets&Quants 10 6
BusinessWeek 18 9
Forbes 17 6
U.S. News & World Report 9 9
Financial Times 13 6
The Economist 14 12



Historical Rankings by BusinessWeek:

NYU’s Stern School has never been ranked in the top ten by BusinessWeek. Indeed, its highest ranking ever by BW is its current 13th place finish in 2008. So Columbia has fared much better in the BusinessWeek surveys than NYU. Columbia’s highest rank, meantime, has been a sixth place finish in 1996 and 1998. As schools in one of the busiest and most congested cities of the world, Columbia and NYU may be at a slight disadvantage in the BusinessWeek lists, which largely measure customer satisfaction by surveying recent graduates and corporate recruiters. It’s hard to keep students and recruiters happy in an overcrowded city filled with distractions.


Historical Rankings by The Financial Times: Unlike BusinessWeek’s rankings, The Financial Times includes business schools from all over the world. So the FT is ranking both New York University and Columbia against such places as London Business School, which ranked number one in this survey in 2010 and 2009, and INSEAD, which ranked fifth these last two years. NYU has never come out on top of Columbia in any of The Financial Times’ surveys. Columbia is almost always in the top five (with the exception of 2010 when the FT ranked it sixth), while NYU has generally hovered in the next group of five in the top ten. However, for two of the last three years, NYU has ranked 13th–its lowest FT ranking since 2000 when it also placed 13th.  Columbia has done quite well in the FT rankings over the years, ranging from its current rank of sixth to second in 2007. The Financial Times has ranked Columbia third on five occasions, in four consecutive years from 2002 to 2005, and in 2008.

Historical Rankings by The Financial Times


These are two of the most highly selective business in the world. NYU accepts just 14.5% of its applicants, while Columbia says yes to only 14.9% of those who apply.

There are only four other full-time MBA programs in the world that are more selective than these two New York City universities: Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT.

This is a world of difference from where Columbia was in the early 1990s when it was accepting 47% of its applicants in 1992. NYU’s average GMAT score for the Class of 2011 is slightly higher than Columbia’s by a mere four points, 717 to 713. It’s worth noting that the hurdle to get into NYU’s part-time program with nearly 2,000 active students is much lower. Stern accepts about 55% of its part-time applicants, versus the much more selective rate above.  * 10th to 90th percentage range. **Estimate.

Admission Stats New York Columbia
Average GMAT 717 713
GMAT Range 680-760* 680-760*
Average GPA 3.45 3.50
Selectivity 14.5% 14.9%
Yield 58%** 72%**



Columbia is one of the largest two-year, full-time MBA programs in the world, with a total enrollment of nearly 1,300 students–not including more than 600 additional Executive MBAs. NYU, in contrast, is significantly smaller at 826 full-timers, but has a massive undergraduate business school population as well as one of the largest part-time MBA programs in the world. NYU has more women in its full-time MBA program than Columbia by a full six percentage points, but far fewer international students (some 32% of Columbia MBAs are international vs. 23% at NYU. Stern also does better with minority students by a full ten percentage points.

Enrollment Stats New York Columbia
Total MBA Enrollment 826 1,293
Women 40% 34%
International 23% 32%
Minority 28% 18%



The big difference in undergraduate backgrounds at these schools seems to occur among the heavy quants. Columbia gets a smaller percentage, just 13%, versus NYU which takes in just about a quarter of its class in engineering and math majors. On the other key undergraduate experiences, the schools are pretty even.

Undergrad Degrees NYU Columbia
Humanities/Social Science 23% 20%
Engineering/Math 24% 13%
Business/Economics 45% 46%



Jobs and Pay:

The financial meltdown of 2009 led to a disaster of an MBA recruiting season at Columbia’s Business School and NYU’s Stern School. Nearly four of every ten graduating students in Columbia’s Class of 2009 was without a job at commencement. Columbia was more severely impacted than any other top ten school because it traditionally feeds Wall Street and the big banks which were largely on life support at the time. In fact, for the first time in recent history, three consulting firms–McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain–were at the top of the list of employers hiring Columbia MBAs rather than the financial services firms which tend to dominate. Though NYU also is heavily dependent on finance for jobs, it seemed to do a much better job of getting its graduates placed. The number of Stern MBAs employed at graduation were 11 percentage points higher than those at Columbia. Stern’s uptown rival closed the gap three months later, but still trailed NYU by more than three percentage points.

Another surprise in these numbers: the average salary and bonus at NYU was slightly higher than Columbia by nearly one thousand bucks.

The estimates of median pay 10 years after graduation and over a full career come from a study by PayScale done for BusinessWeek and do not include stock options or equity stakes by entrepreneurs. Columbia grads did better after ten years and over a lifetime than NYU grads. In fact, Columbia MBAs were third in career pay behind only Harvard and Wharton.


Job & Pay Data New York Columbia
Starting salary & bonus $124,112 $123,150
MBAs employed at commencement 72.1% 61.1%
MBAs employed 3 months after commencement 80.4% 77.3%
Estimated median pay ten years after commencement $135,000 $165,000
Estimated median pay & bonus over a full career $2,918,748 $3,349,669


Who Hires Who:

When it comes to looking at detailed numbers on which companies hire most from NYU’s Stern School, it’s somewhat difficult because Stern isn’t nearly as transparent as most of the other top business schools. Instead of listing the major employers by the number of graduates each hires, Stern simply publishes “a small sample of Stern employers” and puts an asterisk next to each company that hired three or more graduates. Why? We’re not sure but we’re immediately skeptical of such secrecy because it’s very possible that NYU wouldn’t look very good in head-to-head comparisons on such a list. Columbia is more open and what its numbers show is that consulting firms helped to offset the near total collapse of finance for the Class of 2009. Even so, about 48% of Columbia’s Class of 2009 still went into financial services, vs. 43% at Wharton. NA does not necessarily mean that a company didn’t hire any graduates from the school, but rather that the number of grads it did hire did not qualify it for breakout treatment by the school. The cutoff number at Columbia was three hires. The asterisk in the NYU column indicates that an employer listed hire three or more grads.

Hiring Company Number of Hiresat NYU* Number of Hiresat Columbia
McKinsey & Co. 3 46
Boston Consulting Group 3 21
Bain & Co. 3 20
Morgan Stanley 3 5
Citigroup 3 11
JP Morgan Chase 3 15
Deloitte Consulting 3 12
Deutsche Bank 3 11
Goldman Sachs 3 8
Credit Suisse 3 11
Microsoft -3 NA
Booz & Co. 3 20
BofA/Merrill Lynch 3 9
Barclays Capital 3 10
Johnson & Johnson 3 NA
UBS 3 9
American Express 3 6
Unilever 3 6
American Continental NA 4
Fidelity Investments -3 4
General Electric -3 4
IBM 3 3
PricewaterhouseCoopers 3 3
Blackstone Group NA 3
HSBC 3+ 3

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