Chicago Booth Apps Down 3%

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business reported that applications to its MBA program fell slightly by 3% last year to 4,021 from 4,169. The nearly flat nature of applications at Booth is in direct contrast to Columbia Business School’s 19% collapse.

Widely attributed to Wall Street’s woes, Columbia’s decline is out of whack with peer schools which also have strong reputations in finance. Besides Booth, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, for example, was essentially flat last year, with a slight drop of less than one percent: 6,408 last year compared to 6,442 a year earlier.

Chicago Booth, long recognized for the strength of its finance department, somehow managed to remain nearly flat in a year when most schools are reporting declines in applications. The school had undergone a significant turnaround under former Dean “Ted” Snyder that, among other things, led to a number one ranking by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in three consecutive biennial surveys. The increase in the school’s reputation and its location–far from Wall Street–may have helped to dampen the impact of the troubles now facing the financial sector.

Chicago released its application numbers after a request from Poets&Quants. The school has yet to publish its new MBA class profile.

While Columbia’s New York rival, New York University’s Stern School, also had a more significant decline in applications, it was well below the Columbia plunge. Applications to Stern fell by 11.5% last year to 3,907 from 4,416. according to newly released numbers on its website.


Columbia, meantime, announced today (Sept. 5), the appointment of Amanda Carlson as assistant dean of admissions, succeeding Mary Miller. She will oversee the admissions department of the MBA and Executive MBA programs at the school. Carlson, who is currently enrolled as an EMBA student at Columbia,  joined the school in 2002 and most recently served as director of admissions. She will try to reverse the downward application trend at the school.

Even Wall Street’s impact on the school may not fully explain the magnitude of Columbia’s slide. International applicants complain that the school’s lack of a ‘no co-signer loan’ for international students has crossed the school off the list of some international applicants. No less significant, Columbia appears to significantly lag other schools in scholarships to the best students. In the last academic year, for example, Columbia’s mean scholarship to a full-time student was $10,192–versus $28,410 at Harvard Business School.

Columbia has also taken a reputation hit in the past two years with the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job, which ridiculed both Dean Glenn Hubbard and a prominent Columbia B-school professor. The film, about the causes of the financial collapse of 2008, laid part of the blame on business school professors who secretly consult for financial institutions and countries and then make favorable comments on their clients without disclosing they are receiving fees from them.

Columbia’s fortunes, however, have long been linked to Wall Street and finance, a still troubled sector of the economy where employment opportunities have fallen. Potential MBA applicants from the finance industry are holding onto their jobs and delaying business school, while financial firms are hiring fewer MBAs. So the school’s dependence on the financial services industry is imposing a bigger downturn than most of its rivals have seen.

Amir Ziv, vice dean at Columbia, acknowledges the problem in a brief interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “There’s merit to the argument that if the financial industry isn’t doing well, it should hit schools that are more exposed to it than others,” explains Ziv. “In the long run, if it’s not doing well, you’ll have fewer students interested in schools that are excellent in finance.”


This year, some 34% of Columbia’s incoming class came from the financial sector, compared with 20% from consulting and 8% from marketing and media. At Harvard, only 28% of the incoming class hails from finance, with 16% from the comparatively more healthy venture capital and private equity sectors.

New York University’s Stern School, also another school closely tied to Wall Street, is reporting a double-digit fall. Applications to Stern fell by 11.5% last year to 3,907 from 4,416. according to newly released numbers on its website.

Why the difference between Columbia and Wharton, the school which U.S. News and World Report along with a number of other rankings lists as best in the world at finance? Over the years, Wharton has successfully moved far beyond its finance reputation and more into a competitive sphere with such elite general management business schools such as Harvard and Stanford.

Among B-school deans who were asked by U.S. News to name the best schools by category of study, Wharton does significantly better than Columbia in one key business discipline after another. Wharton ranks third in general management (Columbia is 10th), second in marketing (Columbia is tied for ninth with NYU), third in accounting (Columbia is 27th), fifth in entrepreneurship (Columbia is tied with Rice University for 14th), and second in international business (Columbia is fifth).

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