If you were accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School as well as the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, what would you do? We posed that question to several of the leading MBA admissions consultants to see how they would respond.
Not all that long ago, of course, the answer was obvious. As the insiders typically put it, the lineup of the world’s three prestige business schools pretty much came down to H/S/W. But in September, The Wall Street Journal published the rather provocative notion that Wharton is no longer in that elite group with Harvard and Stanford. “We’re hearing (applicants say) Stanford, Harvard or nothing. It used to be Stanford, Harvard or Wharton,” the Journal quoted Jeremy Shinewald, founder of admissions consultant mbaMission, who also weighed in on our question.
After all, Chicago Booth has now placed first in four consecutive rankings of the best U.S. business schools by Poets&Quants. Chicago has been Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s No. 1 school as well on four lists in a row dating back to 2006. This year, Chicago became slightly more selective than Wharton, accepting only 21% of its applicants versus Wharton’s 22% rate. That latter switch occurred because MBA applications to Booth rose 9.9%, higher than any other Top 10 school, while applications fell 5.8% at Wharton, the only Top 10 school registering a decline.
A TOUGH CALL BUT A THOUGHTFUL QUESTION THESE DAYS
On the other hand, MBA graduates from Wharton this year had one of the best placement records in the school’s history. Some 97.8% of the class had job offers three months after graduation, up from 95.5% a year earlier, and median base salaries rose to $125,000, up $5,000 from 2012. Those starting salaries exceed even those at Harvard Business School for the very first time.
This year’s entering class at Wharton, moreover, is arguably its best ever–at least as judged by average GMAT scores. The 725 average GMAT score for the Class of 2015 is a record and seven points higher than the previous year. Wharton’s average GMAT score is now the second highest of any prestige school in the world, behind only Stanford University’s 729 average from last year.
So Chicago or Wharton? It’s not an easy question, anymore, though it is still very much a controversial one for sure. One admissions consultant, who shall be unnamed, initially argued in favor of Chicago with a rather forceful argument: “I would choose Chicago,” she advised. “The school has a strong sense of community that is often overlooked, as well as a long line of top employers chomping at the bit to hire graduates. I also think Booth takes extra care in the application process to get to know the candidates. Since adding the powerpoint presentation to their application several years ago, their admitted students reflect a diverse class – not just geographically, but professionally. I’ve had clients ranging from youth ministers to professional poker players gain admission, and I think this is due to their efforts to build a unique class.”
Then, the consultant reconsidered and came back with this replay: “On second thought, I had better revise my response. I really was torn on the two, so it’s easy for me to say Wharton. A couple of things come to mind. First, they lead the pack in female enrollment. Second, most people think of Wharton as a finance program, but it has a tremendous Health Care Management Program. With June Kinney at the helm, the HCM program is top notch churning out graduates who are leaders in the healthcare industry. Lastly, Wharton has a strong, lasting brand.”
Several consultants worried little about alienating the admissions staff at either Booth or Wharton with their perspectives, which ranged from strong positions in favor of one school or another or an “it depends” kind of answer.
Let the debate begin:
Adam Hoff, principal of the Amerasia Consulting Group:
“Chicago and it’s not close. Reasons: I believe that we are only now seeing the full force of Ted Snyder’s run there (and that we will see the same trail at Yale over time). I believe he might be the best graduate school dean of my lifetime, so it’s no surprise that Chicago has a massive up arrow next to it in my mind.
“Chicago seems really intent on taking a type of student that fits there, which is someone intellectually curious, willing to take risks, and who wants to truly max out the experience. I would want such an experience and I really like when a school is an active and accurate partner in helping build a great fit. Stanford is the best at cultivating a cohesive fit and culture, but I believe Booth is the next best at this. I also believe Booth’s affinity and appetite for risk would make it more likely that I would find visionary thinkers and bold innovators to collaborate with during school.
“I believe Chicago (contrary to common belief) has a more vibrant social scene. The change to the city’s South Loop neighborhood has turned the only remaining minus for Booth (no real central neighborhood for MBAs to live in and hang out in together) into a huge plus.
“Booth spends money in underrated places. I always compare it to an NFL team that pays big for the offensive and defensive coordinator. You don’t notice it on paper (you look at the players and the head coach), but it it translates to winning in most cases. Similarly, everyone obsesses with the professors at all the top business schools and while they are obviously important, the people running career services, admissions, library and research services, and even registration (so you can work across multiple disciplines) are hugely important to the actual experience. They even have an executive director of marketing (who is top notch), so you know that the brand of your degree is being advanced and protected.
“Finally, there are specific programs I love. I think the NVC (New Venture Challenge) is the best business plan competition out there. The flexible curriculum is great and treats MBA students like the adults and professionals they are. I could really go on and on. I will caveat all of this by saying that I went to Chicago for law school and took some classes (and ate a lot of lunches!) at Booth (then GSB) so I am clearly biased. But I think Wharton is sliding, Booth is ascending (rapidly), and that it’s not a particularly close call in my mind. ”