Kellogg vs. Booth: The Ultimate Smackdown

Booth School of Business Photo by John A. Byrne

Culture: For years, Chicago was known as a haven of sorts for quant jocks. By and large, the finance geeks dominated the student culture, while a formidable and highly acclaimed faculty ruled the academic roost. There is no doubt that Booth delivers a rigorous academic experience that draws a certain type of student to the school. It’s the primary reason that Kyra Atekwana joined Booth’s Class of 2021. “After speaking to a wide variety of alums and Booth affiliates,” says the former performer and songwriter, “I felt very confident that, at Booth, academics were a very serious affair. At First Day weekend at Booth, I was struck by the seamless, unforced continuity between the messaging from the Dean, alums, and current students: Booth is a place that takes academics seriously.”

Dean Rajan wholeheartedly agrees with that assessment. “The students, I think, come in and they buy into what the school does. they are prepared to work hard,” he says. “This is an old school in many ways and what the school really does a good job of is orienting the students who come in to understand what the school does. The faculty tend to teach things that they do research on, and the students buy into that in terms of what they want to study so it is a much more aligned place.”

The result: a great business school noted for its academic rigor (seven present and former Nobel Prize winners with the latest prize won in 2017 by Richard H. Thaler for his contributions to behavioral economics) and some of the most distinguished professors in the business but less sense of true community. Much this has changed over the years, particularly with the opening of the modern Harper Center in 2004. And the most recent Economist survey which asks graduates to rate their school’s culture shows these two are in a dead heat now, with Booth at 4.46 and Kellogg at 4.45 on a five-point scale with five being the best. Yet, Booth purposely lacks core cohort groups due to its more highly flexible core curriculum and has no residence halls for its MBAs, factors that make it harder for real community to naturally occur. Some Chicago students have said the school still lacks the deeper camaraderie you’ll find at many other B-schools, especially Kellogg, and that some students graduate from Chicago with only a handful of people they would call friends. Kellogg, on the other hand, has a strong student culture of involvement and collaboration. Kellogg has managed to create a smart and down-to-earth community that is nearly as close-knit as Stanford, Dartmouth or UVA Darden. There are many reasons for this difference but probably the most influential one is the fact that Kellogg interviews every single applicant. The result: the interpersonal skills of Kellogg students are extremely high and get greater attention here than Chicago or many other schools. Put highly intelligent, yet friendly and outgoing people together, and you’re going to get a strong culture that approximates a sense of family. It was and still is a big part of the secret of Kellogg’s success. Corporate recruiters and MBA admission consultants generally say Kellogg grads are simply “nice,” certainly among the most open, accessible and damn pleasant MBA students in the world.

Facilities: The critics will tell you that Chicago’s new, modern business school complex looks and feels more like a shopping mall than an educational environment. But this spacious and attractive building, called the Charles M. Harper Center after the retired CEO of ConAgra Foods, is a world-class MBA facility. The $125 million building, with 415,000 square feet, opened in 2004, replacing classrooms and offices that had been scattered across four traditional buildings. The center gave Chicago 60 percent more space than it previously had. All 11 tiered-classrooms are windowless and at the bottom of the building, while 31 group study rooms, seminar rooms, and offices are upstairs. The Rothman Winter Garden, a massive six-story glass atrium, is the school’s piazza, an impressive gathering space that is topped by curved steel beams that mimic Gothic arches. It is the centerpiece of the building, where the incoming 550 MBA students are welcomed by the dean each year. There are 40 interview rooms for recruiters alone in the facility, along with a recruiters’ lounge that reaches outside onto a patio, next to the dean’s office.

For years, Kellogg certainly lagged Booth when it came to having a beautiful home. That changed in 2017 with the opening of the school’s $250 million Global Hub on the shores of Lake Michigan. The ultra-modern, glass-and-steel structure with its four wings of nooks and crannies for students to study and hang out is a 415,000-square-foot marvel. The architectural brief for Kellogg’s Global Hub called for an “excessively public” building reminiscent of an academic village. There is a Collaboration Plaza on the first floor, with a three-story-high atrium and two glass openings that draw attention toward Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline.  There’s also a 7,800 square foot design center, a wing with four design studios: a company-in-residence studio, an artist-in-residence studio, a tech studio where virtual reality-assisted brainstorming can occur, and a maker space where design prototypes can be built. The wing also houses Kellogg’s entrepreneurial initiative where students work on their startup ideas.

Teaching Methods: At both schools, there’s a fairly strong mix of lectures, case studies, experiential learning, and simulation. The single biggest difference: collaborative teamwork. You would be hard-pressed to find a school that requires more work in different teams across the entire two-year experience than Kellogg. Sure, almost all the schools talk about teamwork and collaboration game these days. But Kellogg was the first major business school to make working in teams a core part of the MBA experience. It remains a profound difference between Kellogg and just about any other school, no matter what the school websites contend. The average Kellogg grad will have been in roughly 200 team meetings by the time he or she graduates. Each student grades his fellow teammates on most of the group work and those grades go to the professor so there are no free rides. Some Kellogg grads actually think that the school puts too much emphasis on teamwork and not enough on independent thinking and study, but they tend to be in the minority.

Kellogg MBA students on the “Spanish Steps” of the Global Hub

About The Author

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.