Kellogg vs. Booth: The Ultimate Smackdown

The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business — Photo by John A. Byrne

Program Focus: The most obvious difference is that Kellogg has long been known as the business school for marketing, while Chicago has long had a reputation for finance. Kellogg routinely comes in first for marketing in numerous surveys and studies, while Chicago often is ranked just behind Wharton ain finance. In U.S. News & World Report’s latest survey of B-school deans and directors, Kellogg takes first place in marketing (Chicago is ninth), while Chicago is ranked second in finance behind Wharton (Northwestern is 12th. Not surprisingly, Kellogg edges out Chicago in general management where U.S. News ranks Kellogg third behind only Harvard and Stanford (Chicago is ranked 14th). Chicago also gets the edge over Kellogg in entrepreneurship (21th vs. no ranking at all), though Kellogg has made substantial investments in entrepreneurship in recent years that go unrecognized in the U.S. News survey.

Highlighting the entrepreneurship pathway at Kellogg is the three-course Launch-Pad, which includes three 10-week courses including New Venture Discovery, New Venture Development, and New Venture Launch. Entrepreneurial-minded students may then pick from 20 elective courses that can be industry-specific and cross-disciplinary. But all along the way, the courses are geared to train the venturing mind no matter if the goal is to launch a new venture or create innovation within a corporation. Kellogg’s entrepreneurial approach is highlighted by the Zell Fellows Program. Each year, the program accepts up to 30 students armed with ventures, invests $10,000, provides mentorship and an entrepreneurially-minded community, and gives them the space to run with the business idea.

Another unique wrinkle to Kellogg’s curriculum is its new emphasis on teaching MBAs how to scale and grow a business. The school has rolled out at least seven different courses on the topic since the spring of 2014 that range from Strategies for Growth and Scaling Operations to Generating Profitable Growth and Managing Organizations for Growth. Developing the initiative has turned the more typical way courses are developed at a business school on its head. For years, academics in narrow disciplines largely constructed theories of business education in the abstract, hoping that their outcomes would eventually line up with market needs. In crafting a curriculum around growth, Kellogg went to the market first, asked business leaders what challenges they faced, and came up with a series of courses to teach the required skills. The Zell Fellows Program also accepts up to 10 students each year looking to approach entrepreneurship through acquiring an existing business or leading one through the scaling process, making a similar investment in their development.

In 2017, Kellogg added a Winter Quarter immersion into the Bay Area ecosystem. The program offers MBA students a chance to take three courses (Cases in Venture Investment, Social Dynamics and Network Analysis, and Entrepreneurship: Building Innovation, Teams, and Cultures) as well as an internship over a full 10-week quarter in San Francisco. The program also features seminars and visits with local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, while Kellogg professors are shipped out West to teach. It may be one reason why so many Kellogg MBAs now land jobs on the West Coast. In the year that Kellogg piloted its San Francisco program, nearly a third of the Class of 2017—more than any other elite business school outside the west—accepted employment in the Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles, and other key western cities. That trend held true in 2018 as well, with 33% of Kellogg MBAs landing jobs in the West versus 26% in the midwest.

Curriculum: Chicago has one of the most open and flexible curriculums of any business school in the world. There is only one required course for all MBA students: its Leadership Effectiveness and Development, known as LEAD, a series of classes and exercises on such core management skills as negotiation, team-building and giving feedback. Other than that, each Chicago student choices what courses to take and when to take them based on his or her experience, previous education, and goals. So you don’t have to sit through elementary accounting or basic finance if you already have an undergraduate background in them. The downside of this approach, of course, is that there is relatively little bonding with your incoming classmates, each of who has different class schedules. At Kellogg, the incoming class is divided into cohorts of some 65 students, each dubbed a specific name, from “Poets” and “Cash Cows” to “Jive Turkeys” and “Bucket Heads.” You can opt-out of one of the nine fundamental courses in the core and take a higher-level offering, a so-called turbo class, but you pretty much move through the core curriculum with your section. About half of Kellogg’s students waive at least one course. Both schools’ offerings are based on the quarter system in which you’ll take between three and five courses per quarter (with three quarters a year). Chicago requires a minimum of 21 courses for graduation; Kellogg requires a minimum of 20.5 courses.

One new and exciting area of focus in the elective offerings at Chicago Booth has to do with the way artificial intelligence and machine learning will impact business. One of the newest prized faculty hires at Booth is Sendhil Mullainathan, the renowned behavioral economist from Harvard University, who is helping develop a new discipline at the intersection of human and machine intelligence. “Chicago Booth is about data,” says Dean Rajan. “In many ways, I feel like this is a school that was ahead of the curve and the world has moved to that model, and that has been massively helpful to the school. If you think about an area like marketing, for example, we have ended up with the best quant marketing group in the world simply because they did data in marketing long before anyone else. That to me is what we have to build upon. For any faculty who want to do novel, risky big data projects, this is the school that will support them and enables them to do it. So hiring Sendhil was fantastic because he is going to come and run a new center for us on human-machine intelligence. and so this is a center that we want to do anyway. Having Sendhil come and run it was just a wonderful confluence of things.”

On-Campus Recruiting: Both Kellogg and Booth attract the top MBA corporate recruiters in the world and, just as importantly, both schools have best-in-class career services offices to help with job searches. Pretty much any recruiter who comes to Chicago visits both schools–not one or the other. So you’re exposed to an amazing array of world-class companies that actively recruit large numbers of MBAs. The only key difference is that Chicago tends to be stronger on the finance side, while Kellogg has a very significant advantage on the consumer marketing side. In Booth’s latest graduating class in 2019, the largest single group of students (35%) went into consulting. It was only the second time in the school’s history that consulting beat finance as the No. 1 career choice of the school’s MBAs. The financial services sector took 31% of the Class of 2019, a very big difference from the 14% of Kellogg grad who joined the financial sector in 2018. Kellogg MBAs also seem to do very well with the top management consulting firms, including McKinsey, Bain, BCG, and Deloitte, probably because of the high level of interpersonal skills Kellogg MBAs are known for thanks to those mandatory application interviews. The consulting industry as a whole hired 30% of Kellogg’s Class of 2018. Kellogg MBAs also send a large group of students into the tech industry which accounted for 28% of hires in 2018, compared to 20% of Booth’s Class of 2019. Consumer packaged goods and healthcare each took 7% of Kellogg’s grads last year, versus Booth’s 5% in CPG companies and a mere 1% in healthcare.

Alumni Network: Chicago probably has a clear and convincing edge if you want to work in investment management, commercial banking, or Wall Street. Its alums are all over the big firms and far more concentrated as a force in finance than Kellogg grads. The downside is that Chicago hasn’t done all that much in the department of bonding so that some grads have less affection for or loyalty to the school as alums. When The Economist surveyed recent graduates of both schools for its 2018 ranking and asked them to rate the effectiveness of their schools’ alumni networks, Kellog came in fifth overall with a score of 4.75 on a five-point scale while Chicago finished 19th with a score of 4.46. Chicago has a global network of more than 42,000 alums (that number includes part-time and Executive MBAs) in 101 countries. Even though these are schools with awesome international reputations, the strength of their alumni networks is most apparent in their home territory of Chicago. Booth, for example, claims 12,656 alums in the Windy City alone, compared with just 2,300 in New York, 782 in San Francisco, and 783 in Boston. Kellogg, meantime, claims over 60,000 alumni, a number that includes executive education alums, with 19,362 in the Chicago area, 4,049 in New York, 3,837 in San Francisco, 1,822 in L.A., 1,412 in Boston, 1,289 in Washington, D.C., and 1,085 in Seattle. The top international cities in its alumni network are Hong Kong, with 507 alums, Tokyo, with 476, San Paulo, with 388, and London with 321 alums.

MBA Rankings:

Booth tends to have the advantage in rankings, though both schools are nip-and-tuck on various lists. In the latest 2018 composite ranking by Poets&Quants, for example, Booth’s MBA program is ranked fourth-best in the U.S. while Kellogg’s two-year MBA is ranked right behind it in fifth place. Only three schools are ahead of these two MBA programs: Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford. It’s noteworthy, however, that Booth bests Kellogg in four different rankings–U.S. News, Businessweek, the Financial Times, and The Economist. Kellogg bests Booth on only the Forbes ranking. But the rankings are so close, it’s pretty much a toss-up.

That hasn’t always been true. In fact, Kellogg had regularly beaten Chicago for many years. No school, for example, has been number one in the BusinessWeek rankings more often than Kellogg which has had that honor for five of 18 times over a 30-year period. Harvard has only made it three times, while Stanford has only claimed that honor once. Chicago isn’t far behind Kellogg when taking the long view, though. Booth has topped the Businessweek rankings four times. Kellogg has done poorly in the Financial Times, ranking 14th globally in 2019 versus a rank of 7 for Booth.

MBA RankingsKelloggBooth
Poets&Quants (2018)43
Businessweek (2018)85
Forbes (2017)47
U.S. News & World Report (2019)63
Financial Times (2019)147
The Economist (2018)21

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.