How do you measure an MBA program’s health? For one, you look at its popularity. By that measure, the Booth School of Business earned a clean bill in 2019.
In a down admissions cycle, Booth was the only Top 10 MBA program to actually receive more applications. While a 3.4% increase in applications – 144 more than 2018 – may seem unremarkable, just compare that improvement to Booth’s peers. Harvard Business School – seemingly immune from market disruption – experienced a 6.7% decrease. Stanford GSB and the Wharton School lost 5.8% and 5.4% respectively. 30 minutes north, Northwestern Kellogg reported 15.5% few applications.
That’s good news, but it pales in comparison to the school’s 2019 employment report. The big takeaway: Booth graduates saw their median starting pay packages jump from $145,750 to $163,900.
What’s behind Booth’s popularity? Well, the school didn’t produce the last decade’s most successful CEO – Microsoft’s Satya Nadella – by accident. Instead, Booth centers its curriculum around its timeless “Chicago Approach.” While Harvard Business School is associated with cases, Chicago Booth is pegged to data. It is a philosophy that reveres collecting the right information and framing the right questions to help decision-makers understand the possibilities and pursue the right paths. More than that, as the saying goes, Booth teaches students more “how” to think than “what” to think.
Just as Northwestern Kellogg cringes at being labeled a “marketing school,” Chicago Booth takes issue with being just a “data school.” “At Booth, we teach an evidence-based approach,” says Stacey Kole, the school’s deputy dean for MBA programs, in a 2019 interview. “[This] ensures students learn to think for themselves—to break down problems by asking insightful questions, applying time-tested frameworks, and leveraging quantitative and qualitative data to analyze complex situations and build the best solutions.”
This ‘numbers drive decisions’ rigor isn’t the only quality that separates Booth from other programs. The program prizes flexibility, enabling students to customize nearly their entire experience. Rather than a semester-long core, for example, students complete a required LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Development) course along with choosing courses in specified disciplines. This approach, which eschews the traditional “cookie-cutter” approach for personal choice, enables students to pursue their passions from day one. More than that, adds Kole, it prepares them for the wider array of options they’ll pick from in the future.
“A lot of programs put you on a conveyer belt,” she tells P&Q in a 2019 interview. “They’ll tell you which classes to take…Here, we think the world is going to present our students with so many good choices, every day, that they’ll have too little time to really make fully-informed decisions. So they need to get comfortable with ambiguity. They’re going to have to learn how to navigate these choice-rich situations and eventually pull the trigger… Our research shows that there is no singular path to success, so why would we prescribe student learning in a rigid way? Instead, we offer students immense choice and a breadth of experiences in an environment where they are encouraged to take risks with supportive advising in place.”
Make no mistake: it is a formula with broad appeal, even as student tastes evolve. Exhibit A: entrepreneurship is now the most popular concentration at Chicago Booth. It is an area of emphasis at the university itself, which houses one of the largest and most-respected accelerators in the country. More than that, Kole adds, the school is now able to tap into any market, interest, network, or region for its students.
“Our entrepreneurship community runs deep within Chicago and on the coasts, tapping experts in tech, private equity, venture capital, commercialization, business incubation, acquisition, search funds, and investing. At the heart of it all is the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which manages dozens of programs and courses, hosts speakers and competitions, as well as houses the University of Chicago’s Fabrication Lab. The Polsky Center has expanded in the last several years to occupy five locations, including a site in Hong Kong.”
Just more resources for Boothies to sort through, you could say. Don’t worry, they don’t mind.