Friday, May 25, 2012

The epic battle: Chicago vs. Columbia

I feel lucky, honored, somewhat overwhelmed by the chance to choose from two of the best business schools in the country (and dare I say, the world?).

I want to spend this post going over all of the musings I've had over where to go to business school.

Employer placement - 35%
People tell me not to pay too much attention to this, but we are all going to b-school to get a job, and everyone has told me that you should just go to the best business school you can. So with that, I would say that for most programs, Booth has slightly outshines Columbia on the margin. A few more Boothies get into the top consulting firms, and a few more Boothies end up in asset management and hedge funds. There are NYC-based companies that go to Booth to recruit not Columbia. The glaring exception is investment banking in New York City, where there probably is no better school than Columbia for sending kids to the bulge bracket banks. I'm not sure if I want to be an investment banker coming out of business school, but I can't discount it. Regardless, I'd give the advantage to Booth.

Columbia: 7/10; Booth: 8/10

"Prestige" - 5%
Now, some discussion on GMATClub has made mention of the prestige of the parent university. I think this is a pretty minor issue, but I will reluctantly discuss the prevailing opinion on this. The University of Chicago is great and is a powerhouse in economics and quantitative finance, but Columbia University's brand name is covered in centuries-old Ivy, even older than our country. Around the world, people know Columbia University, its single-digit undergraduate acceptance rate, President Obama, etc. Every year, people who don't get into Columbia call up the school and threaten to kill themselves (really). My parents have no idea what The University of Chicago is (not that this matters since I'm almost 26 and don't need to prove anything to them). Here, Columbia wins the battle.

Columbia: 9/10; Booth: 6/10

Academics - 20%
The two schools are actually quite different here. Booth has the flexible curriculum and Columbia has a very rigid Core. I would say that in both cases, the two reputation are blown out of proportion just a little. For example, at Booth although there is only one "required" class (LEAD), everyone still has to fulfill distribution requirements. And (as someone else put it on GMAT Club), I don't consider the option to take Accounting II vs. Accounting I to be all that "flexible". There are also a number of prerequisites that you need to fulfill at Booth or you can't bid for certain classes. You have to petition to waive those, and that doesn't happen too often.

At Columbia, you are able to test out of virtually every Core class if you have the background in it. That means you can skip Accounting, CorpFin, Stats, even things like Marketing and Strategic Management. So depending on your background, you can free up quite a bit of your first year. At both schools, your 2nd year is completely up to you, so that comparison is awash.

That being said, Booth (and the University of Chicago) are hell bent on maintaining this culture of an academic experience. You can take classes as hard or as easy as you want them to be. And especially in courses like finance (Booth's bread and butter), you won't get a better curriculum. Booth probably kicks Columbia's ass at analytical finance, despite Columbia's value investing program, which is exclusive and requires an application. For curricular and co-curricular academics, I really do have to give this to Booth.

Columbia: 7/10; Booth: 9/10

Location - 25%
New York vs. Chicago. This comparison is so lopsided it's almost senseless to write about. New York City is arguably the best city in the entire world. New York has it all - culture, food, public transportation, jobs, the list goes on. Sure, Chicago has all those things too, but just... a lot less of it (hey, someone had to say it). The only downside to NYC is cost, where NYC's cost of living is is probably something like 20-30% higher than Chicago's.

Columbia: 10/10; Booth: 7/10

Cost - 0%
Columbia gave me a scholarship. Not a huge scholarship, but enough for me to write about here. What this helps to do is cancel out any cost of living differences between the two schools, so this comparison is awash. No points to team Columbia or team Booth.

Columbia: 5/10; Booth: 5/10

Student body - 15%
I'm sure that between any two top programs, the students will be much more similar than they are different. That said, Booth does have a reputation for being more "nerdy" (probably stemming from its parent university's research focus), while CBS has the reputation for being cut-throat competitive: who can forget the mass e-mail from the Investment Banking Group after a recruiting event, asking 1st years to be more collaborative with each other and stop elbowing each other away from representatives and monopolizing their time? For anything anecdotal like this, I would say that the reputations are perpetuated by a loud minority, so I won't take it too much to heart.

However, I will say that Boothies have more fun and bond with each other more. This is probably due to almost all Boothies living in the same 1-km radius in the loop, at least in their first year, and most in one of 3-4 buildings. Sure, Columbia has the Sections breakdowns for Core classes, but I would say that Booth's flexible curriculum and residential proximity allows people to bond with each other more. I give the advantage to Booth.

Columbia: 7/10; Booth: 9/10

So what's the final tally?
The verdict:
Columbia: 7.85; Booth: 8.00

Well that doesn't help out much, does it?

A tough choice indeed. The R3 deposit for Chicago is due on May 30, and Columbia's second deposit is due June 1. So I have to make a choice fast. I'm leaning on one school, but I don't want to reveal that just yet.

Should I go with my gut? Should I go deeper in an analysis? Should I use the results poll that I put up on GMATClub (that has 36 votes for Columbia and 35 for Booth)? Stay tuned for my final decision.

More later.


  1. However, if just one of your choices has an early, set application date, you will need to adjust your GMAT study schedule and exam date accordingly.

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