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Saturday, January 29, 2005

Compare and contrast some more 

So, on to the more substantial factor of academics.

When I was researching schools and writing applications I put together a sort of 'fantasy curriculums' spreadsheet. Basically this was a list of the classes I thought I might like to take at each school, taking account of published requirements for majors etc., but assuming that things like availability and scheduling would all work in my favour (which' I appreciate, they may well not). This has served as a useful starting point for comparing academics, but I've also gone back and looked at courses in more detail, compared cores etc.

One difference that jumps out straight away is the balance between core and electives. Wharton has a 10-unit core and electives are then between 9 and 11 further units (more is you waive any of the core requirements. Kellogg is a nine unit core with 15 units of electives (with the same proviso about waivers). Wharton works in semesters compared to quarters at Kellogg, which I guess accounts for at least some of the difference in balance.

Looking at the respective cores, it seems to me that Wharton covers macroeconomics, which Kellogg doesn't, as well as covering accounting in more detail and being a bit broader in marketing, operations and people management. The question is, how much does this matter to me? Well, much as the thought of macroeconomics doesn't make my heart leap with joy, I can see why it's included and think it would be useful to know. The same goes for accounting. Of course, I don't imagine there'd be anything to stop me taking electives in these areas at Kellogg. But I do ask myself whether I actually would (although that ball is in my court, not the school's) and also whether I'd prefer to be struggling along with other people in a compulsory core class rather than being with people who would likely have more of an interest in /aptitude for it in an elective.

When it comes to electives, while the courses aren't by any means identical there are lots of classes that interest me at each school, and there's not really anything where I think "I simply must take that class, and there's nothing remotely like it at the other school." The biggest difference is that Kellogg offers a non-profit management major, and Wharton doesn't. When I started out researching schools, that mattered to me, but as I've journeyed through the process, I've realised that it's not actually that important. I've got ten years of very solid experience in the non-profit sector, so I don't think I need a major to establish my credibility. In terms of actually looking to learn things, the areas I'm interested in that are covered at Kellogg are pretty much also available at UPenn, even if they're outside Wharton. The one area that isn't, looks to be the 'board fellows' opportunity, which involves being a shadow member of a Board for a year, but to be honest I don't think that's the kind of thing that actually needs to be a class and I'm sure I could find other ways to get that kind of experience. Another significant difference is that Kellogg structures its course so that you ge more opportunities to do electives in your first year, which they say gives their students an edge when it comes to securing internships. I can sort of see the logic in this, but I'm not sure how much it will actually matter.

The overall impression I'm getting is that both schools will enable me to get the sort of MBA education I'm looking for, but that Wharton maybe has the edge when it comes to balancing the breadth of the core with the depth of electives. I'm also increasingly thinking that Wharton's reputation for 'being all about the numbers' is a good thing. I'm used to taking an approach which seeks to balance quantitative and qualitative sides of a situation, while being aware that I'm naturally stronger on the latter. So combining Wharton's quant. with my natural qual., and a 'hard' focused core with more 'soft' focused electives could all work rather well.

Good heavens, I might actually be coming off the fence and starting to form a preference based on more than gut feeling.

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