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September 20, 2012

Location Matters: Chicago Booth Versus Northwestern Kellogg

Some thoughts on Kellogg's and Booth’s locations: A highly biased commentary on why location matters.
A former resident of Chicago and frequent visitor, I thought it would be worth doing a bit of comparison between these two business schools. You can find my analysis of Chicago Booth's MBA admissions essays for the Class of 2015 here. My analysis of Kellogg's essays is here.

Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Business has the good fortune to be located in one of the prettiest parts of Chicago. Unlike its neighbor to the south, the University of Chicago, Northwestern is located in the pleasant and safe suburban town of Evanston. If ever there was proof that location impacts an institution, the placement of both of these schools certainly is that. I first became aware of this contrast when my parents moved from LA to Chicago in 1986. Since that time, I lived in downtown Chicago for over a year, in Hyde Park for about six months, and have otherwise frequently visited Chicago.

The University of Chicago is an academic powerhouse located in a not so nice neighborhood with little to do in the way of fun except for buying books (Hyde Park has great bookstores!). Students at the University of Chicago either live around the campus protected by a large private police force or decide to move North. Many  Booth students live in downtown Chicago. I lived in Hyde Park and I can say that while I did go out at night, there was not much to do, especially once the bookstores closed. Chicago has many fine restaurants, but Hyde Park does not have them. Also, unlike the rest of a city well know for sports, the University of Chicago is not. As to bars, it has one good bar (there were two, but the other one, Cyril's House of Tiki, closed). The University of Chicago is an intellectually serious place and ideal for those who are looking for such an atmosphere. Personally, I like the atmosphere there and always enjoy visiting. One can find some social life at Booth. On my visits to Booth, I found it to be a friendly environment. Like the rest of the University of Chicago, Booth is a great place to study.

Northwestern University is located in an affluent community with a large number of bars, a wide variety of restaurants, nice shopping (but not for books!), and, just for the record, a great dog beach. Evanston is quite a pleasant place, but I never felt like it had the kind of serious academic atmosphere that one could find in Hyde Park, Berkeley, or Cambridge MA. It is too suburban for that. Northwestern, unlike its neighbor to the South, has a huge sports program (For more about that, see NUASports.cstv.com). With more to do, one can imagine it is harder to stay in the library at Northwestern than it is at the University of Chicago.

If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus. The place simply is filled with people who are great communicators, friendly, outgoing, and able to thrive in a socially intense environment. If you are not that kind of person, don't apply there. If you are, it will be heaven.  You will find yourself in a tight community and likely be engaged in it all or most of the time.  You will get to Evanston really well.  

If you go to Booth, chances are extremely high that you will commute to campus from downtown or farther North (One of my former clients had school age kids so he actually lived North of Evanston!). You will find have a great deal of control over who socialize with and where you do it. Unlike the Kellogg folks, chances are really good that you will end up knowing a lot about Michigan Ave., Rush Street, and the Gold Coast in general.  You will probably try to organize your schedule so that you can minimize the number of days you have to commute to Hyde Park.  Your sense of community will be as minimal or as rich as you elect to make it, but you will have to work at it one way or another.

So why does anyone apply to both of them?
I suspect for a long while except for people who lived in Chicago and just wanted to stay there, many people did not apply to both of them. Then three things happened at University of Chicago's B-School to change this:
1. Charles M. Harper Center opened in 2004. Suddenly Chicago’s B-school had one of the best MBA campuses on the planet. Previously it had been one of the worst.
2. The curriculum and admissions procedures started to change. Booth would go from being a pure quant classroom style place to a much more typical top MBA program where a variety of teaching methods could be used (new classrooms enabled that).  Instead of just letting in future quants admissions would try to get a diverse range of students.  
3. Chicago GSB becomes Chicago Booth and gets a ton of money that further fuels its transformation.
As a result of these changes, Booth suddenly started to attract the kind of people who apply to Kellogg.  Kellogg, for the record, did not really change much. Clearly they are trying to change now. We shall see how that goes.  

While there are still people who don’t like Booth, but love Kellogg or the opposite, I am finding an increasing number of clients who apply to both schools.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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