Face Off: Columbia vs NYU Stern

Columbia MBA applicationThe school selection process for MBA applicants can seem daunting. With so many highly ranked business schools, how can you decide which one is right for you? In SBC’s new blog series Face Off, we’ll tease out the strengths and differences between two similarly ranked b-schools. Plus, we’ll highlight noteworthy elements of their admissions processes. Now up: the Columbia MBA application versus the NYU Stern MBA application.

We have former Admissions Officers from CBS and NYU on our team. Thanks to them for the thoughtful advice below.

How do the admissions processes differ between the two schools?

Each Columbia MBA application submitted usually passes through three rounds of internal review.  An admissions officer does the initial read-through. Next, a more senior admissions officer conducts a second read. Then, if both agree on the decision, it likely stands. If they disagree, it usually goes to committee. The assistant dean approves them all, but definitely trusts the readers. Not everyone goes to committee.

An MBA application submitted at NYU Stern School of Business is typically reviewed in two rounds. Rounds one is by an admissions officer, and the second read is by a senior director.  Applications rarely receive more than two reads. Unlike with the Columbia MBA application process, NYU Stern doesn’t have a formal “committee” that meets to discuss cases.

Do both schools have a strong advantage, being located in one of the world’s best cities?

Columbia MBA applicationNew York City’s urban business setting is definitely an advantage for many career paths, including finance.  At both Columbia Business School and NYU, accessibility to recruiters and world-class industry experts/professors is unparalleled. The advantage is relative though. Here again, it’s all about fit. In recent years, our clients have pushed career goals more towards technology and consulting, less finance.

Programs such as MIT, Stanford and Berkeley Haas likely have a location and recruiting advantage for a candidate interested in tech. So, the New York advantage isn’t 100% for many industries outside of finance.

Both Columbia and NYU are highly-ranked, so how else should prospective MBAs judge the schools?

We see that applicants almost always prioritize reputation in selecting between CBS and NYU. Brand strength is signaled by relative ranking across the major media publications, including U.S. News and World Report. CBS typically ranks in the top 5, whereas NYU usually ranks between 5 and 15 among US MBA programs.

If one’s career path shows competitive rigor/leadership, complemented by strong GPA/ GMAT, the applicant will usually pursue CBS via its early decision round and consider NYU as a back up choice.  Deciding which program to prioritize requires an honest self-assessment of MBA candidacy strength.

Aside from rankings, MBA applicants will turn to criteria such as: student culture, specialized programs and, when available, scholarship offers.

Student culture

Admission trends in the recent season for NYU Stern show more flexibility with admit profiles, and this has delivered benefits to the quality of the student class. For example, we see NYU Stern more willing than CBS to accept a candidate whose employer is lesser recognized and/or whose GMAT isn’t as high.

NYU Stern MBA application

The upside of this relative flexibility by NYU Stern is that the program tends to attract a down-to-earth, humble student class. “Any sign of competitiveness or arrogance was a turn off,” according to a former Stern admissions officer who works at SBC. “We also were sensitive to those ‘leaders’ that were pushy or always needing to lead.”

Specialized programs/ recruiting

Choice between NYU and CBS can be driven by the fit with particular programs.  NYU’s new one-year Tech MBA and Fashion & Luxury MBA programs draw interest from specialized candidates.

Media, tech, and retail are seen as stronger at NYU than CBS.  CBS is the only top US full-time MBA program to offer a January intake through its accelerated program.  This option is attractive for Columbia MBA application candidates eager to matriculate asap (Jan is earlier than Sept intake), such as those who are already farther along professionally.  Acceptance rates are higher for the January intake of the Columbia MBA application than for the fall intake.

visit the campus

While historically, CBS’s January intake didn’t offer a summer internship, the program is now incorporating changes to offer professional experience concurrent to coursework. Both NYU and CBS have been trying to move away from being a ‘finance’ school and more toward a non-traditional school (e.g. social impact, tech, entrepreneurship). But each specializes in different ways.


One lesser known fact that we wish MBA applicants would prioritize: NYU is more generous than CBS with scholarship offers for highly desirable candidates.  The Columbia MBA application has an ED deadline with binding deposit. Therefore, there’s less incentive for CBS to offer scholarship money to encourage yield. CBS, through its ED deadline, does not need to lure a candidate away from accepting another school.

In the past season, we saw almost double the scholarship value from NYU relative to CBS. Notably, Stern offers more full tuition scholarship than CBS. These are data points for applicants to full time MBA programs who received scholarship concurrent to admit notification.

Do employment outcomes differ between the two schools?

CBS has slightly higher placement into consulting and finance over NYU. Notably, last year NYU had 10% more placement into investment banking than CBS.  Likely this occurred because many CBS admits already had banking exposure pre-MBA. The typical finance-minded NYU admits, meanwhile, seek to go into banking after the MBA.

NYU had more placement into areas that reflect the specialized programming at the school, such as Entertainment, Media, Tech and Retail.

What are the top reasons to go to Columbia?

columbia business school MBA essay tips

  • Prestigious Top 5 ranking consistently over time, which reflects in caliber of student class
  • “C-Suite speakers comparable to an HBS without being as high in the rankings. For instance, the CEO of Anheuser Busch International went every year to speak in a class, same with McKinsey,” says a former CBS Admissions Officer and Stacy Blackman Consultant.
  • International brand recognition, in part afforded by Columbia’s name as an Ivy League institution.
  • CBS student leadership outside the classroom: people who give as much as they take away.
  • Accelerated January intake program option for full-time students

 What are the top reasons to go to NYU?

NYU MBA application

  • Luxury retail and entertainment media specialized programs, courses, faculty etc
  • Big name professors, particularly in retail, media and finance
  • “NYU student class culture: strong focus on EQ/IP skills both in the admissions process and in the student class, ” says a former Stern Admissions Officer and Stacy Blackman Consultant. It’s a culture without arrogance or pretense.
  • Quality MBA education with comparable recruiting to top 5 MBA programs, with somewhat more flexible admissions process at this time. Candidates with potential (even if not clearly proven yet) can get a great education through NYU.
  • Give NYU another 1-2 years and you’ll see it ranked closer to CBS. It is undervalued at this time and accessible to those who otherwise couldn’t be competitive for top 5 MBA programs.
  • Specialized one-year programs


We hope this deep-dive comparison between the Columbia MBA application and NYU MBA application has given you helpful intel as you make your school selection decisions this season. Finally, please leave any questions you may still have in the comment section below. Stay tuned for more Face Off posts to come!

NYU Stern image credit: Flickr user Peterskim, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Wharton, Columbia CBS and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Erin, who has over seven years of experience working across major institutions, including University of Pennsylvania, Columbia Business School, and NYU’s Stern School of Business.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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