SBC’s Legendary “Smackdown” Series: Program Intel for Wharton vs Columbia Business School


2024 versus 2021: What has been changing?

Admissions: What does Wharton seek?

Admissions: What does Columbia seek?

Application Essays, Tips & Candidate Evaluation

Admitted to Both, How to Decide?

Admissions Stats, Demographics & Class Size

Jobs, Pay and Employment Location


Program Options




Program Focus & Innovation

Teaching Methods

Alumni Network



Hailed as “100% spot on for both schools, a remarkable piece and one of the best comparative stories,” you won’t want to miss out on this Columbia vs. Wharton smackdown. There are important differences between Columbia (CBS) and Wharton that we analyze throughout this smackdown. We highlight the advice from two former Stacy Blackman Consulting clients who received admits to both Wharton and Columbia and how they navigated their admit decisions and optimized their b-school experiences.  We worked closely with the former CBS and Wharton Admissions Officers on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team. Finally, we reviewed this with Executive Directors and Admissions Officers at both MBA programs and incorporated their insights, perspectives and advice.

If you get an invite to attend either of these two business schools, you are an exceptional person with huge upside potential. Otherwise, Columbia and Wharton would have dinged you. Both programs consistently rank in the top seven. The business education is comparable; accounting, finance, marketing are all basically the same principles at both Wharton and Columbia.  


2024 versus 2021: What has been changing?

Here are the three areas that are evolving, since our last smackdown update in 2021:

1) Renewed MBA curriculum including emerging issues, such as Artificial Intelligence, sustainability, value investing, social enterprise and the future of work. 

2) Salary for recent MBA graduates has increased by about $25,000 to about $175,000 annually, which is up from about $150,000 average salary in 2021. 

3) Both Columbia and Wharton increased the number of students who identify as US Minority, women and international.  Wharton increased women representation by 9% to 50% currently and CBS increased women representation by 3% since 2021, up to 44% currently. Wharton increased international representation by 12% since 2021 and is up to 31% now, whereas CBS has always been strong internationally with 47% now, up from 44% in 2021.

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Admissions: what does Wharton seek?

We asked the former Wharton Admissions Officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team to profile what Wharton seeks. Their consensus is:

Wharton is looking for proven work experience from employers, spanning traditional or niche fields, because that predicts recruitability (aka “exit opportunities”) upon MBA completion. A strong resume marked by increasing career trajectory and quantitative proficiency are essential.

Current Wharton Admissions Director Blair Mannix comments, “The Admissions Committee is looking for candidates who will contribute to all aspects of Wharton life.” Beyond your credentials and experience, being an active part of the community during and after the program is important.

We asked the former Wharton Admissions Officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team what Wharton does not want. Their consensus is:

People who quit their jobs to focus on applying to business schools. Too much job jumping is also frowned upon. 

Wharton’s Admissions Director Blair Mannix added clarification, “We’re okay with people moving jobs, but we need to see the purpose of the move in their resume and essays. Longevity is important to us, but if a candidate has moved around because they’re looking to change industries or functions and are getting incremental experience with each role change, it is helpful to see where the applicant is going and why the MBA may be the key to their pivot.” 


Admissions: what does Columbia seek?

We asked the former Columbia Admissions Officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team to profile what Columbia seeks. Their consensus is:

With Columbia, it really is a holistic approach. Top Columbia focus points for application include: involvement outside of work/classroom and leadership or potential for leadership. They want to be certain that you’re going to fit into its tight-knit community and super involved student life. Logical and attainable career goals are important as well.

We asked the former Columbia Admissions Officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team what Columbia does not want. Their consensus is:

Columbia is very turned off if an applicant has not taken the time to get to know the school.

Both Wharton and Columbia prefer to avoid the stereotype that they are a finance school, because they each feel they offer so much more than that. Lastly, they also want to know what the applicant is going to give back to the student community; they want people that will give as much as they will take away.


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Columbia’s Kravis Hall


Application Essays, Tips & Candidate Evaluation 

The Wharton and Columbia essay prompts are similar; each application requires thoughtful responses about career goals and the applicant’s professional journey. Beyond that, both programs also expect applicants to address an essay prompt that is holistic, about fit with and contributions to the program and the applicant’s personality and character. For example, Columbia’s last essay prompt is about a favorite book, movie, or song. Sample Wharton essays from successful admits and sample Columbia essays from successful admits are instructive to applicants. 

There are application differences between the programs. Columbia offers a traditional 1:1 interview, whereas Wharton has a group interview, called the team based discussion. “The group interview is definitely a primer for the energy prospective students will step into on campus from day one.”  The Wharton group interview is there for a reason, and the reason is to weed out folks who clearly can’t play well with others. Wharton’s Admissions Director Blair Mannix echoes this priority, “Because much of the coursework is team-based at Wharton, we want to make sure that 1) the candidate gets a feel for the environment and 2) we can see if the environment will be a fit for them.”

A past Stacy Blackman Consulting client, who was admitted to both Wharton and Columbia, chose Columbia.  The client shared about the differences between the application essays and process, “The applications are very similar in that both schools are very career-goals oriented. They are acutely interested in what your short-term and long-term career plans are. The main difference is the interview process. Columbia has an interview with an alumnus, an admissions officer, or a current second-year student. The applicant will not know who their interviewer will be until close to the Zoom interview. Wharton has their group interview, which is much more distinctive and requires more preparation.”

Another past Stacy Blackman Consulting client, Christina Jiang, who was admitted to both Wharton and Columbia, shared her insights on the two applications. She ultimately picked Wharton over Columbia. She shared, “The application process for Columbia and Wharton were not too dissimilar. Both had essays that were typical MBA-style asking you to look into how an MBA will help you in your career goals in the next 3-5 years. Columbia had 2 additional essays that focused on its unique position in New York City and a more ‘behavioral interview’ style essay. The biggest difference in the application process I felt was the fact that anyone applying to Columbia has to be appreciative of the fact that it is in New York City. Having lived in NYC for 8 years at that point, I already loved the city, and I could tell that the Columbia application process wanted to see if candidates would notice and appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of going to business school in one of the greatest cities in the world. Additionally, the Columbia application process really valued networking and getting to know current students or AdCom.”

A recent Columbia admissions officer who now works on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team shared, “My best advice for the application is just to be yourself! The Admissions Committee wants to get to know YOU, not someone you think the AdCom wants to see. Be as specific as possible in your application and show that you’ve taken time to get to know the program.”

She added, “Review your essays and make sure you are actually answering the questions asked. When I worked at CBS Admissions, my favorite applications were always the ones that had great essays where it was clear that the applicant was really being their authentic self.”

Columbia Business School

Admitted to Both, How to Decide?

We asked double admits for advice on how to pick between Wharton and CBS. 

“I think business school is a very personal decision. There is no one-size-fits-all formula to make a decision, but I would recommend admits reflect on what is most important to them and crucially attend welcome/admit weekends before committing. For example, I knew that because I missed out on a ‘campus’ experience having gone to NYU for undergrad, I wanted a business school experience that was more focused on a campus or part of town (most Wharton MBAs live in the Rittenhouse Square area). Additionally, I am pretty extroverted and want a very social experience, which Columbia also has, but having visited Wharton for Welcome Weekend, I felt that the social culture at Wharton was more suited to my personality,” shared Christina Jiang.

Another past client, who chose CBS over Wharton, took a more analytical approach in advising future admits on how to make the choice between the two programs. He advised a three-pronged approach around recruiting, school experience and internship:

  1. “Recruiting: I think if students are seeking a very traditional path, such as consulting or investment banking, there is little difference in placement at the schools. For those looking to do private equity or VC, Wharton is definitely better. For public market investing, I think Columbia is better (or at least as good).”
  2. “School Experience: If students are looking first and foremost to have fun, travel, etc. from business school, Wharton has an advantage in that classes are more relaxed from the get-go, while at Columbia, the first semester tends to be more work-intensive. However, this creates a real culture of camaraderie at Columbia.”
  3. “Internships: One of Columbia’s big advantages is the ability to do internships during the school year to figure out what you really want to pursue. For students who are very undecided between career choices, that can be a big help.” 

Why did you choose Columbia over Wharton?

A recent graduate of CBS, who was admitted to both programs, shared a few reasons why he chose CBS over Wharton:

  • I wanted to be in New York City. Being here gives you access to unparalleled speakers, great internship opportunities, and really simplifies the networking process because you can easily hop on the subway and go meet with someone from a company you’re interested in. 
  • I am interested in equity investing, and Columbia is extremely well-known for having arguably the premier Value Investing program in the world.

Why did you choose Wharton over Columbia?

“I think although ‘rankings’ matter, business school is a very personal decision. For me, culture + location were two big factors that helped me choose Wharton over Columbia. I’d spent my entire adult life in NYC at the time, and since I actually wanted to meet new people in business school and not be tempted to hang out with my friends in New York, I felt like it was best to move to a new city where I didn’t have as many strong ties. I liked the fact that Wharton was actually in a “smaller” city compared to New York, so there was more opportunity to bond with classmates,” shared Christina Jiang, who chose Wharton over Columbia.

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Admissions Stats, Demographics & Class Size

Both Wharton and Columbia attract exceptional talent to their schools and are highly selective as a result. Wharton says no to roughly eight out of every ten applicants, and had an acceptance rate of 14% for the Class of 2025 (students who entered the program in 2023), which dropped from 23.1% for the Class of 2022. Wharton and Columbia are comparable with test scores and GPA, although both averages have slightly increased over the years; for example, Wharton’s Class of 2011 had an average GMAT of 718 and average GPA of 3.5 compared to the current average of 728 on the GMAT and 3.6 GPA. 


Class of 2025 Admission Stats



(January 2023 and August 2023 Entrants)

Average GMAT 728 730
GMAT Range ?? 620-790* 610-790
Average GRE 162/162 not available
Average GPA 3.6 3.5
*GMAT scores are based on the Classic edition, which has been replaced by a new score range for the next application cycle. Selectivity rates are estimated.


Surprisingly, the largest single chunk, 40% at Wharton, have undergraduate backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences. You’d expect to see far more math and engineering folks here because of the school’s strength in finance. Instead, you get a sizable group of poets, which was at 42% at Wharton over a decade ago. That’s almost double the humanities representation of the Columbia student class.  Where Columbia is lower in humanities-trained students, it compensates with business/ econ student backgrounds:


Undergrad Degrees Wharton Columbia
Humanities/Social Science 40% 17%
Engineering/Math/Sciences/Technology 33% 27%
Business/Economics 27% 55%


Columbia is one of the largest two-year, full-time MBA programs in the world, with a total enrollment of over 1500 students–not including more than 500 additional Executive MBAs as of fall 2023. Still, it’s smaller than Wharton’s 1,751 full-time MBA students. In fact, only one other top school enrolls more full-time MBAs than Wharton: that’s Harvard Business School, with 1,871 students. 

Columbia has managed to increase its women student population over the decade, raising it from 34% a decade ago to 40% in 2021 to 44% today– that’s fantastic improvement.  Both schools are now comparable with women representation.   Minority student representation is estimated, because it is reported in many different ways, but Wharton has increased from 17% in 2021 to 20% today.


Enrollment Stats Wharton Columbia (As of fall 2023)
Total MBA Enrollment 1,751 1,512
Women 50% 44%
International 31% 47% (2023 Entrants)
Minority (of US Origin)* 40.5% 43% (2023 Entrants)
* Estimated. For Wharton, minority/students of color (including Asian American, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx and Indigenous students) are at about 40.5%. Excluding Asian American students, this 20% estimate reflects Wharton’s stats. For Columbia, the 43% is the percentage of US citizens or permanent residents who identify as Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian/other pacific Islander

Jobs, Pay and Employment Location

Both programs have comparable salaries of around $175,000 on average upon employment with a bonus of around $30,000. When it comes to pay, employment rate and placement, both schools provide solid on-ramps to lucrative MBA jobs, as you can see from their career placement reports.  

Wharton Employment Report

Columbia Employment Report

By industry, Wharton places into financial services at a rate of 37%, which is just over finance industry placement for Columbia of 35.7%. If you want to work on Wall Street, an investment management shop, or a global financial services firm, getting your MBA punched at either Columbia or Wharton is as close to a guaranteed ticket to entry as you could ever get. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan-Chase, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse overflow with Wharton and Columbia grads.

Tech/media is 18.2% at Wharton and 12.8% at Columbia (Technology, Media, Entertainment, and Sports), although the differences are negligible because media,  fintech, entertainment & sports are accounted for differently between the stats. 

Another surprising difference in outplacement data is that Wharton is far more dominant with US-based recruiting with 91% compared to US-based recruiting for Columbia of 86%. Placement to Asia at Wharton is 4.6% while 4% at Columbia. 2% of the graduating 2023 class took positions in Central and South America at Columbia. 

Wharton’s consulting outplacement rose from 24% in 2021 to 29% in 2023. Tech outplacement decreased from 16% to 13.5% in the same timespan at Wharton. International outplacement at Wharton dropped from 13% in 2021 to 9% in 2023.


Industry: Class of 2023 Jobs & Pay Data Wharton Columbia
MBAs employed 3 months after commencement 92% 81%*
Consulting Industry 29% 36%
Financial Services Industry 37% 36%
Tech Industry 13.50% 10.8%
Health Care 5.40% 3%

*91% employed as of year end


Location: Class of 2023 Jobs & Pay Data* Wharton Columbia
Northeast Location 48% Not Available
West Coast Location 20.50% Not Available
Southwest Location 4.60% Not Available
South 5.20% Not Available
Midatlantic 8.70% Not Available
Midwest 3.80% Not Available
International 9% Not Available

*Columbia’s representative shared that the program doesn’t track geographic placement to this level for its graduates.


Both programs have tried to diversify away from finance in the last decade. Both are aiming to capture an identity as a school that supports innovation and entrepreneurship.  Both programs are hubs for Big 3 management consulting. The career services at both programs are definitely built for mature recruiting at big companies. 

Both schools have relatively new deans who follow exceptionally longstanding previous deans (Geoff Garrett and Glenn Hubbard).  

Dean Maglaras’ vision for CBS encompasses “the effective marriage of management fundamentals with data science and analytics,” which “must be central to any modern business education.” Dean Maglaras’ own background is rooted in stochastic modeling and data science. He adds, “Whether working at a bank, consultancy, insurance company, non-profit organization, startup or established technology company, today’s leaders must be able to lead teams that can leverage technology, data and powerful analytics to drive decisions, add value, and positively impact business and society.”  

A former Wharton Admissions Officer on the Stacy Blackman team shared: “Former Dean Garrett set the tone at Wharton when he said that the disappearance of many current industries and ideas would be inevitable. He used optometry as an example of a field that won’t exist in 10 years as an example of the radically changing job market. That idea aligns with sending more students through the management consulting funnel, where they can gain broad expertise in several fields without having their skill-sets become irrelevant.” 

Current Dean Erika James joined Wharton in July 2020, following her tenure as dean of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Trained as an organizational psychologist, Dean James is a leading expert on crisis leadership, workplace diversity and management strategy.

“Wharton full-time has a semester in San Francisco (SF) option that can be perfect for students who want to take a less traditional career building approach and spend some time out West, and the students out there drive a lot of their own career services efforts (and are successful doing so). It would definitely be worth considering discussing the value-add of the SF semester in an application if a candidate has entrepreneurial or start-up career goals–along with the caveat that SF study is an application-based program, with academic performance as part of the evaluation,” shared a former Wharton Admissions Officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

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Wharton and Columbia are big-city schools with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with that. Typically, schools in large urban settings tend to have more intense and competitive cultures. It’s easier to escape school in a big city than it is in a college town or rural setting. 

While cut-throat competition may be exaggerated at Columbia, some may think that Columbia’s environment is more competitive given its location in New York. A former Columbia MBA Admissions Officer on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team shared about culture, “A key aspect of the program is becoming involved on campus and immersing yourself in the Columbia community. The students work wonderfully together; it’s not the cutthroat place that some imagine when they think of an NYC school.” 

A past Stacy Blackman Consulting client and recent CBS graduate shared, “People from the outside often think of Columbia as having less of a tight-knit culture because it’s in NYC, but I did not find this to be the case at all. While you do get some Columbia students who live far away from campus and don’t fully immerse themselves, the vast majority of people do fully immerse themselves. Most students move near the Upper West Side and there’s a great culture of doing fun things around NYC. I’ve also really enjoyed the extracurricular experience.”

It’s still possible a greater sense of community exists at Wharton, if only because the campus is compact and contained, and you’re more likely to know a larger number of your classmates. Christina Jiang, who chose Wharton over Columbia, shared, “Student culture at Wharton is extremely social, which I love. I think business school is all about being open to meet people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, etc. and in pre-COVID times, there were social events pretty much every single night for any club or activity you can think of. The student class is one of the largest of the top business schools so there is no shortage of social events and everyone is really outgoing and willing to take the lead to set up small group events or large group events involving the entire class (for example, 2Ys do a class trip to a beach location at the end of their last quarter).”

“Wharton is a hyper-social environment. From day one, there is constant activity and a never-ending social calendar that extroverts will love, introverts with strong social skills will navigate successfully (finding a balance that works for them), and introverts without social graces would find stifling,” shared a former Wharton MBA Admissions Officer who now works on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.  

Wharton’s Admissions Director, Blair Mannix, added that its student community embraces a range of personality styles. “Wharton has implemented an Advising Support Network (ASN), where introverts and extroverts alike are advised on how to make the most of the time at Wharton, from student life engagement to academics, career planning and leadership. Students are also given the opportunity to connect with a mentor to assess their social, academic and networking goals, as a part of their extra-curricular plan.”

Program Options

Columbia is the only top US full time MBA program that also offers a January intake for its full time program- the accelerated program.  This option is attractive for candidates who are eager to matriculate asap (January is earlier than the September intake), such as those who are already farther along professionally. Acceptance rates are higher for the January intake than for the fall intake.  While Columbia’s January intake historically didn’t offer a summer internship, the program is now incorporating changes to offer professional experience concurrent to coursework. The January intake admissions cycle is rolling, so the earlier you submit your application, the sooner you will receive feedback, even as early as July.

“The January intake is an incredibly interesting opportunity for aspiring MBAs to pursue a full four-semester MBA, and finish the degree in just 16 months. For those applicants who may want to pursue a deep-dive into Columbia’s Global Family Enterprise Program, or explore a new innovative partnership with classmates through the Lang Center for Entrepreneurship, the J-term provides the perfect path to focus on academic excellence while accelerating the pace of the traditional two year program. Another bonus of the J-term is the richness of diversity, with over 60% of the J-term class traditionally coming from outside of the US,” shared Amanda Carlson, former Assistant Dean of Admissions at Columbia Business School.

Both Columbia and Wharton have an executive MBA (EMBA), although Wharton has the advantage of having a second location in CA. Both have deferred admissions programs for college seniors, and neither program has part time options. CBS has a Friday/ Saturday option as well as EMBA Global which is a partnership with London Business School (LBS).


CBS’s Dean Cosis Maglarasas, Guest Lecturer



Wharton arguably has a better perceived brand globally and rankings reflect its reputation over Columbia. In recent years, the trifecta of HBS, GSB and Wharton is a common round one focus for candidates, as we see from 100s across our client pool at Stacy Blackman Consulting. A few years ago, the elite candidates were only applying to HBS and GSB. Wharton has found its way to the trifecta.  Columbia isn’t quite at this level by perception; but, fit is everything. 

Wharton comes out on top over Columbia on every major ranking out there. The school’s rankings almost always put it among the top five business schools in the world whereas Columbia comes in below that. Interestingly, across the Stacy Blackman Consulting client pool, we consistently see a high demand for Columbia, comparable to top 5 MBA programs.


Poets & Quants 2023 Poets & Quants 2022 Poets & Quants 2021 Poets & Quants 2020 US News 2024 US News 2023 US News 2022 US News 2021 US News 2020
Wharton 31 1 3 3 1 1 2 2 1
Columbia 4 7 7 7 12 8 7 8 6



“Columbia Business School applicants are drawn to the location and the opportunity to successfully pursue any career you could imagine (what can’t you do in NYC?),” shared a former Columbia Admissions Officer who is now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team. Columbia Business School is the quintessential big city university. Its location in New York, the business, financial and media center of the world, brings the school massive benefits: a living laboratory of markets and businesses, an endless supply of well-qualified adjunct teachers, and more visiting executives who gravitate to its classrooms to speak and lecture. 

A former Columbia Admissions Officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team shared, “Columbia offers 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.” The school estimates that it gets more than 500 guest speakers a year on campus. That is a networking opportunity that is unique. “Something that applicants may not know is how well Columbia connects students with the surrounding city (and the world). There are various immersion programs students can take as electives that allow them to spend time in class with their classmates and professors, and also spend time off-site doing corporate visits around the city (and globally),” shared a former Columbia Admissions Officer who is now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

There are few cities in the world that are as alive, exciting and dynamic than New York. The drawback to Columbia’s location is also obvious: As one student put it, “It’s easier to get a little lost in New York, to feel a little less rooted if you’re from outside the area, and to be a little more anonymous.” 

Wharton’s location in the heart of Philadelphia makes it a train ride away from either New York or Washington. With the sixth largest population in the US, Philadelphia is a great, compact city, with world-class restaurants and cultural attractions. Most students who attend Wharton have never been to Philadelphia and are usually pleasantly surprised by the city’s livability, walkability and, as a large city, affordability.

Kravis and Geffen Hall at CBS


Columbia Business School has officially moved to its new home in Manhattanville, marking Columbia University’s most significant expansion in over a century. This new campus, covering 492,000 square feet, provides a state-of-the-art learning environment that nearly doubles the space of its previous location and embodies the future of business education. With innovative designs fostering creativity, collaboration, and communication, the campus also features a 40,000-square-foot public park and retail spaces, deepening its connection with the West Harlem community.

“The opening of our new Manhattanville campus represents a transformative moment in our history as an intellectual center for discourse, discussion, and debate about business and society,” says Costis Maglaras, Dean and David and Lyn Silfen Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. The campus is designed not just to enhance educational experiences but also to engage with local entrepreneurs, artists, and the broader public, promoting new business opportunities and expanded public life.

Wharton, on the other hand, has some of the best business school facilities in the world. The B-school campus is composed of nine buildings on and off Locust Walk, the brick-lined pedestrian thoroughfare at the heart of Penn. The buildings are closely clustered around the area of campus known as the Wharton Quad, a great meeting place and hub for students. Jon M. Huntsman Hall is home to both the undergraduate and graduate divisions of Wharton. It’s a gorgeous world-class building of 320,000 square feet, designed around Wharton’s cohort learning model. This building alone boasts 48 classrooms, four computer labs, 57 group study rooms, four floors of faculty offices, a 300-seat auditorium, student cafes and study lounges.

Tangen Hall at Wharton

Blair Mannix of Wharton’s MBA program shared, “Recently, we opened the Wharton Academic Research Building and Tangen Hall, the new home for Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship. The Wharton Academic Research Building is a central hub for data and analytics. The building has 4 floors of multi use space including two floors of classrooms, multiple group study rooms, permanent space for some of Wharton’s research centers, and more shared conference rooms. It’s located just off of the Quad. Tangen Hall features a Venture Lab, test kitchens, street-level storefront popup retail space for student ventures, a virtual reality environment, and more. It is located just blocks away from the heart of campus.”

Tangen Hall at Wharton

Even more enticing at Wharton is their West Coast campus, which is the hub to Wharton’s Executive MBA program on the West Coast. “Wharton San Francisco also has learning opportunities that allow full-time MBA students and undergraduates to experience the Bay Area and the Silicon Valley ecosystem.” Wharton full-time program has a semester in San Francisco option.

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Program Focus & Innovation

The most common misperception about Wharton and Columbia is that they are finance schools. While it’s true that Wharton and Columbia boast superb finance faculties and course options, these schools are more like department stores with widely diverse offerings than they are finance boutiques. 

Wharton, for example, claims to have more elective courses than any other business school in the world, nearly 200 across 10 academic departments (not including courses you can take elsewhere at the University of Pennsylvania). But we asked a former Columbia Admissions Officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team and she clarified, “At Columbia, you can take whatever electives you want—and out of about 400, more than any of our peer schools, there are certainly plenty of options that you will want to take.”

Interestingly, Wharton opens a door to allow its students to work with faculty and administration to develop new courses, and they often partner with faculty and businesses on individual advanced study projects. Taking five courses in a field qualifies you for one of 20 listed majors at Wharton, including such narrow fields as health care management and environmental and risk management.

Given Wharton’s large faculty base spread across ten academic departments, the School can apply a multi-faceted lens to emerging issues, such as Artificial Intelligence. Academic coursework examines AI in our lives, AI in business and society, and optimization methods in machine learning. Additionally, the new AI at Wharton center supports research and programming, including AI hackathons, conferences on the future of work and executive education programs. 

Columbia Business School has made significant strides in integrating sustainability into our curriculum and research, with initiatives like the Tamer Institute for Social Enterprise and Climate Change and the Open Climate Curriculum. These efforts equip their students with the knowledge and skills to lead on climate change and drive sustainable business practices.


As Artificial intelligence revolutionizes the business landscape, Columbia Business School is staying at the forefront of this transformation. One example is through their Digital Future Initiative, which is a key part of a strategy to promote leadership in AI and data analytics. This initiative helps organizations, governments, and communities understand and leverage digital disruption. Electives in the MBA curriculum are designed to prepare students for the digital future, with courses focusing on AI, data analytics, and digital business strategies.

Columbia is no slouch in offering up specialty areas of study. There’s also a private equity focus and a “value investing” focus, the latter with a curriculum of eight courses alone, from “Legends in Value Investing” to “Distressed Value Investing.” A “media” focus boasts 26 courses at Columbia’s schools of business, film, law, journalism, international and public affairs, and arts and sciences. You can even do deep dives on such specialized areas as “social enterprise” or “healthcare and pharmaceutical management.” 

With a full-time faculty of 152 plus over 100 adjunct professors, Columbia offers extraordinary flexibility. So does Wharton with its staff of more than 235 faculty members. “Columbia’s faculty is so great and approachable. I managed our class visit program, which presented a great opportunity to work closely with some of our faculty members,” shared a former Columbia Admissions Officer who is now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

Teaching Methods

Both schools offer up a variety of teaching methods, from case study to lectures and team projects. There’s really no major difference in the classroom approaches at Wharton and Columbia, though the more flexible classroom space at Wharton offers the opportunity for more experiential opportunities. Wharton says that case studies make up about 35% of the work, team projects account for 25%, and lectures take up 20%. 

Alumni Network

Wharton claims the largest alumni network of any business school in the world: 105,000 alums in 152 countries. That figure includes Wharton’s sizable undergraduate output. It’s a sure bet that wherever you are in the world, however, you’ll find Wharton MBAs or even a Wharton Alumni Club to use as a networking base. 

Columbia alumni are fully entrenched in the financial, media, and business world of New York which essentially means that alums are a powerful and influential bunch. Of the more than 52,000 alumni, a figure that includes EMBAs, you can find a Columbia connection anywhere in the world.

Check out our other MBA comparisons here.   For details on MBA program application deadlines, check out our comparison chart here.


Request a free MBA advising session with Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help with your complete MBA applications. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.


Updated in 2024 , reprint from Poets & Quants


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