Archive for March, 2008

Ask the expert: Does size matter?

March 13, 2008

Dear George,
I can’t decide whether I’m better suited to a large, full-range school, or if I’d be happier in a more intimate, smaller programme. What are the pros and cons?

Dear prospective MBA,
The first thing to say is that size (large or small) is not by itself an indicator of quality. The two oldest business schools in the world, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Tuck School at Dartmouth College, both in the US, respectively admit around 800 and 250 full-time MBA students each year, but both are generally acknowledged as “alike in dignity”.

However, as you imply, the effects of the size of an MBA programme on students’ experience can be considerable. Both large and small programmes have advantages and disadvantages.

The emphasis on personal interaction with other students and close involvement with faculty is one of the key factors stressed by smaller MBA programmes.

Small programmes are generally seen as providing the best class cohesion and collegiality of approach. Faculty and staff know all the students well and students get to know each other closely. A small cohort fosters cohesion and loyalty. It also produces a strong alumni network. This can be hard to achieve effectively with a large number of individuals.

On the other hand, a hefty student body can support a large faculty, allowing breadth and depth in teaching—especially noticeable in the choice of electives—and a large career services effort. This is not always the case with smaller programmes.

Large programmes also allow a wide range of student clubs, which are an important element of the student experience, and attract good guest speakers. It also makes a school more attractive to recruiters and gives a school a large and extensive alumni network.

It is also worth pointing out that large programmes are inevitably broken down into classes of around 60 students and much smaller groups for group working.

In the end, the choice is down more to personal inclination. And the only way to find out what suits you is to visit a school and see for yourself.

What the real experts—the people who run MBA programmes and admissions directors—say is that size should not be an overriding factor in making a choice about which business school or MBA programme to attend. The most important consideration should always be the quality of the teaching on offer and how a programme fits with your aspirations.

George Bickerstaffe.

If you have any advice for our prospective student feel free to post it below. If you have a question for George Bickerstaffe please email it to: AskTheExpert@economist.com

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