Ask the expert: Does size matter?

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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2 Responses to “Ask the expert: Does size matter?”

  1. Alex Says:

    I went to a small (by US standards anyway) b-school and I am still close to a significant proportion of my cohort, and I suspect that camaraderie is unique to smaller schools. But in terms of careers services that is a different matter. I would expect that larger schools see many more recruiters pass through their doors – It’s a simple numbers game for them.

  2. Otolorin Says:

    Sir,

    All circumstances will never be the same,the knowledge from the MBA is what is most important. I am in a small class of 37 peers and we really interact well enjoying the richness and diversity of cultures. Most of us in the class are already getting offers for jobs when we have not even started our second year yet, meaning that even graduating from a small school an employer out there would definately need your services if you are well baked. Even though the school you finished your MBA says a lot but you have to consider and balance the various factors involved, like financing the MBA and knowing the size of your budget, selecting the country and the enviroment, fulltime or partime program and so on. With a background in law, I can now understand what economists, accountants and finance experts do and understand because of the MBA.

    The balance is specific to each case.Good luck on your pursuit but I can tell you that the MBA is worth it anyday!!!

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