This is my MBA School Visits Trip Report.
See also pictures of a few schools, and my Duke page.
Schools in this report:
School Trip Report - You can skip straight to the part about the schools if you wish.
On November 16 (2003) my brother Ben and I left Nashville for Chicago, starting a 3200 mile trip to see several schools in ten days. Ben drove all the way to Chicago, then to Ann Arbor, Michigan, then part way to Cornell (Ithaca, NY). He drove other times too. THANKS BEN! As is the case with most road trips, we had a lot of fun and many frustrations, and it was an experience that I value.
We first visited my friends Bob and Martha in Chicago. They let us bum a night at their house. Their children kindly provided one of their bedrooms too. Because we arrived so late, I was only able to see the children very early in the morning, but at least we had that. THANKS FOR THE 5:30 AM LATTE MARTHA! The next day, we got an early start to the school's location within the city. That early start was actually required because of the traffic. But I arrived in time. On the following weekend, we stayed for three nights with Jamie and Jim (Jamie is my niece) in Connecticut. They were moving so it was perfect for me; I typically run four miles per day and hadn't been able to do so on the trip, so this was great. OK. Now for the schools.
First, it must be said that, while I have my preferences for certain schools, all are fantastic in their own ways, and I'd be happy to attend any one of them. For many meetings/events I forget the specifics, but remember the overall feeling and will reasonably convey as much as I can recall. Some pictures are on my web site (www.markrice.com) (See my Duke page for pictures of that school). The students seemed quite bright at ALL schools, and with one exception, the teachers struck me as very knowledgable, helpful, engaging, and at times entertaining.
My school choices are determined by my goals so they may not match a good school selection profile for you. My list was determined by (in order) entrepreneurial education, strategic technology (meaning, I want to know how to apply technology strategically), and a global perspective. I didn't simply choose the best schools for that goal. I chose a cross section, looking at acceptance rates too. For example, while Harvard and Kellogg would be great choices, Wharton and Sloan are slightly better for my goals, and I can't afford the slots on my list for equally selective schools. Babson is less selective and yet great for my goals. So it made the cut.
I place high value on a school that has very broad excellence. Partly because I want to be very competent even in areas that are not my emphasis, and partly because I hear that many students change their minds, changing their concentration. If this happens to me, I would rather be in a school that has a broad excellence.
WHY GO? I now have more of an emotional feeling about each school, and there were slight alterations in my perceptions in certain areas, but my choices haven't changed. So what was the benefit? Schools TRACK who goes and who doesn't. If the choice is between me and one who didn't visit, I will get the nod. For those applying, I highly advise a visit if possible - at least to the schools in which you have the most interest. That's a bit frustrating because I'd go to Siberia to attend schools like these, but the schools don't know that, so the trip was necessary.
The University of Chicago was great, as expected. I started with an information session held by a lady who had been with the school for 30 years. That amazes me. Her husband is a faculty member so she has many unique insights. Among other things, she described the program's size (its large) and subsequent benefits. Another information session followed with a student (first year) who gave good insights to his areas of interest. He was from a technical background which held interest for me. He knew some of the entrepreneurial aspects of the school and was willing to put me in contact with others. These two sessions somewhat heightened my respect for the school, but elevating it to any large degree was not possible because it's already one of my top picks. Significant others (SO) are a big focus, which is important to me. I went to a class visit next (finance) which was held by a person who is famous in that area. It was fantastic and activated my cerebellum <smile>. It really made me look forward to going to school.
The following session involved two students who talked with us over lunch. One was a first year, and the other was a second year. The first year was the most helpful to me and she also seemed to be the more serious. The second year student seemed to want to give answers that were surprising. He succeeded in being entertaining, but, on this occasion, I preferred a more informative approach. It was a bit unfortunate, because the lady had only been there for a few months. But it was still informative. My interview was last. It was held in a different building than expected, so I had to run for it. :-) But I arrived in time and she seemed very pleasant. We had a comfortable discussion. My perception was that it went well, but it's very difficult to say, partly because I want to be accepted very badly, and partly because, good interviewers are pleasant, whether or not they like you. So I must wait and see how it goes.
The campus is very pretty and the new MBA building looks like it will be fantastic. It will be ready for the 2004 school year.
Overall: This school has few real weaknesses that I can see, especially when the new building is available. The curriculum (important to me) is quite broad, flexible, and excellent in most every area. The clubs are prolific and students seem to be very interactive and bright. The student body is very international which is a big plus for me. Definitely a GREAT choice.
The University of Michigan is very impressive in offering solid training in most every area, much like the better known/more prestigious schools. The campus, while nice, is not as impressive as that of Chicago. There is great emphasis for significant others (SO) also, which means much to me. My guess is that all schools have a great SO program, but Michigan students raved about the participation of SOs. Maybe it's program is a notch above that of other schools. We started with an information session in the cafeteria over coffee (nice touch). The students seemed to be happy in general. The facilities are not quite as nice as those of Chicago, but they were still very adequate. There was generally no problem with finding locations to study and the network seemed to be good most of the time. The classes seem to be great. The one I attended was very insightful and, again, made me want to attend school. We went to lunch and talked with students, who were very positive in most aspects. We then had a campus tour. There is an impressive trading floor. They say it's unique, but I believe Cornell has one also. The clubs are praised by the students.
Overall: The only weakness seemed to be periodic facilities problems that were not too bad. The school seems to have very good teaching overall (prior impression, not newly gained on the trip). The student body is very international. The reputation is not as high as others, but I think it will be in the future.
Cornell University is in a beautiful valley that, while remote from large cities, has most anything one would need for two years of study. To be honest, that setting seems like a minor plus to me (in spite of air travel being a bit more costly than that of other locations). The safety factor outweighs concerns about being distant from other locations. The facilities are great. The relatively new building, Sage Hall, is very well equipped and housing seems to be plentiful. I expected dramatically lower housing costs, but, while they're lower, the difference isn't dramatic. The first class that I attended was a big disappointment. The teacher didn't seem to understand the students' questions and didn't explain things as well as I would have liked. The teacher didn't seem to have the confidence that other teachers had. When we went back to Admissions, I was asked if I liked the class and I had to tell them that I was disappointed. The lady in admissions asked who it was, and upon hearing the name, she nodded knowingly and said that they have had complaints, and the teacher was very new. One student that had been in the class entered admissions and offered to take us to another class. I jumped at the chance to attend another class because I knew that the first class could not be representative of Cornell classes. The second class proved that to be true. It was fantastic. This lady knew her material and homed in quickly on the students' questions.
The information session with two students was one of the more informative ones I've attended. It made me excited about Cornell's program. Of course, it helped that I already think that Cornell is a great fit for my goals. I had a great time.
Overall: There are few problems I see with this school. Like that of Michigan, the reputation is not quite as high as that of Chicago, but it seems to do most everything very well (although you definitely need to examine areas in which you're interested - I didn't investigate every area deeply). The facilities are above either Chicago or Michigan (although Chicago's new building may change that). There are many chances to be involved and start companies. The entrepreneurship program is excellent here, which is a big draw for me.
Babson College is in Boston and excels in one area: entrepreneurship. They are likely quite good in all other areas or they would not be rated 32 in Business Week's ratings. But entrepreneurship is their forte, and landed them the number one spot in US News' ranking of entrepreneurship programs for 11 straight years - very impressive. The entrepreneurial attitude is pervasive and impressive. I attended class first, and like most schools, everyone had a laptop and actively used it. The facilities were surprisingly good. The Olin Hall building was very modern and the entire campus seemed very well equipped (from what I saw). The teacher seemed very insightful and understood students' questions quickly. It was a bit surprising and disappointing that I was on my own for lunch. Throughout lunch, all the students seemed to be very busy, so I didn't try to engage one. My interview was after lunch and it seemed to go well. It was with a second year student who was amiable and answered my questions competently.
Overall: Facilities seem to be great and the entrepreneurial concentration is tops, including what I'd call corporate entrepreneurship and new endeavor entrepreneurship (not a huge difference, but I still see them as different). The core subjects are likely very competent as with many of the top 50 schools. The reputation is nowhere near those of the other schools in this report. One concern is if I changed focus in school (as I hear more than 50 percent do) and then wish that the other areas were as great as the entrepreneurship program. Even so, this is a very good school.
(Note: This section about Duke was added at a later date, after I attended Blue Devil Weekend.)
Duke - Fuqua is in Durham North Carolina - This location is a hot-bed of technology with the famous Research Triangle Park. Fuqua has a great advantage with this setting. It's a very livable place, and yet has a tremendous amount of high-tech and entrepreneurial opportunities. Duke also has excellent engineering programs, so there are opportunities to team up with others for entrepreneurial ventures. The students were very bright and they were helpful to a surprising degree. Like most programs, wireless access is available in just about every corner of the facility. The new Fox Center looks good and offers many locations to study. There is an espresso bar in the main area (gotta have my lattes). Overall, the facilities seem to be excellent. Furthermore, every Friday evening, Fuqua provides free beer and wine to students and faculty, which greatly fosters camaraderie. The class that I attended was very impressive. The international representation is very good. There are a few schools that seem to really promote leadership and involvement more than others, and Duke is firmly among those, along with MIT and Wharton - I'm sure there are others, but these were the ones that stood out in all my visits.
Overall: A truly great school where global perspective and leadership are pushed, and most areas are top notch. Entrepreneurship is not where it should be (with the exception of social entrepreneurship - that part is doing well). The facilities seem to be excellent. Judging by student comments to me AND BusinessWeek comments, the faculty is among the best. They have great relationships with the students and are very available. The only fairly weak point is entrepreneurship - and I hear it's improving, but one cannot choose according to that. (On the other hand, pushing independently is almost part of the definition of entrepreneurship, so, with available faculty, one should be able to overcome that weakness.)
MIT - Sloan is one of my all-time favorites from way back. The students were very bright and helpful. I learned several things about the program. The facilities seemed weaker than those at other schools. During the Ambassadors Program, the eatery that I attended was quite full, and some doors in the main building were not functioning well. It was relatively surprising. But even with those drawbacks, it still seemed very livable, and the computer lab was empty (and wireless access was available there too) so there should be no trouble finding locations in which to study. The support people were very helpful in trying to get my notebook on their net so I could check my email. The admissions people were very helpful for two separate issues that I had. The class visit was fantastic (Economics- Robert S. Pindyck) and certainly reached the scholarly level that I would expect. It's a bit frustrating though. I just wanted to be accepted on the spot, tell my wife to get on a plane and join me, and continue going to these awesome classes. :-) (After my interview, I will post pictures on my web site.)
Overall: A great fit for my goals because of the entrepreneurship offerings and the well-rounded program that would provide an excellent setting. The ties to rest of MIT are huge potential resources for any entrepreneur. The facilities should likely be better, but are workable. The scholastic level likely cannot be beat. I was and remain very impressed with Sloan and the international student body. If I could pick one weakness in my dream school, facilities is likely what I'd pick. Sloan has everything else.
The Wharton School's new Huntsman hall is probably the best facility I saw (I'd like to compare it to the new Chicago facility). It's large, and to me, it's beautiful (pictures are on my web site). The class visit was first, and was great! (It was Management of People at Work.) A student team put on a play, then a guest lecturer who had done work at General Motors. It was very informative, and yet again, made me want to begin classes NOW! <smile>. The lecturer discussed his experience working with the Toyota's NUMMI plant. The concepts were very interesting. I had lunch with a group, including about four Wharton students. A second year was particularly interesting to me because he is doing a program specially for international business. He's in the SAIS program but because of what he's told me, I believe that the Lauder program would be better for me. However, if I were rejected from Lauder and accepted at Wharton, the SAIS program would be a possibility. A separate class I had attended (on a different visit) was concerning technology in businesses and the teacher discussed what types of businesses used what kinds of technology. It was awesome. The Lauder Institute is a phenomenal option for those of us wanting an international education. Wharton alone has a student body that is about 40% international students. This aspect cannot be beat.
After lunch, we had a tour and an information session. The information session started with an admissions person who spoke very frankly which I greatly appreciate - no wasted time, just hard answers. However, most of the information I already knew. The tour was nice, but the learning from talking on the way was more important to me. There is a city ordinance that requires one percent of a building's cost to go into art. So there are many sculptures and decorations in the city, making for a somewhat unique look. The depth to which Wharton works with the community is evident in the local businesses. For example, there are several well known businesses that have the name of the school, but are influenced/run by well-known businesses like Barns & Noble and Marriott. It was interesting to see a well-known brand with the University of Pennsylvania shield displayed.
Overall: A fantastic school. It does everything at an excellent level and is very involved in the community. Entrepreneurship is excellent and should I change my mind, all options are open because of the school's breadth of excellence. The facilities are great. The only thing one might be able to pick out as a weakness, if you really want a weakness, is the size. Because it's large, some might need to be more active to not be "lost in the shuffle," but that won't be a problem for me. I will be active no matter where I go.
All are great schools. I hope to attend one of them. If you are curious as to future events in this saga <smile> you can keep up by visiting www.markrice.com.