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Executive MBA Programs: Columbia Business School vs. NYU Stern

The EMBA at Columbia Business School vs. NYU Stern

New York City is a heaving, breathing, dynamic center of arts, culture and big business. If the state of New York were a country it would rank as the 11th or 12th largest economy in the world, based on its GDP in 2015 and as reported by Newsweek in 2016. Feeding the state and the city's inexorable clout are some of the world’s best-known names in banking, finance, consulting and media.Two of the strongest influencers in US business are also harbored comfortably within this hub, namely; Columbia Business School and the NYU Stern School of  Business.

The inaugural QS Global 100 EMBA Rankings by Region placed Columbia and NYU Stern's executive MBA programs in the top 10 of the North America leader board. With both schools sharing the same city and elite status, what are the key factors that distinguish each executive MBA program offering? Here are some differences to take note of, drawn in part from data supplied by QS’s EMBA rankings.

How elite?

Columbia Business School - Uris HallColumbia Business School, in fifth position, is four places ahead of NYU Stern in QS’s 2017 EMBA rankings for North America. One reason the Ivy League school gains this higher recognition is its performance in the Global Employer Survey, on which 25% of an EMBA program’s ranking score is based. Columbia is ranked fourth among North America’s executive MBA programs, ahead of NYU Stern's position in eighth. The employer survey indicates an institution’s strength as a preferred source for MBA and executive MBA recruitment. 

This is not to say that Columbia is better across the board however. Yet, in the same breath, it's hard to ignore the school's magnetism when speakers in their various speaker series include names such as Warren Buffet (an alumnus), Henry Kissinger, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates and Ratan Tata.

Nevertheless, the tables do turn in the Global Academic Survey results, a survey which stands as testament to an institution’s academic strength and informs a further 25% of the overall score in QS’s EMBA rankings. NYU Stern ranks sixth among executive MBA programs in North America here, two places ahead of Columbia. The quality of NYU Stern's academic excellence is under little doubt – three Nobel Prize winners in economics are on the faculty, as well as professors such as Edward Altman, famous for the development of the Altman Z-score for predicting bankruptcy.

For candidates considering applying for an executive MBA at either school, the fees at Columbia Business School are currently listed at US$196,200 for those enrolling in its classes beginning in May 2017, August 2017 or January 2018. Fees for the coming year are yet to be published online by NYU Stern, but were US$184,600 for the classes that began in August 2016 and January 2017.

The executive MBA experience

An executive MBA candidate considering either of these schools will first have to look at their work timetable. The Columbia Business School executive MBA program has different formats, allowing candidates to opt for their preferred schedule, be it taking classes every Saturday, every other Friday and Saturday or even in five-to-six-day-blocks held once a month. NYU Stern, meanwhile, offers a 22-month program with classes every other Friday and Saturday, beginning in either January or August.

Once enrolled, you will be thriving as part of a community of peers, be it at NYU Stern's bohemian Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan, or Columbia's Business School's location in Morningside Heights, Upper Manhattan. Each university will have its established network of well-connected alumni across the city. As such, classes in a month of Fridays are likely to be peppered with lectures from top financiers, bankers or entrepreneurs, taking time out to share their expertise, even at lunch break.

In terms of class sizes and composition, they do differ quite considerably. NYU Stern limiting itself to cohorts of 60 students as a maximum, and a typical class consists of senior professionals with an average of 14 years of prior work experience. Columbia Business School, meanwhile, enrolled 144 executive MBA students in its Friday/Saturday class of August 2015, although these are divided into two clusters (candidates are told to expect to study in cluster sizes of between 30 and 70 students). Students in this EMBA class at Columbia held an average of 12 years' prior work experience before joining the program. Insofar as diversity, around three in 10 students are women at both institutions. Four in ten members of a typical executive MBA cohort at NYU Stern are international, versus around a quarter of students at Columbia Business School.

Both institutions teach the essential core EMBA courses and offer a vast array of electives and specializationswith which students can build and tailor expertise.

Post-executive MBA career outcomes

Be it at Columbia or at Stern, the opportunities you will have made available to you, because it's New York, and because you are a student at a top-tier business school will be countless - the key is to take them. The largest employers in the city will include banks and corporations, such as PwC, Deloitte, and Goldman Sachs – each of which have headquarters in New York.

Salaries a year on from graduating are relatively similar for executive MBAs from both institutions – calculated for the purposes of the QS Global 100 EMBA Rankings by Region 2017, the salary uplift for executive MBAs at Columbia is 39%, a single percentage point higher than that calculated for EMBA graduates from Stern. The slight difference in the seniority of a typical Stern cohort could explain why their salary uplift is marginally less when comparing their pre to post-EMBA salary.

Lastly, the schools' alumni networks: Columbia Business School says it has 44,000 alumni worldwide in its MBA talent pool, encompassing MBA and EMBA graduates. NYU Stern, for its part, draws candidates’ attention to an overall alumni network (all programs, presumably) of over 100,000. While an international network of highly placed contacts is undeniably important, however, in the case of two such prestigious and renowned schools, one group is unlikely to hold any real advantage over the other. Both schools can offer prospective students an excellent education through their executive MBA programs and valuable contacts, especially within New York City. Choosing which business school is best is a subjective decision that needs to be based on preferences; how international or intimate you want your class to be, for example, where you want to be situated, who is in which alumni network, members of faculty you might be keen to study under, and so on.   

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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