Wharton vs Columbia MBA: Detailed Comparison (2018)

UPenn's Wharton School vs. Columbia Business SchoolAlthough Wharton has a slight advantage over Columbia in terms of history and reputation, the demand from our readers to do a detailed analysis allowed us to dig deeper into 8 comparison factors: location, ranking, cost, funding, incoming class, curriculum, experiential learning, and post-MBA opportunities.


Columbia Business School is located in Manhattan, New York City(NYC). The City is number 1 in the US and the world in terms of GMP and attracts professional in Banking & Finance, real estate, advertising, media, and retail.

Wharton School is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Although Philadelphia is 4th in the US, and 8th in the world, in terms of cities by GDP, the newly evolving service and IT industry will soon replace the Financial industry as a leading contributor. Choice of location depends on your post-MBA industry and the trade-off between the cost of living and lifestyle.

Wharton vs Columbia Location Comparison

Living in Philadelphia means cheaper rent, restaurant, and consumer goods. Despite the cost advantages, the purchasing power is only 5% higher than New York - a hint of the higher PayScale an NYC-based MBA candidate earns and the influence of the investment banking industry.

Cost: New York > Philadelphia

Purchasing Power: Philadelphia > New York


Wharton Columbia MBA ranking comparison

According to US News Business School ranking, Wharton is #3 while Columbia is placed at a distant #9. Columbia couldn’t balance the deficit in the Economist Full-time MBA rankings. The difference is maintained in Financial Times Global MBA ranking where Wharton is at #3 and Columbia at #7.

The ranking methodology and sample size determine the ranking of MBA programs and Business Schools. Rankings on Business Schools and Full-time MBA programs put Wharton ahead of Columbia by 5 points (average ranking).

Ranking: Wharton > Columbia

Wharton vs Columbia MBA Cost

The recommended budget for one year in Columbia is $110,914, and for Wharton, it is $119,000, but on adding the transportation component of Columbia which is not included in the budget, the total two-year cost for Columbia is $1,000 more than Wharton Full-time MBA at $224,528.

Cost: Columbia Full-time MBA > Wharton Full-time MBA

Incoming Class

Wharton MBA Class Profile Columbia MBA Class ProfileThe enrollment rates are similar at both Wharton and Columbia with Wharton attracting 500 more applicants last year. The competitions to get into the programs are high with the former attracting candidates with GMAT Score (middle 80%) in the range of 700-770 while the latter received applicants who scored in the 690 to 760 range.

The international candidate representation is 10% higher at Columbia. Wharton is ahead when it comes to accepting Women candidates – inching closer to the 50% mark; a trend we have seen in top 10 MBA programs in the world.

Both the MBA program attracts applicants in the 27-28 age group with 5 years of experience.

Columbia accepts a large percentage from Humanities, Social Science and Economics background (42%) against Wharton’s 41% - the majority of which are from Humanities. On the STEM side, Wharton accepts a higher percentage of candidates while Columbia is ahead by 5% in accepting candidates from Business.

MBA candidates from the Consulting background was similar with Wharton taking on a 4% lead, while PE/VC and Non-profit/govt candidates found Wharton a better program.

Columbia too had its favorites attracting 6% of the class from Real Estate – a direct influence of New York City.

Both the program attracts Finance professionals. Investment Banking, PE/VC, and Investment Management attracted most of the candidates.

Wharton MBA Undergraduate DegreeCandidates from Financial Services background in Columbia at 36% and Wharton at 33% indicate why the Full-time MBA programs are the most sought-after program for the Quant heavy applicants.

GMAT: Wharton > Columbia MBA

GPA: Wharton > Columbia MBA

International Students: Columbia > Wharton MBA

Women: Wharton > Columbia MBA
Non-profit/Govt Background: Wharton > Columbia MBA
Consulting Background: Wharton > Columbia MBA
PE/VC Background: Wharton > Columbia MBA
Media/Marketing/Entertainment Background: Columbia > Wharton MBA


Columbia follows the traditional route when it comes to the core curriculum with courses in Managerial Economics, Corporate Finance, Business Analytics, Financial Accounting, Operations, Strategy, and Marketing added to the 10-month core.

The core courses at Wharton is divided into fixed and flexible core. The mandatory core is covered in just 6 months with a focus on leadership and communication alongside developing the fundamentals of microeconomics and marketing.

On leadership, Columbia is not behind as the course - Lead: People, Teams, Organizations is a primer on persuading and motivating the team to achieve productivity and strategic goals.

Wharton has recognized the need for flexibility at the core itself, but to avoid missing out on the foundational knowledge, the team has come with a unique plan. The courses categorized under the 8 themes of the flexible core need not be taken in full. Candidate can choose any one course from each theme without any requirement that they have to be completed in the first year itself. This offers MBA students the flexibility to pursue skill development in their preferred post-MBA industry and function, before coming back and reinforcing their learning through the flexible core.

Flexibility (Core): Wharton > Columbia

Wharton vs Columbia MBA Electives

The elective range offered at the two MBA programs are similar (200+). Columbia MBA provides a wider array of elective theme, diverging from the standard – Marketing, Retail, and Entrepreneurship, into themes that are valuable in a post-MBA function - private equity, Decision, Risk and Operations, Leadership and Ethics, and Healthcare.

Wharton has a traditional elective theme that favors the popular post-MBA job functions: Consulting, Financial Services, and Marketing. The difference is in the number of majors – 19 in total, helping applicants develop niche skills for a diverse post-MBA career.

Breadth of Electives:
Wharton > Columbia

Students also have the option to take up to four courses from Penn’s 11 schools:  Annenberg School for Communication, Graduate School of Education, Law School, School of Arts and Sciences, School of Dental Medicine, School of Design, School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Social Policy & Practice and School of Veterinary Medicine.

Columbia pushes the access to the University further by encouraging students to choose from 4,000+ graduate-level courses and dual-degree programs.

Access to University courses: Columbia > Wharton MBA

Experiential Learning

Global Immersion Program (GIP)

At Wharton, the GIP is an elective program that introduces students to business leaders, government officials, and Wharton alumni in an international location. The objective of the program is to get an overview of the economic, cultural, and geopolitical factors that influence the Global Economy.
Columbia Full-time MBA program has separated international study tours from Global Immersion program by requiring that students have a deliverable at the end of the trip. Both the program has designed the immersion to widen the student’s view of global Businesses and find first-hand the challenges of running a Business in a different culture.

On the number of destinations, Columbia is a far superior choice.

Global Immersion Program (Value): Columbia MBA > Wharton MBA

Columbia MBA NYC Immersion vs Wharton MBA Global Modular Courses

Wharton makes up for the limited destination in the immersion program with the Global Modular courses, which is an 8-13 course collection conducted internationally in collaboration with partner schools in Brazil, China, India, Israel, Italy, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.  As part of the course, students must visit the client location, work with locals and collaborate with the Wharton undergraduate and EMBA participants. The teamwork and international perspective bring a multifaceted view on solving complex Business problems.

In addition to the Global Modular courses, for those Wharton MBAs who want to experience social impact, the Wharton Global Impact consultants project and Field Action projects are two additional avenues to solve interesting unstructured problems and experience the impact of a consulting engagement.

Columbia MBA’s selling point is the NYC experience. The strategy is reflected in the Immersion program that the school has to offer. Luxury brands, Technology, Real Estate, healthcare and Media/Tech are some of the popular NYC Immersion programs for 2018 spring with Leadership, and Government & ethical choices the two function-based themes designed for the experiential learning program.

Diversity of Experiential Learning: Columbia MBA > Wharton MBA

Post-MBA Opportunities

It all comes down to the median base salary. Wharton MBA is ahead by $5,000 but the total median salary is exactly the same ($150,500).

Entrepreneurship is not the preferred path for both the MBA programs as only 2-4% start their own Business or continue in Entrepreneurship after the MBA program. Employer-sponsored students are represented close to 10% at Columbia MBA, indicating the attractiveness of the program for career enhancers (mostly from Finance).
Now comes the specifics of the industry.

Management Consulting was the largest represented group for both the program (close to 1/3rd of the class) with the median base salary touching $147,000. New York’s strength in Media was represented in the latest Columbia MBA placements where close to 16% chose the industry despite below median base salary.

Preparing students for the Financial Services industry is what made the program attractive for  most students to both the program as close to 35% of the class choose the industry. Among the sub-industries, Private equity/VC placements were higher at Wharton MBA (8.2%) while Investment Management (13.7%) attracted more interest at Columbia MBA. Both the program had equal standing for Investment Banking/Brokerage (13-14%).
All the traditional powerhouses in Consulting (PwC Strategy &, AT Kearney, McKinsey, BCG and Bain) Finance (Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch) and Technology (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Samsung) recruited at Wharton and Columbia MBA.


Wharton MBA Funding vs Columbia MBA FundingMerit-based scholarships are not available at Wharton, but fellowships on nationality, need and merit, totaling over 20 are available for the full-time MBA program.

13 Need-based scholarships at Columbia MBA program does not require a separate application, except a preference for funding to meet the tuition fee and other expenses during the program.

Notable among the need-based scholarships is the Lord Irvine A.S. Laidlaw ’65 Scholarship that benefits 100 full-time students (first and second-year students) from 20 countries, every year, helping 10% of the class with limited means but unlimited ambition an equal footing to be part of the prestigious Columbia Full-time MBA program.

In 2015, Lord Laidlaw announced a $2M scholarship, with $1M allocated to fund 10 students ($100,000 each) through the Laidlaw Centennial Scholarship Challenge Fund in the form of current-use scholarships. The remaining $850,000 is utilized for the Laidlaw Scholarship Fund and the $150,000 to encourage students to take part in the Global Immersion programs.

For candidates with a flair for teaching and research, Columbia Business School has the option for students to join the professors as a Teaching assistant, apply separately for Research Assistant posts and even offer tutoring services on subjects where they have excelled. The hourly rates for the tutoring services ranges from $30 to $50 depending on the number of students in each class and the hours required for the course.

Although Wharton consistently ranks for supporting Military applicants, Columbia is challenging the position, driven by the new scholarship funds, apart from the Yellow Ribbon  program and financial assistance from the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The Pat Tillman Foundation Military Scholars program needs special mention as the Foundation in addition to awarding $10,000 each, opens up opportunities for the scholars to take part in international conferences, and develop vocational skills while completing their full-time MBA program.


It is a close fight, but when it comes to the diversity of industries and the class, Columbia MBA is ahead.

On Finance sub-industries, both the program offers near equal opportunity with Wharton preferred by PE/VC and Columbia MBA by Investment Management candidates.

Median Base Salary: Wharton MBA > Columbia MBA
Total median salary: Wharton MBA = Columbia MBA
% receiving signing Bonus: Wharton MBA > Columbia MBA
% entering Entrepreneurship (continuing): Columbia MBA > Wharton MBA
% Career Enhancers: Columbia MBA > Wharton MBA
% Private Equity/Venture Capital: Wharton MBA > Columbia MBA
% Investment Management: Columbia MBA > Wharton MBA

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Define Post-MBA Goals
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Comprehensive MBA Research Guide:
Top MBA Programs by 19 Specializations:
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+ Top MBA Program Ranking
Top 20 MBA Programs - Tuition Fee  
Top 31 MBA Programs in United States – Total Cost & Salary

Top 60 MBA – GMAT and GPA (Average & Median)
Top 20 European MBA Programs - Tuition Fee, Total Cost & Salary    
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Top MBA Destinations Based on Happiness Index    
Top MBA Destinations based on Innovation Index    
Top 10 MBA Job Markets based on Cost of living and Purchasing Power    
Top MBA Destination: By Economy    

+Comparisons - Top MBA Programs
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Haas vs. Ross MBA    

Kellogg vs Ross MBA    
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+ MBA in France (2018)
Top Industries in France   
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  Class Profile   
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Scholarships in France
External Funding 

+ MBA in the UK (2018)
Top Industries in the UK   
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  Class Profile   
  Post-MBA Salary

Scholarships in the UK
External Funding 

New Visa Rules: Post-Brexit

+ Germany: Industry Trends, Post MBA Jobs and Salaries (2020) (NEW!)
  • Manufacturing  
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  • Post-MBA industries (German Top Schools)   

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