MBAnalysis Blog: Small Enough to be Big

In the last blog post, we discussed those schools that are “big enough to be small,” meaning that due to their overwhelming size there is always a group of like-minded people to come together around a shared interest or professional goal.

So if there is “big enough to be small” school is there “small enough to be big” schools. Here are some examples.

Think about what lunch looks like at a really big business school like HBS (~935 per class), Wharton (~850), Columbia (~750 students), Chicago Booth (~600 students). It looks like high school, with every group eating together at their own tables: the jocks with the jocks, the geeks with the geeks (aren’t they all geeks?), the engineers with the engineers, the African-Americans with the African-Americans, etc. At big schools it is far too easy to stay involved with people just like you, and maybe never leave your comfortable group.

Conversely, think about what lunch looks like at some of the small schools like Tuck (~281), Haas (~240), and Olin (~140). Basically, everyone is eating lunch together, all mixed up, group-independent. In fact, one of the things that most impressed me when I visited Tuck (which I ended up not going to) was lunch – there was this great mix of everyone just hanging around together.

What does this mean in real terms, amazingly, you are likely to know more people, have closer friends and deeper relationships at a small school rather than a big school. As noted yesterday, at a big school you’ll know some folks from your section and maybe a club or two. There are enough people like you, so you don’t have to go out and meet any others.

At a smaller school, you will almost certainly know your whole class. My MIT Sloan class was around 400 and I left there essentially knowing everyone. Maybe it was just me, but it clearly it is also a result of the class size.

When it comes to recruiting it is basically the same thing, with the added wrinkle that some schools just send more people to industries because of the nature of who they are. You want to be an investment banker at HBS, Wharton, or Columbia – take a number. In a class of ~1000, you are competing with probably a couple of hundred of your classmates.

You want to be an investment banker coming out of IU Kelley (class size ~186), or UNC (class size ~281), you are competing with maybe 20-30 of your classmates. A number that the career center and alumni network can engage with fully. IU Kelley and UNC are going to try their darndest to get you to Wall Street. And they succeed: 11 percent of UNC students went into investment banking – that is a lot of students for any school.

Similarly with consulting, McKinsey makes its stop at IU Kelley just like at bigger schools, only there they actually sit down and talk with the students. I know the difference: when McKinsey comes to Cambridge they interview Sloan students and HBS students together.

Essentially, buses arrive at both campuses simultaneously and drive the ~500 of all of us to a hotel. It is like a cattle call: we all stand in line, give them our resume, and have our 5-minutes to introduce ourselves, and then out the door. Would I rather have recruited at IU, easy answer… yes!

As with yesterday, my point here isn’t that small is always big and big is always small. Rather it is to highlight that the advantages of a big school or a small school are not as straight forward as you think. Sometimes, like in relationships and recruiting small is actually big; while sometimes, like in finding “your people” and sharing interests with others, big can be quite small.

Now it is up to you to decide what you want big and what you want small, and don’t go by the numbers alone.

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