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Getting An MBA In One Of The Most Livable Cities In America

·17 min read

Downtown city skyline view of Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA over the Schuylkill River and boardwalk

We don’t put much stock in those often-published lists of cities ranked by everything from affordability to livability. After all, most of them are hastily prepared exercises in clickbait for Google’s search engine.

But the latest execution of Outside magazine’s 20 Most Livable Towns and Cities In America got us thinking. If you wanted to spend a couple of years (and maybe more) in an ideal location to study in a highly ranked MBA program in the U.S., where would you go? The list, recently published by Outside, is a pretty good place to start, particularly if you are searching for MBA programs in the most multicultural American cities that are inclusive, green, affordable, and offer ­socioeconomic and cultural diversity.

Among the 20 named cities on Outside‘s list, there are at least a half dozen that offer excellent MBA experiences in attractive cities for all the reasons above. In five cases, no less, these schools’ MBA programs routinely rank in the Top 25. And there are several surprise destinations that help to put a spotlight on a few of those hidden gem MBA programs that can sometimes get overlooked by starry-eyed MBA applicants who put too much focus on the schools at the very top of MBA rankings.

Piedmont Park in Atlanta, with the cityscape skyline of urban city skyscrapers downtown

Atlanta, Georgia

Outside Take: “If you haven’t been to the South’s largest city in a few years, you might not recognize it. From the expansion of the Atlanta BeltLine, which will soon be a 33-mile path that connects 45 neighborhoods in the heart of the city, to a $5 million investment in 20 more miles of protected bike lanes, this bustling metropolis is banking hard on livability and open space. And that’s just the start of one of the largest urban green initiatives in the country. The 280-acre Westside Park will open this October, eclipsing Atlanta’s central Piedmont Park by some 100 acres.”

“The Melting Pot of the South.” That’s one description of Atlanta – to go along with “The Hollywood of the South” and “Silicon Peach.” At its core, Atlanta is a city rich in history, steeped in commerce, and open to all. Prospective MBA students have not one but two great study options in Atlanta: Emory University’s Goizueta Business School and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Both schools offer excellent Top 25 MBA programs, with Goizueta’s ranked 22nd on the latest Poets&Quants composite list, and Scheller at 25th. Scheller, literally across the street from Technology Square. known as “Tech Square,” is located across the Downtown Connector and embedded in the city. Opened in August 2003 , the district was built over run-down neighborhoods and has sparked a revitalization of the entire Midtown area.

“Atlanta is a vibrant city,” says Siva Prasad Kalimuthu, who joined Goizueta’s Class of 2023 this fall. “The concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the city opens a lot of opportunities for MBA grads. Forbes ranked Atlanta as one of the top 5 cities poised to be a Tech Mecca. The networking prospect during the MBA itself would help students integrate early into the tightly knit tech-business community. Personally, I am attracted to the idea of attending the Startup Chowdown at the Atlanta Tech Village. It is a weekly gathering of innovators, entrepreneurs, and the likes.”

You’ll find no disagreement from Suzy Livingston, a Florida native who is in Scheller’s Class of 2022. “As a non-Georgia native, I can unbiasedly confirm that Atlanta is a fantastic place to live and learn,” she adds. “I have enjoyed getting to learn from company leaders and business professionals in Atlanta such as UPS, Delta Air Lines, and KPMG. Being in Atlanta also provides many opportunities to work directly with businesses in the area through internships or classes like pro-bono consulting. Besides enjoying the Atlanta weather, I really like how diverse the city is. My friends and I have loved hiking, trying out local restaurants, and hanging out at Piedmont Park.”

When it comes to the bottom line, ROI on an MBA investment, Emory and Georgia Tech post-employment reports that are among the best career outcomes of any business school in the world. This year 99% of Emory’s MBA Class of 2021 had received and accepted job offers three months after graduation. At graduation, 91% of the class received a full-time offer. Both marks represent the best employment rates in the school’s history. It’s not just the placement rates — it’s the money, too. Goizueta reports that this year’s MBAs earned an average starting base salary of $134,700, up $4,588, or 3.5%. Over the past four years, Emory MBA salaries have grown nearly $14,000. Moreover, Goizueta’s 2021 MBAs saw a bump in signing bonuses as well, with the class average growing to $29,151 from $28,076 in 2020.

It’s a similar story over at Scheller, which saw 97% of the MBA Class of 2021 obtain employment within three months of graduation, better than even pre-pandemic figures. Perhaps more importantly, the school announced that every Scheller MBA graduate who was seeking employment is now employed or has an offer. Alongside favorable employment rates, Scheller has seen a rising number of MBAs land highly sought-after consulting and high-tech jobs; in 2021, those industries accounted for 58% of Scheller MBAs. Meanwhile, the average base pay for the Class of 2021 was $123,843, continuing a multi-year trend of consistent increases – over 20% in the past 5 years.

“Once again, Scheller MBA graduates achieved a remarkably high level of employment – but more importantly, in virtually every case our graduates joined one of their A-list, target companies,” says Dave Deiters, executive director of the Jones MBA Career Center. “Scheller is fortunate to enjoy continued recruiting relationships with so many premier companies. It’s a great formula: world-class MBA students and world-class employers coming together!”

A view of downtown St. Paul in the morning with still water from the Mississippi River from the High Bridge.

St. Paul, Minnesota

Outside Take: “With 26 miles of Mississippi River waterfront, the thriving state capital has always had beautiful bones, with distinct neighborhoods and ample greenspace. But its first Black mayor, Melvin Carter, is making impressive strides in building a city that, in his words, “works for all of us.” Increased investment in equitable and dispersed parks, immigrant and refugee resources, and outdoor programming for adults and youth of color are making it easier for everyone to get outside.”

The best bet for MBA prospects who want to feel that St. Paul vibe? It’s the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in sister city Minneapolis. The Twin Cities, as they are called, is a great place to live and learn. Ullas Pathak, who came from India to join Carlson’s Class of 2022 of MBAs immediately bought into the place as a major attraction. “I was really excited about Carlson due to its location in the Twin Cities Area, headquarters for more than 15 fortune 500 companies, and the exposure it provides to create a balance between the corporate and academic world,” he says. “The Twin Cities area and community within has multiple engagement avenues for cross-functional collaboration for the betterment of society and personal development.”

With a full-time MBA program ranked 35th best in the U.S. by Poets&Quants, Carlson is among the schools that is most connected to its corporate neighbors who are highly supportive of the school and its graduates. Professors leverage those connections well because the most distinct part of the program is the 15-month experiential learning experience that every student must undertake. The “enterprise” experience — in one of four areas such as brand, consulting, ventures, and funds — accounts for one-sixth of an MBA’s entire workload. Students are placed in small teams managed by both a professional and academic director and put to work on real problems with local companies. Carlson MBA candidates interested in finance or investment management, for example, can help manage a student-run mutual fund with $50 million in assets from actual clients.

Even last year, in the midst of COVID-19 which caused nightmares for recruiting, Carlson reported that 88% of the MBA Class of 2020 had found work by graduation, same as the year earlier, and 90% by three months afterward, only a slight decline. Salaries, bonuses, and negotiated vacation time all were up. And in perhaps the school’s most remarkable achievement, in a season of rescinded summer jobs, 100% of Carlson’s Class of 2021 MBAs accepted internship offers. — particularly for recruitees — in spring and early summer, 88% of the MBA Class of 2020 had found work by graduation, same as last year, and 90% by three months afterward, only a slight decline. Salaries, bonuses, and negotiated vacation time all were up. And in perhaps the school’s most remarkable achievement, in a season of rescinded summer jobs, 100% of Carlson’s Class of 2021 MBAs accepted internship offers.

Downtown city skyline view of Philadelphia Pennsylvania USA over the Schuylkill River and boardwalk

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Outside Take: “Philadelphia might have a reputation for being an industrial city full of rowdy sports fans who exclusively eat cheesesteaks, but those who only see the grit are missing all the green. The quantity of space devoted to parks and recreation is impressive. Not only was the city designed to draw residents outdoors as far back as the 17th century, but it continues to build on that legacy. Two miles northwest of City Hall along the Schuylkill River’s banks, 2,050-acre Fairmount Park is a conservation triumph, established in the 1800s to protect the city’s primary water source. It’s composed of hardwood forest, serpentine creeks, and more than 50 miles of trails.”

Think Philly, and you have to think Wharton. Every large, urban MBA program gets tagged as “cutthroat.” That includes the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In the heart of Philadelphia, the Wharton School has long been the largest full-time MBA program in the United States with 916 students in the Class of 2022 alone. The business school can trace its roots back to 1881, an Ivy that emerged as a finance and management powerhouse. With that come the usual stereotypes: stuffy, entitled, judgmental. Funny thing is, you won’t find those types roaming Huntsman Hall. That’s because the Wharton School weeds those candidates out early in the application process. Instead, they favor applicants who possess a rather unique skill set: respect, flexibility, persuasiveness, and humility.

Ranked third best behind only Stanford and Chicago Booth by Poets&Quants, Wharton may have the reputation as the best school for finance but it is far more than that with superb faculty in virtually every single discipline from marketing to general management. According to business school deans and MBA directors, in fact, the MBA program ranks among the elite in nearly every possible concentration: Finance, Marketing, Real Estate, Analytics, Entrepreneurship, General Management, International Business, And Operations.

After two years of steady gains, the median salary for Wharton MBA graduates remained flat at $150,000 last year, according to the school’s just-published 2020 employment report. That’s a big change from last year when Wharton’s 2019 graduates had reported significant gains in median salary, a $15,000 bump from $135,000 in 2018 to the $150K mark.

But while salaries remained steady in a coronavirus-plagued year, Wharton’s overall employment rate dipped a bit. Of 681 graduates seeking employment, 637 received a job offer three months after graduation, for a rate of 93.5% — down four and one-half percentage points from 98% last year. Some 91.6% reported accepting a job offer, also down from last year’s rate, which was 93.0%. Those are still terrific outcomes for a great school during a difficult year.

Bicyclists along the lakeshore in Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

Outside Take: “With Lake Michigan at its doorstep and more than 8,800 acres of green­space, Chicago is well provisioned for outdoor recreation, especially if you’re an urban cyclist. Over 300 miles of bike lanes give the Windy City plenty of two-wheel cred, although unmet promises for new paths have irked residents for decades. That’s finally about to change. This spring, mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a five-year, $37 million plan for dedicated bike lanes. The initiative’s latest feat, the Navy Pier Flyover project, connects the north and south legs of Chicago’s famed Lakefront Trail and routes cyclists and pedestrians above and away from road traffic, connecting 18 miles.”

Prospective MBAs have two choices in Chicago: the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in Hyde Park and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in nearby Evanston, Ill., a 30-minute drive down Lake Shore Drive or the Edens Expressway to the Windy City. In the latest Poets&Quants‘ ranking, Booth’s MBA program came out second best behind only Stanford, while Kellogg’s MBA experience earned fifth place.

Booth is often referred to as a “data-driven” or “evidence-based” MBA program – a place where data is used as the starting point to formulate questions, frame issues, identify trends, pinpoint possibilities, and drive decisions. Sure, MBAs will encounter poetic case narratives filled with bumpy narratives and flawed protagonists. At its core, Booth is non-fiction journalism – facts vetted by sources – with data sets used to define, connect, predict, and measure what is often complex and contradictory.

Booth often promotes its program as a “Flexible MBA.” Forget a mandatory core that sucks up most of a first year. Here, MBAs are required to take a mandatory, student-led course called LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Development), which examines the fundamentals of communication and teamwork. From there, first-years pick one course each from three areas: statistics, microeconomics, and financial accounting. After that, they are free to study whatever they want.

Over at Kellogg in Evanston, the strength of the individual is measured by their ability to elevate the whole. In fact, MBAs can expect to attend over 200 team meetings by graduation, exposing them to a wide range of personalities, work styles, and roles. In other words, they are rehearsing the same interpersonal skills in the same team environments they’ll face at the next level.

“People talk in terms of collaboration and working in teams,” explains Dean Francesca Cornelli in a 2020 interview with P&Q. “The way I think about it is that we produce people with empathy and the ability to inspire others. When disruption comes and you have a great idea, you need to convince the people around you, your colleagues, your team or your investors that your idea is worth investment. You can’t do a good idea alone. You need money or talent or other things. How people influence others is so important to learn.”

Sacramento, California

Sacramento, California

Outside Take: “As skyrocketing home prices turn people away from many California cities, Sacramento stands apart as a relative real estate bargain. Sure, the state capital doesn’t have the outdoor cachet of smaller regional destinations like Auburn or Nevada City, but its location near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers (the latter is hugged by a 32-mile parkway) makes for easy-access recreation. Local stewards and nonprofits are working hard on the accessibility of these spaces. The city plans to connect its 450 miles of hiking and biking trails to create a regional network of 800 miles spanning five neighboring counties.”

Just a short drive away from Sacramento, the state capitol of California, the Graduate School of Management at the University of California’s Davis campus is also close enough to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley so students can benefit from the tech ecosystem. and Apple, Intel, and Hewlett Packard are Northern Californian neighbors with operations in the Sacramento region, after all. Proximity to Napa is also enticing for those with a taste for the wine biz. Its small full-time MBA program is ranked 47th best in the U.S. by Poets&Quants. In a recent analysis by U.S. News, however, it ranks among the top 12 U.S. programs with the highest return on investment for recent graduates earning more than $100,000.

A key element of this MBA is four Industry Immersions, which ensure that MBAs get cutting-edge insight through live case studies presented by senior executives. MBA and graduate students from other disciplines collaborate to develop compelling solutions to the problems posed by the executives. The interdisciplinary immersions offer field seminars, alumni mentorships, specialized internship and career placement, and networking opportunities. Students can choose from immersions in several areas that are well represented in the region and draw on UC-Davis’ research leadership, including food/agriculture, sustainable energy, biotechnology, and technology finance.

Austin, Texas, has a great music scene

Austin, Texas

Outside Take: “Austin doesn’t need to prove its outdoor credibility: 19 state parks, 313 city parks, and over 17,000 acres of greenspace have long made it the adventure capital of Texas. But when it comes to the equity and accessibility of these spaces, Austin has some work to do—38 percent of inner-city residents don’t live within walking distance of a park. In 2020, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) spent $47.8 million to, among other things, upgrade 15 existing parks to make them ADA compliant.”

In Austin, a prospective MBA’s best bet is the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, whose MBA program is ranked 20th best in the U.S. by Poets&Quants. The big news at McCombs has been the opening of Rowling Hall in 2018. A 497,500 square foot marvel in downtown Austin, Rowling Hall provides students with access to the city’s bustling startup culture. The ‘Silicon Hills’ region itself consistently ranks the 10-best in the country for entrepreneurship according to outlets like Forbes and CNBC, thanks to its business-friendly regulation and taxation – not to mention deep reservoir of tech expertise and Fortune 500 might. That doesn’t even count the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” vibe – a call that combines the area’s forward-thinking spirit with its no-nonsense independent streak.

“The building was designed to host our wide array of overlapping communities including the MBA program, the university, the city of Austin and beyond,” explains Tina Mabley, who heads the MBA program. “Our unparalleled location places us at the intersection of The University of Texas campus and downtown Austin, which serves as a live and vibrant business laboratory right outside our doors…The University of Texas and the city of Austin have grown and evolved together. Austin has been the fastest-growing city in the country for three of the last five years and Rowling Hall allows us to capitalize on all the richness that growth has brought to the area. We appreciate a synergistic relationship with the city, which enhances the experiential applications and interactions we can offer our students every day. Being a major hub for tech, healthcare, energy, and a variety of other industries, we continue to find ways to bring these elements into our curriculum and community.”

For young professionals, it’s a highly appealing place. “Austin is a special city that sits at the intersection of many different industries and attracts companies of all sizes,” says Caroline Peterson, a Class of 2022 MBA at McCombs. “McCombs does a phenomenal job connecting students with local organizations through fellowship programs and MBA+ projects. For me, the ability to interact directly with business leaders and gain hands-on experience throughout the academic year offered a huge advantage in building a robust network and skill set.”

The post Getting An MBA In One Of The Most Livable Cities In America appeared first on Poets&Quants.