MBA Programs in Boston: Business in the Cradle of the American Revolution

Boston’s strong industries are a major draw for MBAs in the area. But is the high cost of living worth it?

Steve Choate could have gone to California.

He majored in computer science as an undergraduate, and after he finishes his MBA at Boston University he wants to work in a leadership position with emerging technology, perhaps with biomedical tech or with a new technological educational solution.

“Long term, the goal would be to work in some way with groundbreaking tech that could benefit society,” he says.

Many prospective MBA candidates like Choate head west to Silicon Valley to forge their careers in the world’s most famous tech hub. But the United States offers plenty of other hubs for budding technical entrepreneurs and business leaders. One of the chief among them is Boston.

Boston and its environs boast eight research universities investing money in new tech startups, as well as a robust biotechnology community. There’s also a new tech hub in Kendall Square, which is in Cambridge (across the Charles River from Boston proper) and houses the offices of industry giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple.

But Boston is, of course, known for more than its tech industry.

The city, geographically small and home to fewer than a million people, is defined by its students, hailing from institutions like Harvard and MIT in left-leaning Cambridge, to Tufts in rapidly gentrifying Somerville, to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern in the city proper. Boston is the cradle of the American Revolution, a fanatical sports town, and a major hub of Irish immigration to the United States. Students in Boston quickly learn that tour guides dressed in Revolutionary War regalia are a fact of life, that they should never take the T subway line during a Red Sox game, and that a good portion of Bostonians have close personal friends in Ireland, and vice versa.

And beyond the emerging tech scene, the city hosts a variety of industries ranging from healthcare to finance—industries that prospective MBA students should take advantage of, officials say.

“I would say that for prospective MBA candidates it’s important to think about the environment not only of the university, but also the economy, what the city has to offer, socially, culturally, educationally,” says Shelley Burt, Director of Graduate Enrollment at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

At Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School, officials are taking direct advantage of the array of industries in Boston. Dean Michael Behnam said the school is revamping its MBA program to focus specifically on Boston’s four main industries: finance, healthcare, biotech, and the innovation and startup scene.

“If you are interested in any of those industries, this is the place to be. They are at the world-class level, and they are right here,” Behnam says. He says Suffolk will roll out the new program in September 2016, and that students in the program will be able to contribute to these four industries by taking on meaningful roles within Boston companies.

“Instead of the usual, where a guest speaker comes to class and talks about his or her experience, this is where the students become involved in these companies,” Behnam says.

Specific changes to the program will include the addition of hands-on components, such as consulting projects with real companies.

Likewise, students who have an interest in Boston’s tech industry, like Steve Choate, can find MBA programs that cater to their career goals as well.

Jorge Haddock, dean of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s College of Management (UMass Boston), says that his school’s MBA program covers “a wider spectrum of technology, from innovations in basic tech to innovations in the use of tech in business.”

Indeed, the UMass Boston MBA offers several unique tech-oriented concentration options, including Business Intelligence and Internet Marketing.

And Haddock says that the presence of such a strong tech scene often translates into opportunities for graduating students. For example, Haddock says that his school recently hosted a CEO of a Kendall Square company, who visited to meet students and share expertise.

Cost of living woes; strong competition for jobs

But there’s a catch. Across the board, students and officials cited the exorbitant cost of living as a major downside of living in Boston.

Indeed, the city is located in one of the most expensive regions in the country: the Boston, Brockton, Mass. and Nashua, N.H. urban regions received a Consumer Price Index – an indicator of cost of living – of 254 in January 2015, while the national urban average is only 233.

“It is a situation that you’ll find very similarly in New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles, in any place where it’s attractive to live in terms of what a city or metro area offers, and where you have high employment,” Behnam says.

Since Steve Choate works at Boston University, his degree—which he will pursue on a part-time basis—will be free when he matriculates in the fall. But even with the benefit of free tuition, Choate says the main disadvantage of pursuing a degree in Boston is the city’s high price tag.

“Imagine being an MBA student who had to live around the area and go to school full time—it makes things quite difficult,” Choate says.

“I know some people who attended full-time programs and they ran into some difficulties with that.”

Choate also says that one of the area’s strengths—a robust network of famous universities—also translates into a weakness, since a strong job market also comes with intense job competition from big name business schools such as Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

“For every job you might be looking into, you’re always wondering if somebody from those schools is ahead of you in line,” Choate says. 

Photo credits:

  • Boston's Copley Square, Emily Cataneo
  • "Inbound platform and Red Line train at Kendall/MIT," Eric Kilby / Creative Commons
  • "Boston à l'heure bleue," Emmanuel Huybrechts / Creative Commons (cropped)
  • Boston's Public Garden / Public Domain

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