MBA School Choice: UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall

Both business schools, among California's best, profit from being located in Los Angeles. But they have different student bodies, positions in rankings, alumni networks and applications

UCLA Anderson School of Management and USC Marshall School of Business may share several benefits because of their Los Angeles locations, not least access to a plethora of corporate recruiters and a warm climate. But both business schools, among California’s best, have distinct DNA that separates them from one another, and the rest. 

While both schools have similar student cultures, diverse cohorts, top employers, and flexible and practical MBA programs, they have different student bodies, positions in rankings, alumni networks and application processes. 

UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall: Location

UCLA and USC offer would-be MBAs an impressive array of professional and personal opportunities, says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, an admissions consultancy firm. 

Los Angeles is a home for major entertainment, manufacturing, aerospace, technology, finance, telecoms and healthcare companies. In fact, 13 of the Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Los Angeles County, among them Walt Disney and CBRE Group, which provide a ready supply of guest speakers and recruiters, Min says. 

The region has seen a rise in tech companies large and small, such as Facebook, Google and Snapchat, which have coastal offices in Santa Monica, Venice or Marina del Rey, known as “Silicon Beach”. 

What’s more, LA has a warm “Mediterranean” climate and mountains, deserts and the Pacific Ocean. Major museums, professional sports teams, restaurants and shopping centers are in abundance.

But LA’s high cost of living — it’s nearly double the US average — and its air quality and transportation problems mean the city, despite its many advantages, is ranked by US News as the country’s 101th best metropolitan area to live in. (San Diego, two hours south of LA, is ranked 30th.)

UCLA is in West LA, an upscale area proximate to high-end residential homes with sprawling hills and lush greenery, the beach, and the college town of Westwood Village, says admissions consultant Stacy Blackman. In contrast, USC is in urban downtown LA, near areas that aren’t as upscale, although downtown LA is undergoing gentrification, she says. 

UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall: Rankings 

UCLA’s higher position in global business school rankings gives it an advantage over USC, says Min. For the three-year period to date, the Financial Times has ranked UCLA 28th in the world compared with USC’s 51st place. The Economist also ranks UCLA higher than USC (8th versus 28th) and US News does, too (16th compared with 20th). 

But each school has different areas of strength, says Min. By speciality, US News ranks USC eighth in accounting, 10th for entrepreneurship and 11th on international business — disciplines UCLA has not achieved a ranking for, as spaces are limited and competitive. UCLA’s only rank by discipline is finance, which USC is not ranked on.  

UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall: Student body and culture 

Another big difference between UCLA and USC is the size of the MBA cohorts. There are 360 students in UCLA’s MBA class of 2020, compared with 221 at USC. Despite its smaller class size, admissions consultants say USC Marshall has a stronger alumni network because graduates join the wider “Trojan” university network. 

“The USC alum network is very strong, where local employers prove to be fiercely loyal and eager to recruit Marshall grads,” says Blackman, president of Stacy Blackman Consulting in LA. “The strength of the ‘Trojan family’ affords benefits to Marshall grads that its counterpart, Anderson, can’t seem to match.” 

USC MBA candidate Gabrielle Owen bears this out. She says she applied to USC for the power of its alumni network, its entrepreneurial prowess and its location. 

“It is a tough [first] semester, but getting through that together makes us develop strong bonds,” she says, citing the example of job interviews. “Students will come out giving each other tips on where they might have messed up or questions that stumped them,” says Owen. “I’ve also seen people who get multiple offers, recommend their classmates for the position [they didn’t want].” 

However, UCLA’s 2020 class profile is stronger in some ways, with an average 719 GMAT score compared with USC’s 705. 

Both cohorts are diverse, with some variations. UCLA’s class is comprised of 35 percent women, 29 percent minorities and 33 percent international candidates. On the other hand, 52 percent of USC’s MBA candidates are women, 21 percent are minorities and 30 percent come from overseas. 

According to admissions consultants, the student culture is similar too and is influenced by the LA lifestyle: UCLA advocates participation, open-minded exploration and collaboration. Marshall emphasizes collegiality, free inquiry and entrepreneurial spirit.

UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall: MBA admissions requirements and selectivity 

UCLA received more applications than USC for the full-time MBA class of 2020 (3,423 vs 2,017) and is more selective, with an acceptance rate of 22 percent versus USC’s 28 percent. An offer of admission from UCLA appears to be more compelling, with a yield of 49.4 percent compared with 38.7 percent at USC. 

However, there are unusual aspects to the USC application that can make it difficult for some applicants to gain an admissions offer, says Blackman. USC will not accept recommendation letters, for example. “Applicants need to convince [the] USC admissions [team] that they are a good candidate based on test score, GPA and a couple of essays,” says Blackman. 

Both schools require a CV, undergraduate transcript, essays and a GMAT or GRE score. Interviews at both schools are by invitation only. 

UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall: MBA curriculums 

UCLA and USC’s MBA programs are flexible and practical, say admissions consultants. Lectures account for 48 percent of USC’s and 40 percent of UCLA’s programs, with the rest taught through case studies, simulations, consulting projects and other practical methods. 

At UCLA, the syllabus starts with traditional but customizable “core” courses. Electives are accessible in year one. In the second year, students pick electives, plus one of five “capstone” projects, including one in which they create a business. In addition, students can choose from 15 academic specializations that range from accounting to social impact. 

USC’s MBA participants take a core curriculum plus up to four electives. That is followed by a consulting project with an LA company, in addition to other practical projects and a myriad of electives. 

UCLA Anderson vs USC Marshall: Post-MBA career paths

Both schools’ Classes of 2018 earned the same median annual base salary of $125,000 and have similar top employers, including Amazon, Microsoft, Deloitte, Google, Mattel, and PwC. 

But USC is stronger in the more traditional career paths of consulting and finance, whereas one of UCLA’s primary strengths is tech recruiting, says Blackman. 

Of the most recent graduating class, the biggest group of UCLA MBAs chose to work in technology (29.5 percent), followed by consulting (20.4 percent), consumer products (7.6 percent), healthcare (6.9 percent), investment banking (6.5 percent), and entertainment/media (6.5 percent).

At USC, a larger proportion of students joined consulting firms (30 percent), followed by technology (16 percent), financial services (16 percent), entertainment/media/gaming (9 percent), and consumer products (8 percent). 

In choosing between business schools, USC MBA candidate Owen advises prospective students to understand what type of environment they want to be a part of. 

“I wanted to attend a school that was collaborative and innovative, but it wasn’t until I visited and got to experience the energy and see the dynamic that I got a true sense of what the school can offer.”

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