Two nights, two different campus visits to look at MBA programs. Last night I headed to the Carlson School at the University of Minnesota for an information session on their part-time MBA. Especially in context of a similar info session at St. Thomas the day before, the Carlson session left me surprisingly unimpressed. Yes, Carlson clearly has a world-class program, and I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that it doesn’t have the best program in the Twin Cities, but from the little I saw yesterday, it didn’t seem all that… professional. The presentation was severely disorganized–often none of the three speakers seemed quite clear who was going to speak next, and one of them didn’t have the common sense to stand up when addressing the crowd. Ultimately, most of that is superficial when compared to the nuts and bolts of the actual program, but it did leave the school (or, at least, those representing it) looking severely disorganized.
St. Thomas was a bit of a surprise. I visited the business school’s downtown Minneapolis campus Wednesday for a similar look at their evening MBA program. From research and some conversations with current students I knew the Opus College of Business’ reputation and general direction, but I still went in thinking of it as a backup school to Carlson. In retrospect, that thinking was kind of presumptuous, and I came out rather impressed. Unlike the Carlson presentation, St. Thomas’ was actually informative and useful. Ultimately, though, the underlying philosophies of the schools could be found in the few contrasting statements I’ve paraphrased below:
Carlson: Yes, our program is expensive, but look at the ROI. Our our students make a lot of money as a result of their Carlson MBA.
St. Thomas: We want you to be financially successful, but we also want you to be a principled, ethical leader in whatever field you work in.
Carlson: We were one of the first to require a course in business ethics. And, hey, if that’s not your thing, the 11-day ethics seminar in Europe is a reasonably quick way to get past that boring subject.
St. Thomas: We were one of the first to require a course in business ethics. Expect the terms “ethics” and “common good” to come up again and again and again.
Carlson: We’re the only MBA program in the Twin Cities worth your time.
St. Thomas: Carlson is a very good school. We encourage you to take a look at it and make your decision based on what you think is best for you.
If I were to decide what school would be my first choice solely on the basis of the information seminars, Carlson wouldn’t stand a chance. Of course, I’m not doing that, and Carlson is still the school I plan to aim for, but the distance between them no longer seems nearly as great as it once did. Granted, while St. Thomas’ focus on ethics is very attractive, the fact it’s a Catholic school makes me somewhat uncomfortable; the school likely arrived at its positions from a radically different perspective than I did, which makes me wonder how shared our values actually are.
But, of course, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Carlson is a difficult school to get in, and St. Thomas is no cakewalk, either. There’s a GMAT to study for, and a number of academic skeletons to deal with.
It’s going to be an interesting three months.