If you’re looking at MBA programs in Los Angeles, there are a few options to consider. The only two programs with national reputations are UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall, but there are several other programs with strong local reputations and extensive alumni networks.
Before I discuss the schools and their respective rankings, I should mention that all ranking systems have inherent flaws and biases. Most rankings data is derived from polls of school officials (deans, MBA program directors, admissions officers) and depends heavily on reputation. Malcolm Gladwell recently wrote a New Yorker article trashing rankings systems in general and U.S. News in particular.
I also like this article from MBA admissions website Poets and Quant comparing MBA rankings systems. Clearly, the quality of an MBA program cannot be reduced to a simple rankings number. Even schools that are not nationally ranked may be especially strong in one particular area. For example, Loyola Marymount’s MBA program has a top-25 finance curriculum, while Pepperdine has a very strong social and environmental curriculum. So the best program for any individual depends on his or her particular interest.
Without further ado, here are the options for an MBA in Los Angeles. The list below only includes schools that are accredited by the AACSB, the accrediting body for MBA programs.
UCLA Anderson School Of Management
The UCLA Anderson School is the top-ranked program in LA, and the only one ranked in the Top 20 nationally. Anderson is definitely the most selective on this list: to be admitted, you’ll want at least a 700 GMAT, a strong undergraduate GPA, solid work history, and excellent recommendations. You will also have to distinguish yourself in your application essays.
UCLA is known to be particularly strong in finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. In the national rankings, it falls around 14th, so it’s not part of the ‘elite 8′ MBA programs. However, the real strength of this program is in the student body. For the aspiring MBA that wants to stay in Southern California, UCLA is the only top national program, so the students at Anderson are among the most driven, motivated people in the area. Many Anderson students get accepted into elite schools like Wharton or Chicago Booth, but choose to stay in LA for a variety of reasons such as the superior climate. :)
The field study part of UCLA’s MBA program is called AMR (Applied Management Research) and it takes place during the second year, over the course of six months. ULCA’s description is:
“This two-quarter challenge in the second year of the MBA program brings 80 teams of three to five students in contact with the organizational and competitive realities of business. Each team spends 20 academic weeks (October – March or January – June) for approximately 10 hours per week per person examining a specific company, industry, and strategic opportunity. Teams then develop a written and oral strategic implementation recommendation. Organizational partners range from mature companies to young companies. Partners might be close by in Southern California or as far away as Santiago or Prague.”
Essentially this means that each student team writes a business plan for a currently operating company. This is a very valuable experience with direct relevance to many post-MBA jobs. The list of companies that have participated includes 20th Century Fox, Capitol Records, the Los Angeles Opera, and Playboy Enterprises.
UCLA also has a part-time program called FEMBA (Fully-Employed MBA), which was recently ranked #1 in the nation by BusinessWeek. However, I would strongly recommend the full-time option. I am actually a graduate of the FEMBA program (2009) and in my experience, the recruiting was heavily biased towards the full-time students. FEMBAs are eligible to take part in the recruiting process which begins in the fall of the 2nd year; however, I found that employers preferred to hire full-time students for both jobs and internships.
UCLA MBA Class Profile:
Latest UCLA MBA Rankings:
- Poets&Quants: 17
- BusinessWeek: 17
- U.S. News & World Report: 15
Tuition & Fees: $81,966 (resident), $97,854 (non-resident)
Median GMAT: 710
GMAT Range (mid-80%): 680-750
Average GPA: 3.53
Acceptance Rate: 29%
USC Marshall School Of Business
The Marshall School at USC ranks only slightly below UCLA in the national MBA program rankings. In most rankings, USC is slightly outside the Top 20. The school is noted for being particularly strong in entrepreneurship and accounting, and US News ranks the program top-10 in each of those disciplines.
There are a few other areas where Marshall shines. The school is noted for having deep connections to the Asian business community. In fact, the field study part of the Marshall program is called PRIME, Pacific Rim International Management Education. This is part of the required first-year curriculum at Marshall. It includes courses in international business strategy and global economics. PRIME concludes with a 10-day overseas trip in which students “visit selected domestic and multinational companies and governmental institutions, to observe global operations and interview senior managers.”
Another area where USC is particularly strong is MBA-type jobs in the entertainment industry. Entertainment companies with local offices (such as Disney, Universal, and Fox Broadcasting) love to recruit from USC for jobs in finance, entertainment marketing, strategic planning, and business development. USC actually offers a formal Certificate program in the Business Of Entertainment which can be earned along with an MBA degree.
As an LA resident, I can throw in one caveat to attending USC. The school is not located in a great area of town. Housing is limited for grad students, so it’s more of a commuter school. Many students wind up living in Downtown, West Hollywood, or the Westside. Thus, the student body is very geographically spread out. This is contrast to UCLA, which is in a nice area with lots of nearby apartment options for grad students.
USC MBA Class Profile:
Latest USC MBA Rankings:
- Poets&Quants: 22
- BusinessWeek: 26
- Forbes: 32
- U.S. News & World Report: 20
- Financial Times: 57
Tuition & Fees: $97,800
Median GMAT: 690
GMAT Range (mid-80%): 640-740
Average GPA: 3.30
Acceptance Rate: 22%
Full-Time Enrollment: 518 (22% international)
Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management
The Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine is the third-highest ranked MBA program in the LA area. It’s still somewhat selective: the median GMAT score at Pepperdine is 650. In the latest MBA program rankings, it came in around 78th in the nation. However, this number doesn’t include the whole picture. Pepperdine has a strong reputation in the Los Angeles area as well as a very large and diverse local network.
The school offers a wide variety of programs – there’s a one-year fulltime MBA, a two-year fulltime MBA, several part-time sections, and an executive program. Unlike UCLA, Pepperdine students pick an area of concentration from among five choices: dispute resolution, entrepreneurial management, finance, leadership and managing organizational change, or marketing.
Pepperdine’s field study program is called the E2B (education-to-business) Applied Learning Program. In this program students form a 5-person ‘consulting team’ and spend 15 weeks working with a local business. At the end of the program, students are asked to provide real-time strategic and operational recommendations to their companies. The range of companies that participate is very diverse – in the past, the program has included corporate giants like Coca-Cola and Cisco as well as local auto shop and software startups. E2B is similar to the field study programs at Anderson and Marshall, except its focus is more local than international.
“The student body at Pepperdine is very diverse. I’ve taken classes with surgeons, an oncologist, lawyers, and even a Navy jetfighter pilot. My classmates have included students that were alumni from Stanford, Caltech, Princeton, and other prestigious universities. On the other end of the spectrum, I know students from FIDM, Devry, and University of Phoenix that were accepted into the program and were actually really hardworking team players. Overall, the students at Pepperdine are really hardworking and really ambitious.”
Overall, Pepperdine is a strong program with a solid reputation on the West Coast. It’s an especially good choice for working students who are unable to hit the 700 mark on the GMAT.
Latest Pepperdine MBA Rankings:
- Poets&Quants: 78
- Forbes: 75
- U.S. News & World Report: 82
Tuition & Fees: $77,468
Median GMAT: 650
GMAT Range (mid-80%): 580-710
Average GPA: 3.23
Acceptance Rate: 79%
Full-Time Enrollment: 376 (24% international)
Other Los Angeles MBA Programs
Loyola Marymount University MBA:
Loyola Marymount really shines for its part-time MBA program, which is ranked thirteenth in the country by BusinessWeek. US News still puts the part-time program in the Top 50. This program even ranks ahead of USC – not surprisingly, 70% of the students are part-time. Interestingly, US News ranks Loyola’s finance program among the top 25 in the country. This is a major accomplishment when you consider the competition Loyola is up against. The finance curriculum is a major determinant of any MBA programs’ overall quality.
Latest Loyola Marymount MBA Rankings:
- Business Week: 13 (part-time program)
Tuition & Fees: $3324 per class
Average GMAT: 616
Cal State Northridge is an MBA program with a good reputation around the San Fernando Valley. The minimum required GMAT score is a 540, the median score. There’s no fulltime program – only an evening part-time program. If you live and work in the San Fernando Valley and intend to stay there after graduation, CSUN may be a good option. Especially if your company will provide tuition reimbursement.
Other CSU MBA Programs (Cal State LA MBA, Cal State Long Beach MBA, etc.)
The other Cal State LA are good options if you intend to stay local, or if your company will pay for graduate school. Although they may lack the reputation and network of the other program described above, they are still accredited and have a rigorous academic curriculum.
Anywhere Else (University Of Phoenix MBA)
Personally I would recommend against pursuing an MBA anywhere else in the LA area, unless your employer will give you full tuition reimbursement. The University Of Phoenix MBA program is not accredited by the AACSB, so unless you have very specific reasons why it will benefit your career, I’d pick a CSU school over Phoenix.
Author: Matthew Kirisits