Home > Academics, Career > IIMs vs. Ivy League MBA programs

IIMs vs. Ivy League MBA programs

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Following up on my earlier posts about my MBA experience… I have often been asked about what the distinction is between the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and Ivy League business schools here in the U.S.

Before you get into the differences, it is important to understand that IIMs and Ivy Leagues are great schools in their own respect. I have definitely gained from both these schools, and perhaps would have not been where I am today if I hadn’t been to either of these schools. That being said, these schools serve different set of objectives which results in significant differences, some of which are outlined below (again my IIM experience is from more than 5 years ago so might not reflect current circumstances):

1. Student academic profile: IIM is designed to educate students coming with minimal work experiences, often right out of their undergrad schools. An Ivy League school (will use Columbia just for contextual relevance) typically attracts students who have on average 5 years of experience after undergrad.

2. Student professional profile: IIM tends to be filled with engineers and commerce grads (not by design but by expected standards) while Columbia has huge diversity in terms of student professional backgrounds, from the standard bankers, consultants to writers, musicians, teachers, social workers… in great numbers.

3. Curriculum: By virtue of the above two points, IIMs tend to focus on providing a good breadth of management skills to students thereby focusing on basic fundamentals across several areas of business operations. This means there is minimal coursework focused on specific industries. At Columbia, knowing that students come with significant background in specific industries and might want to build advanced skills to go back to the same industry, the curriculum is super-diverse in terms of offering a good depth and breadth across all areas of business. What would be discussed as a session in an IIM elective (e.g., options pricing) would be a full-term elective at Columbia.

4. Faculty expertise: Academia in India culturally have evolved to be purely academic alienating themselves from industry. And this also becomes a huge difference… Back in IIMs, the senior faculty members (often the most revered ones) have moved out of industry to start teaching a decade or more ago and stupid HRD ministry rules not allowing simultaneous work in the industry results in a very theoretical pedagogy. Often the cases and anecdotes you hear are from ages ago. However, in Columbia, what you see is that a majority of the faculty members (easily around 80-90%) are still active in the industry and are able to bring their experiences to class in real-time. This makes a big difference to our learning esp. as we endeavor to go into the very roles they have been through in their professional, non-teaching careers.

5. Recruiting: This is one point where IIMs have made rapid strides to bridge the gap with Ivy League schools. However, still how you see the gap between IIM-A and other IIMs is the kind of gap you see between Ivy Leagues and IIM-A (and other IIMs). I have always felt that recruiting is like a capitalist system… IIM-A being the oldest school in India had the privilege of having its alumni reach top positions in the Indian industry and being its alumni, they have been biased towards hiring more from their alma mater. So, other IIMs coming later on, had to play second fiddle in getting their graduates into these organizations. Now, when it comes to IIMs vs. Ivy Leagues, the same mechanism is played out at a far-bigger, global scale. And what you see is Columbia commands immense power with employers. A leading strategy consulting firm (you can fill in any name you want) hires only a handful from IIMs yet comes to Columbia and hires easily 10x of that number.

6. School resources: This is often not discussed or considered important but it is amongst the top 3 important differences for me… IIMs being at a small scale with campuses spread far and wide have resulted in resources also being split. So, hosting just around 600-700 students implies having fewer resources (just the game of per capita numbers… if 1000 students have access to $1Mn worth resources, 10,000 students have access to $10Min worth of resources). The libraries are very basic and so are other resources (although IIMs do a great job of managing these resources). In contrast, Columbia being part of a larger Ivy League university setup can offer a much more wider array of resources… which extends into the curriculum (you could do coursework specific to your industry interest in specialized graduate schools) and into the faculty (you could learn from teaching events / discussions with faculty from other schools) also.

7. Alumni network coverage: Playing the scale and age effect (like in recruiting and school resources), Columbia commands a more diverse and well-established alumni base globally while IIMs can boast of the same kind of network only within India. As more and more IIM alumni are exploring overseas career opportunities, this is turning out to be a big hurdle (in fact, ISB is also going through the same problem) as often recruiting decision makers outside India are not aware of the caliber of IIMs and often club IIM graduates with other regular business schools.

8. Location: With a very few exceptions, IIMs are located in such random places that there is no access to any resource of importance outside the campus (I was @ IIM Lucknow and can say with certainty that there was nothing of professional importance to students outside the campus boundary). In contrast, if you look at Columbia, being in New York provides immense advantages professionally and personally. Professionally, one can engage in term internships while studying, network with companies they wish to recruit for, attend professional events (conferences, seminars, etc.), and also undertake community service by engaging with non-profits in and around New York. Personally, if you have a significant other (spouse), it is far easier for them to find professional opportunities here than what would be the case with IIM campus locations.

In summary, while IIMs are serving a different purpose resulting in some structural differences, they are not yet ready to give a stiff challenge to Ivy League business schools. And not to forget, the political intrusion in IIMs have only made me less hopeful about any constructive change towards bridging this intellectual divide.

Should you want to read some of my other MBA experience-crelated articles from my blog, here are the links:
Going for a second MBA
First year at Columbia Business School… the highs and the lows
New York reporting…

  1. Abdul Mujeeb
    February 26, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m sure it will be helpful to most of your readers.

    • February 26, 2012 at 11:51 pm

      Abdul Mujeeb, thanks for your continued support… I had been answering this question in different forums so thought it prudent to pen my thoughts somewhere for easy reference.

  2. February 27, 2012 at 5:09 am

    Thanks for sharing this blog with nice information.

  3. February 27, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Thanks for sharing acedmic information realy glad to read ur blog ….sach a nice information

    • February 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks for your encouraging words.

  4. Harsh
    April 26, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Hi Moid,
    I have got an admission offer from IIM Calcutta.I did my B.Tech.(Petroleum Engineering) from ISM Dhanbad in 2009 and have a 3 years work-ex in Petroleum E & P(Exploration and Production) company.I was thinking of joining the US B schools due to the international exposure and the added emphasis on entrepreneurship.
    What’s your take?
    For a 3 years work-ex applicant,I think the international B schoold would be a better bet ???

  5. Abhishek Sharma
    June 27, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Hi i need some specific advice…!! can you pls share ur chat id or sum fin…!!!
    this is abhishek, my email is the.asharma@gmail.com…if appropriate pls email…!!!

  6. Paramjyothi raju
    May 9, 2016 at 1:54 pm


    It was nice to read. I appreciate that you have put in great efforts to explain difference.. In Indian contexts.. I am too carring same alma mater tag (IIM).

  1. March 17, 2012 at 8:53 am
  2. March 17, 2012 at 8:55 am
  3. March 23, 2012 at 7:36 pm

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