Why Are There So Many Top Schools in Boston?
With some of the best colleges in the world, including the oldest Ivy League, you might think there was something in the Boston water. Actually, it was what came from the Boston water. As one of the first major trading ports for early European settlers, Boston became a political, commercial, and financial hub. With a steady flow of money coming in, the academically driven city was fertile ground for the founding of Harvard University in 1636, just six years after the city itself.
Fast-forward to 1852 and Boston became the first major city with a public library in the US. An inscription on the north facade of the Boston Public Library reveals an insight into the thinking of the time: “The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.”
The mid-1800s were an active period for the city academically. In 1863, Boston College was founded to rival Harvard. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) opened its doors in 1865. And in 1869, Boston University was chartered by the Massachusetts Legislature.
Boston has retained its intellectual pedigree through a consistent investment in education over the past 400 years. It is home to leading institutions in medicine, engineering, and business, making it an innovative, student-friendly city. Having established that historical context, let’s move on to the top business schools in the Boston area for 2023.
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Leading the Way in Science and Tech
MIT took the top spot in the U.S. News 2022-2023 Best Colleges in Massachusetts. Known for its excellence in science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM), MIT is one of the world’s most prestigious institutions. This makes it one of the most selective universities also. Its alumni list reads like a Who’s Who of icons from the world of science and technology. MIT alumni include:
- Shirley Ann Jackson, the former Chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- Buzz Aldrin, the second human on the moon.
- Ilene S. Gordon, a MIT Mathematics graduate who earned her master’s at the MIT Sloan School of Management and led Ingredion to become a Fortune 500 company.
- Richard Feynman, a pioneer in developing quantum mechanics and quantum computing.
MIT’s Sloan School of Management runs a range of MBA formats, as well as master’s programs in Finance, Business Analytics, and Management Studies. All of their business courses draw on the institution’s tech prowess by incorporating data science, AI optimization, and machine learning into their curriculums.
2. Harvard University: An Elite School With Generous Financial Aid
One of the most recognizable institutions in the world, Harvard University sets a benchmark for excellence in teaching and research. That quality means Harvard’s MBA and executive programs have carved out a comfortable top-10 position in the Financial Times rankings.
As a liberal arts school, Harvard takes a flexible approach to teaching. It encourages students to create their own learning journey and explore their own interests. Therefore, while Harvard University Business School focuses mainly on its MBA, you can combine it with other areas of study. Options include:
- The MD/MBA Program, which provides skills in both medicine and management.
- The MBA/MPA-ID Program, which connects an MBA with a Master in Public Administration-International Development.
- The MS/MBA Program, which links business with technology and engineering.
In 2022, Harvard boasted a world-leading endowment of $50.9 billion, even with a 1.8% loss from 2021. It channels part of its budget into a generous financial aid program to promote the most diverse cohorts possible. Over 22% of Harvard families pay nothing for their education, and 55% of students receive some form of scholarship aid. This may come as a surprise to many who believe Harvard’s prestigious education is only for applicants from wealthy backgrounds.
3. Tufts University: Promoting Interdisciplinary Learning
Like Harvard, Tufts University encourages students to take courses outside their major to cultivate a comprehensive liberal arts education. This interdisciplinary approach allows students to explore a range of interests rather than following a one-size-fits-all program.
While Tufts University does not have a dedicated business school, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy offers a range of interesting pathways, including:
- MA in Law and Diplomacy
- MA in Humanitarian Assistance
- MA in Transatlantic Affairs
- MS in Cybersecurity and Public Policy
- Master of International Business
These programs leverage expertise from various departments within Tufts and expertise from beyond the university, providing students with an immersive exploration of complementary subjects.
Tufts’ commitment to new and interesting experiences is evident through its more than 350 student organizations. Some of these organizations are career-focused, such as the pre-medicine and pre-law groups. However, many others simply serve as avenues for students to explore new areas of interest, such as the Tufts Mountain Club and Greek Life (sororities and fraternities for non-US readers).
4. Boston College: An Ornate Campus Steeped in Jesuit Tradition
Boston College is one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the United States. While it isn’t exclusive to Catholics, students are encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and who they are as a person. The goal of Jesuit education is for students to connect their talents to the needs of the wider society.
Located out of the city center, Boston College is set on a grandiose campus with ornate collegiate buildings. This traditional approach is also visible in the student body, which has a reputation for lacking diversity. It’s a similar story with international student representation. Just 4.3% of Boston College students are international, compared to 10.2% at MIT, the next lowest scorer.
However, the school’s programs consistently receive high rankings according to the U.S. News. Its Accounting program ranked 10th in the country, while its Finance program ranked 11th.
5. Boston University: A Massive Institution With Over 300 Programs
Although similar in name, Boston University far exceeds Boston College in size. The 2022-2023 cohort consists of 18,255 graduate students, over seven times more than Boston College. It is fully committed to making that cohort as diverse and inclusive as possible and keeps transparent records of its progress.
However, U.S. News reports that only 30.7% of students receiving financial aid found that their needs were fully met. This is a conspicuous outlier compared to the other four best colleges in Boston, which all hover near 100%.
Like Harvard, Boston University’s Questrom School of Business offers Dual Degree MBA programs. You can combine business studies with Economics, International Relations, Law, Medicine, Product Design and Manufacture, and Public Health. This range of options allows graduates to be more adaptable as they transition from their studies into a career. For pure master’s degrees, you can find the MS in Business Analytics, MS in Mathematical Finance & Financial Technology, and MS in Management Studies (MSMS).
Honorable Mention: Brandeis University
Just missing a spot in the top five is Brandeis University. Brandeis was founded as a nonsectarian university in 1948 by the American Jewish community, who otherwise faced discrimination in higher education. The school’s values are rooted in Jewish tradition, which emphasizes academic rigor, critical thinking, and a commitment to improving the world.
Moreover, the school’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity is evident. The university was ranked #5 in the US for the highest percentage of women deans, and the Brandeis International Business School community is over 60% women.
Despite all coming from the same area, the best colleges in Boston offer markedly different experiences for their students. Remember that when you’re deciding where to study for a master’s degree, you need to look at the big picture.
To help you choose, take a look at the MASTERGRADSCHOOLS Schools page, where you can find detailed profiles on all our institutions.