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Some M.B.A. Students Fit Best in Small Cities

Students in these business schools, in cities of fewer than 30,000, find plenty of opportunities.

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Emporia, Kan., has a population of fewer than 25,000 people. Its Twitter handle encourages residents to attend city commission meetings, a holiday parade, and in October, the voluntary "Tree Sweep" of vegetative debris from the streets. The Emporia Facebook page describes the small city as "A Nice Place to Call Home," but some may wonder if a city with relatively few major businesses is a logical place to earn an M.B.A.

While many find appeal in business schools located in big cities, loaded with metropolitan experiences and networking opportunities, some opt to earn their advanced business degrees in smaller locales with fewer businesses.

Katie McKee and Banon Cox are doing just that. The students will complete their M.B.A.'s in May, from the Emporia State University School of Business. McKee and Cox were raised in Kansas and completed their undergraduate degrees in state. Neither really looked into earning his or her M.B.A. outside of Kansas.

"I feel more comfortable in a smaller town," says McKee. "The town I grew up in had a population of 2,000, so that's just what I've always known."

[See the U.S. News rankings of the Best Business Schools.]

Although the City of Emporia lacks a financial district with skyscrapers and corporate headquarters, McKee and Cox have found opportunities through the school to get real-world experience with area businesses. Cox and his classmates, for example, served as consultants to the local recreation center.

"I think there are some students who feel very comfortable in big schools in big cities, and there are other kids who would just prefer a slightly smaller environment," says Barbara Howard, associate dean of the Ithaca College School of Business in upstate New York.

Students at Ithaca seem to prefer the latter, as they live in a city of about 30,000. Other New York business schools such as those at the Manhattan-based Pace University or Columbia University, or even University of Buffalo—SUNY, Howard says, aren't the right fit for many Ithaca students.

[Try these 5 tips for choosing an M.B.A. concentration.]

On a big-city campus, she says, "I think there's sometimes a tendency to feel overwhelmed. And I feel like our students feel they can traverse the city and school."

Howard adds that, even in a small city, Ithaca students still get many hands-on business experiences through national conferences, competitions, and speakers that the school brings to town.

In Wellesley, Mass., a Boston suburb of 28,000, M.B.A. student Kyle Judah praises similar experiences that he's had at Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business. Judah considered pursuing his M.B.A. at a more urban campus, but he felt that there's often too much happening in an M.B.A. student's life to also take on a big city— "especially if you're in your late 20s or early 30s, and you've got a family that you want to have time and energy and effort for as well." That's why, he says, he sought the suburbs.

Judah has his heart set on Boston for his post-graduation plans. Mohammed Alduwais, a Saudi Arabian M.B.A. student who landed in a town of 14,000 to pursue his University of Wisconsin—Whitewater College of Business degree, wants to go bigger. "I'm flexible to go anywhere," he says. "I'm looking for any sort of international corporation."

[These business schools have the most full-time international students.]

Cox and McKee, the two homegrown Kansans, aren't looking too far outside the state. Cox says he's been seeking positions in Wichita and Topeka. But McKee might give big city life a shot.

"If an opportunity came up in a town like Chicago or Austin, I would definitely consider it."

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