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The Importance of Selecting the Right Location for Your MBA

Echoing the mantra of realtors everywhere, location matters when it comes to choosing an MBA program. Fortunately, you can find top business schools in teeming metropolises, the bucolic countryside, and everywhere in between.

Since you’re going to spend two years of your life pursuing an MBA, it makes sense to give considerable thought to what lifestyle and environment suit you best. For many b-school hopefuls, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is the Goldilocks of settings for graduate management study.

An epicenter of America’s economic boom

The southeastern corridor of the United States has experienced explosive growth in recent years. According to the U.N.’s 2018 World Urbanization Prospects report, three of the top 20 fastest-growing U.S. cities are in North Carolina. Chapel Hill is part of the dynamic Research Triangle, whose “points” include Durham—an entrepreneurial hotbed—and Raleigh, the state capital.

The Research Triangle region is home to global corporations as well as startups, small and midsized firms, and nonprofits. In Raleigh alone, you’ll find more than 500 startups spanning sectors such as software, automated marketing, life sciences, consumer packaged goods, media/design, and IoT device manufacturers.

The growth and energy level in North Carolina are palpable and incredibly infectious.

What does all this growth mean for anyone eyeing the region for their MBA studies? Four things: excellent schools of higher education, and jobs, jobs, and more jobs. The region is a significant lure for bright minds interested in healthcare, technology, biotech, pharma, and green technologies.

“The economic boom that the Triangle, Charlotte and more broadly North Carolina are experiencing also finds its way into our classrooms,” says marketing professor Sriram Venkataraman. “We have deep, multi-faceted relationships with these firms, from their hiring of interns and graduates to tapping their expertise as career mentors, speakers in classes and at conferences.”

Venkataraman, who also serves as the Assistant Dean of the Full-Time MBA program, notes that the program’s increasing emphasis on experiential learning offers MBA students ample opportunities to partner with companies in North Carolina and beyond.

“There is nothing more exciting and satisfying than for students to see their work being recognized by industry leaders and seeing their work in action at companies like RedHat, Burt’s Bees, Newell Rubbermaid and at promising startups,” Venkataraman says. “Many students get recruited by these firms.”

“Our students also benefit from the strong Triangle alumni community that includes graduates of all of our programs, who are leaders in their fields,” Venkataraman adds. “All of this makes for a powerful network of businesses, large and small, that track with our students’ career interests.”

Are you interested in founding your own firm post-MBA? Then this, too, is the right place for you, Venkataraman notes, as the area is a magnet for the next generation of entrepreneurs. With more and more financial institutions and technology companies calling North Carolina home, many predict this region will become the next Silicon Valley.

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What’s the feel of Chapel Hill?

For countless MBA students, the overall vibe is what initially draws them in. Evanne Timberlake (MBA ’22) calls Chapel Hill a quintessential college town with a warm, welcoming community. “Chapel Hill is a truly wonderful place to live, especially while in school,” Timberlake explains.

“Along with the excellent reputation of the program, the cost of living, quality of life, and weather were a few of the most important factors I considered about each school when applying.”

“I considered other programs,” Timberlake says, “but when it came down to it, I believe so strongly in Carolina’s sense of community and belonging that I followed my heart and chose UNC Kenan-Flagler.”

“Compared to major cities, it is extremely affordable to live in Chapel Hill and have a wonderful quality of life. The career development and recruiting opportunities we have available are wide, both from an industry and location perspective, and we benefit from strong employer relationships to UNC Kenan-Flagler and our location within the innovation-rich Research Triangle region.”

Celebrated for its temperate climate, flourishing foodie scene, and friendly locals, the Triangle offers students a vibrant atmosphere without the urban grind. “Chapel Hill is large enough (and very close to bigger cities) that we have great food, art, things to do, and culture,” Timberlake explains, “but small enough that the cost of living is still very reasonable.”

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the college sports scene in Chapel Hill. UNC is nicknamed the University of National Champions for a reason, having won 46 NCAA Division I team national championships. Expect to root for the Tar Heels to crush Duke’s Blue Devils come basketball season. Their rivalry is the stuff of legend.

Nature lovers can’t stop raving about the scenic beauty of the region.

There are few places in the world where, within a three-hour car ride, you can be at a renowned ski town, or surfing on a world-famous beach, or mountain biking through one of the most picturesque trails in the world. Within 15 minutes of campus, you can kayak on North Carolina’s stunning Jordan Lake.

“MBA applicants are placing greater emphasis on maintaining a healthy work-life balance,” Venkataraman says. “I strongly believe the quality of life and breathtaking natural beauty of the Triangle and North Carolina more broadly will be an even more important draw for the next generation of transplants to this area.”

Ambitious, but never at the expense of others.

While you can receive an excellent MBA education at any top business school, Timberlake believes that school location plays a crucial role in both the overall career boost and your happiness while in the program.

“Compared to major cities, it is extremely affordable to live in Chapel Hill and have a wonderful quality of life,” she explains. “The career development and recruiting opportunities we have available are wide, both from an industry and location perspective, and we benefit from strong employer relationships to UNC Kenan-Flagler and our location within the innovation-rich Research Triangle region.”

For many business school hopefuls, pursuing an MBA is about more than switching careers or advancing up the proverbial ladder. “Today’s MBA aspirants are looking for things beyond job placements—they’re seeking a transformative experience,” Venkataraman notes.

This involves collaborating with peers inside and outside of class and engaging with local business leaders on projects that look beyond profit motives and become more purpose-driven.

Finally, when asked what kind of people will feel most at home in Chapel Hill, Venkataraman ticks off a significant swath of the population.

“If you want to be close to a city but don’t want to deal with the day-to-day grind of places like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, or San Francisco, this is the place for you. If you love hanging out with other young minds from all parts of the world, then this is the place for you. Eager to raise your family in one of America’s most thriving yet affordable cities? New to America, and still trying to assimilate? Love the outdoors? Then this is the place for you.”

“If you are soul searching and looking for your inner calling,” says Venkataraman, “then this is the place for you.”

To glimpse what life is like in Chapel Hill, check out this overview from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

This article was originally featured in The Wire (Stacy Blackman Consulting)