Should You Get an MBA in Los Angeles or San Francisco?

California MBA

Although Los Angeles and San Francisco are technically part of the same state, Northern and Southern California have long co-existed as opposite poles on the same spectrum; SF is Oscar to LA’s Felix, to use an extremely relevant analogy.

Whereas LA built its reputation as a sleazy, smoggy hub of fast food, cars and film—at least according to Robert Williams—SF was considered a mecca of innovation; the kind of place where Pauline Oliveros, Steve Jobs and Timothy Leary could all access new states of consciousness and thankfully take us along for the ride.

Just as the lines between entertainment, tech, culture and politics have begun to blurry, so have the political lines between NorCal and SoCal. George Lucas’ Industrial Light Magic has had a NorCal outpost for decades and Francis Ford Copolla lives in Napa, sure, but now all that Bay Area innovation has begun to trickle down south. Two cases in point: LA’s thriving Silicon Beach and former Google senior VP Susan Wojcicki’s new stint at Youtube CEO.

Point being: there’s plenty of opportunity to innovate in both SF and LA, so which end of the Golden State does a business school grad with MBA fresh in hand go to seek fame and fortune?


Both SF and LA are surrounded by abundant natural splendor. SF has Marin County lookouts and Sierra Nevada retreats while LA has resplendent desert and Pacific Coast surf.

While LA has certainly made significant improvements to its Metro in recent years, particularly its rail system, it’s tough to get around town without a car, especially if you’re commuting East (e.g. trendy neighborhoods and immigrant families) to West (e.g. Hollywood and UCLA). Traffic reports are a way of life.

Despite absurdly high rents and confusing weather patterns—Mark Twain may or may not have famously said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco—SF is a much more livable city with robust public transportation and breathtaking views around every corner. Bikers with a fetish for steep hills are encouraged to apply.

The food is top-notch in both cities but the nightlife and cultural scene are indisputably more vibrant in LA. People can be equally delightful or obnoxious in both cities but for different reasons. It all depends on what you’re looking for.


SF is home to Stanford and Berkeley-Haas, two selective, highly ranked (number one and number seven, respectively in U.S. News and World Report) with slightly different reputations and student bodies. Both have deep Silicon Valley ties, but Stanford is ideal for entrepreneurs, consultants,and VCs, with an unparalleled organizational behavior emphasis. Berkeley-Haas boasts small class sizes (250 people total) and places a great deal of importance on social responsibility and ethical leadership

Full-time MBA Programs in San Francisco include:

Stanford reported $132,769 average and $149,000 mean salaries while Berkeley reported $121,124 average and $134,000 mean salaries.

LA is home to UCLA Anderson (15th) and USC Marshall (24th), whose ongoing duel parallels the relationship between the more academically rigorous Stanford versus the more socially aware Berkeley. Anderson has a stellar reputation within consulting and banking, as well as a growing tech connection, feeding over 26 percent of graduates into Silicon Valley or Silicon Beach. USC, on the other hand, consistently produces successful entrepreneurs and real estate tycoons, as well as Hollywood movers-and-shakers.

Full-time MBA Programs in Los Angeles include:

UCLA Anderson reported a $95,000 average and $90,000 median salaries while USC Marshall reported $115,309 average and $125,099 median salaries.


The average total cost of tuition for the five SF full-time MBA programs mentioned above s $62,154. The average total cost of tuition for the six LA full-time MBA programs mentioned above is $92,244.


There are entertainment jobs aplenty for MBAs who fancy some Hollywood glamour (or sleaze). There’s even the occasional crossover story, like UCLA Anderson’s Erika Green Swafford who parlayed an MBA to a plum writing position on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” Gabrielle Dudnyk wrote about Los Angeles as a veritable playground for entertainment-minded MBAs in a Vault article:

“Viacom, Time Warner, Seagram Company Ltd., and Disney are all [public companies], which requires a different set of performance measures that are often in conflict with the more subjective business of entertainment production. MBAs, however, often speak the language of Wall Street and can help the entertainment organization understand and meet the performance objectives that the Street demands.”

Bay Area MBAs, on the other hand, tend to live in SF and work in Silicon Valley. Tech Crunch reported a burst bubble for MBAs in SF proper a few years ago: According to employment data from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, about 24 percent of MBA graduates in the class of 2014 headed to tech jobs, down from 32 percent in 2013.” The issue, according to the article, has to do with the vast chasm between a median tech salary—$165,000—versus a median finance salary—$290,000.

Bloomberg says eBay HQ San Jose is quickly becoming a hotspot for MBAs in the Bay Area. According to the article, San Jose, with its mix of tech, biotech, banking and public service, has [double the] MBA job postings per capita than any other city in the country—“96 postings per 10,000 working-age residents in 2012.” In fact, eBay was a top employer of Stanford MBA graduates.


It’s a close one but here’s my call: get your MBA in SF where you’ll touch tentacles with Silicon Valley. The second you’ve spun your mortarboard, pack up and head south to LA, where the employment, culture and climate haven’t been completely swallowed up by tech culture. It won’t really matter when Elon Musk’s Hyperloop will get you from one city to the other in 30 minutes …

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About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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