A Flexible or Fixed MBA Curriculum
Some business schools offer tremendous flexibility in their core curriculum for an MBA degree. That’s true of Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. But as a student you need to be prepared to make choices from day one and a consequence of breaking up an incoming class to provide that flexibility often means that social bonds can suffer and there is more limited ability to share experiences. In contrast, Harvard, Tuck and Darden have mandatory core courses that everyone must take. The downside is obvious. If you’ve already had a lot of experience in a discipline, such as finance or marketing, you’ll be bored in those basic classes. But you will get to share your knowledge with classmates eager for it. In this scenario, the administration is obviously setting the agenda with the upside being a more common experience for everyone in the class and the likelihood of a stronger social bond with your classmates.
A Deep & Varied Selection of Electives or More Limited Choices
Obviously, a larger school is going to offer you a significantly larger portfolio of courses. If you want to dive really deep into a subject matter, you need to make sure that the school’s course catalog has the kind of classes you need to build your personal expertise. “Most important is the number, quality and relevance of elective courses available at a given school,” adds Bauer. “If you can’t easily chart a two-year curriculum of core and elective courses that aligns perfectly with your post-MBA goals, then you should consider other schools with a better fit.
While most business schools have outgrown the disciplines for which they are known, including Wharton in finance and Kellogg in marketing, you’ll still find far more opportunities in finance at a Wharton and far more marketing courses at Kellogg.
And then there are a host of other cultural attributes that are much harder to discern. Those questions are best answered by reading as much as you can about the schools you target, visiting the campus, and spending some time with a few students. “There is just no substitute for soaking up the atmosphere on campus, chatting to students, sitting in on a class,” emphasizes Diarte Edwards. “We see candidates who visit schools and come back even more inspired and passionate about their MBA plans, and others who are turned off by a particularly school – often a gut feel that the culture of the community is not right for them. It could be too competitive or too laid back, too monocultural or too impersonal or even too intense.”
BUSINESS SCHOOL CULTURE ISSUES DIFFER BY GENERATION
There are no right answers. There are only the right answers for you. A new study by the Graduate Management Admission Council showed that there are interesting differences in cultural preferences based on generational values. Older generations are more likely to prefer smaller class sizes, a teaching orientation, individual emphasis, egalitarian professors, a casual environment, and loosely connected community. Millennials, on the other hand, are more likely to prefer, though not necessarily a majority, a competitive environment, large class sizes, research orientation, team emphasis, more authoritarian professors, a formal environment, and a close-knit community (see below). Each of these cultural dimensions of an MBA experience are all about ‘fit.’
Prospective Student Preferences for Business School Culture
You can pick up on some of these issues with that campus visit, chats with current students, as well as your interactions with the school’s admission officials. “The admissions process is another good indicator of the priorities of a school,” says Symonds of Fortuna. “Did the school want to find out about your personality, your values and what matters to you? Or did they rely on an impressive resume and influential recommendations to make their decisions? Selectivity is important – you want to be surrounded by a smart, challenging and diverse group of individuals who will broaden your horizons – but not make you feel that you are a social misfit who has a hard time fitting in. One of our former HBS coaches at Fortuna commented that when she was working in admissions, if the school felt that the candidate was a better fit for GSB, however great they were, they could get dinged.”