Best Quora MBA Questions & Answers

MIT's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge

MIT’s Sloan School of Management


Question: What distinguishes MIT’s MBA program from other top MBA programs?

Leah Derus, MBA MIT Sloan 2010, MBA admissions consultant: There are a lot of things that set Sloan apart, both while you’re there and in terms of the brand that you carry with you throughout your career once you leave. The most consistent rankings to look at are those from U.S. News. Sloan has consistently been in with the top 5 programs: H/S/W/Chicago. There are a lot of different levels on which you could compare those programs in terms of curriculum flexibility in the first year, teaching method, recruiting per capita into different industries, etc. You just need to check out information available on the school’s website or at their career development office to figure those things out.

When I applied to business school, I only applied to two schools: Sloan and Stanford. Both of those programs stood out for me as having smaller class sizes and more tightly knit communities (they’re both at about 300 students while H/W/Chicago are around 900 in each class). I liked the fact that both schools had really strong entrepreneurial programs and good ecosystems in terms of location (Stanford had the university + Silicon Valley; Sloan had MIT, HBS + BU nearby, + Boston area startups). At both schools I was impressed by how down-to-earth and exceptionally smart everyone was — this was not my experience later on working with kids from another large business school in Boston on a startup and within a inter-school club.

I think it comes down to who you are, and who you want to be associated with and fraternize with.

Mike David, professional manager, MBA, liberally educated scholar: I got my MBA at Anderson, so I can’t speak directly to the experience at MIT. However, I can provide a framework for an MIT grad to respond. And this framework can apply to most academic programs.

There are coursework qualities and social/professional qualities to consider.

Social/Professional: The social and professional qualities involve colleagues, their backgrounds and experiences, their ambitions and opportunities, and colleague and faculty connections. Especially the faculty connections.

What events will be available to attend? What opportunities to learn ways of problem solving or approaches to meet market demands will appear? How will the colleagues around you support or attack you? Attitudes of colleagues to work productively on projects versus letting you do all the work while they take all the credit? And so on …

Eventually, when you graduate, you will want an income — whether it is entrepreneurial-based or employment-based, faculty are going to be your fulcrum. Their words to their connections will open or close doors of every sort. It is possible that a colleague may help you into an opportunity, but it is far more likely that a faculty member will do that. Develop faculty as mentors, not just teachers.

Before attending grad school, I solicited the advice of a Ph.D. who provided great wisdom: Find the professor bringing in the most money to the school and do whatever it takes to work for them.

Coursework: Every business school, and every academic program for that matter, has a core set of knowledge to convey regardless of what institution one attends. Then there is the plus coursework — the specialization, or the unique material offered that enhances the core knowledge.

In B-school, core subjects are: Managerial and Financial Accounting, Finance, Operations, Marketing, HR, Law and Contracts, Information Systems, Ethics, Economics, and General Management. This means every program offers these subjects as a requirement for graduation. The concepts are the same, and the textbooks are few, so the general approach to the basics is similar. As in any field, a highly talented teacher may convey knowledge in enlightened fashion and make the material more substantive to students, but the core knowledge will be learned by the majority of all students to the degree they put in the effort. In this base knowledge I suggest that most schools, prestigious or otherwise, are about evenly matched.

In the advanced and specialized knowledge, I suggest that schools differ greatly. And schools get reputations for those special fields. If you intend on obtaining a general MBA, then honestly, most employers want to know how your employment background and advanced degree will bring them value, not the brand of general MBA.

In the specialized fields — very different. The largest and most prestigious employers want prestigious graduates to enhance the portfolio of expertise they offer the market. The market wants the best they can afford, and name brands substitute for knowing experts personally.

Example: My expertise is in technology management, the expert application of technological issues toward investment in a technology or technological company, adoption of a technology for a process or product, or the strategic response to the emergence of a technological solution that changes the market. I attended Anderson because of its proximity and relationships with both Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. I worked for the two professors managing the Technology Management Program and was on many tech transfer and commercialization projects where I was exposed to many emerging technologies in many fields. If I had attended a school that had no advanced technological organizations to work with, the development of my expertise would have fallen far short of what it was at Anderson. There are a few other schools that have access to similar organizations and technological emergence, but only a few.

Because of my two and a half years of working with both national labs as a graduate student (read: personal slave to two professors), after graduation I eventually became employed by both labs, first one, then the other. After several years I started my own consulting firm, contracting with both of my former employers and then a growing list of other prestigious organizations and host of small entrepreneurial technology companies.

So, now to answer your question, and it will have to ultimately come from someone at MIT, it depends on which specialized field you want — which is to say, what are the unique or rare opportunities surrounding MIT in the Greater Boston and New England areas for which people ask MIT to consult? And of those opportunities that interest you with a passion, how are they similar to other schools that have such opportunities? There’s no comparison with schools that don’t have the opportunities that suit you.

I’m going to make the following up as I don’t know with any certainty, but more to illustrate a possible comparison.

Let’s say UC-Berkeley or Stanford are in the proximal center of both the specialized semiconductor and software development industries. In some ways it might be similar to the New England area in these industries, just as Research Triangle Park has some activity in this area. How do you compare them — the schools? Are there companies you want to work for after graduation? Then go to a school that company actively recruits from. You can find this out by talking to the career center and dean. I’m not just talking about the school’s career development center, I’m talking mostly about the professors whom executives call personally and ask for their rising stars for a project.

Perhaps there is an older industry in a middle-of-the-country city that could use some new ideas to scale up, or compete, by becoming more efficient or vertically integrating. Then maybe a smaller local school would be better suited to develop relationships than one of those “high-falutin’ elitist institutions.” Or, maybe, there’s a large multinational that wants to break into an industry for some strategic reason and needs expertise with open minds to assist in an acquisition or merger, and knows a particular school has students graduating that feed that acquisition subject, but they want their own expert in-house.

The end game is your ultimate comparison. Who gets what jobs where and what are their experiences like? Do you want similar experiences? Maybe a single professor makes it for you. Maybe an entire faculty creates the experience you want. Maybe your classmates are from all over the world and keep it interesting and international. Maybe the job you are after that doesn’t exist until you persuade an executive to create it defines the program to attend. Maybe the business you want to create highlights the team you need with certain backgrounds only found at a particular school. Maybe the team you want to join is at a particular school.

Every B-school will teach the basics. Many schools will teach specialties. Some schools are better matched for specific companies and industries, while others offer unique opportunities. Remember this: Half of all schools are on the top of some list and half of every student population is at the top half of the class. And vice versa.

Thomas Breckinridge: I’m a professional technologist. When it was time to take on some executive education (which are essentially grad-level courses repackaged for people with other priorities: they’re stripped of homework and concentrated into 20-40 classroom hours packed into a two- to five-day event), I looked into the offerings from Harvard, Wharton, Cal Tech, and Carnegie Mellon, and ultimately selected MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Having spent nearly 30 years working with a broad array of people with MBAs from a broad array of schools, I began noticing certain trends and weaknesses in the overall design of the MBA program that systematically produces flaws in reasoning, process, and output. In summary, the MBA program equips students with an array of important and useful tools, most of which are highly abstract. The reason for this abstraction is sensible: as educators of business managers, you don’t want to get bogged down in what’s generally termed “subject expertise.” This leads to what I call “the fallacy of widget fungibility,” which, for the purpose of illustrating the operational and economic interactions, presumes that all technology can be abstracted to interchangeable widgets. As a consequence, too many people come out of these programs operating from the belief that the map is the territory, and that business decisions can be undertaken with little if any reference to subject matter expertise or the specific dynamics of the underlying products and technology, all of which are presumed to be an interchangeable term in the equation.

They aren’t. Sloan’s the only program that convinced me that they deeply understand the necessity of a balance of subject matter expertise coupled with sound business theory and practice, which was largely a product of their 140+ years of educating engineering management.

Like Roy Batty, I’ve seen “Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate” … er … wait. That’s overly dramatic. What I have seen is people, careers, and businesses go down in flames — and more often than not, failure to understand and accommodate the realities of the underlying technology was a big contributing factor.

Every time I have witnessed engineering, product, and business success, it has been the result of in-depth collaboration of people who both champion their particular discipline and who have learned to effectively communicate by speaking a common set of each other’s lingo.

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