The rigorous application process at top MBA programs produces some remarkable concentrations of brainpower and professional success at campuses around the world. As a result, the first few weeks of classes can be both humbling and enlightening, as many students find themselves surrounded for the first time by peers smarter and/or more accomplished than themselves. If you’re an incoming MBA, you’re going to meet some impressive people.
Even in a group composed exclusively of high-achievers, there will be some memorable characters who stand out from the rest of the class. Below you’ll find what you might call MBA personas — rough sketches of personality types that pop up regularly in national MBA programs. This list comes with the usual caveats about every individual being a unique snowflake and irreducible to a simple stereotype, and these really should be taken more as light-hearted suggestions than substantive analyses.
Having said that, here are the five people you will definitely meet when you go to business school:
THE FUTURE CEO
Graduate business schools produce a lot of C-Suite executives. Depending on your school and the size of your class, chances are that you’ll share a graduation date with more than one future executive of a Fortune 500 company. But what you might not realize is that some of your classmates will seem destined for the job even while they’re still in the school. These are the Future CEOs; be nice to them, because they’ll be your boss one day.
- Really good at everything without being the best at anything
- Will win at least one award during tenure at business school
- Speaks regularly and intelligently in class without ever saying anything remotely controversial
- Will definitely remember your name at the 10-year reunion
In 25 years:
- Best-case scenario: President of the United States
- Most likely scenario: Fortune 500 CEO
- Worst-case scenario: Motivational Speaker
THE BUSINESS HIPPIE
Business school is no longer just for capitalist pigs. More and more MBAs with “nontraditional” backgrounds are entering the fray, and they’re bringing with them some wild ideas about the role business should play in society. Get to know the Business Hippie, who thinks businesses should make the world a better place at the same time that they make a profit (crazy, right?).
- Has serious concerns about TOMS shoes and isn’t sure about Whole Foods’ exclusionary pricing model (but shops there anyway)
- Often a disillusioned public servant/returned Peace Corps volunteer/Teach For America alum with a bachelor’s degree in humanities
- Very vocal in class, especially during Business Ethics; clashes with Finance professor
- Will probably end up being a consultant
In 25 years:
- Best-case scenario: John Mackey 2.0
- Most likely scenario: CEO of global nonprofit
- Worst-case scenario: CEO of local nonprofit
THE SMARTEST PERSON YOU’VE EVER MET
Despite business school’s reputation as two years of relative relaxation, classes can get really, really hard. Fortunately, you’ll have a few folks in your class for whom academics present no challenge at all — and who can teach you everything you need to know about quantitative analysis. Yes, you’ll meet the Smartest Person You’ve Ever Met in business school, and they just might keep you from failing your quant exams.
- Really, just, ridiculously smart. Possibly-a-robot-from-the-future smart
- Will spend significant hours tutoring other students; will probably be a better instructor than some of your professors
- Often says and does unusual things; is a weirdo
- Actively courted by banks and consultancies; works at a startup instead
In 25 years:
- Best-case scenario: Elon Musk
- Most likely scenario: [CLASSIFIED]
- Worst-case scenario: Business school professor
THE COOLEST KID ON CAMPUS
Social life is one of the three pillars of business school life (along with academics and recruiting), but for some of your classmates it will seem like the only pillar. This is just one of many ways in which MBA social life resembles high school, and the Coolest Kid on Campus was definitely cool in high school, too. You will know if you are friends with this person (you’re probably not).
- Has probably spent a significant amount of time on a yacht
- Always dressed impeccably, even when wearing previous night’s clothes
- Never speaks in class, but manages to answer flawlessly when cold-called
- Will land a prime consulting job despite apparently being absent from every recruiting event
In 25 years:
- Best-case scenario: Host on Shark Tank
- Most likely scenario: Partner at McKinsey
- Worst-case scenario: Due-diligence researcher on Shark Tank
THE OLYMPIC HOPEFUL
For some students, there is a fourth pillar of business school life: working out. Always dressed in workout gear and occasionally spotted jogging in the rain, the Olympic Hopeful is in unreasonably good shape (and sometimes likes to talk about it). You can raise an eyebrow at their gluten-free lunches and Michelob Ultras, but they might help your team win the intramural sports tournament, so at least let them be the captain.
- Wears leggings and/or gym shorts to the first day of class; is constantly late
- Misses school at least once to run a marathon
- Always prepared for cold calls; highly disciplined in both the gym and the classroom
In 25 years:
- Best-case scenario: Gold medal winner and CEO of global sporting goods firm
- Most likely scenario: Private equity mogul
- Worst-case scenario: Gold medal revoked due to doping scandal
Hopefully, the lesson here is that business school classes attract an unexpectedly broad (and vibrant) cross-section of the population — though lots of work remains to be done in the area of MBA diversity. This completely subjective and slightly humorous list notwithstanding, you should enter your MBA experience with as few preconceived notions as possible. It is really difficult to overstate how much your classmates will surprise you; get to know as many as possible, and maybe you’ll run into someone who reminds you of those who made this list.
Zach Mayo is the chief operating officer of RelishCareers, the marketplace for MBA hiring. Available to students and alumni from network schools, RelishCareers gives candidates access to employer branding and MBA-specific career exploration resources; recruiters from top global employers use the platform to search and filter for best-fit candidates prior to in-person recruiting efforts. MBAs can sign up now to explore company pages, build an initial target list, and engage with employers before they arrive on campus.