Busting The Biggest Business School Myths

Hate standing in airport security lines?

Ryan Bingham does. The traveling downsizer played by George Clooney in Up In The Air, Bingham cautions a protégé early on to never get behind old people. Why? “Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left.” His ideal line mates: Asians. “They pack light, travel efficiently, and have a thing for slip on shoes.”

When his travel companion recoils at his reasoning, Bingham briskly shrugs off her concerns. “I’m like my mother. I stereotype. It’s faster.”


Many MBA candidates fall into this same trap. Awash in options, they’ll seize upon a popular nugget that reinforces what they want to hear about a program — or makes it easier to chop a name off their target list. Funny thing is, there is a grain of truth in many stereotypes. Take the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. According to Buzz Becker, who received the school’s highest academic award, Darden is known for its rigor. In fact, he happily validates this observation. At the same time, he notes the benefits of an academically-intensive curriculum that some might not consider.

University of Michigan’s Aaron Silver

“While we don’t skimp on the elbow grease—with a dedicated party in October for the first-year students completing 100 cases—Darden creates an environment of creativity and rational trade-offs through time pressure,” he shares. “It is a phenomenal place to learn life balance in our future careers, no matter how demanding our schedules may be.”

Alas, stereotypes and myths aren’t just restricted to specific MBA programs. The degree itself suffers from the impression that “grades don’t matter.” Aaron Silver, a Deloitte-bound graduate of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, doesn’t buy into that notion — at least not how it is commonly interpreted. Instead, he views business school as a time when the competition for letter grades is simply less important than areas like personal growth, critical thought, and debate.


“Academics are taken seriously. The onus is on the individual MBA student to be a good group partner, contribute to an active classroom, and learn, but he or she is not punished for having periods where he or she momentarily shifts priorities to internship recruiting or student-life events. I think it is the right approach for early- to mid-career professionals who are aspiring executives. It is just different than what one typically encounters during the undergraduate experience.”

Yes, there are half-truths and tall tales about every MBA program. Occasionally, there are flat out fibs. What’s the biggest? “There is sufficient parking,” jokes USC’s Mollie Hartung.

During the nomination process for the Best & Brightest MBAs, Poets&Quants asked students to share the biggest myths about their MBA programs. From Stanford to Simon and Oxford to Olin, here is the Class of 2017 setting the record straight on what’s true and misleading about conventional wisdom about their alma maters.


Myth: There is a disproportionate focus on entrepreneurship at Stanford.

Reality: “There are certainly great courses, advisors and tools for the entrepreneurial-minded. And of course, Sand Hill Road is ten minutes away, and you do hear conversations about “pivoting” all the time in Town Square!

However, the focus of the majority of students is on general management. The first year provides a solid foundation across key business disciplines, and the second year allows you to dive deeper in your specific areas of interest. I was not planning on starting a business when I came to the GSB, and I feel that I obtained all that I needed and more from an educational standpoint, at the highest level.”

–  Federico Mossa, Stanford GSB


Myth: An MBA at Olin means you’ll end up with a job in St. Louis or the Midwest.

Reality: “While you certainly can get a job in St. Louis or the Midwest at Olin, the opportunities at the school are all over. We have students that are going to the East Coast, the West Coast and all over the world. Olin may be in S. Louis, but it opens doors to wherever you want to go.”

– Conn Davis, Washington University (Olin)


Myth: Rotman is strictly a finance school.

Reality: “Although Rotman is certainly known for producing exceptional finance talent, we also have a very strong management consulting track, as well as a variety of cutting edge programs focused on entrepreneurship, like the Creative Destruction Lab, robust Business Design and Marketing practices, and an emerging group focused on Real Estate Management and Economics. Rotman offers a variety of degree specializations, concentrations, and majors. While finance is definitely one of our strengths, it is far from the end of the story!”

                                                                        – Alex Walker Turner, University of Toronto (Rotman)


Myth: Soft skill development comes at the expense of academics at Fuqua.

Reality: “Fuqua has a reputation of being a school for people interested in “soft” skills and this can at times be interpreted to mean we don’t emphasize academic rigor. That is furthest from the case. My experience at Fuqua has been one in which I was forced to learn how to employ my ability to work in teams and personal leadership principles during the most difficult friction points of academic learning. Similar to what I expect in the business world, we will be asked to be empathetic leaders at times when our companies are facing the hardest business problems of the time.”

– Erika Hines, Duke University (Fuqua)


Myth: Recruiting is more difficult in Cornell’s Ithaca location.

Reality: “I found recruiting activities to be incredibly accessible — especially for New York City. It’s always important to remember networking with firms should focus on quality over quantity. Also, Johnson alumni LOVE coming back to Ithaca to recruit students.”

– Patrick Grumley, Cornell University (Johnson)


Next Page: Do Booth students know how to have fun? Does North Carolina really hate Duke? Plus, stereotypes debunked at Yale, Kellogg, and Ross.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.