Some schools know how to recruit. Others know how to teach. Count the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business among the latter. It is an MBA program with a history of turning good applicants into great professionals.
Just ask employers. In the 2017 Bloomberg Businessweek employer survey, Foster ranked 11th among recruiters, besting West Coast competitors like Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, and USC. Not surprisingly, this popularity translated into results. The Class of 2016, for example, boasted a 98% placement rate – better than any Top 25 program. Employers also paid a premium for Foster talent, as starting pay rose 7% to $141,121.
AVERAGE DEBT IS A QUARTER OF FIRST YEAR PAY
Better yet, Foster set its graduates up for success. The Class of 2016, for example, averaged just $32,047 in debt after graduation – the second-lowest debt burden of any Top 25 program. As a result, Foster has become as popular with MBA candidates as employers. In fact, applications to the program have nearly doubled over the past five years – more than any other program during that same period.
So what’s behind Foster’s success? Being located in the heart of Seattle – home to Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft – doesn’t hurt. However, Joshua Rodriguez, a 2017 Best & Brightest MBA who joined Goldman Sachs after graduation, attributes it to something more: “a hunger to win.”
“There are no real barriers to success in this program,” he explains. “You want to go into IBD? We have a first year who scored an internship before her first day of class. You want to go to a top consultancy? We have folks that got offers at two of the top three. You want to go to finance? Come with me, I’ll introduce you to Thomas Gilbert and Chris Hrdlicka, two professors that rival any other in the country. Interested in tech? This is Microsoft and Amazon University! We have a home-field advantage that never goes away….This school owns the Pacific Northwest and is always branching out further. Plus, an MBA student at this school is learning about business in a city that is rapidly growing with no signs of slowing.”
A HUNGRY CLASS…IN A GOOD WAY
This hunger defines the Class of 2019. Look no further than Andrew Peppler. His motto: “Tell me I can’t do something—I love being underestimated.” A U.S. Army platoon leader and company commander who served in Afghanistan, Peppler has turned into a Renaissance Man since the service. He managed a $120 million dollar budget at Amazon; taught military science at the University of Seattle as an adjunct; and even launched a regular podcast that provided veterans with a voice on policy issues. He has set the highest standards for himself – and appreciates that Foster has done the same with their incoming class.
“The intention with which the staff approach the application process is a reflection of the quality of the program and the curriculum more generally—they don’t just pay lip service to diversity—and they ensure the very best people make it into a Foster cohort together,” he says. “This is extremely important to me because throughout my Army career, I was surrounded by America’s best—high achievers who understood the value of teams. When I left the Army, I pursued a position at Amazon for the same reason. Foster sets a high bar and I can’t wait to work with and learn from my new teammates.”
Peppler won’t be disappointed. He’ll be joined by Skyler Brown, a West Point grad and Green Beret who worked with Afghan entrepreneurs to sharpen their business skills. Perhaps Peppler could swap career transition stories with Nimit Pathak, who went from being a philosophy major to a derivatives trader. When it comes to setting the bar, he may find some kinship with Kate Neupert. Her motto? “I aspire to live my life in all caps.” He may even get a run for his Renaissance Man title from Derek Kumagai, an econ major who went from recruiting teachers to running a sports academy to being a consultant for PwC.
The class is as colorful as it is hungry. When he isn’t nerding out over basketball, Kumagai is a “ukulele-playing cat dad.” Katie Tinker-Langenfeld is the adventurer of the group. This Arkansas native had seen 46 of the 50 states before she’d even turned 14, thanks to long RV trips with her parents and seven siblings. Pathak, however, prefers to keep his feet on the ground. He has backpacked through 33 countries on six continents. These jaunts have given Pathak plenty of time to ponder life, which may be why he describes himself as a “patient pragmatist and optimistic adventurer who’s always been more interested in questions than answers.”
A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY
Fake it til’ you make it? That has to be Kumagai’s motto? He has sung karaoke in five different language…though none where he was fluent. Perhaps he could do a duet with Giulia Pellegrino, another “language enthusiast” who also happens to be a classically trained opera singer. And Pellegrino knows how to fake it too. She used to do the work of a first-year attorney…despite having no legal training. But that didn’t stop her. “Within a few months, I was drafting loan amendments that would be ready for clients, needing no extra revisions by the supervising partner,” she says.
Want a good cocktail story? Ask Tim Luk about the time he did the Heimlich to save someone who was choking. Spoiler alert: It comes with a stunning O. Henry twist: “She was choking on a piece of food I cooked for her. I feel both very proud and very guilty.” Then again, Yangyang Pan can top that with her true-to-life doppelgänger. “I have an identical twin sister,” she shares. “Even though we have lived in different cities, we keep bumping into each other’s friends who don’t know our twin status. Once during a snorkeling trip in Hawaii, I was approached by two complete strangers so enthusiastically calling me by my sister’s name. It’s simply amazing to realize how small the world is.”
This hunger is also reflected in the class’ accomplishments. Take Tinker-Langenfeld. At Wal-Mart, she spearheaded an accelerated development program for international professionals who held master’s degrees. This program created a talent pipeline, where participants were trained on best practices in areas like merchandising and supply chain so they could apply these lessons in Wal-Mart operations in emerging markets. “Building this new, innovative program allowed me to exercise my entrepreneurial spirit inside a Fortune 100 company,” she says. “And most importantly, the experience of working with aspiring global leaders opened my eyes to the tremendous ability to use business as a force to positively impact the world.”
BIG DECLINE IN NUMBER OF STUDENTS
Looking at the Class of 2019 as a whole, it represents a bit of a departure. Applications plateaued during the 2016-2017 cycle, with the school receiving just six more than the previous year. Technically, Foster remained a relatively exclusive program, accepting just 22% of applicants. This is down nearly two points, putting it on par with UCLA and Duke. That said, the big news comes with the student population. Last year, the program enrolled 125 students. This year, that number fell to 98 first-year MBAs, a 22% decline that makes Foster perhaps the smallest full-time MBA program among the Top 25.
Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Foster students