It’s easy to get lost in a big school. People may know your name, but most are little more than strangers. Sure, your options are seemingly endless in a big school. Problem is, it’s a mad scramble to get face time, let alone help, there. Some MBAs thrive on their own. For many others, a small program – and the supportive community it forges – is what brings out their best.
You’ve heard the terms like “close-knit” and “intimate” to describe “small” MBA communities – usually with 200 students or fewer. What do those terms mean? Basically, they describe a certain “feel” where the student is the front-and-center. At small programs, everyone has a story; eventually, everyone must share theirs. It is a place where faculty are front-line close to their students– and actively work to amplify their strengths, accelerate their growth, and attain their goals. Here, students partner with peers they might miss in other arenas. As a result, they are exposed to an array of backgrounds and personalities in scenarios where everyone must contribute. There is nowhere to hide in such business schools. This creates a certain bond, a community fashioned by familiarity, strengthened by shared purpose, reinforced by respect, and deepened by discovery.
“THEY MADE ME FEEL SPECIAL, IMPORTANT, AND VALUED”
A tight-knit community is the signature of Washington University’s Olin Business School, a program renowned for one-on-one support and a truly personalized experience. The Class of 2019 noticed the difference right when they set foot on Olin’s St. Louis campus. Ashia Powers, an account manager from Detroit, was truly sold on the program during admitted students weekend, where the cozy and collaborative nature of her class had already taken shape. “The community here is everything, and everyone takes pride in it,” she witnessed. “They made me feel special, important, and valued.”
That observation is seconded by Bryant Powell. After talking to current students and faculty, he came away feeling like an honorary member of the Olin community. “From emails, phone calls to text messages, everyone I spoke with was open, honest and dedicated towards my future success, no matter where I would call home in the fall,” he acknowledges. “To have that feeling, the true feeling of being wanted, valued, to be part of a family most people rarely ever get in life.”
Gheremey Edwards came to his epiphany about Olin during a speech by Dean Mark Taylor, who positioned the Olin community as “Elite but never elitist; confident but never arrogant.” That struck a chord with Edwards, who hopes to transition from teaching to brand management. “There’s a spirit of winning here, but never at the expense of our peers,” he points out. “The class size and class culture allows me to fearlessly invest in unfamiliar and challenging pieces of the MBA journey.”
PROGRAM DELIBERATELY KEPT SMALL
A cynic might attribute such sentiments as buying into a sales pitch. Just ask any Olin graduate and you’ll hear the same story as Richa Gangopadhyay, an award-winning Indian actress who earned her MBA there last spring. “It’s incredibly close-knit and there’s just this sense of camaraderie among the students and the faculty that really appealed to me,” she told Poets&Quants in a March interview. “It has a real eclectic blend of students from different backgrounds. It wasn’t just different professional backgrounds, but different thought leaders as well.”
This community-driven culture is hardly an accident. Instead, it is the result of careful selection and intensive support. It is a winning formula that the program has no intention of changing, says Mahendra R. Gupta, the former dean and current accounting professor who has spent 27 years at the school. “It’s easy to admit but it is always not that easy to create success,” Gupta told Poets&Quants in 2016. “When you have programs that create continued success for your students, you can feel very good about that. We work hard to give students an exceptional experience of learning. We place a very high bar on teaching and student service.”
The bar is equally high for the eclectic and accomplished band of 145 students who populate the Class of 2019. Just look at Edwards, a Teach for America veteran. In the digital age, he understands the value of a book – one that a student can hold and “discover new lands, and push their imaginations.” At the Manenberg Primary School in South Africa, he ran a drive that provided books for 640 underprivileged students. Then, there’s Hyrum Palmer, a “Kiwi” who is “7/9 of the way to fatherhood.” His colorful resume includes stints as a field artillery officer in the National Guard, a director in Concerned Veterans for America, and a member of U.S. Representative Matt Salmon’s Congressional staff.
FIRST-YEAR PUSHES VETERAN CARE REFORM IN CONGRESS
Impressive…but he wasn’t a summer intern at NASA during high school. That’s one of Rina Amatya’s claims to fame. A student in Washington University’s medical school and a researcher in its virology lab, Amatya has already published a book chapter and will have a solo paper coming out in the near future. She even launched a class in the School of Medicine, which brought non-clinical physicians to campus to talk about how medical training can be applied to everything from law to entrepreneurship.
Ironically, Amatya admits that despite her work with infectious diseases, she is actually a germophobe. That’s just one of the fun facts about this year’s incoming class. Ricardo Marrujo Mexia – a “stumbling salsa dancer” has already visited 30 countries. That should stir Candice Yi’s competitive juices: she has only hit 22 of them. Of course, they might want to compare notes with Bhuvi Chopra, who speaks five languages and has lived everywhere from Abu Dhabi to Hyderabad. Alas, Edwards doesn’t need to travel far from Memphis…not when he has the 3 B’s: “BBQ, Blues, and Beale Street.”
Olin may be a culture of collaborating and developing, but the Class of 2019 is more defined by creating and driving. At Toshiba, Chopra was a pioneer for women in her sector. Susan Fontana, a Mound City native, formulated the pricing strategy for the re-launch of the Marie Callender brand. To serve disadvantaged children in Columbia, Marrujo Mexia partnered with the Ministry of Education to launch an ESL program. And Madalyn Cassis was so respected by her Peace Corps peers that she was elected to co-chair its Volunteer Advisory Commission, which worked to set the organization’s policies.
It is also a class committed to giving back. At Akros, Sharon Mazimba spearheaded an effort to bring electronic data tools into rural Zambian clinics, which enabled government officials to set better public health policy. Palmer was also involved in pushing the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, a process that included “hundreds of meetings with lawmakers, veterans, and VA officials” that built a consensus on how to improve veteran care.
APPS WAY DOWN, BUT GMATs WAY UP
Like many American MBA programs, Olin’s 2016-2017 recruiting cycle could be boiled down to fewer applications but higher caliber students. This year, applications fell off from 1,579 to 1,174 – a near 26% drop. Despite this, the class is actually 17 students larger than its predecessor, with an acceptance rate that jumped 10 points to 40%. Still, the average GMA score climbed seven points to 694 with the Class of 2019 – a score higher than those produced by new classes at small school gems like Notre Dame Mendoza, Vanderbilt Owen, and Emory Goizueta.
This rise in average GMATs also coincides with a spike in interest from women. This year’s class features 39% women, a major jump over last year’s 25% composition. That said, the percentage of international students slipped a point to 38%. The silver lining? It is a more diverse class altogether, with students hailing from 20 countries. That’s five more countries than the year before – and includes students from nations like Indonesia, Romania, Peru, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan.
Academically, the class is broken into three near equal parts: liberal arts, business, and the sciences. Social sciences comprises the largest segment of the class at 26%. Business and engineering each take up a 23% share. Sciences (12%), economics (9%), and the humanities (6%) also compose substantive blocs of the class. The class also features 13 veterans, along with 11 students pursuing dual degrees.
Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Olin students.