MBA Programs With The Best Cultures & Classmates

Students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business


Beyond the 25 questions, Fuqua asks many of the same questions as Ross, shying away from the same red flags that would undermine their engagement cultures. “We ask them to project out who they are,” Morgan adds. “If they come in here and give us the best of them, how do they improve our community? One thing our admissions staff looks for is whether they take pride in joint accomplishments. What I’ve seen that’s very diagnostic is whether an individual is very self-focused and takes credit for things that were obviously done jointly. We compare that against those who talk about how empowered they were with some team accomplishment and even the role that they played on that team.”

The best cultures are transmitted from one generation to another. It informs their daily interactions and becomes a way for MBA candidates to look at the world – and themselves. That’s why Ross and Fuqua MBAs are heavily engaged in the admissions process. According to Kwon, 300 full-time MBAs are currently ambassadors for the program, a number that is buttressed by 400 alumni volunteers. In fact, 200 students and alumni are involved in interviewing and evaluating applicants at the school – a testament to the weight they carry in curating the culture.

Morgan also relies heavily on Fuqua students for interviews because they’ve lived-and-breathed Team Fuqua and understand what it takes to be successful in this environment. “Part of what we ask students to do is ask, ‘Could you imagine working with this person?’ ‘Would this person make Fuqua better?’ ‘Is the culture the right fit?’ We want to get as much information through the interview process as possible coming in. We want self-selection to play a big role for us. We want people who feel the culture resonates with them and have a desire to be here.”


Recruiting may pinpoint potential, but the onboarding process reinforces alignment. At Fuqua, that starts with formulating the teams, which are calibrated to expose students to a rich variety of experiences and backgrounds. The concept that business is predicated on teamwork is reinforced in everything from the curriculum to coaching. At the same time, the school flips the script on the traditional view of innovation, tying it less to a ‘Eureka’ moment and more to a process of leveraging team expertise to find the best solutions.

“We consciously talk about their team efforts here and on the outside,” Morgan explains. “They should be careful not to look at it as a zero sum game. Some come into business school with the idea that it is an individual competition. We help them understand how business is done so others don’t have to lose for you to do well. This idea that you’re not focused on limiting the success of others but on getting the best out of others so that resonates and flows back to you.”

Fuqua’s Russ Morgan

The first weeks at Fuqua set the tone for the program. In July, the program kicks off with four week classes designed to lay a foundation on team-building and cultural awareness, including a Global Institutions and Environments course. Broken into 6-7 member teams, the first-years set ground rules and goals to govern their efforts in the Team Fuqua spirit. The secret, says Morgan, is that the team environment is cultivated very deliberately.


“Part of what we are doing is bringing people together from different cultures and having them understand global context in terms institutions and environments and a global understanding of how teams work together,” Morgan states. “A signature part of that experience is an outdoor and high ropes activity that we do at Triangle Training. It is that rite of passage in their first week of class that they do as a team and a section. It really brings out the idea that you can’t go this alone. You need a team to be successful.”

At Ross, this spirit is reflected by how supportive students are of their peers. This goodwill can come as quite a surprise for those who expect a more combative atmosphere. This semester, Kwon met with a first year who was still stunned by the lengths that her peers would go to help during the recruiting process – especially since they were often competing with her for the same jobs and internships.

“She told me classmates will not only help each other prepare for these interviews,” Kwon shares, “but they’ll even share the interview questions even after they’ve already gone and they’ll share it with the next person so they can do even better. So there is this sense of camaraderie and supporting each other and lifting each other up that was shocking to many students here.”

It doesn’t stop with the recruiting process, Kwon adds. “I also see it a lot academically when students are struggling in a particular area like accounting. There will be an accountant in their class who will just help their classmates by holding extra study sessions. They’ll bring brownies and teach them what they need to do. They help each other out in all those kinds of ways.”


Impact is a cornerstone of the Ross MBA culture. Dean DeRue notes that 17% of incoming students are looking to enter the social impact space – and far more cite making a positive impact as their long-term career goal. That impact starts by students tapping into their school’s deep experiential learning roots to make an impact.

The school year opens, for example, with the Ross Impact Challenge, a week-long, team-based effort where student teams will take on community service projects in Detroit. For example, the 2019 Class worked with food-based entrepreneurs, in partnership with FoodLab Detroit, to deliver solutions that would push both economic growth and social equality. Like Fuqua’s ropes course training, the Impact Challenge is a way to reinforce the importance of teamwork early on, along with infusing Ross’ signature sensibility around service and impact.

A Michigan Ross School of Business MBA speaks with a youth at the Detroit Youth Maker Faire during the Ross Impact Challenge. Photo courtesy of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

The Ross Impact Challenge is just the tip of the iceberg, adds Kwon. “We engage in a lot of things that are impact-oriented,” she says. “Students are involved in the social venture fund, where students learn how to invest real money into organizations that have an impact focus. Or, there is the Give a Day Fund, where students give up one day of their summer internship salary to help support classmates who are working in an impact-oriented internship themselves. There is this culture of helping each other and helping others in the Ross community and a lot initiated by students.”


Service is also a critical strand in Fuqua’s cultural DNA. One of the school’s seminal events is called the MBA Games, which supports the Special Olympics of North Carolina. Currently, the MBA Games ranks as the organization’s largest annual donor, pouring over $2.5 million dollars into the cause since 1989.

How does it work? In February, the school holds a silent live auction to support the Special Olympics, with this year’s items including a signed Fender guitar from Bruce Springsteen, a dinner for 10 with Dean Bill Boulding, and the opportunity to be “Dean for a Day.” The school also hosts a basketball game in Cameron Indoor Stadium between faculty and students to raise funds. In April, the school hosts other business schools for a weekend of competition and celebrating. Together with Special Olympics athletes, schools compete in everything from tug-of-war to bean bag toss.

Sound like a blast? Just wait until you get a load of Fuqua Fridays, a much-anticipated reprieve for fun-loving Fuqua fanatics. Each Friday, the Fuqua community – students, faculty, staff, and even spouses and children – gather in the Fox Center for drinks and sometimes meals. Many times, the evening is capped off by entertainment such as Fuqua Vision, where students put on skits. Personally, Morgan looks most forward to Fuqua Idol, which traditionally takes place on the last Friday of the year.

“It’s absolutely fabulous to see how multi-dimensionally talented the students are,” he says. “To me, it is such a feel good night where all the students are rooting for all of the students. It is a way for us, internally, to celebrate. Not only do we have this academically gifted talent, but look at this person in terms of vocal performance or piano or guitar talent. The quality that you see there makes me feel like it is such a special community.”

Go to Page 3 to see student and alumni survey scores given to 25 top MBA programs on culture and classmates. 

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