MBA Programs That Students Love Most

Stanford Graduate School of Business students celebrate capturing  the No. 1 spot in the Financial Times global MBA ranking.

SECRET TO DARDEN’S SUCCESS: FACULTY AND STUDENT BUY IN

Darden professors enjoy a degree of freedom as well. However, the curriculum is rooted deeply in the case method. That’s fine with the faculty, who value teaching and consider Darden the ultimate destination to test their classroom prowess, says Wilcox. However, these teaching abilities are amplified by a team teaching model in the core curriculum, which require faculty sit down together regularly to develop plans.

“You’re in a room for 3-4 hours at a time in a teaching meeting,” Wilcox details. “So there is a certain Intensity and bonding to that among the faculty. There are also meetings across the areas so we can coordinate what marketing is teaching and how that relates to what finance and operations are teaching at the same time. Because of that, we get to know each other very well. This faculty is a tight knit group among ourselves and we learn from each other a lot, so I think basically we have a culture of reinforcing the excellence. If you’re not quite doing it right, you have colleagues right there helping you.”

That translates to a high level of satisfaction for the second years who leave the program each spring. “We don’t graduate a lot of students who regret coming here – very few do,” Wilcox says. “That is due to long-standing norms we have around here, where we evaluate faculty very seriously on the teaching dimension. We hold up that standard and what develops over the years is a cadre of faculty who self-select to come to Darden because of that and it produces outstanding results in our classroom and also very loyal alumni.”

DARDEN STUDENTS CAN’T MISS CLASS FOR EXTRACURRICULARS

Ron Wilcox

Making the case method work takes more than stellar faculty. It also requires top notch students. For Wilcox, that is the special sauce behind Darden’s success. Like the faculty, students self-select into Darden, buying into the heavy demands and high expectations because they understand what is on the other side.

“We have a reputation for being a hard-working place. That’s true. It’s not true that we are rough and students are not cutthroat competitive with each other. In my mind, a student who chooses Darden is usually the same type of individual who is going to add a lot of value to a company right off the bat because they have the type of psychological makeup where they just want to dive in and start working.”

That’s because Darden students are conditioned to high expectations for faculty. Notably, the faculty expects intensive case preparation before class – a time treated so sacred that students cannot miss class even for extracurricular activities.

“When you come into a classroom, you’re going to have a faculty member who is going to call on you whether you have your hand in the air or not,” Wilcox notes. “However they will also tell you the classroom experience is very good. A lot of that classroom experience was derived from their own preparedness. We do that differently because we hold our students to really high standards on preparing for class.”

EXPECTATIONS SET EARLY ON AT STANFORD

Feinberg also credits students for being a driving force within the program – calling them “principled leaders” who can “do it all and bring it all.” However, he adds, they bring that something extra to the Stanford community. “They are all in. They are going into jobs and career choices where they are fully invested in choices for impact. That’s what they’re after.”

Like Darden, Stanford sets high expectations – and sets them early on. On the first day, Feinberg joins Dean Jonathan Levin and senior administrators on stage to send a clear message to the “future leaders” who comprise the incoming class’ ranks. Notably, they remind first years that there were many applicants who didn’t make it to where they are sitting – and the class owes a certain responsibility to live the values and fulfill their potential for them, Feinberg notes.

“We have an expectation for behavior that is respectful, humble, and welcoming to everybody and giving them a place that will help them be authentic and grow.”

A CULTURE OF AUTHENTICITY

Stanford GSB’s Knight Management Center

It is a culture that demands involvement, ranging from participating in class to supporting each other and the community at large. And it is one that sweeps across the Stanford GSB top-to-bottom. It starts with student selection – a demanding process designed to ferret out cultural fit that begins with Stanford’s famous “What matters to you and why” essay. From there, the tone is set in “Week Zero.” The first week of school, Week Zero heavily infuses team dynamics that help first year experience the true value of their classmates’ diverse backgrounds and experiences. Such wrinkles form the bedrock of the Stanford GSB experience, which is defined as much by support as self-discovery.

“I think the beauty here is the alignment. When you have all the pieces aligned and working together, the culture will be the strongest. Look at the faculty, staff, administration, 2nd years, and alumni – we’ve all internalized the culture and believe in it. It is so much easier because everybody is talking about the same thing. You gravitate to it. It’s not a struggle to maintain every year. To the contrary, it’s very natural to maintain.

Feinberg calls it a “culture of authenticity” – where being who you are and valuing what others bring fosters a deep cohesiveness in and out of the classroom. “You may hear this from other schools, but our student love each other because they learn so much from each other,” Feinberg adds. “Classes facilitate that. Your experience and background is a huge component in the educational experience.”

Go to Page 4 to see student and alumni survey scores given to 25 top MBA programs on student satisfaction.