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The Best MBA Alumni Networks

Tuck alum tutoring the next generation of MBA graduates.

A degree is a start, not an end.

That’s how many MBAs view their alma maters. For them, business school was more than a string of projects and trips that prepped them for McKinsey or Microsoft. It was a transformative experience that re-aligned their values and priorities. Come graduation, these alumni will start work on a new purpose: paying forward the blessings they enjoyed to the next class.

“IT’S PAYBACK TIME!”

It is this spirit that often separates graduate business programs. At the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, this difference is reflected in alumni giving, where more than two-thirds of alumni traditionally make gifts to the annual fund. For Jonathan Masland, executive director for career development at Tuck, such support is embedded in the school’s structure – a private program that caters exclusively to full-time MBAs. In other words, Tuck’s success is predicated on being a close-knit and heavily involved student community, where everyone knows each other and can pitch in when help is needed. This instinct naturally carries over to alumni, says Masland.

“They’ve had this great experience. They understand, to have this community, it is something that really requires them to give back.”

The not-so hidden hand of alumni is also felt at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Long known for student volunteerism, Marshall is the sunny urban yang to Tuck’s seasonal rural yin. However, the school’s alums are equally committed to the cause. They even have a nickname: The Trojan Network. According to Anne Ziemniak, the school’s assistant dean who heads the full-time MBA program, alumni often respond with “What can I do” when asked if they could help with students and events. This responsiveness was something immediately apparent to Jayson Gasper, an M&A manager at Deloitte Consulting and 2013 Marshall alum, when he was a student.

Students’ Bridge at USC Marshall

I found that, especially when I would talk to a USC alum versus someone outside the Trojan family, there was extra responsiveness and longer conversations,” he explains. “I sensed a difference in the amount of thoughtfulness and connection that they strove to make. From a networking perspective, I saw a big help from alumni in a number of companies in a number of roles.”

ROSS EDGES OUT TUCK AS TOP NETWORK ACCORDING TO SURVEY

Such commitment and responsiveness are undoubtedly among the reasons why Tuck and Marshall grads rank among the top alumni networks, according to the annual survey conducted by The Economist. In 2017, the magazine polled current MBA students and recent alumni about the “effectiveness” of their school’s alumni on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent). In doing so, The Economist was able to measure, to an extent, how engaged school alumni were in mentoring and helping with job searches.

Overall, respondents gave the highest marks to the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business among top MBA programs. It produced a 4.81 average. In fact, this score was the third-highest among top MBA programs across the various survey criteria, which also evaluated faculty, culture, facilities, and satisfaction. Tuck trailed closely behind at 4.79, beating out Stanford (4.77) Notre Dame (4.74), and Marshall (4.73) as runner-ups. Those scores, of course, are so close they effectively represent a tie of sorts.

The alumni network survey also showed clear statistical differentiation between programs. Unlike the satisfaction, faculty, and culture surveys – where barely .20 of a point separated the highest-rated program from the 15th best, survey respondents were clearly more enamored with some networks over others. Notably, .43 of a point separates #1 Ross from #15 Yale. At the same time, some of the lowest averages overall are found in The Economist’s alumni effectiveness survey, including HEC Paris, IE Business School, and IESE – which all scored under a 4.0.

MARSHALL STUDENTS TREATED LIKE PARTNERS

So what makes some alumni more apt to pick up the phone over others? Both Tuck and Marshall are case studies in how pairing top notch programming with supportive cultures foster alumni who internalize their school values long after commencement.

USC’s Anne Ziemniak

At Marshall, it starts with ownership. Alumni stay heavily involved in the school because they were given a strong voice as students. They are treated as partners, rather than consumers, by administration and faculty. Since their insights were encouraged as students, they naturally continue to engage with the Marshall community as professionals.

“We involve students in all aspects of student life here,” notes Ziemniak. “They are key stakeholders and we want them to help us understand how to make the student experience better. That investment really carries over to when they are alumni and they feel that need to continue to give back.”

ALUMNI INVOLVEMENT SETS EXAMPLE FOR STUDENTS TO FOLLOW

Indeed, Marshall views alumni as their strongest advocates. As a result, they’re heavily involved in every step of the recruitment process – a strategy that doesn’t go unnoticed by prospective MBAs. “Students really pick up on that,” Ziemniak points out. “That’s a visual. Students see that our alumni is engaged and they themselves pick up on the cue that it is important to be engaged once you graduate as well.”

The Class President Summit is an example of this active involvement in action. Last year, Marshall brought a dozen class presidents back to campus. Since the presidents have traditionally been the ones who are most plugged into with their classmates, it was way to share updates on initiatives and upcoming events with a larger population in a far more intimate fashion. Now, Marshall has tweaked the formula to better serve current students. Going forward, past class presidents will help conduct student leader training. This creates an opportunity for students to learn from and network with their future peers.

“The great thing about Marshall alumni,” Ziemniak adds, “is that you can just call someone up and say you are doing this event and we need your help here. Unless there is a major scheduling conflict, the answer is usually yes.”

TUCK LOCALE ENCOURAGES STUDENTS TO BE ACTIVE TOGETHER

Dartmouth Tuck’s 2nd Year Erica Toews

At Tuck, the sense of community starts early and extends far beyond one’s class. Erica Toews, a second year who studied English at Stanford, attributes this to both the school’s location and people. For one, Tuck is based in a small town – Hanover, New Hampshire – which is over two hours from Boston. Being “out in the woods” – in Toews’ words – gives it a unique advantage. In her experience, this terrain makes Tuck students “self-selecting,” More than that, it brings people together.

“We’re in this beautiful outdoorsy part of the country where each season is incredibly stark and beautiful,” Toews explains. “Because the environment and the surroundings and outdoor area is so beautiful, it makes us go outside and do things together and be really active in a way that you wouldn’t do in a school in the city.”

Toews also traces the school camaraderie to the program’s first year program. Broken into fall, winter, and spring terms, it mixes students in core courses together for most of the year. Even more, the core is organized to expose them to a maximum number of classmates. “Each term, you get a new study group. At most schools, you have the same study group all year. We switch them, which is a really amazing way to meet and get to know different groups of people since we work with them so closely.”

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