Myth Busters: MBAs Dispel Their Schools’ Worst Stereotypes

No one wants to be called a “nerd.” The caricature is a pop culture staple: Bullied and celibate, nerds are the outliers whose high IQs and technical wizardly are only matched by their stunted social skills and laughable bench presses. Decked out in bow ties, thick-rimmed glasses, and pocket protectors, the prototypical nerd has his nose pressed into a textbook (or a laptop), consumed with the abstract and oblivious to its applications.

But what do you know — these nerds grow up to be Mark Zuckerberg and Tina Fey. You know, the ones who amass fortunes and shape the way we all live and think.

MIT has a reputation for being “nerdy.” That probably makes sense. Flush with research dollars, MIT is a bastion for engineering and physical science, a pioneering force in robotics, genetics, and artificial intelligence. Naturally, people tag the Sloan School of Management as the MBA program for tech-driven, all-consumed prodigies. You’ll find Sloan students are happy to adopt the “nerdy” moniker – provided people know what “nerdy” really means.

“If ‘nerdy’ means that we are intellectually curious and passionate about what we do — then, absolutely,” says Faye Cheng, a Siebel Scholar, Bain recruit, and 2018 Best & Brightest MBA. “We like to have fun but that’s not how we spend all of our time. For most of us, the MBA is way more than a two-year vacation.”


Like most programs, Sloan benefits from the myths surrounding it. Sloan is the tech school, no different than Kellogg being associated with marketing, Wharton with finance, or Stanford with entrepreneurship. In many ways, such myths serve as a compliment: a recognition of excellence in a particular field. At the same time, they often obscure a reality: most business schools are strong across the board. Slapping them with a certain stereotype simply diverts attention from more fascinating aspects of a program.

Take Sloan. Operating from a Mens et Manus (“Mind and Hand”) philosophy, Sloan leans heavily on experiential learning as a means to imagine, experiment and act. While it traditionally ranks among the top programs in “hard” areas like information systems, operations, and logistics, Sloan has also carved out world class programming in areas like finance, management, and entrepreneurship. Even more, it has emerged as a leader in team-based learning that prepares MBA for far more than the lonely and nerdy tasks of crunching data and drawing up models.

“Sloan has a reputation for being very tech-focused and quantitative,” Cheng admits. “While there is definitely expertise in this area, there is also a great range of training in “soft” skills. For example, Communications and Organizational Processes are part of the core curriculum that all MBAs have to take. We even have a class where students put on a Shakespeare play! MIT has a lot of diversity around methods and perspectives, and Sloan’s curriculum really reflects that.”

As part of the Best & Brightest MBAs program, Poets&Quants asked MBAs to share the myths or stereotypes about their business school – and address whether they are true or not. From cutthroat cultures to dull campus life, here are some of the biggest myths you’ll hear about your favorite MBA programs.

Myth: Everyone goes into tech or entrepreneurship.

Reality: “It’s true that there are many interested in technology (wait, who isn’t?), and that many of my classmates aspire to start their own companies, but even more pronounced for me has been the genuine excitement I’ve felt and seen from the community for every imaginable career path.”

Sarah Anne Hinkfuss, Stanford GSB



Myth: Tepper is a nerdy, engineer-focused school.

Reality: “While we do love analytics and benefit from many students who have heavy-quantitative backgrounds, we are much more than that. My classmates come from many different professions, ranging from music to finance to non-profit, which gives Tepper a diverse and well-rounded community. That said, we are all (proudly) nerdy about something.”

Emily Gennaula, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)


Myth: Columbia has a very competitive culture.

Reality: “This could not be further from the truth. Both in the classroom and in recruiting, students are constantly working together and are always willing to help each other. I’ve found that the culture at CBS is incredibly collegial and supportive.”

Ryan Ripp, Columbia Business School



Myth: Babson is all about entrepreneurship.

Reality: “Entrepreneurship is not just about starting your own business. When I arrived to campus, I was expected to see classmates founding new businesses left and right, which hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’ve seen many more forms of entrepreneurship than I expected, including classmates running and growing family businesses; expanding businesses they had personally founded before grad school; working on the innovation team of large, Fortune 500 companies; or applying an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset to a social justice problem. Babson does an exceptional job of infusing an entrepreneurial perspective into every course you take so that you learn how to think like an entrepreneur across many contexts like finance, strategy, operations, and human capital.”

David James, Babson College (Olin)

Myth: IESE is (in)famous for its workload.

Reality: “Before I started my first day of the MBA, second year students told me that I would be extremely busy with 15 cases a week, team assignments, clubs, job searching, and networking events. My first month at IESE was exactly like that. Soon after realizing how unsustainable my life would be, I decided to design my MBA life based on my three goals – networking, learning, and soft skills. This is how I learned prioritization and giving things up. This is how, paradoxically, I elevated my MBA life to the maximum.”

Jieqiong Xu, IESE

Myth: Like other schools surrounded by rural areas, people think there isn’t much to do for fun in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Reality: “That is far from the truth. Due to our family-like environment, we are always finding ways to connect with each other in social settings. We have weekly tailgates during the football season, mug clubs to connect at the end of each week, onesie parties, BBQ’s, and much more. The Champaign downtown area has plenty of hidden gems, as it houses some vibrant bars and restaurants. Green Street is filled with some of your favorites such as Panda Express, Panera Bread, and Noodles and Company. In addition, there is a cultural element as Champaign is filled with Korean, Chinese, and Cajun restaurants that are sure to never leave your tongue bored. We’re a pretty fun bunch, take my word for it!”

Brandon Byers, University of Illinois (Gies)

Myth: Darden has a reputation for being incredibly challenging academically,

Reality: “Because of this, I was hesitant to take on too much as a student with a non-business background. I worried that I would get lost in the case method as peers with more experience would know the right answer and I would be left behind.  While its true that Darden is rigorous, the case method allows for everyone to contribute. Different backgrounds offer new insights while the people with more subject-matter expertise are trained to communicate more effectively. I was worried that I wouldn’t succeed academically at Darden, but instead I found a classroom experience that I thrived in.”

Devin Underhill, University of Virginia (Darden)

Myth: CEIBS’ curriculum is censored with little focus on innovation.

Reality: “Different experience: The energy and innovation both on and off campus were amazing to experience and are testament to China’s evolving economy. Open discussion was promoted to debate pressing issues.”

Richard Higgs, CEIBS


Go to next page for myths about Wharton, INSEAD, Duke Fuqua, Yale SOM, and NYU Stern.

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