Meet Columbia Business School’s MBA Class Of 2020

Columbia Business School. Courtesy photo


This selectivity is also reflected in GMAT scores. This year’s class boasts a 732 average – an eight point jump over the previous class. Not to mention, it is a 15 point improvement compared to four years ago. This 732 average also ties CBS with Wharton, Northwestern Kellogg, and Stanford. Overall, GMAT scores spread from 530-790 during the 2017-2018 cycle, with the numbers tightening to the 700-760 belt in the 80% range.

Demographically, the class is actually less diverse than year’s past. The percentage of women, for example, slipped by two points to 39% — a number that still ranks as the school’s second-best performance over the past ten years. More notably, CBS followed the same curve as their peer programs with international students, experiencing a 10 point drop to 33%. By the same token, the percentage of U.S. minority students rose eight points to 42%.

What’s one secret to getting into Columbia Business School? It doesn’t hurt to have a business background. 32% of the incoming class majored in business-related disciplines – and another 17% hold degrees in Economics. That’s nearly twice as many seats as students who studied STEM, which includes the engineering (17%), sciences (7%), and technology (2%) fields. Social Sciences (15%) and Humanities (8%) account for nearly another quarter of the class.

The role of big finance also continues to wane at CBS. While financial services professionals represent 25% of the class, that rate is actually a four point decrease over the previous year. Consultants continue to occupy nearly a quarter of the seats at 23%, followed by marketing and media (11%), technology (8%), private equity (7%), non-profit sector (5%), and real estate (4%).


The ‘finance school’ moniker has long dogged CBS – a myth that has undercut the program’s rich offerings. The tag comes from the program’s long-time strength in the area. Just eight years ago, finance firms were responsible for half of the hires at CBS. Now, that number is 33.1% — a point below consulting. Take McKinsey, which hired 55 members of the 2017 Class. That haul is actually larger than the class hires made by JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citi, and Bank of America combined. That’s not a slap at CBS’ finance program, which still ranks among the five-best according to b-school administrators and faculty surveyed by U.S. News. Instead, it is a reflection of CBS’ deep and versatile bench, which include world-renowned program in management, marketing, and international business.

Columbia Business School – Ethan Baron photo

“I still have applicants tell me, “Columbia is only a finance school,” writes Conor Leary, a May graduate and Adobe hire who was a member of P&Q’s 2018 MBAs to Watch. “Not only is this untrue, finance is now a minority of industries that students enter in to. Columbia is not only geographically close to Wall Street, but also tech startups, VCs, small businesses, major corporations, luxury products, non-profits, and every other industry people can take advantage of during their time here.”

That geography has placed the onus on CBS – and the school is responding in turn. In a statement to P&Q, Amanda Carlson, assistant dean of admissions, heralded new initiatives that are filtering their way into the classroom. “The school has been dramatically expanding its offerings in FinTech, AI, Data Analytics, and even coding like Python. The school has been able to tap into the vast resources of New York City to quickly respond to student demand for these offerings.”


The CBS community is seeing the difference. In the Financial Times student survey, it ranked among the 10-most recommended program. Among employers, it earned one of the five-highest scores among recruiters. Not surprisingly, the 2017 class pulled in the second-highest total starting earnings at $221,036, beating out starting pay packages from classes at Harvard, Wharton, and Chicago Booth.

Still, Columbia is expected to undergo changes in the coming year. In September, Dean Glenn Hubbard, a 15-year mainstay with the program, announced his departure effective June 30, 2019. A prolific fund-raiser, Hubbard has been spearheading the construction of Uris Hall’s replacement, a 492,000 square foot, two building hub just north of campus that’s slated to open in 2022. Over his career, he has also revamped the Columbia curriculum. Notably, he has maintained its rigor, while also carving out a second semester where first years focus almost exclusively on electives to prep for internships. At the same time, he created new degree programs and expanded the executive MBA program.

It’s an intimidating legacy, no doubt. Whoever picks up the mantle will walk into one of the best situations among M7 MBA programs. That’s partially due to CBS’ New York City locale. Nathaniel Franks, a 2018 MBA to Watch, explains the appeal this way: “It’s impossible to separate New York City from Columbia Business School – it was such a powerful draw to earn my MBA in one of the great cities of the world where almost every Fortune 500 company has an office a subway ride away.”


Indeed, New York City is something that every member of the Class of 2020 mentions, in one form or another. Networking was one area regularly cited by the incoming class, often under the guise of “access.” Halle Morse, an Ohio native, calls New York the “greatest city in the world,” adding that she hopes to both leverage her previous industry contacts in theater and “build significant relationships with business leaders and professionals” there. More precisely, Shrey Gupta plans to tap into the “deep linkages” with the industries that matter to him most,

“New York is at the core of any innovation and transformative change in real estate and finance and with its fast growing reputation as an epicenter for tech startups, I believe this is the best combination of school and location to give me the exposure and network I can lean on for a career in real estate.”

Carlos Zarazua, a Notre Dame grad, is piqued by how New York includes every industry imaginable, enabling him to pursue more career options. However, he was equally impressed with how CBS structures its curriculum to ensure students can take advantage of all the city has to offer. “With the way our classes and schedules are set (no Friday classes, availability of block week classes every semester), it is easy to take a lighter load certain semesters and have an in-semester internship in the city.”

An artist’s rendering of a student area in the upcoming Columbia Business School complex


That programming features over 200 electives and 100 clubs. This creates one of the most well-rounded educational experiences. That includes an array of “cluster events, accomplished guest speakers from nearby top companies in NYC, industry treks, and professional and affinity club trips” according to Martin Palmer.  CBS’ locale also brings an unexpected advantage to the CBS classroom, says Ryan Ripp, a 2018 CBS grad and Best & Brightest MBA.

“Our Manhattan campus allows the school to attract incredibly accomplished adjunct professors who are leaders in their respective industries, as well as guest speakers who lead some of the world’s largest companies. For example, Columbia’s Consulting Immersion Seminar is taught by Professor Barry Salzberg, the former CEO of Deloitte. The class featured visits to the New York offices of the world’s largest consulting firms and meetings with senior partners at these firms. Additionally, students can easily participate in part-time internships. I have personally taken advantage of this, managing a part-time internship at a credit investment fund, while taking a full course load.”

Michelle Forman, a Bronx native, sums up the Columbia advantage in one word: location. “As the media and technology capital of the world, New York is the ideal location for me to pursue my MBA given my deep interest in those sectors. CBS’ NYC location offers endless opportunities to meet industry leaders at top media and technology companies. Through mentoring breakfasts, speaker events, and office visits CBS allows students to build relationships at top tier firms and gain a first-hand experience of how these firms operate. The combination of academic and experiential opportunities in New York that CBS offers fits exactly with what I am looking for in my MBA program.”


Beyond the vibrancy and diversity of New York, Columbia also offers a few unexpected perks. One is an impressive Executives-In Residence program. Here, senior leaders from various industries provide one-on-one counseling to students, teach classes, and help students with everything from organizing conferences to building their ventures. This year’s crop features two dozen executives, including a former CEO of International Paper, a senior partner at McKinsey, and a former managing director at Lehman Brothers. In addition, CBS houses a one-of-a-kind Family Business program that features faculty research, coursework, and an annual conference devoted to the field.

Not surprisingly, a diverse class is destined to produce graduates who fan out into every conceivable corner. The same is true for the Class of 2020. Beverly Leon wants to boost access for everyone, “transform(ing) the way we teach civic engagement by making it easier for students, teachers, and citizens to participate in civic life.” Christina Charlery also plans to make difference by becoming an executive of color, one who is “fearlessly leading a team that roots itself in the merging of creative prowess and strategic thinking.”

For Rona Matthew, who headed business development for a one of Africa’s fastest-growing branding agencies, the goal is to make the music industry more artist-centric. “I believe, when artists are more empowered, it results in better content, greater demand, increased incentives and a reduced risk of malpractice. Once the music industry moves beyond the fan-first, algorithm-obsessed mindset, we will realize the full potentials of its profits while also protecting its most valuable asset.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates. 

Student Hometown Alma Mater School
Olamide Bada London, UK University of London Jumia Food
Christina Charlery Englewood, NJ American University Live Nation
Michelle Forman Bronx, NY Columbia College Houlihan Lokey
Shrey Gupta Gurgaon, India Delhi University OYO
Edward Kim Bel Air, MD Dartmouth College Salzburg State Theater
Beverly Leon Wrentham, MA Columbia University Sunderland Ladies AFC
Rona Matthew Las Vegas, NV Howard University Bamboo Network
Halle Morse Shaker Heights, OH Cincinnati Conservatory of Music American Repertory Theater
Martin Palmer Berkley, Michigan United States Military Academy United States Army
Nathan Pilkenton Portland, OR Davidson College McKinsey & Company
Carlos Zarazua Panama City, Panama University of Notre Dame VMG Health

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

London Business School

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

MIT Sloan School of Management

Columbia Business School

Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Yale School of Mnnagement

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New York University’s Stern School of Business

Emory’s Goizueta School of Business

Washington University’s Olin Business School

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