Meet Washington Foster’s MBA Class Of 2020

There are no sure things in life. When it comes to landing a job, an MBA from the Foster School of Business is as close to a sure thing as you’ll get.

This year, 99% of Foster MBAs had accepted a job offer within three months of graduation. The year before? The number stood at 98.1%. These aren’t placeholder jobs to cover the rent, either. They are high-paying, high impact positions, starting at $118,355 on average. That doesn’t count the $38,695 signing bonuses that three quarters of graduates received too.


Why does this small school garner so much attention? Start with location. When people picture the Pacific Northwest, most imagine clean air, lush forests, and sparkling streams. In reality, tech is as popular as treks. The Pudget Sound is home to iconic brands like Amazon, Microsoft, Expedia, and Zillow. Those are just the established players. Hot on their trail is a new generation of disruptive upstarts. Think Rover (pet care), Remitley (mobile payment), Smartsheet (project management), and Zulily (eCommerce). Add to that, the Seattle area includes a sizable presence – as in 1,000 employees or more – from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Accenture, Intel, and Google.

Long story short: The Emerald City’s tech sector is flush with jobs. As incumbents and startups look to foster growth and professionalize their ranks, the Foster School is ready to help, with 60% of the 2018 Class entering the tech sector. Call it a home field advantage, one that gives tech-driven and entrepreneurial-minded students the best shot at breaking into these industries.

Interior of PACCAR Hall. University of Washington, Seattle campus on November 20th, 2013. Photo by Katherine B. Turner

“If you want to build a network of people who are currently at Amazon or Microsoft, the Foster School is a terrific environment, says James Jiambalvo, the outgoing dean in a 2018 interview with Poets&Quants.  “There are also all kinds of small companies in Seattle. And a lot of students want to be at a startup. The Bay Area is in a league of its own and then there is Boston and then Seattle. So entrepreneurship is something we also pay a lot of attention to. We have a very, very strong center, great coursework, and great experiential learning.”


The Pacific Northwest is also known for its free spirits, the think-outside-the-box types whose eclectic backgrounds enable them to see connections and opportunities that most miss. You’ll find plenty of such students in the Class of 2020 at Foster. Take Matt Bishop. Before he dreamed of moving into marketing to become a product manager, he was the lead singer of Hey Marseilles, an Indie folk band with three albums to their credit. Their claim to fame: they’ve played in all 50 states, even crossing the country to hit the Firefly Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Newport Folk Festival in a ten day period.

What led Bishop to the University of Washington? Strangely enough, he began identifying more with the business side of the band. So he decided to forego the creative part of writing and singing to dive head-first into the Foster MBA program.

“Stepping away from music as a career, even if temporarily, was a challenge,” he admits. “It was my identity and my community. But through the course of that decision, I really came to terms with the idea that nothing is permanent, that reality is as much a product of perspective as anything else, and that I can find my identity and use my skills in a lot of different ways. That experience has put me in a place where I feel so much more flexible, grounded, and capable to ably confront any circumstance or challenge.”


Bishop isn’t alone in making a major transformation. Barbara Sujin Lee started her career in public relations. After caring for her dying grandmother – and learning that life was too short to “play if safe” – she took a leap of faith. She declined a high-paying gig from a global PR firm to work as a lowly, unpaid research assistant…with tarantulas…in an underground lab. Ultimately, her risk paid off. Two promotions later, she was launching and managing clinical trials.

“Not bad for a humanities major,” she jokes.

Think that’s a major transition? Try being Natalie Sullivan. After graduating from Smith College, she joined the Ms. Foundation for Women, an anti-violence philanthropy in New York City. Fast forward four years and you’ll find Sullivan working as an enologist (think lab analysis) for a winemaker across the country in Walla Walla. Alas, the jobs weren’t as day-and-night as they appear, she argues.

“Through both these experiences, what’s ignited me is the work to understand the broader landscape in which one does their work, tackling complex problems, and developing strategies for change. I’ve done both these things in each industry.”


2018 Foster women’s volleyball team at Challenee for Charity

Maggie Polachek stayed in the social sector after graduating from Wellesley, finding her way to the Center for American Progress (CAP) – regarded as America’s largest progressive advocacy and research organization. As the head of the president’s initiatives, she boosted the organization’s fund-raising by 25% in 2017 thanks to a “revamp” in donor outreach. Polachek wasn’t alone in notching some big achievements before joining the Class of 2020, either. At Edison International, Marc Pujol was part of a brainstorming team whose ideas sparked a $300 million dollar electric vehicle charging project. Not to be outdone, Nathan Haley co-developed a decision support software package – one that resulted in several construction projects earning “Project of the Year” awards from industry publications.

Sometimes, the best results don’t generate such press. That was the case for Bryan Robert Salvador Smith, whose Training U event in February attracted 200 minority high school students. Salvador Smith, himself a sales manager with the PGA Tour, hosted panel discussions and breakout sessions with sports executives to encourage students to pursue a career in the field. The results, he says, were stunning.

“Following the event, fifteen students were admitted into Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University with seven receiving full scholarships. I plan to host my next event in Seattle.”

By the numbers, the 2017-2018 cycle was decidedly mixed for the Foster School. Like most American MBA programs, Foster experienced a downturn in applications, going from 1038 to 934 over the past year. That said, the school boosted class size back to 125 students after the number fell to 98 with the Class of 2019.


Class size isn’t the only area where the Class of 2020 exceeds their predecessors. Look no further than academics. The incoming class boasts a 696 average GMAT – a three point improvement over last year. Undergraduate GPAs also rose from 3.31 to 3.43. Demographically, the school’s enhanced outreach to women paid major dividends. Women make up 42% of the fall class – nearly 10 points higher than three years ago. International students also account for 27% of the class. An interesting side note: Just 26% of the class hails from the State of Washington.

As a group, the largest segment of the class – 37% – hold undergraduate degrees in STEM-related fields. Overall, engineers account for 16% of the class, with math and science (13%) and computer science (8%) also taking up major chunks. 19% of the class is represented by business majors…with the number jumping to 33% when economics majors are lumped into the mix. Humanities and social sciences also come in at a 16% and 14% clip respectively.

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business benefits from its location in Seattle, home to two of the world’s biggest tech companies

In terms of professional backgrounds, technology again tops all comers at 29% of the class. Beyond that, the class is segmented very closely, led by financial services (12%), consumer products (10%), non-profits (10%), government (9%), consulting (7%), and healthcare, media, and manufacturing (5% each).


Those weren’t the only numbers that shined for Foster in 2018. The school jumped 14 spots in The Economist ranking to place 22nd, buoyed by improvements in survey scores on networking, career services, and education experience. In November, Foster ranked 16th with Bloomberg Businessweek, with its highest mark coming in compensation. By the same token, 2017 Foster grads averaged just $45,045 in debt – with only 55% even carrying debt at graduation. In other words, the school offers one of the best pay-to-debt ratios among Top 20 MBA programs – giving students a faster return on investment than similar schools.

That’s not the only big news on campus according to Dan Poston, assistant dean for masters programs at the Foster School, in a statement to P&Q, “In July, the Foster School became the 20th university to join The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, a prestigious partnership of top-ranked MBA programs and blue-chip companies dedicated to promoting greater diversity and inclusion in business education and, ultimately, corporate leadership.”

Poston adds that the news came on the heels of Foster becoming a Forté Foundation member school – a move capped off by Jessica Raasch (MBA ’18) winning the Forté Foundation’s Edie Hunt Inspiration Award for her work in helping women advance into leadership roles. This partnership, Poston says, has inspired the school to “creatively rethink” the experience of women at Foster.

One first-year, Natalie Sullivan, was thrilled with the school’s partnerships with the Consortium and the Forté Foundation to further reinforce the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the classroom…and beyond. “I’m so excited that Foster, in addition to being a Forté school, will be joining and strengthening its connection to these national networks committed to supporting underrepresented minorities in business.”

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

Harvard Business School

London Business School

IESE Business School

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

MIT Sloan School of Management

Columbia Business School

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Yale School of Mnnagement

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New York University’s Stern School of Business

University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business

Emory’s Goizueta School of Business

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

University of Washington’s Foster School of Business

Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management

Washington University’s Olin Business School

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business

Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business

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