It’s been talked about for years, the worst-kept secret on campus: In business school, grades really don’t matter.
At least, that’s long been the impression of students themselves — and a new survey of 300 at the leading schools, current and former, makes clear that the viewpoint is alive and well. BeenThere Technologies Inc., an advice network for business school admissions founded by a couple who are currently in the MBA programs at Kellogg and Wharton, released a survey today (December 31) of current and recent MBA students at M7 programs, and among the findings was a strong indication that students believe their studies are secondary to other pursuits, such as networking.
And, apparently, partying.
But as hard as they may hit the social aspects of B-school, that doesn’t mean most M7 students think the classroom should be avoided whenever possible. Despite 84% placing a low or very low importance on grades, respondents to BeenThere’s Culture & Classroom Report across all seven schools concurred that programs’ curricula had “high value,” with 68% scoring their programs that way.
“It’s definitely a balance,” says Colin Keeler, a Wharton Class of 2019 MBA and co-founder, with his girlfriend Cara Morphew (Kellogg Class of 2019), of BeenThere. “Most programs have some form of grade nondisclosure. Taking away that incentive to be cutthroat and competitive, on the one hand, allows schools to focus on building a community — but on the other hand it then becomes a balance of making sure that people aren’t treating classes like it’s a secondary reason for being there. I think it’s a tension that all schools deal with. Striking that balance is something I think that every school is pretty acutely focused on.”
WHAT’S THE TOP ‘PARTY’ SCHOOL IN THE M7?
The M7 is an unofficial consortium of the MBA programs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Columbia Business School, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. BeenThere’s inaugural report features survey participants’ scores for their schools across a variety of criteria, including descriptions of programs’ programs’ environmental, academic, and other qualities and characteristics in students’ own words: for example, Most Down-to-Earth, Most Collaborative, Most Soft Skills-Focused, and … Most Party-Focused.
So if grades don’t matter, where do they “not matter” most? Which school among the M7 is the most “party-focused”? That distinction goes to Northwestern Kellogg, where respondents noted a “social-first” environment, with 44% utilizing “fun-,” “social-,” and “party”-related terms. At Kellogg, one student wrote, “Class takes a backseat to social.” However, as Keeler tells Poets&Quants, that may not mean what you think.
“‘Partying’ being more travel, social, clubs,” he says. “It’s about where people spend their time — basically how friendships are made and relationships are made. Saying ‘social’ might come off the wrong way. I think it’s an important aspect for every school. You see that in some of the part-time programs or online MBAs, where you’re getting a valuable education but you’re not really getting the value from some of the other things as well.”
On the other end of the social spectrum is MIT, where respondents saw their program as a “humble,” “collegial,” and “low-ego” culture, with the highest rate of students focusing on those aspects (24%). “Other schools are a factory for producing large groups of well-trained MBAs, but Sloan is a laboratory,” one student wrote. “You come to Sloan to try a lot of things and pursue your passions.”
SCHOOLS RANKED ‘MOST QUANT’, ‘MOST SOFT SKILLS-FOCUSED’, AND MUCH MORE
BeenThere’s survey ranks each M7 school according to different variables and intangibles: Is it more “poet” or “quant”? Does it incline more to a “soft skills” or academics focus? Is it more travel- or campus-oriented?
• Chicago Booth: First for Most Quant and Most Academics-Oriented, and third for Most Professional-Focused and Most Campus-Focused.
• Columbia: First for Most Competitive, second for Most Professional-Focused and Most Profits-Focused, third for Most Travel-Focused and Most Soft Skills-Focused.
• Harvard: First for Most Poet and Most Travel-Focused, second for Most Competitive, third for Most Profits-Focused and Most Soft Skills-Focused.
• Northwestern Kellogg: First for Most Down-to-Earth and Most Party-Focused, second for Most Collaborative and Most Soft Skills-Focused, third for Most Ethics-Focused.
• MIT Sloan: First for Most Ethics-Focused and Most Professional-Focused, second for Most Quant and Most Academics-Oriented, third for Most Collaborative and Most Down-to-Earth.
• Stanford: Even though Kellogg was named the biggest party school, Stanford students rated the importance of classroom learning the lowest of all the M7. The school also ranked first for Most Collaborative and Most Soft Skills-Focused, second for Most Down-to-Earth and Most Ethics-Focused, and third for Most Poet and Most Party-Focused.
• Wharton: First for Most Profits-Focused, second for Most Party-Focused and Most Travel-Focused, third for Most Competitive and Most Quant.
Among the other findings:
- Despite broadly positive comments, 33% of respondents saw inclusiveness and cohesion as key areas for improvement, with a desire for deeper relationships, less social segmentation, and less cliquey-ness.
- Despite driven classmates, respondents found their MBA programs to be highly collaborative, with nearly 80% of respondents ranking their programs more collaborative than competitive.
- 41% of respondents reported rankings as the No. 1 driver for their final school decision.
‘THERE ARE A LOT OF TRADITIONAL CHANNELS AND ANECDOTAL INFORMATION’
Keeler and Morphew founded BeenThere in September 2017 to help applicants to B-school with a fount of student-oriented advice, the thing they feel is most missing from the admissions consultancy process. After the release of their first survey, they are looking ahead to the next ones — they have an additional 200-plus responses for other programs and hope to continue to expand to more schools and grow their response pools at existing schools. “Eventually,” Keeler says, “we’d like this to evolve into a more dynamic tool that applicants can use to evaluate programs. Beyond the survey, we’re focused on helping applicants through their applications, launch of our new web portal with some cool features, and connecting our mentors with other opportunities to help individuals with career goals.”
Keeler, who was a summer associate at Salveo Capital in Chicago in 2018, and Morphew, a MBA associate at VCapital in Chicago, plan to make BeenThere an “ongoing effort,” Keeler says. “As we’ve been saying on the website, we just want to create more information for applicants. There are a lot of traditional channels and anecdotal information, and I think one of the things that we’re striving for in the long term is getting more data for people looking toward this massive monumental economic decision for themselves. We want them to make the decision with as much information as possible and be data-supported in that.
“So this is a very small first step in that direction, but it’s something that we’re super excited about. We just want to keep turning it and pushing it in that direction. It’s not easy and I don’t think what we’ve put out is by any means the end point for this, either for these schools or for the future.”