The People’s Choice: The Most Popular MBA Programs

An INSEAD graduation at the Château de Fontainebleau in France, one of three INSEAD campuses


Looking back, however, most Booth alumni would consider orientation to be the school’s signature event. Known as Booth 2020, the event introduces 1st-years to roughly 70 alumni. Here students participate in three “intergenerational, cross-industry” panels (consisting of roughly 3-4 alums and a moderator). The goal, says Kole, is to parade the various ways that alumni have applied their MBA degree.

“It is very aspirational. The alums also stay for either lunch or cocktails so they can talk to more students. Students will talk about that day in year-end or graduation surveys about how it opened up a set of opportunities that helped them realize what’s ahead of them while showcasing this remarkable network of successful people.”

Launch Week is also a defining moment for INSEAD MBAs. The message here, notes Katy Montgomery, is that students are responsible for creating their learning environment. This hit home for new admits with a project. This year’s class, for example, spent three days in the merciless Singapore sun building a play area and bike track for mentally disabled students. The wrinkle to this project, however, was that students would develop a project plan, work, and debrief one day – and then pass off their remaining responsibilities to another cohort for the following day.

Besides its main campus in France, INSEAD has campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi (above)

“This is the students co-creating their learning environment,” Montgomery explains. “What was really amazing was seeing the hand-over to the group that goes in the next day and how they communicated how successful they were on the site. You see the evolution of, ‘This is what I was told’ to being generous with the next group and taking care of others in their class…You start to see the transformation right there. It just continues throughout the year.”


In terms of other signature experiences, Montgomery harkens backs to INSEAD’s global nature, particularly student travels between the school’s campuses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi.

“75% of our students are studying on more than one campus,” Montgomery points out. “Some students are studying in our three different locations in a short 10 months. The way that group comes together and travels and sees the world together while they are here is a significant part of the journey…Students are going to have an opportunity to see the world. They’re going to have an opportunity to engage with employers from all over the world, so it’s truly global. It’s not just saying it’s global, but you’re going to feel it from the very first day you step onto campus.”

INSEAD’s diversity and global nature also stem from something deeper in students: an innate sense of curiosity. That is one of the traits that differentiate INSEAD MBAs, say recruiters. This spirit, says Montgomery, produces classes who are looking to pivot, be it industry, function, or geography – or sometimes all three. Always seeking to know more, INSEAD students create classrooms with a rich array of viewpoints – many challenging the status quo. This back-and-forth reflects another trait inherent to the INSEAD DNA.

“One thing I hear a lot from employers is that our students are courageous,” says Montgomery. “They are very comfortable with challenging an assumption, standing up for what’s right, being vocal – it is a confidence to be able to speak up – and do what’s right…They obviously have an opinion, but they’re open-minded and not looking to always prove they’re right.  They’re open to being proven wrong.”


This impulse to “do right” is steadily emerging as INSEAD’s chief mission. Recently, the school opened the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, which harnesses research and community to create programming and partnerships to tackle issues like gender imbalance, sustainability, and wealth inequality. The school has also presented the UN’s sustainability development goals at Davos (and held a boot camp on the topic on campus). This purpose-driven approach has fused with INSEAD’s curious, global-minded culture to foster a more entrepreneurial mindset on campus.

Montgomery defines it as students who are “truly willing to innovate, think differently, take risks, and manage the results.” To channel these energies, INSEAD has deepened its footprint with Station F in Paris and the Lufthansa Innovation Hubs in Germany and Singapore. True, most INSEAD MBAs don’t enter startups at graduation. However, recruiters tell Montgomery that they bring certain intangibles that distinguish them from their peers where they work. “They push companies to innovate, to look at their business and push beyond the way they ordinarily think.”

Across the pond, recruiters praise Chicago Booth students for their ability to navigate ambiguity, says Stacey Kole. She attributes this to the intentional flexibility of the program, where students make their own class choices (aside from a required leadership course).


“A lot of programs put you on a conveyer belt,” Kole believes. “They’ll tell you which classes to take. That’s because they know what’s best and you should follow along. Here, we think the world is going to present our students with so many good choices, every day, that they’ll have too little time to really make fully-informed decisions. So they need to get comfortable with ambiguity. They’re going to have to learn how to navigate these choice-rich situations and eventually pull the trigger. Employers tell us that our students are pretty unflappable when it comes to looking at a problem. They ask themselves, What evidence do I need; How do I gather it or find it; and How do I navigate the organization to find people who have the resources. That’s because from the minute they get here, they have to figure things out. We don’t tell them what to do. We don’t tell them what the ideal job is for them. We guide them. We show them how to search, prepare, and research.”

This skill is further sharpened by Chicago Booth’s demanding coursework. For most MBAs, Kole says, an MBA degree is their last major educational investment. That means they are dropping out of the workforce for something they can’t find anywhere else.

“They want to come in and dive deeply into the disciplines that underlie business problems,” Kole explains. “They want to know their education is going to deliver an investment so when they’re asked a question, they can offer a substantive answer.”

At Booth, that comes from taking classes from All-Star faculty who view teaching as the most important function of an academic. “When Richard Thaler won his Nobel Prize [in 2017], he taught his evening class the same day, Kole adds. “The same happened with Eugene Fama. They love teaching MBAs and that’s because we all buy into the fact that what happens in the research frontier belongs in our classroom. Our students are hungry for it.”

booth mba jobs

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

MBAs also benefit from a support team who are committed to Chicago Booth. Stacey Kole, who doubles as a clinical professor of economics, has spent 15 years at the school. That tenure is either exceeded or matched by associate deans like Career Services’ Julie Morton (20 years), Student Life’s Jessica Jaggers (19 years), and Leadership Development’s Chris Collins (14 years). Kole and Morton even team up during the summer months to meet with Booth interns across the country to offer support. The differences they see in 2nd-year students after their internships, Kole notes, is striking.

“I like to say they grow two inches taller in the summer. They gain this incredible confidence after they take all this learning they acquired in the first year and go into a new setting and work on a problem that they have never seen before. By the end of the summer, they nail it. That makes you incredibly confident.”


In contrast, Katy Montgomery has spent three years at INSEAD after working at American institutions like John Hopkins University and Georgetown University. For her, the INSEAD model represented quite a culture shock from what she encountered in the States.

“I’ve never seen a class so inclusive. In America, you see groups seated together – the band members or the football players. It is just not like that at INSEAD. At graduation, they pick a graduation song and everyone is singing, dancing, and hugging. Everyone is kind of connected. I could never go to the cafeteria here or one of their parties and be able to say here is this group or that group. It is the most integrated group in an education setting.”

This ability to adapt and thrive wherever they go is something that both Chicago Booth and INSEAD MBAs have in common. “It’s amazing that they’re able to pack up, go to another country, plop down, and start going to class in such a diverse place,” says Montgomery when speaking about INSEAD MBAs. “I think with the future of work – with the gig economy and the volatility and uncertainty – I don’t know of any group who would be better able to manage that. They deal with that every day. They are in this 10-month program on multiple campuses dealing with diversity. During that time, they are job searching, working with a personal leadership development coach, and going on treks. These people can handle a lot, but they can also handle not being perfectly structured. That’s where we’re going and that’s an amazing skill to have.”

  • To access student survey results from The Economist, go to Page 4. 




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