Meet Columbia Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

Dean Maglaras with students


“I co-founded a company offering blockchain technology solutions and consulting services,” she adds. “Leading the Strategy and Business development area, I negotiated sizeable agreements including a blockchain implementation by the National Bank of Greece, the first in the country.”

The class even includes a pair of Brooklyn-born brothers, Christian and Christopher De Allie, both MD-MBA candidates at Columbia. For both, the goal of the MBA is to learn how to better integrate technology and medicine to enhance the standard of care. “It is vital to apply customer-driven techniques for patient satisfaction,” writes Christopher. “As we live in a technological era, advancements in technology are linked to advancements in medicine. Unique to the healthcare setting, I plan on exploring new opportunities to engage with healthcare companies and get involved with policy and innovation. At Columbia Business School, I hope to learn how to think more analytically about areas of need within healthcare alongside other pioneering thinkers.”

Despite the big ambitions, Tony Lashley has been struck by down-to-earth his classmates are – something rare among the “outsized egos” he experienced previously in media and entertainment. Reflecting its New York City roots, the program is also a diverse melting pot, adds Malida Tadesse, who hopes to run a business in Africa after graduation.


“My cluster includes students from Japan, China, Lebanon, USA, Russia, Brazil, and Spain. The group has worked across nearly every industry you can imagine, from financial services to journalism to retail and telecommunications (me!). Diversity has been touted to the point of becoming cliché, but I’m amazed by how true it is at CBS.”

Fall 2019 MBA Orientation. Dean Costis Maglaras visits the cluster homerooms. 8-19-2019.
Photo by Laura Lechner

For a program founded on fearlessness, it should come as no surprise that the class is as spontaneous as it is purposeful. “I’m used to people being more hesitant to engage in spur-of-the-moment activities,” adds Lonnie Wishom. “Usually, I’m trying to convince people to join me in doing a last second brunch, concert, hike, etc. My CBS classmates are giving me a run for my money as far as being open to doing things without knowing every detail. It’s pleasantly surprising because I was expecting people to be much more measured in their approaches to meeting people and doing things, so it’s great that people are so willing to go with the flow.”

Columbia Business School approaches admissions differently than its peers. The school opens classes to two clusters, which arrive in January and August respectively. What’s more, CBS maintains an Early Decision (ED) process, where students who certify in their application that CBS is their first choice receive a decision sooner. As a result, Columbia tends to net a higher percentage of applicants who receive their acceptance offers, making the program far more of a destination than a fallback.


This year, CBS received 5,816 applications between the two intakes. Technically, that number represents a 2.5% decline over the previous year. However, it is hardly a disappointment compared to decreases experienced at peer schools like Harvard Business School (-6.7%), MIT Sloan (-6.5%), Stanford GSB (-5.8%), and the Wharton School (-5.4%). Overall, this year’s class consists of 754 students, with 203 arriving in January. Overall, CBS remained among the most selective full-time MBA programs, accepting just 19% of applicants (with 73.8% of accepted students ultimately enrolling in the Class of 2021).

That doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between the last two classes. For one, the incoming class brings a lower average GMAT – 732 vs. 727 – to Uris Hall, though average undergraduate GPA held steady at 3.6. The class also features slightly fewer women 39% vs. 38%. That said, it is far more diverse, with international students accounting for 47% of class seats. That’s a big jump over last year’s 33% last year’s composition. More than that, it is a higher percentage than the “most international” Ivy, Yale SOM, whose class is comprised of 44% international students.

In terms of academic and professional background, the Class of 2021 aligns closely with its predecessors. The class is again made up of 32% business majors, followed by economics majors at 19%. Together, these business-oriented majors nearly double STEM-related majors, as engineering, science, and technology combine for a 26% share of the class (with engineering leading the way at 17%). The gap is even bigger with the social sciences and humanities, which amount to 22% together. In contrast, three professions tower all others in class composition: financial services (29%), consulting (23%), and marketing and media (15%). In other words, two-thirds of the class hail from three industries (with financial services and marketing and media each boosting their class share by four points this year). 7% of the class also worked in tech with another 5% in healthcare, a nod to New York City’s burgeoning startup scene, particularly in data sciences and biotech.


With its Ivy League pedigree and Manhattan zip code, Columbia Business School offers advantages in prestige, location, and access. That’s only part of the package. Recruiters rank CBS MBA graduates among the “Best-Trained”, while students give high marks to the program for having the “Right Mix of Business and Academic Professionals” according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The faculty also ranks among the five-best for academic research, with business school deans and faculty leaders listing CBS among the best programs for finance, marketing, operations, international business, and nonprofits.

Columbia University campus from the air

Despite this, Columbia MBAs ranked just 12th in starting pay at $153,351, though Forbes reports that MBA pay increases by $80,900 within five years of graduation, 6th-best among American MBA programs. Despite its reputation as a “finance school,” CBS actually churns out more consultants. 33.6% of the 2018 Class chose consulting compared to 32.2% for finance (a far cry from the 57% that entered banking before the financial collapse). However, the finance school label isn’t the biggest myth being leveled at CBS. To some, it is the archetypal “commuter school,” large, cutthroat, and impersonal. For past classes, the label is naïve at best and an insult at worst.

“We’re not a commuter school. I repeat: WE ARE NOT A COMMUTER SCHOOL,” writes Ashley Allen, a 2019 P&Q MBA To Watch. “A lot of students are worried about all the distractions that New York City has to offer – which is a very fair concern. However, beginning with orientation, students are engulfed in their cluster, learning teams, and other social activities that they rarely have time for ‘outside life’. Once club activities and leadership engagements begin on campus, students easily spend 8-12 hours (or more) on campus every day. The CBS community has been my life for the past 18 months and I don’t regret it. Additionally, most students live on the Upper West Side or in Harlem, a 15-20 minute walk or train ride away from campus, so a classmate to study with or hang out with is never more than a few blocks away.”

Brianna Saddler, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA, is equally passionate about this subject. “There’s a persistent myth that Columbia has no community. Community comes in all forms, and if you ask 10 different people what it looks like, you’ll get 10 different answers. Does Columbia offer the same type of community that a pastoral college town offers? Certainly not. But I’ve met an incredible group of supportive peers and alumni here—all nestled within this city with an immense amount of resources—and I personally wouldn’t want a community that looks any other way.”


Columbia’s Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions Amanda Carlson

As the Class of 2021 begins to jell, they will also enjoy a front-row seat to history. This year acts as a changing of the guard, as Costis Maglaras takes the reins as dean from Glenn Hubbard, who joined the program in 2004 after a two-year stint as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors during the George W. Bush administration. Maglaras, who previously headed CBS’ Ph.D. program and is considered one of academia’s best minds in analytics and quantitative, finds himself in an enviable position – considering Hubbard raised over a billion dollars during his tenure, with half earmarked to the school’s new Manhattanville campus that opens in 2022.

That’s not the only big news driving the agenda at Columbia Business School. This summer, P&Q submitted a series of questions to Amanda Carlson, assistant dean of admissions, to learn more about new developments on campus, along with taking a deep dive into some of CBS’ most unique features. Here are Carlson’s thoughts on what the Class of 2021 can expect.

P&Q: What are the most exciting new developments at your program?

AC: “Columbia Business School now accepts the Executive Assessment for the full-time MBA program. We offer “one MBA” provided in different formats (2 Full-time intakes as well as 5 different EMBA offerings). Our MBA portfolio offerings include the same faculty, as well as the same number of required credits and class hours. Our Admissions Committee greatly values the Integrated Reasoning (IR) part of the Executive Assessment. For the candidate who may feel that his or her score is not competitive, he/she can demonstrate academic aptitude through the IR—its score is included in the overall EA score calculation. Our students can choose whichever test best demonstrates their capabilities.”

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