Meet Carnegie Mellon Tepper’s MBA Class Of 2021

The new Tepper Quad, home of the Tepper School of Business, at Carnegie Mellon University

Looking for inspiration? Check out Naftali Burakovsky. In college, he served as a film critic, earning free preview screenings to films like Birdman and Captain America: Civil War. How did he learn to organize and deliver his thoughts? In high school, he was a New Mexico state debate champion – a rebutting ‘Rudy’ who beat the odds with a ‘never quit’ resilience.

“Prior to becoming a debater, no one would have assumed I had a talent for argumentation or public speaking,” Burakovsky admits. “As a quiet sophomore in high school, I joined the debate team and became fascinated with the logic and rules of argumentation and rhetoric. Over the next three school years, I learned how to construct arguments and present them with efficient language. Debate taught me that persuasion and effective communication begin with analysis and research. Becoming a state champion debater showed me that my weaknesses could be overcome with hard work and creative problem-solving.”

“WHO IS THE MOST INTERESTING PERSON YOU’VE MET TODAY?”

In fact, Rohit Dayal uses “inspiring” to describe the Class of 2021 as a whole. “My classmates and I have made every effort to meet after class and discuss the day’s events on campus, reflecting on something new we learned in a class, or applying that lesson to our previous job roles. The favorite question my group of friends has asked each other every day is, “Who is the most interesting new person you’ve met today?” The Tepper program has people from so many countries, jobs, value systems, and walks of life. This question forces us to step out of our comfort zone and meet these people, learn from them, and understand what makes them tick. With such an intimate class size, it is almost a disservice if you don’t.”

Not surprisingly, Ellen Noh calls her classmates “unapologetically unique” – a class full of big personalities, deep passions, and unforgettable stories. Intellectual curiosity” and “eagerness” are also cited – a class open to new ideas and seeking out “deeper answers and explanations.” For Naftali Burakovsky, “forward-thinking” is probably how he’d classify his classmates since arriving at Tepper.

MBA students saying their goodbyes

“They understand the importance of adapting to new business environments and technological innovation. Like me, many of my classmates are interested in working in the tech industry or leveraging technology to make other industries more efficient.”

Come 2021, Andrea Caralis, a 2019 Tepper grad and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA, believes “community” will be what students view as the defining and binding feature of Tepper. “We challenge and push each other to be the best versions of ourselves. We also support each other and work together to help reach our goals. The term “Tepper Family” is “Why Tepper” to me.”

 

RISE IN WOMEN, MINORITIES, AND INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS

This year’s family snapshot – aka the Tepper class profile – is truly a tale of opposites. Let’s start with the good news: The Class of 2021 may be Tepper’s most diverse cohort yet. For starters, women account for 33% of the class, up five points over the previous year. Minorities also compose 33% of the class, a six-point increase. In a year where most peer programs attracted fewer international students, Tepper’s percentage is 35%, a point higher than the 2020 class. Overall, the class includes students from 28 countries, including Australia, Myanmar, Iran, and Peru. Among American students, Tepper beckons students from all corners. The Mid-American region comprises 29% of the American segment, followed by the West (20%), Northeast (18%), Southwest (12%), South (11%), and Midwest (10%).

Now, here is the bad news: Like most full-time MBA programs in 2018-2019, Tepper suffered a decrease in applicants. In real terms, Tepper received 1,307 applications for a seat in the 2021 Class, down 349 from the class before. Fewer applicants translated to fewer students, with enrollment dropping from 236 to 200 this year. Along the same lines, the school’s acceptance rate rose from 35% to 43%, while average GMAT slipped from 690 to 687.

This year’s class is slightly less STEM-centered too. 34% of the class majored in engineering as undergrads, down from 39%. Combined, Math and Physical Sciences (8%) and Information Systems (5%) are up two points over last year. Business (23%) fell four points, while Economics (14%) climbed two points. Humanities and Social Sciences held the same 10% share as the previous year.

In terms of professional experience, Financial Services makes up 18% of class seats, down four points. Technology and New Media (17%), Consulting (15%), Manufacturing (11%), Government (9%) and Health Care (6%) also represent large segments of the class, who boast an above-average 5.7 years of work experience.

TEPPER WOMEN LOVE TECH

Tech is still king at CMU Tepper, but it now has to share the throne with consulting. CMU photo

Tepper has a reputation for being a “tech” school. Technically, it places an above-average number of graduates in this sector. In 2019, for example, 30.5% of the class were hired by technology employers. By the same token, Amazon and Microsoft generally rank among the biggest consumers of Tepper MBA talent. However, consulting was just as popular as tech in 2019, also snapping up a 30.5% share of graduates. More than that, consulting paid more in average base: $140,844 vs. $125,630 (with the overall average being a record $126,250). In fact, the percentage of Tepper grads entering tech has plunged by 7.7 points since the Class of 2015 (though tech enjoyed a 43.2% share among 2017 grads).

This tech-centric impression of Tepper has sometimes led to the assumption that the program isn’t female-friendly. In reality, women have been a major part of tech’s popularity at Tepper. In 2017, for example, 58% of graduating women earned tech-related jobs. That number was still an eye-catching 29% in 2019.

I believe the biggest myth about Tepper is that it may be a difficult environment for women,” notes Andrea Caralis, herself a 2019 Amazon hire. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. The women at Tepper are achieving some of the most amazing things: some are starting their own businesses; some are presidents of our largest Professional clubs; some are growing their families while obtaining their MBAs, and some are landing jobs at their dream companies!”

HIGHLY-REGARDED BY RECRUITERS

How does the world view the Tepper MBA program? Quite favorably, actually. Traditionally ranked among the Top 20 American programs, Tepper earned Top 5 rankings in innovation, diversity, and overall training from recruiters surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2018. These recruiters also ranked Tepper 3rd overall for Entrepreneurship training – something that would hardly come as a surprise to the founders of Talent IPO, one of P&Q’s Most Disruptive MBA Startups of 2019.

“The Tepper MBA program is a testament to the (often controversial) statement that “entrepreneurship can be taught,” explains Ayush Luthra, co-founder and 2019 Tepper MBA. “As founders, we were part of the Entrepreneurship Track structured by the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. It is not an exaggeration to say that Tepper has perfectly built an entrepreneurship roadmap, designed to provide MBA students with the tools, experiences, and support necessary to facilitate development as a leader and innovator. Starting with classes such as Lean Entrepreneurship and moving on to Commercialization and Innovation Strategy, we have been coached on how to turn our idea into reality. We’ve learned how to conduct customer discovery, build a business model canvas, launch a quick MVP (minimal viable product), obtain customer feedback, and construct crisp investment pitches. The Tepper School of Business has instilled in us an “entrepreneurial mindset” and empowered us to launch Talent IPO through valuable resources and a strong support ecosystem.”

In the same Bloomberg Businessweek survey, MBA alumni lauded the Tepper program for academic and teaching excellence and instilling innovation and creativity. In U.S. News’ survey of business school deans and MBA directors, Tepper ranks as the 2nd-best school for both information systems and operations. Such excellence has been a long-term staple of the Tepper MBA program – a program poised for change with the August announcement that Dean Robert Dammon will be stepping down to return to the classroom (where he collected the school’s top teaching award three times). Dammon leaves an intimidating legacy that isn’t simply relegating to the construction of the Tepper Quadrangle. During his tenure, the school built the top online MBA program in the world. He also launched Master’s degree programs in Business Analytics and Product Management, not to mention a joint degree with the School of Computer Science.

Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University

NEW STEM DESIGNATION

However, one of his biggest legacies may be his most recent. In October, Tepper announced it had earned a STEM designation, making it only the third MBA program (alongside Rochester Simon and Berkeley Haas) to achieve this designation. On the surface, a STEM certification reinforces Tepper’s calling card as a multi-disciplinary, academically-rigorous management science program that leans heavily on data and testing.

“When I think about the STEM designation,” Dammon ponders, “what does it really mean? It’s a signal that these are the important skills that are in demand and that are important for the U.S. economy. That is why that designation is important to begin with. What we are trying to convey is that this is the MBA program that will give you the skills and tools that are very much in demand. That is important for any student, no matter where they are from or what they intend to do.”

As a bonus, the STEM designation enables international students – who pursue areas like entrepreneurship, energy or tech strategy – to extend their Optional Practical Training (OPT) to three years. This reduces the uncertainty of finding work in the United States with a standard visa. “Our current international students have asked us why isn’t this school STEM-designated given the approach we take,” Dammon adds. “I suspect this will be a strong positive for international students looking to get an MBA in the U.S. We are hopeful that we become a school that international students want to come to.”

A Q&A WITH KATHRYN BARRACLOUGH, TEPPER MBA DIRECTOR

The STEM designation isn’t the only thing on the horizon for the Tepper MBA. Recently, P&Q reached out to Kathryn Barraclough, Head of MBA Program and Distinguished Service Professor of Finance, to learn more about underrated aspects o the program along with what future applicants can expect. Here are her thoughts.

* For 13 in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021, go to page 3. 

* To read an exclusive Q&A with Tepper MBA Director Kathryn Barraclough, go to page 3. 

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