MBA Program Of The Year: Washington University’s Newly Revamped MBA

Olin MBA students in a team meeting during their global immersion


Adds Kendra Kelly, a 30-year-old former marketer from Atlanta, “We did everything with our group of nearly 100 people for 28 days. We were bound to become close. It takes a village to get an MBA and that village started in St. Louis but we really became a village traveling abroad. We have been able to maintain that sense of community since we’ve been back on campus. In fact, some of the second years have looked at us in a quizzical way and wondered what is going on because of the close bonds we have with each other.”

Another benefit of the upfront immersion is the rapid development that occurs as a consequence of the intensive time together. “This is not just an extra eight weeks,” explains Dean Taylor. “It’s eight weeks intensive where you do nothing else. One of our professors said he never experienced students improving before his very eyes. So there was accelerated development that came out of it.” Indeed, faculty teaching the core courses back on campus found the students better prepared to absorb the business basics and tie them back into their experiences abroad. Students also were more deeply collaborative and engaged right from the start.

At a time when applications to full-time MBA programs have fallen in each of the past five years, the changes allowed Olin to recruit one of its most impressive MBA cohorts ever. The inaugural class of 98 students–47 fewer than its Class of 2019–boasts the most women (49%), the most international students (42%), the highest class GMAT average (695) in five years and the highest yield (44%) in a decade. Olin also was able to enroll 23% of underrepresented minorities, up from 19% in the Class of 2019.


Olin Dean Mark Taylor: “We have to break into the top end, and we can’t do that by tinkering.”

No less impressive, the school was able to get its innovation off the ground in record time. The changes were approved by the faculty on May 23 of 2018, leading to a pilot program just ten months later. Planners piloted the immersion over spring break in March of 2019, taking 70 first- and second-year students to Shanghai and 35 to Barcelona for a compressed version of classes and excursions. Olin then rolled out the inaugural class last June, little more than 12 months after the changes were approved. That is a remarkable achievement, considering the enormous logistical challenge of having to arrange travel, meals, lodging, coursework, and projects for nearly 100 students across three continents. In all, 11 faculty traveled to teach in the program, along with four full-time MBAs who served as teaching assistants and 20 staffers across student affairs, career management, marketing, and communications.

It was Olin’s new dean who challenged his faculty to think big and global in the redesign of a solid MBA program that lacked much differentiation. “My view was we had to do something,” says Taylor. “The MBA is a flagship program and a lot of schools are closing their programs. My view is that we have to break into the top end, and we can’t do that by tinkering. We have to be bold and build a go-to program.” The changes also include more flexibility, allowing students to earn in addition to their MBA a master’s in data analytics, which provides STEM designation, or finance in 26 months.

The revamp came out of a five-year strategic plan informed by faculty, staff, and alumni, an analysis that included surveys and focus groups and a competitive assessment of peer and aspirational schools. Dean Taylor also enlisted pro bono consulting help from the Boston Consulting Group. The strategic review led to the adoption of four “pillars of excellence” that informed the new curriculum and the way in which Olin is preparing students for their post-graduate roles:

  • Values Based and Data Driven
  • Globally Oriented
  • Experiential
  • Entrepreneurial

Every single course in the new curriculum must reinforce at least one of the pillars, and professors are evaluated by students on this facet of the program. “All of these pillars have been incorporated in the design,” says Ohad Kadan, vice dean for programs and global education. “The whole curriculum had to be completely changed. BCG analyzed the pain points. The main problem was we did not have an identity. We were like 40 other schools,  and students were choosing us as a default school if they didn’t get into another school. With BCG we wanted to take our vanilla MBA program and make it very differentiated, the most global and most experiential MBA program in the world. BCG gave us a very general prototype and the faculty converted that into the courses, the sequencing, and the experiential learning. We are now the number one choice for students who like this new approach.”