Hidden MBA Gems: Why These Students Love Their MBA Experience

What students say after searching for and finding an ideal hidden gem of an MBA program

Ask any MBA student enrolled in one of our hidden MBA gems of a program what makes their experience stand out and you’ll get one of a set of fairly consistent answers.

  1. It’s small and intimate where every single student gets to know all of their classmates well and bond with them.
  2. They feel more supported. The faculty is not only more accessible, they more often than not serve as valuable mentors in a smaller environment. Career management staffers and coaches can provide more individual attention because they are spread over fewer students.
  3. There are unusual if not unique innovative touches to the MBA experience that are highly cherished and admired.
  4. A school excels in a specific business arena like healthcare, sustainability, or supply chain management.
  5. Scholarship assistance is often more generous than it would be at many of the highest ranked programs.


Those are really good reasons for taking a close look at schools that are often overlooked and under appreciated by MBA candidates who focus too much attention on the Top 10 or Top 25 business schools. Truth is, as many students have found, any quality MBA program can pretty much fulfill your career dreams. And that is exactly what graduates of these hidden gems will tell you.

More often than not, many MBA students view size as a critical part of the culture equation. They believe smaller programs attract students who are less likely to have sharp elbows and reinforce a highly competitive cultures. “When I began applying to MBA programs, I very much had the notion that these schools were cutthroat and extremely competitive,” says Spencer Lowden, who is now earning his MBA at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. “Being a competitive person, I was prepared and ready for that environment. However, W. P. Carey’s program really opened my eyes. In an environment like an MBA, collaboration is really where the real growth happens. Of course, all my classmates want to succeed, but they also want me to succeed. That realization and the value that comes with that quickly made me realize what was important and separated W.P. Carey from the rest.”

Size matters to many, and schools that are MBA factories are often less desirable to many candidates than programs that admit a couple hundred or fewer students a year. The Graduate School of Business at the University of California’s campus in Davis enters just under 50 full-time MBA students a year. To Deepi Agarwal, a former marketing manager who came from India to enroll in the school’s MBA program, it is a perfectly sized opportunity. Faculty can lavish personal attention to their students and classmates can develop deeper connections with each class member, believes Agarwal.


“The small cohort size of our MBA program attracted me the most,” she says. “I believe an MBA is as much about networking as learning management. This networking starts right with your cohort. The smaller the cohort size is, the better the opportunity for stronger and more meaningful networking with classmates. A smaller cohort size also results in more effective in-class discussions.”

Brittany Ouyang, the owner of a communications consulting firm in New York, chose UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business for its size and sense of community. Merage’s total full-time MBA enrollment is under 100 students. I’ve always known that I learn best in a more intimate setting where every student has the chance to participate in the class discussion and where all questions are heard,” says Ouyang who earned her MBA from Merage last year. “Coupled with this is the strong sense of community that the Merage school exudes. I flew from New York to visit as I was applying. Though I was nervous to move back to the west coast and embark on this new adventure, I was confident that the community would support me.” It did.

Smaller class sizes often translate into a deeper feeling of community, allowing students to forge stronger bonds with faculty and classmates. It’s incredibly common for MBA students in these programs to talk about feeling welcomed and accepted in a way that gave them comfort and emotional support. Agnese De Grossi Mazzorin, a digital solutions expert for BASF from Rome, Italy, zeroed in on Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business for that reason. “Although there are a lot of MBA programs, the main factor that led me to W.P. Carey’s MBA was the inclusive and diverse community of this business school,” says Mazzorin who will graduate in 2022.


“Starting from its leitmotiv ‘business is personal,’ ASU fosters a learning environment characterized by a supportive, collaborative and welcoming mindset. For me it was important to find a university with a primary focus on individuals and on diversity, where every person with his/her unique characteristics counts and plays a vital role in the learning process of others. ASU fit perfectly with what I was seeking.”

Takeya Green could relate to that argument. She graduated from a school with a massive undergraduate enrollment, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and then went on to land a job at Dow Chemical as a senior production engineer. “I was looking for a school that had a more intimate setting,” says Green, who started the MBA program at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in the fall of 2020. “Coming from a big public university, I did not want to be in class with hundreds of students. I wanted to be in a small intimate place where I could get that 0ne-on-one learning to ensure I was prepared to go into the business world.”

Christina Tamayo believes that smaller environments foster more enduring relationships across the board. The former U.S. Army military police officer is earning her MBA from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business along with her husband. “There’s a clear philosophy at Rice that prioritizes quality of relationships and learning,” says Tamayo, who will graduate in 2022. “I’m excited by the diverse concentrations offered, particularly in energy and strategy. Focusing on quality education, rather than trying to stomp all your classmates to be ranked #1, makes the environment more conducive towards real, lasting relationships. The spirit of cooperation, family, and individualized success is palpable and tipped my scales to Rice.”

And when the annual intake is small, no one is a mere number, unknown to the day-to-day business school’s staffers who insure that your MBA experience is world class. “From the admissions team to the Career Management Center and Office of Student Engagement, absolutely everyone has a vested interest in seeing you succeed,” says Jeniris Liz Montañez, who will graduate from the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester in 2021. “My first visit to the campus, all the staff knew my name, they knew the names of my son and partner and had arranged so that my whole family could be accommodated at every event. It really meant a lot to me that my family was welcomed with open arms.”

Broad students at a Michigan State football game

Why Students Chose To Get Their MBAs From These Hidden Gem Business Schools

Here’s the question we ask MBA students at each of the following schools in our highly popular Meet the Class series: Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The answers to that question shed much light on the strengths of these hidden gem programs. You can meet the students who answered our question by clicking on the live links to the latest class profiles in the table.

Hidden Gem Why Students Chose Its MBA Meet The Students
Arizona State University (Carey) Innovative reputation, ‘Business is personal’ mission, quality of career coaching, specializations in sustainable enterprise, healthcare & supply chain, inclusive and diverse community, culture of generosity and collaboration Class of 2022
Babson College (Olin) Entrepreneurial focus, with extensive startup resources, small & intimate classes, customized approach, one-year MBA option, global student body Class of 2020
University of California-Davis Entrepreneurial focus, with extensive startup resources, small & intimate classes, customized approach, one-year MBA option, global student body Class of 2022
Fordham University (Gabelli) New York City location, small & intimate classes, diverse student body, strength in finance, focus on ‘Business with Purpose,’ values-based in Jesuit tradition, strong alumni network in NYC Class of 2022
Georgia Institute of Technology (Scheller) Technology focus, strength of career center, supportive culture, sustainable business program, alumni network, scholarship support, strong ties to Atlanta business community Class of 2021
Michigan State University (Broad) Supply chain strength, approachable alumni, small & intimate, dual DO/MBA program, close-knit community, team-based learning Class of 2022
University of Minnesota (Carlson) ‘Business as a force for good’ mindset, enterprise experiential learning programs, small class size, medical industry leadership specialization, access to Fortune 500 firms Class of 2022
Rice University (Jones) Supportive community, small & intimate, entrepreneurship focus, energy & finance strengths, generous scholarship support Class of 2022
University of Rochester (Simon) Emphasis on data analytics & quants, first STEM MBA, class diversity, small & intimate class size, strong support from admissions & alumni network, collaborative culture Class of 2021
Washington University (Olin) Extensive global immersion  & perspective, experiential learning, focus on data-driven & values-based decision making, generous scholarships Class of 2021
University of Washington (Foster) Location in the tech-hub of Seattle, Ventures Fellows Program for PE/VC careers, small & intimate classes, a ‘learn by doing’ experience, student diversity, tight-knit culture, first-year Applied Strategy Project, peer mentors Class of 2022
Vanderbilt University (Owen) Superb healthcare concentration, small & intimate classes, enthusiastic alumni base, focus on ‘personal scale,’ excellent leadership development program, location in Nashville Class of 2021

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