Hidden MBA Gems: Why These Students Love Their MBA Experience

Carlson School of Management boasts strong ties with the business community in Minneapolis-St. Paul


Or the appeal can be an MBA program’s approach to the learning experience. At the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, experiential learning is a core part of the program. A long-time practitioner of hands-on learning, Carlson operates what it calls Enterprise programs. Here, MBA teams devote a year to working on projects for top employers in one of four areas: Consulting, Brands, Ventures, and Funds. Not only do Carlson students reinforce what they learn in class, but also sharpen their problem-solving skills on c-level issues like interpreting data and developing strategy.

This approach appealed to Linda Nkosi, who entered Carlson’s full-time MBA program in 2020.  Before business school, he worked in healthcare program management. Now, Nkosi hopes to transition into the private sector in either corporate strategy or finance. To make this triple jump, he is counting on the Enterprise program to expose him to different industries, functions, and corporate cultures.

“Usually, when you make the decision to go to business school, you are resigned to the fact that you will spend 22 months out of the workforce except for a 3-month reprieve where you have to put one academic year worth of theory into practice through a summer internship,” he explains. ”This is NOT the case with Carlson. Carlson’s focus on experiential learning was a big draw for me. The opportunity to actively practice the theory I learn in class – solving real-world business problems that affect business’ bottom lines – was too large to ignore. I get to show what I’ve learned, flex my professional work-muscles and build connections with professionals in the Twin Cities. A huge win!”


There are, of course, many other reasons why a quality MBA from a school not on a Top 10 or Top 25 list can be just as if not more enticing. Geography is another. Some frequently overlooked programs are in areas where employers are highly supportive of the university or college in their backyards. Those universities are often the source of much of their professional talent.

For Joe Crawford, a U.S. Naval Academy grad who served in the U.S. Marines, the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota was appealing in part because of the school’s close links with the many Fortune 500 companies in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. He had never been a resident of the state before moving there for Carlson’s MBA program in 2020.

“I was struck by the number and variety of Fortune 500 firms that span all different industries,” he tells Poets&Quants. “What makes Carlson such a great place is that there are alumni scattered throughout all these firms who all share a passion for giving back to the school and assisting those of us currently in the program.”


Geography even plays a role in large urban areas where there are big-name rivals that can’t possibly supply the demand for MBA talent in a metro area. Consider New York City. Sure, Columbia Business School and New York University’s Stern School of Business grab most of the attention from MBA applicants, together drawing well over 10,000 candidates for about 1,100 available seats. But several great NYC metro options abound at Fordham, Baruch, and Rutgers Business School in nearby New Jersey.

Carlota Artigas ventured from Barcelona, Spain, to New York to get her MBA from Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business (GBS) partly due to its location. “Of course, GBS is in the center of the world,” says Artigas who will graduate in Gabelli’s Class of 2022. “New York is boundless. There are countless multinational companies and many globally recognized business leaders. Being closer to them could help me gather in vivo powerful insights for my next career steps.”

A similar argument can be made for UC-Davis, just outside San Francisco, or UC-Irvine, not far from Los Angeles. A proverbial college town that revolves around its students, Davis is just 30 minutes from Sacramento, an hour from San Francisco, and 90 minutes from Silicon Valley. It helps that the school, like many of the hidden gems, offers among the most extensive financial assistance of any top MBA program  with 82% of the Class of 2022 receiving scholarships or fellowships. UC-Irvine’s Merage School of Business, meantime, is a mere 40 minutes from Los Angeles.


Or location can play a role when a dominant industry of interest to a candidate is largely based in a certain area. Consider healthcare in Nashville, Tennessee. No school is better positioned as a direct pathway into healthcare’s exploding opportunities for MBA grads than Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Though Owen’s full-time MBA experience is highly ranked, just outside the Top 25, it is a school that deserves far more attention than it gets. “The Vanderbilt location in Nashville – a healthcare hub with over 700 healthcare companies in the city – was something I really considered because it allows interact with healthcare companies easily,” says Yvonne Caroline Uduba who will graduate from Owen with her MBA this year. She moved to Nashville for Owen’s MBA program from the Philippines and Nigeria where she was a pharmacist and later a regulatory consultant for the creation of Africa’s largest rice mill.

Similar reasoning drew Leah Ku, a former patient support specialist for Celgene, to Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Ku ended up becoming co-president of the school’s Pharmaceutical Management Club and landing a job with Bristol-Myers Squibb in the company’s commercial leadership development program. I chose RBS for its reputation within the pharmaceutical industry for producing high-caliber leaders,” says Ku, who graduated with her MBA last year. “It also didn’t hurt that all my target companies came to campus to recruit MBA talent.”

Many of these smaller MBA options also tend to specialize in business niches that give them distinction above and beyond a mere ranking. Take Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business. The faculty’s expertise in supply chain management makes it a first choice school for students keen to enter the fast growing field. “A hallmark of the Broad MBA that attracted me was the world-renowned supply chain management program,” explains Abraham Rusch, who was looking engineer a career transition into the field after being the director of music and liturgy at a Catholic Church. “This infuses our entire academic program with a confident “can-do” spirit. Given the incredible complexity of the supply chain problems we face, faculty members across the disciplines love to give us complicated business cases to tackle with our teams. This is a great opportunity to build relationships,” adds Rusch who expects to graduate from the program in 2022.

Likewise, Dallin Bud Scruggs from Salt Lake City, Utah, was enticed to Rice University in Houston for its access to the energy industry. A former Hydraulic Engineer who earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University, he ultimately wants to enter senior leadership in the petrochemical business. “Selecting between business schools was almost as stressful as applying,” believes Scruggs who will get his MBA from Rice in 2022. “My main focus was going to a school that would assist me in becoming a leader who will be able to make an impact in the energy and petrochemical industries. When on campus, Rice was able to do something that no other program was able to: introduce me to alumni, benefactors, and other who had the same professional goals that I did and had gone the path I wanted to go. I knew right then that Rice was the program most dedicated to creating a custom experience that would best shape my future.”

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