Awesome MBA Traditions At Top Business Schools

The ‘M’ in MBA may as well stand for “Memories.” After all, memories are the biggest takeaways from business school. In class, cases and projects build muscle memory; they train MBAs how to think through problems and accentuate team strengths. From Karaoke Thursdays to Service Days, students are connected by shared moments that foster shared values. They remember the laughter that soothed them, the conversations that transformed them, and the people who sustained them.

For MBAs, memories are less about the when and where, and more about who they became and why.

MBA: Memories Bring Assurance — and confidence, hope, and compassion too.


Many times, business students bond over traditions, annual events that embody the culture and mission of their schools. At Berkeley Haas, one of these traditions is HaasBoats, which kicks off the first weekend of the fall semester. Think of it as a giant boat party — where attendees know little more than what’s on their packing list. In the end, HaasBoats turns into something far more profound that boozing and barbecuing on two dozen houseboats.

“You drive up to Lake Shasta and spend Labor Day weekend living on houseboats with your assigned crews, docking the boats next to each other for endless sunny days on the lake with the serene mountain backdrop, attending Burning Man-themed parties, and getting to know your classmates by boat-hopping,” explains Aditi Bhandari, a 2021 P&Q MBA To Watch. “The friendships and memories made at HaasBoats really sets up the Haas experience to be more than I could have imagined. The memories from that magical weekend have sustained us through the toughest parts of the pandemic. I hope that our first years get a chance to experience it this fall. Fingers crossed.”

Haas isn’t alone in observing the time-honored tradition of sending first-year newbies into the great outdoors. At Cornell University, orientation includes a day-long retreat — the Johnson Outdoor Experience — which is held in nearby Owasco Lake. Starting at dawn, the Experience harnesses an “energy and enthusiasm” — one that banded together students, faculty, and facilitators as one

“We participated in team-based outdoor competitions, engaged in water sports and relaxation, and competed in an ice-cream flavor pitch competition (the winning flavor even goes on to be produced by the Cornell Dairy),” writes 2021 grad Ola Esho. “I remember this experience so vividly because my convictions about Johnson and the Johnson community became even stronger, as I was continuously challenged by my peers, yet felt supported and encouraged to try new things regardless of my fears.”


To make memories, Brigham Young University turns their grand tradition into an indoor affair. Each year, the Marriott School throws MBA Prom. Here, MBAs can embrace their inner adolescent — for one magical evening, at least. According to Dunia Alrabadi, an eBay product manager and 2021 Best & Brightest MBA, students deck themselves out in suits and gown before walking the red carpet to get their picture taken. From there, students enjoy a fancy meal before hitting the deance floor. The best part, however, comes when the hidden sides of classmates seep out.

“It was so fun to dress up and see the fun side of my classmates whom I mostly see in a professional setting,” adds Alrabadi. “My favorite part was watching one of the quietest, most reserved second years own the dance floor. Our friendship started right then and there. It was because we both loved to dance that we were able to find something to connect on beyond school. I loved seeing how different settings can bring out different sides of people and for that reason this tradition will always be my favorite.”

Such traditions define the MBA experience, stirring memories that come first to mind when graduates reflect back on their time in business school. Which traditions meant the most to this year’s MBAs? P&Q posed that question to this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch. From Chicago Booth’s Magnificent Mile Watch Party to football tailgates at Texas McCombs, here are the events that encapsulated the best of business school for the Class of 2021.

“My favorite GSB tradition is TALK – I think it encapsulates what makes this community so special. Every week, two of our classmates share a 30-minute version of their life story in public — usually in front of more than 150 people (and attendance has only grown via Zoom). They share the life experiences that have shaped them into the people they are today. These stories often go much deeper than the resume highlights we know. I consistently leave these sessions in awe of my classmates’ resilience, and inspired by their courage and trust in all of us. In this period of relative isolation, TALK has deepened the unique feeling of community at the GSB.”
Brian Aoyama, Stanford GSB

“Since COVID, I have really cherished my memories of every activity and event I experienced with classmates, in-person, during my first year of the MBA program. One of the events that I most appreciated was International Night. As a domestic student, I loved seeing my international classmates reveal a new side of themselves, not apparent in the classroom, and experiencing a little slice of their cultures. International Night involved bringing food to share, wearing traditional attire, and (for some) performing dances or musical numbers that exemplified their cultures. International classmates who moved to the states with their families often brought their spouses and children, and it was wonderful to meet them. Personally, I shared my international heritage at this event by wearing a qi pao (Chinese dress). My mother came to the states from China as an international master’s student, and I appreciate that Smith has created a community that welcomes and integrates international students in a way my mother wasn’t able to experience years ago. I’ve loved learning more about the diverse cultures that make up our program, and this event was a great opportunity to celebrate that diversity in a fun and collaborative way.”
Maria Herold, University of Maryland (Smith)

“My favorite tradition has been Random Walk, the trip that students go on before school starts. The way students get assigned to their trips is very Booth. After analyzing spider charts with average rankings of each trip across several criteria — including culture, activity, and nightlife — students rank their trip preferences (and as the data-driven students we are, most of us agonize over our rankings). Then, students get randomly assigned to one of their top choices. Similarly to classes, it was fun trying to uncover the common passions, interests, or curiosities that led us all to choose Croatia as one of our top choices. Because of those uncanny commonalities, the 20 people I went on Random Walk with are still my closest friends at Booth.”
Tess Belton, University of Chicago (Booth)

“COVID has unfortunately demanded that many of the unique and fabled Cambridge experiences be curtailed. Norms such as visiting other colleges, attending and participating in debates in-person at the Cambridge Union, discussing hot topics and making new friendships from all disciplines over some pints at college bars, and playing team sports, have been postponed until restrictions allow them to resume. However, I was lucky enough to enjoy a Socially Distanced Formal – a three-course candlelit dinner – at my college, Darwin College. Held during the last week of term in December, it provided a glimpse of the long-standing traditions that Cambridge has to offer. I hope that we will be able to experience more Cambridge traditions as restrictions are lifted. “
Aaron D’Souza, Cambridge Judge

Small group dinners are my favorite Tuck tradition! Gathering together with a diverse group of students to share a meal is a quintessential Tuck experience. We find these dinners to be such an important part of the Tuck fabric that we have a designated representative for each class year who organizes the dinners. The small group dinners, where five people come together to cook and eat a home-prepared meal, mirror the deeply collaborative Tuck culture. People are often cooking a meal that reminds them of home and it can be a doorway to deeper, authentic conversations that transcend classroom and study group discussions.”
Madeleine Livingston, Dartmouth College (Tuck)

My favourite MBA tradition at IMD is the ‘Polar Jump’ – jumping in the freezing waters of Lake Leman in peak winter. Coming from a warm country like India, just the thought of jumping into freezing waters was very unwelcome. However, seeing so many of my colleagues undertaking the challenge to keep the tradition alive gave me the courage to do the same as a show of solidarity and I did! Thankfully, all my memories from that day are happy ones because I was also the designated doctor on duty to save people if things went south.

It is a crazy idea, but it is also an IMD tradition. It makes me believe that while an MBA is hard work and IMD is a  tough curriculum that prepares us to be accomplished professionals ready to conquer the world, there is an element of daredevilry and adventure attached to the course and that’s what makes IMD super special.”
Ruchi Senthil, IMD Business School

“My favorite Darden tradition is the Darden Cup, a year-long athletic tournament between the first-year sections. Including competitions that include American football, cricket, and  a talent show. It’s an absolute blast and such a fun way to both build section spirit while getting to know people across the class. Plus, while Darden is known for its incredibly collaborative academic environment (which is completely true), the Darden Cup is where we get to let our competitive sides shine! The Darden Cup is a great encapsulation of the Darden community because, while we’re not afraid to dig deep if it means pulling out the win against our rival section, we ultimately are all there to enjoy time with our fellow classmates and their families.”
Katie Cech, University of Virginia (Darden)

“After the last exam of each term, all the students go to a nearby pub to blow off steam — and the revelry goes well into the evening! Walking over en masse after getting through an intense week is such a joyful, cathartic feeling. Often faculty tags along for a bit too. After one notoriously hard final, a professor bought pitchers of beer as a peace offering. It was hilarious — and all in good fun.”
Andrea Poile, University of Toronto (Rotman)

“Tepper has a long-standing tradition every Friday at 5pm called B**rs. It is an event based around community and signals the end of a work week. On Fridays, you can find most students hanging around campus working on group projects or attending corporate events. When 5 o’clock hits, all the floors are a ghost town and the entire MBA program is in the masters lounge enjoying food and drinks with classmates, faculty, alumni, and friends. I love this tradition because no matter how busy you think you are, everyone takes a pause and gets together and connects once a week.”
Melissa Bizzari, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

“My favorite tradition is the “Kelley Clap.” At the end of every class, we clap to applaud the act of learning that has taken place. At first, I thought it was going to be very awkward in each class clapping for each other. However, doing our Kelley Clap gives me a sense of pride for my peers and the professor and is a great way to get pumped up after the lesson has taken place.”
Justin M. Speller, Indiana University (Kelley)

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