Go big, they’ll say. Go to the city. New York City, Los Angeles, London, Paris. That’s where the action is. There’s always something new and something to do. It’s people and possibilities — every company, industry, culture, and perspective imaginable. Here, you can be at the center — and the rest of the world comes to you. That means who you are and what you do matter.
Variety and opportunity — those are the selling points of city living. Amid the masses, you can shed the past and be who you are. That’s not so easy in a smaller venue. You can’t just blend in there; you’re expected to play a part. In college towns like Bloomington, Charlottesville, and Hanover, you slow down. Life is more deliberate and reflective. You rarely see their landmarks on television — and not everything is at your fingertips.
That can be a hard sell for some — and paradise for many more.
ALWAYS SOMETHING TO DO IN ITHACA
Take Ithaca in upstate New York. The heart of the Finger Lakes Region, Ithaca is home to Cornell University — and 150 waterfalls. You can dine on Maxie’s world-famous jambalaya and oysters or take in an off-Broadway production of Naomi Wallace at the Hangar Theatre. That doesn’t count hiking along the rapids and gorges that garnish Buttermilk Falls State Park. No, you won’t find skyscrapers towering over Cayuga Lake. That doesn’t mean it is a remote spot that doesn’t draw employers, opportunities, and talent to the Johnson Graduate School of Management.
“Ithaca is located in upstate New York, four hours away from New York City, admits Heidi Xu, a 2021 MBA grad who joined the Amazon team. “However, the school has fantastic resources for students. For example, with the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, where our students can go to take an Intensive in Digital Marketing or Fintech Intensive, which includes working on projects for clients from well-known companies. Moreover, Cornell alumni are extremely connected to the school. Perhaps it’s the upstate New York winters that make their Cornell experience unforgettable; they are very committed to paying it forward. Our Cornell alumni are always just an email or phone call away.”
Stefy Smith spent three years in Ithaca, earning a dual MBA and Master’s in Public Administration. Now a program manager at Apple, the 2021 grad describes Ithaca as a place where there’s always plenty to do. “The Annual Chili Cook-Off and the Apple Harvest Festival are two of my favorite events, but I’ve gone to several music concerts, dance recitals, poetry readings, and other fun activities.”
“TRUST THE PROCESS”
Small towns don’t attract top employers or provide fun diversions can be considered one myth encountered by MBAs during the recruiting process. Ask most MBAs from Darden, Fuqua, or Mendoza and you’ll hear the same line: there is never enough time and always something happening. That’s not to say the usual MBA myths don’t contain a kernel of truth. Northwestern Kellogg, for example, has earned its reputation as a “marketing school.” That moniker overshadows the program being world-class elite in areas like marketing and entrepreneurship too. In fact, school myths — even if true — sometimes obscures the benefits of their philosophical approach. That is case with the IESE Business School, whose reputation for academic rigor might scare off dilettantes. For Marc-Olivier Granger, a 2021 grad, IESE’s demands were necessary to elevate him into a management consulting role at BCG.
“Talking with friends from other business schools, I saw a clear difference on how the programs are built,” he tells P&Q. “The first year of the MBA at IESE is very challenging with essentially 3 cases per day, 5 days a week. It adds up to about 4,000 pages of reading. Add on top of the academics the time spent on recruiting and extracurricular activities and you get very busy very fast. However, after having been through that first year and reflecting back, I can definitely say that all that effort pays off. Coming from a non-business background, my learning curve was steep and the academic rigor of IESE allowed me to become a full 360-degree manager now. When we started the MBA, we were told by faculty and students, to “trust the process” and I’m glad I did.
What are the biggest myths surrounding MBA programs like Stanford, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, and others? As part of P&Q’s Best & Brightest MBA nomination process, we asked top MBAs to share the biggest myths about their schools — and the amount of truth they contain. From Berkeley being a “hippie” school to New York schools lacking community, here are what MBAs think about the biggest myths surrounding their schools.
Myth: Columbia Business School was very sharp-elbowed.
Reality: This couldn’t be farther from the truth. We, as peers, are competitive, ambitious, and driven, absolutely. But CBS students are those things while genuinely wanting those around them to succeed as well. My classmates are incredibly supportive, push each other to bring our best selves to the experience, and will always do what they can to lift each other up and help each other out—whether it’s with an accounting problem set, interview prep, casing, or finding your voice.
Olivia Mell, Columbia Business School
Myth: Ross is situated in a very small town that can get very boring in the winters.
Reality: Although Ann Arbor is a small little city, it is one of the coziest places to live in. It has something for every kind of person. From river walking to rock climbing, from a quick 45-minute drive to Detroit to a four-hour road trip to some of the most amazing skiing resorts, Ann Arbor has access to a wide and exciting range of outdoor life. At the heart of it all, Michigan Ross provides ample opportunities for students to engage and thrive in this all-rounded experience through its clubs and social events. Contrary to popular belief, the winters open up a range of new activities that we Wolverines look forward to every year.
Neha Tadichetty, University of Michigan (Ross)
Myth: Wisconsin is just a party school. There is nothing else for me to do as an MBA in Madison.
Reality: The Wisconsin MBA student experience is full of unique life experiences. To be sure, as a program, we embrace Badger Spirit on game day. Aside from that and in addition to academic life, being a Wisconsin MBA means summer evenings sitting next to Lake Mendota at the Terrace, playing sand volleyball at parks in Madison, browsing the Madison Farmer’s Market, engaging in the Polar Plunge, listening to classical music concerts on Capital Square, and taking trips abroad. I hope the diversity of experiences in our program shows through in these essay responses.
Michael Turco, University of Wisconsin
Myth: Darden is a consulting school or general management school.
Reality: While Darden excels at building those skill sets, at its core, Darden prepares you to become a strategic thinker and an ethical leader. These traits transcend any particular career path, and it’s no surprise that Darden has a stellar track record placing student in technology, finance, marketing, and entrepreneurial careers. While there are many skills you can “learn on the job”, you will leave Darden confident in your ability to attack any problem and to do so in an ethical manner.
Harsha Gummagatta, University of Virginia (Darden)
Myth: Students here don’t have the same opportunities at Arizona State as those from a top ten program.
Reality: In my experience, that wasn’t the case. I was able to earn my way to the final rounds and receive offers from top companies where the other candidates were all from top ten programs. The same was true for Adobe, where I was offered the ability to extend my internship, lead analytics for my team, and receive a full-time offer.
Daniel Valdez, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)
Myth: There are a lot of British people in the class.
Reality: Despite the school being in London, the British contingent is actually really small. In a way, this added to the quality of my experience because it meant that I met more of a diverse range of people outside of my normal circles.
Adekolapo Agbede, London Business School
Myth: There is nothing to do here because we literally go to school in the cornfields surrounding Bloomington.
Reality: This fortunately cannot be further from the truth. The wide variety of international food options, abundance of tailgating and variety of outdoor activities make Bloomington the perfect place for two years. I am SO thankful I went to school in a college town because of the close bonds I have made with my classmates. When I talk to friends at other MBA programs, they always talk about how disconnected they feel because there are too many people in their program. Some of my other friends go to school in big cities and because they are all spread out, they end up never really feeling at home in their programs. Coupled together, Kelley and Bloomington foster an environment for MBA students to not only achieve professional success but form lifelong relationships.
Justin M. Speller, Indiana University (Kelley)
Myth: UCLA MBAs are too laid back.
Reality: People may think of UCLA Anderson as a place that is not driven by professional ambitions. They may think of us as a bunch of surfers, volleyballers, and hikers. In fact, we punch well above our weight in consulting, investment banking, big tech, venture capital, and other MBA careers – we just happen to crush our professional ambitions while also surfing, v-balling, and hiking.
Parth Chauhan, UCLA (Anderson)
Myth: Vanderbilt Owen’s “Personal Scale” is a disadvantage.
Reality: In the application process, I kept hearing about “personal scale” and how the experience at Owen had a much more unique and personal touch when compared to other programs. As I finish my second year, I can confirm this “personal scale” myth to be a reality. During my application process, students and staff were more than willing to make time for me and to make sure my questions were answered. Later as a student, I was blown away by second-year student engagement. Older students from my healthcare concentration pulled me aside to make sure I understood the timeline for recruiting within the healthcare industry, and they initiated reviews of my resume and cover letters. The Owen community is truly interested in the success of every student, and the program has more than lived up to the “personal scale” myth.
Kenneth Barnes, Vanderbilt University (Owen)
Myth: National University of Singapore is all academics.
Reality: Whenever I talked to prospective students, they would often express concerns about the academics. While the rigorous curriculum forms an integral part of The NUS MBA programme, equal emphasis is also given to experiential learning and holistic development. Students are given countless opportunities to enhance their leadership skills (via the NUS MBA Students’ Council), gain industry exposure (via the MBA Consulting Project, networking sessions), and immerse themselves in the global business environment (via study trips and exchange programmes). Academics is just 50% of the MBA experience.
Maria Katrina Volante, National University of Singapore
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