Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business is an often overlooked gem of a business school, with a highly innovative and leading-edge MBA program. The school has long kept its MBA class sizes intentionally small and close-knit, with just 204 full-time students in the latest entering class. The idea is to create an intimate learning experience with highly accessible and surprisingly dedicated faculty. The B-school professors here offer generous office hours, dinner parties and tailgating events. They even come in on the weekends to give pre-exam reviews to classes and to meet one-on-one with students.
“Sometimes, I can’t even get a parking space on Sundays because there are so many faculty and students here,” says Dean Idalene “Idie” Kesner. The total faculty on Kelley’s Bloomington campus—229 at last count—is actually larger than the school’s annual MBA intake. That’s largely because of the school’s more sizable undergraduate business program. But it allows Dean Kesner to pick and choose only the very best teachers to put in front of MBAs.
Through the years, the Kelley School has fashioned a reputation as a true MBA innovator, from being one of the few programs that give a single grade for the entire core curriculum to having a series of first-year academies that provide experiential learning, consulting projects and coaching to students interested in six core areas that range from capital markets and strategic finance to consulting and supply chain management. Kelley essentially delivers a life-transforming customized MBA experience. Individual and team coaching is so prevalent that each student gets as many as 90 hours of coaching over the course of the two-year program from faculty, staff, and fellow MBA candidates.
The entire first semester at the Kelley School of Business is about getting the big business picture. The integrated core consists of one 15-week course (co-taught by eight faculty members) that weaves together every business discipline and gives a solid understanding of how these disciplines work together. That leaves three semesters of electives and freedom for students to chart their own career paths. All first-year Kelley MBA students choose an Academy, where they gain hands-on, career-related experience in a field of interest; the Academies range from Business Marketing and Consumer Marketing to Consulting and Strategic Finance.
Students can choose from six majors, or they can design their own. There is also the option to combine a major with a minor, joint degree, or certificate program. Kelley also boasts a top-ranked online MBA program in which graduates get the exact same degree as full-timers on campus. Watch our campus deep-dive into Kelley’s online MBA.
What truly distinguishes the MBA experience at Kelley from others is Me., Inc., a highly innovative initiative to focus early attention on career management, personal brand building, and personal leadership. A series of small workshops with candid feedback from peers and coaches, Me, Inc., initially ran over four straight days during the second week of MBA orientation in August for incoming students. An important goal was to increase a student’s personal accountability throughout the career management process. Now it runs for the full two-week orientation so that each session builds upon a lesson from the previous one.
“Many international students don’t buy into the idea of an informational interview,” explains Ray Luther, executive director of Kelley’s MBA program. “The epiphany for them is to open up their minds to networking. We really want the students to take a step back to know what they want to do with the MBA. That introspection sets up a more successful job interview because the student can tell his or her story with logic and heart.”
Giving and getting candid and constructive feedback during the Me, Inc. workshops was essential. As Luther says, “It’s about making them better. It’s not about being nice. The business environment is not one where getting nice gets you by all the time. and that is what we are really trying to drive home.”
And Me, Inc., of course, is just one feature of a superb MBA program. As Dean Kesner puts it, “Kelley is more than just Me, Inc. It is a holistic program that takes care of students from beginning to end—the academies, the Globase experiences, the emerging markets. There are so many things here that interact with other parts of the program that are part of the success story that is important to the school. Me, Inc. is just one piece. If you have the talent to succeed, the humility to grow, the tenacity to persevere, we are the school for you.”
Student engagement at Kelley is a key part of the culture and the program. More than 50 second-year MBA students serve as coaches to both individual incoming students and their core teams. Kelley used student feedback to build out a global consulting experience called Global Business and Social Enterprise Program (GLOBASE), going from one international trip to three. Almost half of the Class of 2012 participated in it. The school puts more emphasis on an Emerging Markets Experience that brought students to such countries as Argentina, Brazil, China, and Thailand. And Kelley created, with still more student feedback, what it called a “Renaissance Week” in the spring for students seven weeks before graduation.
Yet, with such a small MBA program in the middle of Indiana, it’s sometimes hard to get the visibility that other business schools seem to command. “We are this incredible hidden gem,” believes Jonlee Andrews, who succeeded Powell as the chair of the full-time MBA program. “When students come here they are truly blown away, and when they get the chance to compare us to other programs they come back and say we are so proud to be part of it. Companies like our students because they roll up their sleeves and get the job done.”
Despite impressive gains in the 2013 Forbes ranking and the 2012 ranking from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Indiana University’s Kelley School moved up only one spot, from 21st to 20th, in Poets&Quants’ fourth annual ranking of the top 100 MBA programs in the U.S. The school jumped eight spots from its 2011 finish to 19th in Forbes’ 2013 survey, which focuses on return on investment. BusinessWeek, which ranks MBA programs largely on the basis of graduate and corporate recruiter satisfaction, ranked the school 15th in 2012, up four places from 19th in 2010. That’s a healthy gain that can largely be attributed to a remarkable jump in the school’s graduate satisfaction scores.
Kelley was ranked first among all full-time MBA programs in student satisfaction, up an amazing 25 places in the past two years from a rank of 26th in 2010. As one 2012 graduate put it to BusinessWeek: “The people and the culture stood out to me as Kelley’s competitive advantage. When I visited IU, the consulting academy was preparing for interviews with a top management consulting firm the next day. I knew that it was a competitive process to be recruited by a consulting firm. However, these students were grading each other’s resumes. They were giving each other practice consulting interviews and case questions. They were improving the caliber of the Kelley MBA candidate by lifting each other up, as opposed to plotting against each other. This culture amazed me to the point that I knew that I found my home.”
Kelley also saw impressive gains among the international rankings. The B-school jumped four spots in The Economists’ 2013 survey of U.S. schools to 23rd, up from 27th in 2012. Kelley recovered ground in the Financial Times’ ranking too, moving from 26th among U.S. schools in 2013 to 24th in 2014.
Meantime, the school’s rank in U.S. News & World Report rose slightly to 22nd this year from 23rd in 2013.
MBA Program Consideration Set:
Watch Poets&Quants’ John A. Byrne interview Associate Dean Philip T. Powell of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to learn about Kelley’s six online specialized master’s programs and how to integrate the MS with an MBA or customize a stand-alone specialization. Watch the Specialized Masters video.
Kelley no longer publishes in its employment report its top employers, preferring to list all of the firms that hired the school’s graduates.
Notes: MBA Program Consideration Set: If you believe you’re a close match to this school–based on your GMAT and GPA scores, your age and work experience, you should look at these other competitive full-time MBA programs as well. We list them by stretch, match and safety. These options are presented on the basis of brand image and ranking status.