Tag Archives: Wharton

Experience Diversity is ‘The New Black’ in MBA Admissions

B-schools with luxury of choice of whom to accept into their MBA classrooms have always valued diversity in the matriculating class. The news is this trend is strongly on the up.

Not only are schools admitting more minorities and foreigners and women – both HBS and Wharton hit record numbers of female enrollment with their current incoming classes of 2013 – but b-schools are also showing clear intent to accommodate “experience” diversity applicants, that is those with part or all of their work experience in non-traditional backgrounds such as social sciences, creative industries, non-profits, real estate, hospitality, urban planning, fashion, and so on.

The take-away is that male applicants wholly enclosed by cookie-cutter engineering or finance backgrounds are still getting in, but not nearly as easily as before, despite having good GMAT and GPA numbers, good recommendations, and generally having apparently made the “right” career moves. Reading the MBA admissions boards, there are many, many stories that tell of apparently perfect candidates with perfect GMATs getting dinged all over.

Why is this happening? First, schools have always seen and offered valued in diversity in the matriculating pool – which broadens the classroom perspective, fosters real-world peer-to-peer learning enrichment, and which brings MBAs face-to-face with other points of view and thus sharpens their listening and thinking skills. But now, as the business school industry itself gets more competitive, schools need to raise their game on diversity too.

Another force behind diversity in MBA admissions is the slow-burning image problem of business schools and the MBA degree itself in the last 10 years, starting with Enron, through Arthur Andersen, to banks and the Credit Crunch and debt-crisis…. rightly or wrongly it appears to outsiders that a lot of MBAs from top schools are involved in decision-making that is less than fully ethical (and some got bailed out by the taxpayer!) In short, schools are looking for MBAs who will be brand champions of better ethics, and they are not so convinced anymore they will find them in among standard finance, accounting, or consulting-based applicants.

Finally, the perceived value of innovation in industry is at an all-time-high. To build big new businesses, from facebook to Groupon to whatever will be next, you have to not just think big. You have to think different. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Adcom will rate an architect or a journalist or similar as valuable in the class in terms of challenging mindsets and staid practices.

The best response? If you are relatively rich in diversity, make sure Adcom “gets it” – what it is and why it offers interest and value to the school. If you are not, that is if you are a standard finance or consulting or IT jock – you have a harder job. But not impossible. The quest is to find an angle (everyone has at least one) in your personal or professional experience that offers a distinctive point of view among the MBA cohort.

Last year I had a standard finance-banking background client. For a while I despaired, but in profiling I discovered he had spent six months in a rotation in Perth, working on deals and risk-mitigation in the booming (Australia-China) mining resources sector. This was enough to make him interesting, and combined with the rest of his solid profile, got him the admissions offers he was looking for.

See also this post.

HBS augments case method teaching: a call to ‘doers’

Harvard Business School this week announced first moves toward its long-awaited curriculum reform in an email from Dean Nitin Nohria and Senior Associate Dean Youngme Moon to incoming students. The essence of it is: HBS is creating a new required first-year course called “Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development” (FIELD), and will provide greater modularity and student choice in the second year.

By all accounts the reforms are not huge, and not as extensive as those undertaken by Wharton, Stanford, Yale, Haas, and other major programs recently. It appears that HBS’s strategy is to introduce reforms in a incremental, rolling way.

But there is a radical kernel in the FIELD program, something HBS applicants should note. According to the deans’ statement, the course will focus on developing substantively meaningful small-group learning experiences that are “experiential, immersive, and field-based.”

Elaborating on this, Brian Kenny, chief marketing and communications officer for Harvard Business School, was quoted as saying: “For most of the last 100 years, we have been exclusively using a case study pedagogy. We’re recognizing that the case method needs to be supplemented with experiential things that allow students to balance knowing with doing.”

In other words, “doing” is moving up the list of what’s crucial at HBS. They are looking to graduate “doers” rather than merely “knowers.” Of course Harvard will claim they have been doing this all along, but part of the enduring criticism leveled against business schools, particularly in the wake of the Credit Crunch, is that “book learning” is not enough to make a good business leader.

The case method is in itself a hybrid between a straight textbook learning and the real world, and this is what made it powerful in a world where some other b-schools taught more rote style. But the world has moved on, and “experience” and “immersion-fieldwork” have become central to what all serious b-schools consider valuable in formative management education. Of course, the case method will still be at the heart of the Harvard’s teaching. But there is a clear manifesto to nudge the case method further towards the real world by augmenting it with immersion.

How does this affect admissions? Quite simply, HBS is looking, more than ever, to turn out graduates who are ready, willing, and able to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in their leadership projects. So you-the-applicant should look to show where and how you have successfully navigated “immersion” projects in your past, what learning experiences you will immerse yourself in while at HBS and in your near-term future, and how the FIELD experience will help you do it better.

Top-3? Top-6? Among elite MBAs does it really matter where you go?

I found myself following a discussion on the Businessweek “Getting into B-School” forum. The thread is headed: “Does rank really matter among top 6?”

I select extracts to present here because the comments — before they descend into the flaming and slanging that bedevils these forums — deal with important (and corrective) thinking about what matters with rankings, and to whom, and helps understand how US program rankings are perceived internationally too. It finishes with common sense that I endorse.

Original question: “Does rank really matter among Top Business schools? With my European point of view, I consider that there are only 6 Top Schools (in descending order): HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia, Booth and Kellogg. Actually, I don’t really care about rankings here: my only criteria is prestige (which in my view is the only thing you can’t ignore when applying to business schools). In Europe, these schools are famous: if you say Stanford or Columbia, everybody knows what you’re talking about. [But]If you say Tuck business school (at random), very few people will have heard of it regardless of the quality of the school.

“So my question is: among this prestigious top, does is REALLY matter if you go to one or another? On this forum we can often read that if you go to HBS it is infinitely better that if you go to Wharton but Wharton will change your life so much more than Kellogg, and so on and so forth.”

Response: “In France [among] 100 person taken randomly in the street and educated in France, 100 will know about HEC, 90 about Harvard, 3 to 5 about Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, Columbia and 10 maybe will know about INSEAD. But I would say that 90 will know about Yale, Princeton, 100 about Oxford, Cambridge.”

Response: “As a Frenchman I feel the need to throw in my 2 cents on this one. INSEAD is hands down the strongest MBA brand in France. Does every random person on the street necessarily know the name? No, but who cares? The employers do.”

Response: “I would like also to add that the education at the top business institutions is quite the same. I highly doubt that you will learn better investment management in Chicago or Wharton than in Yale, Haas or Fuqua. If you visit those schools, you might get surprised by the background of the faculty. You might take a class at Berkeley taught by a Yale alumni or even receive Michael Porter at Tuck.”

Response: “Although I agree with the notion that the value of an MBA drops as the ranking drops, I do not agree that there is a substantial difference between similarly ranked programs. Every objective metric I can think of (starting salary, quality of recruiting companies, average salary of graduates after 20 years etc.) clusters most top 15 programs closely together. The main exception seem to be HBS and Stanford. Another objective metric are the GMAT and the GPA. Those two metrics are hardly distinguishable in the top 15 programs, including HBS and Stanford.”

Original: “I’ve reached my conclusion I believe: go where you think you belong regardless of what people say/think. I chose to apply to Wharton and CBS finally even if i totally agree HBS/GSB are more famous and Booth/Kellogg are great schools simply because i think it will teach me what i want to learn in my specific field…And education among them is NOT that different, apart from some specialties that should ultimately lead your choice.”