CBS Reflects: Columbia and gender on campus

Just over a year ago, the bschool applicant forums were buzzing with talk about a damning article that came out in the New York Times about gender inequality at Harvard Business School . A subsequent article was also published about class and accusations of elitism surrounding a clique of rich kids at HBS . EssaySnark offered our reaction after speaking with some students.

As with so many things in the world today, that news cycle has come and gone, and this year, in MBA admissions circles, nobody even remembers that all of that happened.

Those articles were definitely noticed last year, though. One thing that came of them was a discussion at many of the top MBA programs about gender. HBS held some (unfortunately closed-door) sessions with the Times journalist, and we know that those articles prompted many conversations at all the schools. Whether or not the Times article specifically was the catalyst, it also coincided with an initiative from the Columbia Women in Business last year that researched the issue on their campus. They generated a report in the Spring which was passed along to us, and we wanted to share it with all of you.

Here’s what our insider said when sending it over a few months back:

One of the things that I took on this year was a comprehensive look at the state of women at Columbia. Part of what I would say to those considering Columbia is that I have seen the culture move and change through the sheer will of the students behind an initiative. I’m not sure how many other business schools resemble ours, but I was certainly grateful that students were empowered to change the culture of the school.

Anyway, what started as a report called “State of Women” turned into an entire program called CBS Reflects , which aims to study our community from within and identify the best ways we might be able to change and adapt to better meet the needs of the entire student body. This year, obviously, we studied gender. … I am so proud of the work we accomplished [and] I obviously wanted to share with friends and family and colleagues. [I also wanted to share it with you as] someone in the professional world of MBA admissions who could post the work externally on the blahg to benefit the future prospective students looking at Columbia.

There is some truly fascinating information in this report (quotes are from the Executive Summary on page 6):

  • Regarding admissions: “There is a relatively small pool of qualified female applicants to all MBA programs; however, the portion of applicants to Columbia Business School that is female is at its highest point in four years.” In fact, a chart on page 10 shows that there are only around 2,000 women with an appropriate amount of work experience (4 to 9 years) who get a GMAT score above 640 every year. A “relatively small pool” indeed. It’s no wonder that the schools are fighting for the strongest female candidates. If Columbia wanted to have a 50% female student body each year, they’d need to pull in and convert apps from 25% of all available female candidates – in the world. Or, they’d need to lower their standards, which we’ve never seen them do. The report states that apps from women increased 2% in the prior year but their yield is lower for women than for men.
  • This “relatively small pool” is the reason why the average GMAT score for female students at Columbia is 707, compared to 726 for men (data from page 8). Columbia’s student body was 36% female last year – not the highest among its peers but not bad, historically speaking for bschools in general, and also not bad considering that they have so many students from the finance industry, which has a comparable skew in gender proportions. Pre-MBA, 18% of female students came from finance, compared to 26% of male.
  • Regarding academics: “The school is highly responsive to student feedback and institutes changes into the curriculum on an ongoing basis. The school is in the process of revising the pre-MBA program, with an emphasis on leveling the playing field for students who do not have finance or quantitative backgrounds.” Why do we mention this? Because women’s grades at Columbia are lower than men’s are – yet the average undergraduate GPA for women is 3.6, compared to 3.5 for men. Women’s grades are a lot lower in “technical” courses like finance and accounting, but they’re also lower in “social” courses like leadership and marketing. And, only 22% of female students report “high confidence” in their academic abilities, compared to 46% of men*. A full discussion of this phenomenon starts on page 18.
  • Regarding careers: “Women and men share similar short- and long-term career aspirations, but differences exist in expected salary” – women expect $125,000 to $149,000 while men expect $150,000 to $199,000 – “and future work force participation. Notably, both men and women are highly satisfied with their career outcomes.” Actual post-MBA salary data was not reported.

Those are just a few highlights. The report has interesting observations about the Columbia community, dating, happy hours, and lots of other aspects about the culture – along with plenty of commentary around academics and gender. They also asked questions in their students survey about things like whether they interviewed with a male or a female when they went through admissions, and if they felt any impact on gender during that process. Interesting stuff.

You can read the report below or download it from the CBS Reflects site .

If any current student or recent grad at any of the other top schools has additional insight or commentary, or formal reporting, that they’d like to share on similar initiatives happening on their campus, you may contribute in the comments to this post or send an email to the EssaySnark Team at gethelpnow at essaysnark dot com.

*It is worth highlighting that statistic: A vast majority of all students do NOT report “high confidence” in their abilities at bschool. Bschool is grad school and it is designed to kick your butt. This is why factors like GMAT score and undergraduate grades count for so much in admissions.

($) When you can update your MBA app after submission

We recently talked about sending a new GMAT score to the admissions office after you’ve submitted your MBA application. Or sending them a transcript from a class you have completed since applying. There are some other situations when the school also deserves an update: if you get laid off you get (gulp!) fired possibly (possibly)…

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($) Adding stuff to your app – after it’s been submitted.

Sometimes a school will allow you to update them with information after you have submitted your MBA app – but the type of information accepted, and when you can submit it, varies radically from school to school. This question comes up from time to time and a Brave Supplicant asked about it again over the…

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This is not a test.

Frequently after going through a couple rounds of feedback, a Brave Supplicant we’re working with starts to get a little frustrated, and sometimes they toss out a question asking, “Is this what you want me to say?”

We did a rant on this some years back, with the observation that this is often a cultural issue. If you don’t have a lot of exposure to the American way of doing things, then you may be more of a passive learner, someone who is studying to the test but not necessarily working to absorb the lessons and connecting the dots of meaning.

And, more than one Brave Supplicant along the way has fallen into the trap of trying to come up with the “right” answer that will get them admitted, to say the “right” things in those essays. Trying to say what the adcom wants you to say is a recipe for a set of very boring, and often totally unbelievable, MBA application essays.

Even more important…. People, you gotta remember, this is your LIFE we’re talking about.

When you’re working out your goals and figuring out which school to go to – it’s not about coming up with the answer that’s going to get you admitted. It’s about figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your career. These are big questions.

First, you don’t want to outsource the answers. Don’t look to someone else to tell you what you should be saying.

And even more important: This isn’t about gaming the system to get the coveted admit to an impressive-sounding school. It’s about planning your future.

Yeah, for realz.

That being said: There’s a good way and a not-so-good way to be pitching your goals to the adcoms. There are mistakes that many people make and things that you should probably avoid saying in your essays. Our job is to help you not make those mistakes.

But our job is not to tell you what you want to be when you grow up.

Every now and then, we get a BSer who says, “Do you want me to say X?”

No, Brave Supplicant. No. This is not about pleasing EssaySnark. It’s not about coming up with the right answer on a test.

It’s about coming up with a realistic and believable plan for yourself – that you actually intend to pursue - and sure, things may change as you go through the process, but for now it’s your #1 actual plan.

That is a personal decision, that only you can make. Yes you can solicit input and opinions, and most definitely you should be doing research on what that career looks like, to vet it and make sure it sounds like something you’d actually enjoy doing – and that you have skills that can be put to good use in that endeavor.

Swapping out goals on a whim because we give feedback that it’s not coming across well is not the best use of your consulting time with us. It’s fine to be kicking the tires on multiple ideas but hopefully you will have done enough of that groundwork BEFORE you submit stuff to us for review that you are already pretty convinced that it’s the right path for you. If one comment from EssaySnark prompts you to throw away your entire plan and go off in some other direction…. well, we’ll sort of wonder why you actually need an MBA.

The MBA is the means to the end, it’s not the end in itself.

Yeah, we get it, there’s a whole wide world out there and sure, you could do so many things! It’s exciting! Sometimes people come across as a little fickle, or flakey, or flighty, or in other ways perhaps not quite ready for the whole MBA proposition, when it’s so easy for them to jump on the next new bandwagon.

Our feedback is meant to help you refine, and revise – and yes, sometimes overhaul – your plans. Hopping from one idea to the next is probably not the way to go about it, though. Bringing some level of self-reflection and insight into the process – and maybe doing more of that needed homework – will take you far in this process.




Now that you’ve made it through a month of them… Which day is best for a deadline? For you last-minute types: What day has been easier to deal with? Monday, so you can allocate the weekend prior? Earlier in the week? Or is Friday better? Do you care?

The major problem with the way Harvard Business School manages admissions.

We’ve frequently applauded HBS for improving the process for Brave Supplicants, and especially this year, for being more transparent such as with GRE and GMAT scores in applicants and students. The changes that HBS made to admissions over the years, particularly with the “mid-cycle release”, really revolutionized how the process works for all of you, and several other schools followed their lead and implemented similar changes. This is super-applicant-friendly. Round 1 candidates benefit tremendously. You get to find out really early in the season if you’re moving to the next stage with them.

Before this innovation with the mid-cycle release, you had to wait till December if you were going to be rejected — or actually, January, since that’s when Round 1 decisions used to come in. Yup, you had to submit Round 2 apps at other schools without even knowing if your Round 1 apps were successful or not. Don’t have to tell you how much THAT sucked. Can’t recall which school was the one that started pulling decision releases into December but we’re thinking that was Harvard too.

Harvard has also been the school to move Round 1 app deadlines into September; they did so tentatively at first, moving it from the beginning of October which had been everyone’s standard up to September 24 in 2012, and then to September 16 in 2013, and now this year a full month earlier than many other schools’ deadlines. This we also feel is to the benefit of EVERYONE in MBA admissions, because it lights a fire under the BSers’ butts much much earlier than ever before. Several other schools now have apparently felt empowered by Harvard’s bravery to also place their Round 1 deadlines in September, which provides further benefit since it means more of those deadlines are spread out over a longer timeframe – which in our experience, results in better apps to every school, since all the workeffort isn’t all lumped together in one two-week period for all of your apps. We noticed this specifically this year with the increase in quality we saw in BSers’ Rd 1 apps. So again, “Thank you, Harvard Business School.”

But the biggest innovation came in 2010 with this mid-cycle release thing. Before Harvard implemented that, you’d just submit the app in October and wonder. And wonder. And wonder. You’d finally get the “no” in December confirming the by-then inevitable – you’d basically resign yourself to being rejected if you didn’t get an interview invite by the end of November, but that’s a very long sequence of grueling undefined and doubt-filled days to go through before you get the word. This is still how plenty of schools do it, which is pretty lousy, as many of you are starting to experience. For Harvard and a handful of others, the process is now different.

We are of course referring to the vast majority of Harvard applicants here – not the ones who got the interviews, but the ones who are did not. For that second group, the mid-cycle “release” seems very kind. You’re hearing really really early in the cycle that you’re a no-go for Harvard. Blat. OK well. But at least you can regroup and move on.

So why is this post title referring to some “major problem” with how HBS does it?

It is this:

On the “release” day – which for any of you hiding under a rock, was yesterday – scores of people get the news that they’re not moving forward at Harvard. In fact, just based on numbers, a vast majority of those applying to Harvard had a bad-news email come in at noon Eastern time yesterday.

The “major problem” is, a very large percentage of those people are actually TOTALLY QUALIFIED and will UNDOUBTEDLY (if they play their cards right) MAKE IT IN TO ANOTHER REALLY GOOD SCHOOL. One without the word “Harvard” in its name, but a good school nonetheless.

Yet on the “release” day, all these well-qualified and capable Brave Supplicants turn into the most self-doubting and dejected group of people on the planet.

In fact, if you got all of them together in one room on that release day, you’d probably see the world tilt off its axis due to the weight of the depression and despair.

Despite all of our warnings and cautions and the work we do in trying to help set expectations among the lot of you, we know it doesn’t help. You get rejected – when you thought you’d be The One – and it is downright awful. (This is particularly sharp given that those who are rejected from Harvard, despite being so qualified, have typically been success stories in life, so this is sometimes an unusual set of circumstances, and emotions, to be dealing with.)

Some more-reasonable schools are merrily releasing interview invitations and it’s very possible that hot on the heels of a Harvard rejection, you are going to get news that a different adcom is interested and wants to meet you. And yeah, that can help.

But the day-of experience on the second week of HBS interview invites is often quite awful for many involved. We appreciate how early HBS gives this news, but we do sort of wish that it happened a tiny bit later in the cycle, so that people would already have a few invites from other schools racked up, and they wouldn’t go off the emotional deep end quite so much.

Here’s our post from last year’s Round 1 Release Day. Probably by now, a day later, you’re gaining some perspective back. All we want to do is remind you that all decisions are independent events, and most people are rejected from Harvard, and lots who are make it into Very. Good. Schools after that rejection.

So buck up, Bucko. There’s still lots of opportunities out there!