We got a question from a Brave Supplicant recently asking about Columbia and cut-throat culture and, in fine Snark style, we wrote a lengthy blahg post without ever actually answering the BSer’s question.
We got hung up on the first part where we thought he was saying that we are saying that we don’t like Columbia. Which isn’t true.
We need to talk more about the real question that was asked, though. Specifically, about Columbia and cut-throat competition. (You can read the BSer’s question and our non-answer answer here.)
First off, like the BSer’s friend, we honestly don’t think that Columbia has a “cut-throat culture.”
We have a very big disclaimer to offer.
Columbia is, by and large, a finance school. They have worked mightily hard over many years to broaden their scope and they definitely accept a gazillion people who are not interested in finance. But due to their proximity and their specialization and their association with New York, it’s a finance school. We’re betting it will always be a finance school.
After all, with the pedigree and heritage and positivity earned through success stories like Warren Buffett and Henry Kravitz and plenty of others, why would Columbia want to be anything but a finance school?
They’re also strong in media, and entrepreneurship, and real estate, but if you want to go into finance, then Columbia is going to be at or near the top of a very short list of schools you’ll be targeting.
This means that Columbia does, in fact, have a bit of a “finance” culture.
And as we know, Wall Street is not necessarily a happy-go-lucky place.
Unless you define “happy-go-lucky” in Wolf of Wall Street terms.
Do we think that the culture of Columbia Business School is overly competitive? No.
Do we think that it’s populated with assh*les?
Not any more than other schools – though Columbia doesn’t put a premium on not being an assh*le either, as some schools do in their app screening processes.
In the final assessment, do we think that there might be a greater ratio of assh*les at Columbia than elsewhere?
Though plenty of people are looking to business school as a ticket OUT of the world of finance. And plenty of others are looking to business school as a way to transition IN, when they haven’t worked in finance before. So these two populations are, to overly simplify and stereotype them, not going to have your “typical” finance attitude – the first population, presumably, because they’re trying to escape it, and the second population, presumably, because they haven’t been indoctrinated into it (yet).
None of this means that Columbia – the school and the students – is overly competitive. (Admissions? yup, you betcha it is. Not easy to get into Columbia.) Keep in mind that ANY bschool is going to have at least some of this competition thing going on – after all, the students who make it into a high-end MBA program are by definition strivers and achievers. We’re not going to accuse Columbia of being dramatically worse (or better) than most of its peers. Keep in mind the reality of who / what you’re dealing with. Most people at a top MBA program are going to be a higher caliber student than what you have been surrounded with before. Unless you went to an equally high-end college, then it’s likely you will, at bschool, be faced for the first time with a peer group who is your equal. Or better. That is, after all, what this is about, right? Improving yourself by going for the gold? You want to play in the big leagues, yeah? You should expect some competition.
As an example, the classroom environment at Harvard can be tough, based on the case method and how much you’re graded on class participation. Interested in Harvard? Wallflowers need not apply.
Other schools are certainly more well-known for collaboration and even friendliness – Duke and NYU and Ross are certainly among them. That doesn’t mean that there’s no competition at those places, but the attitude does tend to be different.
This is, again, why VISITING THE SCHOOL IS SO IMPORTANT.
Sitting in on a class, having lunch with students… That’s how you get a feel for the place. Reach out to some alumni. Meet up with people. Talk to them. Do your own research. Experience it firsthand. It is CRITICAL that you form your own opinions.
And then come back and tell us about it! We love getting reports from the road from Brave Supplicants who are out there in the wild. Have something to offer to this conversation? We’d love to hear from you. Drop your remarks in the comments section or hit us up on Twitter or send us your thoughts.