If you’re applying to the U.S. schools as an Indian or other international candidate, then there’s some things you should keep in mind as you get ready for your all-important MBA interview. Hopefully you’ve already picked up our MBA Interviewing Guide which explains what you should expect with interview policies at the different schools and…
EssaySnark got a little triggered. Back in April, we wrote this whole post ripping HBS a new one, because we stumbled into this — from the overview of the HBS financial report published in October 2018 by Havard Business School’s CFO:
MBA tuition is budgeted to increase a modest 2 percent in fiscal 2019—the smallest amount in many decades—reflecting the School’s focus on slowing the pace of growth in the cost of MBA education. Revenue from MBA tuition and fees is projected to rise 1 percent, year over year, reflecting normal fluctuations in actual class size. Financial aid spending—MBA, Doctoral, and Executive Education student fellowships—is expected to increase 6 percent.
Gosh, they seem awfully proud of themselves! “A modest 2 percent”!!! WOW! Pat your smart self on the back, buddy!
You do realize that inflation has been historically low in the U.S. for ages now. Over the past two-ish years, it’s gone between like 1.5% and near 3% — so a 2% inflation is just sort of normal for what’s going on in the economy overall right now.
Of course, saying you’re going to keep MBA tuition at only 2% does sound radical! When it’s been going up more than double that almost Every. Single. Year. for decades.
A generation ago, EssaySnark used to be of the mind that the MBA was worth it, the ROI was there, anyone complaining about the cost of tuition was just a complainer.
Not so much anymore.
Dang, this sh!t’s expensive!!! And like DANG!! It really is!!!!!!
We still see the value of the MBA overall, and the whole “transformational experience” thing — we put that in quotes because it’s kind of hyped by the schools, but in all honesty, you will go through some remarkable changes when you’re in these two years. You’re going to come out a completely different person. It’s not just that you’ll be newly minted with three shiny letters after your name, and a whopping new salary to be grateful for. You’re really going to have some life-altering experiences, perhaps experiences that you can’t easily get anywhere else.
But when we look at it another way, it sort of looks like a cult.
There’s a lot of brainwashing that goes on.
You’re going to find your “tribe.”
You’re going to get inculcated into the culture.
You’re going to be steeped in the values and norms and standards of what this new community advocates — which, hopefully, will be net to the positive. (There’s always risk of the heavy drinking culture, and the FOMO culture, and the hyper-competitiveness culture, and the sleeping-around culture, and the slut-shaming culture for anyone who is suspected of sleeping around, and the “I’m just coasting because grades don’t matter anymore” slacker culture, and the who’s sleeping the least/doing the most/killing it the best culture, to all have an effect and do a number on your perception of real reality.)
Basically, you’re signing up to pay $200k for two years of participation in a socially sanctioned cult. You’ll be joining an elite club. You’ll have experiences proscribed by this institution that you are paying to shape you into some new type of human.
That’s a very expensive way to have new experiences.
And yet for some reason, it’s accepted that there would be no caps on what you can be charged for this. The market forces where there are still steady streams of applicants flocking to the doors of school like Harvard means that the administrators aren’t looking for ways to keep costs in check. They apparently feel justified in jacking up tuition fees again even though they’ve done so literally every single year since time began — and even in an era of stock market riches, where their endowments are (or should be!!) incredibly healthy, where they’re getting flush deposits from alumni who are benefiting from the strength in the economy around the world, where there is an abundance of riches at Harvard Business School — except when it comes to being generous with students.
Why not hold tuition flat? How do they get away with raising tuition every year?
Of course, we’d expect a response from HBS to be along the lines of how all students have their financial situations taken into account, and how generous they can be with the packages they put together for their admits, how they offer need-based (and not solely merit-based) add to their admits . Which, notably, is more unusual among top schools, where need is often not considered when they make an offer of scholarship money.
Still with us? Despite the spittle flying from our face as we ranting about all of that?
Well, it was at about that time in constructing this post that we want to examine the data. Our recollection is that yes, the schools — all of them — raise tuition every single year. But we hadn’t updated our fancy-dancy spreadsheet with the numbers from HBS just lately. So we set about doing that, and, um….
Turns out, HBS actually HASN’T raised one-year tuition for the last three years. They were at $72,000 for the 2017-’18 academic year, and then went up to $73,440 for the 2018-’19 academic year, and then from what we can gather, they’ve actually held steady, at least so far as tuition, at that $73,440 figure for the next two years too. And that’s what is posted at now, for the 2019-’20 academic year that starts this Fall.
So hmm. We had this whole rant about HBS and apparently we got it all wrong!
Not that a tuition of $73,440 is by any means cheap. And it’s not like other mandatory fees that they charge students have been staying constant. On the whole, the total cost of the program, and of course living expenses, has been ticking higher at Harvard, as everywhere else. We heard that Booth, too, is keeping tuition the same in 2019 but things like their health insurance fee and other inescapable costs that students have to cover are still going up. It’s fully infuriating to see that tuition was only $46,150 per year for the HBS Class of 2011. From $46k/year for base tuition, to $73k/year, in under ten years! We believe that our fury is justified at that. That is most certainly more than a 2%/year increase.
But apparently HBS, and Booth, aren’t actively gouging students with tuition hikes this year. Neither is the entire system of the University of Virginia (undergrad and all grad programs, including MBA; the board of governors there reversed a planned 2.9% hike after getting significantly more state funding .) Apparently there may be a ceiling, a limit to the insanity, the ever-rising cost of this so-called education. So we’ll let the blood pressure settle back down again, and we’re posting this diatribe anyway, because surely, in the not-so-distant future, HBS is going to be increasing tuition again, and more likely than not, it’ll be out of sync with the inflation rate in the Real World, and all of us are powerless to stop it.
Unless you decide to opt out of the cult. While may be worth considering.
This may be in the category of pop science but we believe there could be some truth to it.
We blahgged recently about trends in the bschool landscape focusing on specific new faces in the deans’ offices at certain top schools.
As we did the research on that post, looking at the “About the Dean” pages on many school websites, we were struck by the differences — and couldn’t help but be reminded of some studies that are related. Here’s some contradictions for you:
- From USC Marshall: Narcissistic CEOs and Financial Performance: Study Reports Higher Stock Prices and Earnings Per Share if the CEO is Narcissistic (July 24, 2014)
- From HBR: Size Does Matter (in Signatures): Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures—an indicator of narcissism—perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures (From the May 2013 Issue)
(It’s likely not going unnoticed that both of those studies came out well in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.)
The tl;dr of those articles, especially the second one, is that indicators of narcissism, as exhibited by a large signature on a company’s annual report, or (first link) the size of the CEO’s photograph in that report or — we’re extrapolating here — on the company website — can give an indication of corporate performance. Those headlines appear to be citing contradictory results (the first study is claiming higher stock price; the second article discusses lower results compared to peers; they may or may not be measuring the same things though).
What we do know is that how a school presents its dean is a reflection of the person who holds that office at the school at least as much as it is a reflection on the school.
We also have strong experiences that anecdotally cause us to claim (without a known study or direct proof to back it up) that whoever is leading an organization is imbuing their character and values throughout the entire place.
If you have a narcissist at the top, then that creates one type of culture.
That doesn’t mean everyone there is a narcissist; in fact, it’s unlikely that you’ll have two narcissists operating in close proximity or sharing power in any meaningful way. Having a real narcissist at the top means that that person is sucking all the oxygen out of the air and it’s highly unlikely they would tolerate the antics of another narcissist in their midst. More common is that the narcissist surrounds him- or herself with astute and flexible types who know how to manipulate the narcissist in their own right — but who probably aren’t technically narcissists themselves. It’s too difficult for two of that type to co-exist peacefully.
And certainly we’re not claiming that any bschool dean is cut from the same cloth as the current so-called leader of the free world (ugh).
But it can be an interesting exercise to go wander through the pages of “About the Dean” at the schools that you’re interested in.
Here are some questions to ask (Pro Tip: If you’re really interested in this exercise, you might even want to jot down notes of your perceptions and first impressions as you navigate through each of these steps on any particular school’s site):
1. How easy is it to find this page? When you come to the first page of the school’s website, are you presented with information on the dean straightaway? A link? A picture? Or do you have to go hunting through the menus to find it?
2. When you find the menu system where the “About the Dean” page is located, how is it organized? What message do you get from the actual structure? In what way are they presenting the public with info on the dean, versus info on the school, and/or the entire leadership team as a unit?
3. When you go to the About the Dean page, what is your first impression? What is being emphasized? What do you get front-and-center when you first view the page? How are the design elements used? What is the size of the headshot — and how many photos overall do you see of that person when you browse around on the site?
4. You can do the same thing with the school’s social media, and with the dean’s professional social media if he/she has any. What do they post about? What do they want their audience to think about them? If they don’t have a visible social media presence, does that say anything meaningful? It’s likely a deliberate decision if they don’t, which on its own merits is not positive or negative, but it could be something to think about.
School websites are obviously developed through a myriad of minds; some schools use the same marketing platform and so their sites tend to look quite similar to one another, and the design choices that an individual school has within that software platform is thereby constrained. All schools have teams who produce the website, from the IT perspective down to the layout and navigation, and certainly the content that appears on each section and often each page is frequently written by different people across the functional units. So it’s not like the dean is the one who made the decisions on how the whole site is constructed or the messaging behind any individual component.
But you can bet for certain that the dean’s office is responsible for the content and presentation of all the information on the About the Dean page and probably that whole “administration” section of the site.
Clearly EssaySnark has opinions and impressions on individual schools and the respective deans running them, and we’re not going to contaminate your own possible first impressions if you decide to run this experiment for yourself. We are DEFINITELY not claiming that any school leadership is incompetent or that there is rot at the top of any of these business schools. We are by no means insiders and we’re not commenting on competence or ability. We’re just talking about how the schools are presenting themselves, and one perhaps interesting angle for you to examine as you go about your task of researching programs.
We would never suggest that a BSer not apply to a school based on who’s sitting in the dean’s office — heck, we even tell you not to be prejudiced against a school based on a bad experience with admissions.
But yeah, we have opinions.
If you’re really interested in the human side of business, then investigate for yourself what the school is about. When a school talks about culture and community, see if you can poke around under the hood and find out for yourself what that might mean. How are they walking their talk? What are their priorities? There are lots of ways to learn about the target of your interest beyond simply accepting the statements that they make at face value.
This “school fit” thing is really a nebulous concept.
At least, at first it is. When you’re first trying to figure out what schools to apply to and everything. It can be truly overwhelming. Where do you start, and how do you understand this “fit” thing in the first place?
Often this only is revealed in its final form much later in the process.
Initially people will decide where to apply based on multiple and myriad factors. The list will change frequently. The value of “school fit” initially is it tells you where NOT to apply.
How it works is this:
You come up with your list of schools, based either on where other people you know have gone, or maybe just only on rankings. Or geography. You decide you don’t want to go to school where it snows. Or that you want a place with an outdoors culture.
And then you go visit. (Hint: Now would be a grand time to do that!!)
Or if you can’t visit — and even if you can — you start talking to people. You connect with the school. You attend their webinars and go to a local info session when one is in town. You hook up with some students in a coffee chat and learn about their experiences.
Through these points of contact, you start to form impressions. Those opinions will guide you. You will discover what school has people you resonate with.
This is what is meant by “school fit” — at least, it’s one key dimension of it (and, to EssaySnark, really it’s the only one that matters).
The other aspect of “school fit” is a more clinical one, namely: Are you a fit to what type of student they typically accept? It’s coming from the direction of the school, and how you present yourself to them. That’s a whole different topic which we should probably discuss in full another time — or, just read all of the posts on this blahg about planning your strategy and writing your essays, and pick up the school strategy guide for the school that you’re targeting. We cover this stuff 24/7 here.
The final arbiter of “school fit” often does not manifest until very late in the process. That’s when you’re faced with decisions on which offer to accept. If you’ve done your homework and played your cards right and applied to the right set of schools in Round 1, then almost guaranteed you will be faced with the difficult decision of choosing between multiple options.
Sometimes that choice is a tormented one. BSers often agonize in the end, over which one to select, when there are multiple choices on the table.
But sometimes, the choice becomes obvious even before it has to be made (or sometimes it’s made for you).
An example from Round 1 last Fall is a BSer who was invited to interview at three top schools. But then as decisions started getting released, one of those was a “no.”
Here’s what we said to this person in response:
OH NO! How disappointing about [School X]!!!!!!!!!!
(But you wanna know a secret? We see you as more of a [School Y] or a [School Z] person anyway!!! When it comes down to values and all that!!)
Still, really bummed to hear that [School X] said no in the end. 🙁
It’s incredibly happy news to know that [School Y] accepted you, and let’s see what [School Z] does next and maybe you’ll have a difficult decision to make in the coming weeks!!!
Fingers crossed for this last one!
And, here’s what that BSer said back in response:
Thank you!! To be honest, I felt the same way, and have shared with a few close friends that I felt like it might be really hard to pick [School Y] or [School Z] over [School X] if I got into [School X], so getting that off the table almost feels like a relief (though of course I am disappointed). [School Y] and [School Z] were absolutely my favorites! I cried when [School Y] called me – she said very nice things about connecting with my essays and what a great fit I’d be for them. And hey – NO MORE ESSAYS or APPLICATIONS! Let’s see what [School Z] says!
BTW, this person did get into School Z as well.
So the moral of this story is:
Do your research — starting NOW.
Expect your list to evolve.
You’ll be making many decisions along the way, but you won’t likely know that how you’ll feel about any school until you get further into the process of applying, and learning about them, and experiencing those choices firsthand.
There is no One Size Fits All answer to the question of school fit. It’s totally personal and individual. But it’s just like falling in love: You know it when it happens to you.
Since the admissions season hasn’t really started (even though it has) we’re going to throw out some useful and productive ways for you to keep yourself busy and your head in the game for this whole MBA shindig you say you’re interested in.
We’re gonna give you a reading list.
Today we’re offering a random assortment of books that we find interesting and relevant for one reason or another for Brave Supplicants and others who profess to be interested in business.
‘Cuz after all, getting an MBA is about studying business, right?
These are in no particular order, but the first has – lucky you – been made into a movie. We mentioned it here a few months ago and maybe you’ve seen it.
It’s called The Big Short and the movie we talked about is certainly worthwhile, but the book is, too. It’s about the economic crisis of 2007-2008 and it explains in lay terms how everything fell apart and which parties’ bad behavior compounded to create the threatened downfall of the entire economic system. It’s by Michael Lewis (Moneyball , Liar’s Poker , The Blind Side, and other incredible stories) and the movie was directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and other brilliant pieces of art).
Michael Lewis has this gift of educating you without you noticing it. The guy is amazing. Highly recommend all of his work.
If you’re interested in business then you need to understand how the economic forces (and incentives) contributed to the problems that we all lived through.
One that has not yet fully played out is (no coincidence) another Michael Lewis contribution: Flash Boys goes into the technology behind high-frequency trading and its implications for all of us, that most people are totally unaware of. We were reminded of this just recently when seeing Steve Wyman’s comments from Wynn Casino’s Q1 earnings call where he complained about the “unconscionable manipulation” of the stock market and he referenced this book. If you want to go deeper into that world, then this blog will lead you to all sorts of places.
Again, if you’re interested in business, you need to be aware of how these things work and the changes that are going on in the world of finance.
Another book that relates to Wall Street but this time from the perspective of the young analysts that work there is Young Money by Kevin Roose. This book came out at exactly the same time as Flash Boys (unfortunate timing, actually, as Flash Boys eclipsed it a bit, in our opinion) and we’ve mentioned it here on the blahg before mostly because it’s so darn relevant to so many of you. This one is about culture. The author followed a crop of new college grads from Princeton to the major New York banks and told their stories; it’s a bit biased (anti-bank) but it’s still very much worth reading.
All of the books we’ve named above are relevant to you even if you don’t think you care about finance.
Now, on the MBA specifically, we’ll toss out a mention of two books coming from opposite ends of the argument:
The recently released You Should Totally Get an MBA by Tuck grad Paul Ollinger
And on the flip side: The MBA Bubble: Why Getting an MBA is a Bad Idea by Mariana Zanetti
In case it’s not clear, that’s meant as point and counterpoint.
We have not read that second book. Obviously EssaySnark’s position is that the MBA is indeed worth it, but if we understand Zanetti’s argument, it’s essentially that there are too many people out there with MBAs and the degree does not hold its value. We’re not going to condemn the logic of that (except to say, wouldn’t that also hold true of the bachelor’s degree then??) since like we said, we haven’t read it – but we don’t think it’s all that relevant to our audience here on the blahg. Most of you do, in fact, want to go get an MBA, for whatever reasons you hold. There might be value to you in reading that book as a way to evaluate and possibly question your motivations, to cross-check your assumptions before plunking down all this time and money and effort to trying to get into bschool, so we’re tossing it out there as a resource to consider (again, untested; we have not read it – but hey, what’s with that cover image, is the author saying that anyone holding an MBA is an airhead?!??).
The other book we’re mentioning because, well, the guy who wrote it is pretty funny. He’s, like, a comedian, and his Twitter is worth a follow . (Oh hey while we’re at it: Are you following EssaySnark on Twitter too?)
So is the “Totally!” book worthwhile for you?
We hafta say…. Prolly not. 🙁
Not if you’ve already made your way to this blahg, it’s not.
Because it’s too high level and basic. He does stuff like tell you about GMATClub as if you’ve never heard of it. Yeah, that. If you’ve managed to find EssaySnark, then we’re assuming you’re a little bit further along on the learning curve for the MBA application process than that.
This book would be AWESOME to kick down to a little brother in college who’s thinking about his options and what to do with his life. Or to that second cousin twice removed who hits you up on Facebook because his mom told him to ask you if you’d help him get into grad school.
We have to throw Ollinger some major points though. We’re definitely kindred souls. Like in chapter 3 where he corrects you before you blunder:
[Y]ou are seeking admission to “business school,” not to “MBA school.”
Just typing those words here is painful.
Saying “MBA school” is like saying “diploma school.” Doctors don’t go to “MD school.” Lawyers don’t go to “JD school.” So badass future holders of the MBA don’t go to “MBA school.” They go to business school.
As you can see, we feel the same:
The phrase "MBA school" is so annoying.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) July 26, 2014
There's no such thing as "MBA school." Do people talk about wanting to go to "MD school" or "JD school"?
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) October 21, 2014
LOL "Col MBA schl" MT @brainpicker Off to teach a class at the Columbia MBA school on networked knowldge+combinatorial creatvty is.gd/vsmCr5
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) October 3, 2011
(We assume that we both came up with those examples independently.)
The actual how to get in advice? Pretty darned lightweight. This person is not an admissions consultant. He has not been in the trenches with applicants. He doesn’t claim to be offering admissions advice per se, so perhaps we should not fault him for that – but we figure, if you’re going to be spending your hard-earned money on a “I wanna MBA!!” book then it probably should have a bit more hardcore value in helping you get in. Like we said, the guy is entertaining (at least on Twitter – didn’t actually LOL in reading the book but we did crack a smile in places) however the actual info quotient in this one is probably not worth the $$ for most of you BSers. Of course, it might make a very a good Christmas present for someone you know who’s in the earlier stages of the process!
Finally, and also in the category of maybe not worth it for most of you, but one that hit our radar based on, again, the subject of working on Wall Street:
Opening Belle would probably be what they call “chick lit” – it’s a novel about a female MD (Managing Director) at a finance firm when the economic crisis began. The author, Maureen Sherry, is a Columbia MBA and was an MD at Bear Sterns, so she’s writing from a place of experience, though the story is fiction.
It’s a bit heavyhanded on the sexism angle so this won’t appeal to everyone, but she does a decent job of explaining some of those market forces that Michael Lewis goes into in greater depth. If you want a beach read this summer (and probably more so if you’re female) then perhaps it’s worth picking up.
So there you have it, a list of books you (might) want to check out. If you’re planning on applying to bschool this year then getting in a habit of work during your spare time is a very good practice indeed. Picking up a business-y (or MBA-ish) book or two and making a point of reading through them quickly can help you exercise those outside-of-work productivity muscles.
Soon enough you will be up to your ears in essays. Dipping a toe into this world, particularly if it’s all new to you, is a good way to get started.
Disclosures: Affiliate links to Amazon in this post mean that if you click through and buy then EssaySnark gets a few pennies for sending you there; also, Ollinger sent us a free promo copy of his MBA book (thanks dude!!) though he never asked for a review and all opinions expressed here are clearly the ‘Snark’s alone.
We spoke recently about a few schools that are currently on EssaySnark’s radar in a positive way. If you were paying attention, what we did there was the same stuff that you should be doing as you start to tackle your research project on which schools to apply to and why. Along those lines, a…
We know (hope!) that the way many of you interact with EssaySnark is different than how you’d interact with the schools. Or at least, it’s different than how you’d talk with the admissions people at the schools. Snarkville tends to be a little loose and casual, and that’s fine, we hope it stays that way. Contrast that to when you write an email to inquire about something as important as YOUR FUTURE, then you’re going to use formal sentence structure and professional language, and spend more than two seconds composing your thoughts before hitting the ‘send’ button.
We actually wrote a post about the proper way to send an email to MBA admissions before.
When we work with Brave Supplicants we establish a rapport and it often is friendly and light – and we like it that way.
But there’s one habit that we’ve seen with a certain category of BSer that always makes us pause.
It seems that in some cultures, young women (we’ve never seen men do it) are accustomed to addressing each other as “dear.”
Not as in, “Dear EssaySnark, I want to get some help from you…”
But more like, “Thanks for your help, dear.”
This is not how Americans address each other. At least, not young Americans. Not to be totally stereotypical or anything, but it’s the 50-year-old lady working in a department store who says “dear” to the 13-year-old girl she’s helping at the cosmetics counter. People in the States don’t say “dear” – unless it’s either condescending, or they’re of a totally different generation than you and us. (Despite recent rumors to the contrary, EssaySnark is not a 50-year-old lady.)
The first time we saw this “dear” thing directed at us in a comment from a Brave Supplicant it literally made us gag. We were like, “Wha’?? Who are they talking to?” We thought the person who said it was getting really oddly strangely friendly with us, or they were putting on airs. (Meaning, getting haughty. “Putting on airs” is something that someone who says “dear” might say.)
Over time, we’ve seen it crop up again and again, from more than one person, and we’ve also seen it on the comments on other blogs and websites (not only admissions-related ones).
So we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a cultural thing, and not just some random over-friendly BSer phenomenon.
This post is a caution to any of you young women out there who use the term “dear” in casual conversation. If you’re speaking to an American – unless you’re already close to that person – we suggest that you don’t. Especially not in an email conversation.
It’s just, uh, weird.
We have a bunch of other tips and advice for internationals who are interested in coming to the U.S. for school or work. There’s other important cultural standards that you need to be familiar with. Like, not standing too close to people (Americans like their personal space.) And that you need to wear deodorant (please).
Every communication you have with the school, whether it’s in an email inquiry to the admissions office, a one-on-one conversation with an adcom person at an MBA fair, or with a student or alum who’s answering your questions about their program – all of it matters. Not all Americans are hip to the cultural conventions of other cultures. If you do something out of the norm to this culture, you may stand out – for all the wrong reasons.
We almost said “versus” but that would be silly; it’s not like the schools are duking it out, Battle of the Bands style. Neither one is insecure enough to really even care much about what their local peer school is doing.
(Though we do have it on firsthand knowledge that the Stern folks were irked by the “at the heart of Manhattan” angle that Columbia was pushing last year. Thankfully CBS adjusted that marketing spin since then.)
We decided to do this post after naming Columbia and NYU to our Top 5 Favorite Business Schools list last week. We almost talked about this Columbia/NYU topic several years ago and instead at the time, offered some what-we-thought-was-helpful advice for anyone applying to NYU and NYU alone. Yeah, there was a disgruntled BSer in the comments there but honestly, we’ve never been one for spoonfeeding answers to people. Actually it seems that several of the posts we’re linking to today had disgrunted BSers… hmmm, the ‘Snark strikes again, apparently.
Anyway our position is that there ARE differences in these schools (duh) and you DO need to do your own research to figure them out.
Today’s post was inspired by the musings around Columbia and yield in the exchange in the comments on this post in early August, and even more so by some very misinformed people who some BSers are apparently listening to and forming opinions from. Which means that the BSers are misinformed.
BSer Jamie said in the comments there that “Columbia’s reputation is “degrading” among the MBA community” – really? Huh. Had not perceived that to be the case. Bigger issue, another BSer said to us privately that they’d heard that Columbia is only a feeder school to Wall Street, and they don’t want to go to finance, thus they’re applying to NYU instead.
Yes, Columbia sends a bunch of people to Wall Street every year – but so does NYU.
Columbia has been battling this image of “only finance” for decades. We’d thought that they’d been making progress, but alas, apparently not.
We were gratified to get another remark from yet another BSer who said that they are choosing Columbia because of its strength in entrepreneurship, and they even cited the very true fact that Columbia has been specializing in entrepreneurship for a long time, that it’s not just a bandwagon that they’ve recently jumped on because it’s trendy and all the schools have. Impressed by that BSer, they are doing their homework.
(BTW, these comments are from the private interactions we have with people around school selection and targets when they go through the Comprehensive Profile Review.)
You definitely need to be kicking the tires when you do your research on schools – meaning, if you can’t get to campus (which is HIGHLY recommended for both of these schools, particularly NYU) then you need to be TALKING TO PEOPLE – and not just your buddy who went to some other school. You need to be reaching out to the school communities. Current students are the best, recent alumni also good. Someone who graduated from Columbia 10+ years ago is not going to be your ideal resource, generally speaking. Even someone who went there five years ago will not have the current perspective. Columbia has changed a LOT in the past few years especially. There is a major focus on community at this place – way more than ever before. In fact, that was the key area where Columbia was deficient. They were accused of being more of a cutthroat culture, and while that term is an exaggeration for sure, it has applied at Columbia way more than it ever did at NYU.
The way these schools are alike is that they are both confident that they provide exceptional value, and neither one is paranoid about what the other is doing. As we said, these schools are not in competition with each other. We do not see NYU tossing out big bucks in scholarship offers as a way to woo someone who was also admitted to CBS. NYU does tend to be more generous in scholarship awards than Columbia has been in the past, but they don’t target those offers just to pick off someone who would otherwise head uptown.
To final answer the “What’s the difference?” question that we posed and then punted on way back when: The main difference that we perceive externally about these two schools is that Columbia is sometimes overvalued, because Columbia, and Stern is even more frequently dissed, because Not-Ivy.
People are exceptionally brand-conscious in this game, which, as you know, is our not our thing. Brand does matter, but it’s NOT THE REASON TO BE SELECTING A SCHOOL – not the first reason at least.
And this is where NYU gets overlooked by people. “It’s not Ivy League” or “It’s not the M7” (whatever THAT means) or whatever other reason that someone says they want to try for Columbia and Wharton and MIT but they never mention Stern. Happens all the time.
We’re betting that NYU actually doesn’t care too much about this. After all, given what we know of and have experienced from their culture, they don’t WANT people who are that superficial. If you don’t see the value of what they got, well…
So here’s yet another post where we sidestep the important questions of “How are they different?” and tell you to – oh no! – do your own homework.
Let the disgruntled BSers come.
PS: We do in fact go into some of these details in the respective Columbia and NYU guides – yes they cost $ – so there Akshay from 2012 – why should we give you everything for free you ungrate? yeah we waited two years to say that
Bschools’ admissions essays are designed to solicit information about you, the candidate. They’re also strong signaling devices about the school. When a school like UC-Berkeley Haas asks you to keep in mind their four Defining Principles when you craft your answers, that gives you a clear indication of what’s important to them and what they’ll be looking for in what you write in response.
That last part is where the complication comes in. Everybody knows that getting into bschool is, to some extent a game. “What does the adcom want to hear? How should I tailor my essays to showcase that to them?” That’s totally not what the adcom wants you to do, but it’s unavoidable. If you write something that’s too off base and inappropriate for the context, well, it’s unlikely to work out in your favor.
So everybody is trying to second-guess the meaning of the adcom’s words. No problem, some degree of that can be useful. After all, you’re figuring out what it means to get into bschool – which means you’re figuring out what it means to be a leader. ‘Cuz all of them are looking for leaders.
A problem comes into the equation when the applicant tries too hard to be what they think the school wants. If a school is talking all over tarnation that they care about culture…
Why would a bus school ever narrow its appeal to prospective students by focusing on culture? Same reason other great institutions do it.
— Rich Lyons (@richlyons) March 5, 2014
… well, culture is what people are going to talk about in their essays. (Even if they don’t want to.)
And there’s a pretty significant disconnect for someone who says they want to go to School X because of the culture – and then in the next breath says that they want to go to work at a bulge-bracket i-bank.
The big Wall Street firms definitely have a “culture” – but it is not one that in any small respect or remote corner of the universe even minutely resembles the culture that a school like Haas puts such a focus on.
- Haas = small community, collaborative, individual contribution, respect
- Wall St = soul-crushing hours, cogs in a wheel, politics and power, respect?
If you want to go to Haas for their “culture”, are you SURE you also want to go into Wall Street finance?
Certainly there’s many many companies in the world of finance who buck the trend and offer a different experience for new hires. But they’re a rarity. Maybe that will change over time. We know that Wall Street is working to change their “culture” – the big banks have slowly started to implement more humane policies like a prohibition on working straight through every weekend (you’re required to take a few hours off now – but it’s not actually enforced).
There’s also lots of schools besides Haas that are emphasizing this “culture” thing as part of their pitch. We think that some of them even believe in it. (Yeah, a little jaded, we are.) These schools all send significant chunks of their graduating classes to Wall Street. The finance track, while shrinking in popularity in recent years, is still a viable path through bschool and out into the world.
The point of this post is to offer up a reality check. If you’re thinking about transitioning into finance – but you don’t really know what it’s about, it just sounds glamorous and opportunity-rich (emphasis on the rich) – and if you’re looking at the knot of bschool essays and what you’re “supposed” to say – and if you latch onto this “culture” thing that so many schools care about…
Well, you might want to investigate the whole enchilada a tiny bit more directly.
We’re not saying that some future i-banker automatically cannot ever care about culture.
We are saying that there’s an obvious disconnect in this equation when someone says that they do as a means to get into bschool, while simultaneously professes their enthusiasm for Wall Street as their intended destiny.
If you find yourself seeking to tell the adcom what they want to hear, rather than focusing on exploring genuine answers to the questions that they’re asking, then we’re suggesting you may want to do a little more self-exploration along the way in this process. Make sure you know what you’re getting into, oh starry-eyed BSer.
Just for the record: We see plenty of people getting into schools like Haas and Ross and other schools whose names don’t rhyme, by talking about the “culture” and also pitching a finance industry goal. We’re just inviting you to investigate your own priorities and understand what this whole kit and kaboodle you’re mapping out for yourself is really truly going to be like. Like, living it.
We’ve been following some of the changes coming slowly out of Michigan Ross over the past year or so, with their new emphasis on what they’re calling “positive business.” Ross has long had a focus on “doing well by doing good” and they are a leader in the areas of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). They have a research institute called the Center for Positive Organizations and they are hosting the first Positive Business Conference this month. Ross’ Net Impact club is also a Gold Chapter most years, which indicates the motivation and student involvement on campus. Ross appears at the #5 spot on Net Impact’s 2014 lists of top programs for both sustainability and for social impact.
This is cool stuff that we can get behind. If you’re interested in a career in social venture – or if you just want to go to a bschool where there’s a vibe and a focus around giving back and all that – then Ross is one to look at.
A lesser-known school also crossed our radar recently with a program we’d not heard of before: The MBA students at Boston College are required, as part of their curriculum and education, to complete 20 hours of community service before graduation. You can read about the policy here.
Now that seems pretty cool.
Lots of MBA applicants like to tout their community service initiatives in their applications, and even more of them make big promises to the adcom about how they’ll get involved in the campus community. We doubt that anybody ever follows up on any of that, to see if admitted students are good on their word and actually go do those things. We’re certain that lots of people’s good intentions fall by the wayside in the hustle and bustle of grad student life.
This BC initiative is kinda cool in that regard. Talk about forcing you to put your money where your mouth is! We like it. Kudos, BC. You have our respect on this one. Wouldn’t mind seeing other schools adopt this into their programs.