New MBA Curriculum at Tepper School

CMU Tepper

New curriculum debuts at CMU Tepper

The business world is evolving, and in response, the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon has announced various changes to its MBA curriculum. These reforms reflect the increasing importance of integrated reasoning as evidenced by the new “integrated reasoning” section on the GMAT, as well as the earlier and earlier recruiting schedule for first-year MBAs.

The Tepper curriculum will now begin with BaseCamp, a four-week orientation program “during which students receive an integrated view of business, with an emphasis on how core disciplines and business functions work together.” Giving the students a solid introduction assists them when dealing with internship recruiters early in their first year, as does Tepper’s new class schedule. Students will focus on business fundamentals in the first year, moving on to electives and capstone courses in the second year. Tepper’s goal is to provide its students with a grasp of “key content” in time for internship interviews in December.

Another change to the curriculum will be four individual weeks, each mid-semester, which will be “designed and timed to address a specific need in the development of MBA students, such as leadership development, job searching, or experiential learning,” a.k.a “soft skills.” Plus, new students in the fall of 2012 will partake in a personalized assessment of their leadership skills. The assessment will be conducted by the school’s new co-curricular center for communication and leadership, which will help students “implement personalized plans for developing their oral and written communications and leadership skills throughout the program.”

That’s the news about CMU Tepper. Let’s put its new curriculum in context. Two trends seem to be at play as MBA curricula evolve and schools fall into two broad camps:

  1. Start by providing a solid general management curriculum followed by electives. Clearly, this is the camp that CMU Tepper is joining. A few other examples are Harvard, Stanford, Darden, and Tuck.
  2. The other camp allows for greater customization from the get-go. For example, with UCLA Anderson’s new curriculum, announced last summer, students can take the core classes when it best suits them. They are actually encouraged to dive immediately into the courses of most value to them given their internship goals. Wharton also recently introduced a similar approach. Chicago has few required courses and is very flexible in terms of when you take those required core courses.

All schools are working to improve their curricula in leadership, communications, and career management/job search skills. Changes in these areas appear to be a constant whether the curriculum goes from the general to the particular or the other way around.

Implications for Your MBA Application

Clearly, MBAs are not one-size-fits-all. And the options and choices mean you have to choose the program that fits you best. As usual, start with your goals. What do you want to get out of the MBA?

If you have a very specific career goal where you want to dive deep into a particular area of study and obtain an internship in that function/industry to facilitate a career change, then Approach #2 is probably superior. You will still get the general management education and learn about other areas of business, but you will be able to shape your studies to suit your needs. The more flexible programs will probably better prepare you for your internship, smoothing your way to an effective career change.

If, however, you come from a liberal arts background or, conversely, come from a highly technical background, and you want a strong foundation in business and general management to pursue a career in management, entrepreneurship, or strategy consulting that will complement your previous education, then a program emphasizing the connections between business functions and suffused with an integrated approach to management education is probably better for you.

As an MBA admissions consultant who has been living and breathing MBA admissions and advising applicants for 18 years, I can also think of exceptions to the general guidelines I just provided even as I type them, but two conclusions apply to all:

  1. Let your MBA goals guide you. That means you need to have them.
  2. In choosing schools, look at the curricula and understand the differences. The things they all have in common don’t really matter; it’s the differences that count.

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  

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