I had a most enjoyable morning yesterday. I visited Columbia Business School, met with Linda Meehan, a few students, and attended a class.
In our meeting I asked Linda about the possible tension that exists between being a top (in her words “the top”) finance program with roughly 50% of all MBA’s going into finance-related positions, and attracting and serving the needs of those interested in marketing, health care, media, and a host of other businesses.
To paraphrase her response, she said that every business needs finance. It is the foundation of all businesses whether in IT, marketing, pharma, or any other industry. Consequently she feels that it is the most important discipline and is proud that CBS is known as the leader in finance.
Furthermore she says that Columbia’s core provides a foundation in business — not just finance — that will serve MBAs no matter what field they enter.
She passionately argues that the classroom at Columbia Business School extends beyond the walls of Uris Hall, the school’s official home, or Warren Hall, where many classes are held; it includes the larger Columbia University campus and its professional schools, as well as bustling New York City, arguably the financial capital of the world.
There is no question that Columbia’s location gives students easy access to all kinds of business projects, connections, and opportunities. In talking to the students afterwards, it was quite clear that they take advantage of those opportunities both on campus by attending a plethora of guest lectures, and off-campus with access to corporations usually a train ride away. Students also benefit from professors who can consult with corporations in the morning and lecture in the afternoon. The profs practically bring their experience to the classroom in real time.
Despite, or perhaps alongside, CBS’ strength in finance, it claims to be a general management school. To me a general management MBA program makes a point of integrating the various business functions and does not teach them in silos. Both Linda and my student guide, Todd, told me that during the core, professors do bring out the connections between different business functions, although my sense is that programs like HBS, Stanford, Michigan, Darden, or Tuck stress the integration more.
When I walked into Uris, I saw a big sign in the lobby “Learn about the New Core.” I asked Linda about it, but she isn’t at liberty to discuss it yet. My sense is that it will build on the Individual Business & Society (IBS) thread that runs through the CBS MBA program and its new Program on Social Intelligence (PSI) and work on increasing integration among the business functions. But that’s not what she said, and we will all have to wait for more details.
Both Linda and Todd brought up the internationalism at Columbia: I heard several different accents in the classroom and a variety of languages being spoken among the students in the cafeteria. Todd told me about his study trips to Japan and India, and mentioned one group that visited Rwanda. Linda spoke proudly of the exchange programs and international study opportunities that Columbia has with campuses outside the US. Columbia has a large global footprint.
I hope you have gleaned a little more insight into Columbia from my brief report above. In addition to providing me with more insight into CBS, my visit highlighted again the importance of understanding the differences among schools. You can learn a lot by seeing what they emphasize in their web sites, literature, and presentations. If you can, visit, but whether visiting, reading, or talking to current students, look for the nuances.
For example, Tuck stresses the close-knit nature of its student body and the ties fostered with alumni. While its profs consult and it too has an array of guest lecturers, life at Tuck is very different. It is an immersion in the Tuck experience as well as a top-notch MBA program that provides a strongly integrated core and opportunities for specializing in the second year. That kind of tight community also creates strong ties and relationships. CBS in contrast trumpets its New York location and its strength in finance. New York City provides unparalleled opportunities on Wall St. and Madison Avenue, dynamism, cultural life… and a lot of distractions. While yes, CBS has its students organized into cohorts to foster closeness, it is a very different experience. For some, Tuck will be perfect. For others, Columbia will be the right match. They are both great programs – for different people.
So when deciding where to apply, evaluate:
- Professional opportunity, as Todd clearly did before deciding to attend CBS.
- The curriculum and how it supports your goals.
- Your personal preferences.
For more tips on choosing the school that’s right for you, please see: