Today’s AST podcast is a first: an in-person interview! Our guest is Emily French Thomas, Director of Admissions at Columbia Business School, and we’ll be talking about the menu of programs available at CBS. Welcome, Emily!
What is the common thread that unites the many programs at CBS? [1:18]
When people think of getting an MBA, they’re often thinking about shifting careers, or building their network. And we definitely provide those strengths. But the more intangible benefit of a Columbia MBA is learning to see the world in a more holistic way – gaining a framework for all the decisions you’ll make in your future career.
Our goal is to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset. That doesn’t just mean starting your own company – it’s about identifying opportunity. We’re training business leaders who think entrepreneurially.
Our core curriculum (accounting, marketing, big data, etc) teaches students how to look at a problem from multiple perspectives. It’s really a transformative experience.
We bring theories into the real world. And students have access to so many industries and business leaders in NY, to learn how the knowledge applies in the real world. And the networking opportunities from that are also invaluable. (For example, our students have regular coffee chats with alumni.) There’s just an incredible amount of access that comes from being at the center of business.
Can you give an overview of the fulltime MBA program? [6:05]
There are two streams. One is a 20-month traditional program with August entry: there’s a semester of core, a semester of electives, a summer internship, then the second year. We take about 550 students a year for the August entry. They’re broken into clusters of 60-70 students and further divided into learning teams. So you have a home base of people you get to know really well.
We do have exemption exams, so you can test out of specific core courses if you have expertise in the area, and replace them with an elective. But generally students are happier if they have at least some core courses, in order to build relationships with their learning team.
What about the January program? [9:00]
This is an accelerated 16-month program. The difference between this and the August entry is the summer internship. January students start one semester later and take classes in the summer, and are in the same place as the traditional students when they start the second year. It’s a great way to minimize the opportunity cost.
It’s a wonderful option for students who are sponsored by companies or who are coming from family business.
If you’re changing your career in a major way (industry-function-geography) – you can probably change one area but not two through the January program. For more radical changes, in general, you need the summer internship. However, there are also school year internships, and JTerm students can do those.
You’re in a stronger position to succeed if you have a very clear sense of your goals and are proactive – that’s one of the things we’re looking for in applicants (people who have direction).
What else are you looking for in an applicant? [16:20]
We’re looking at the whole application. Any one part of the application is just a data point.
We’re looking for academic achievement: we require either the GMAT or the GRE. (If you’re planning to retake, it’s best to stick with the one you already took.)
Linda: Is it better to cancel a low score or show improvement?
Showing hard work to improve is worthwhile. We don’t need people to be perfect.
In addition to academics, we’re also looking for professional experience – particularly what you’ve achieved in your work.
Recommendations are important. People are often hung up on getting recommendations from people with fancy titles: but get the recommendation from the person who knows you best. They can write something more interesting and constructive about who you are.
Our essays are personality questions – we want to think about you as a human being.
What makes qualitatively impressive work experience? [21:25]
We’re interested in seeing what a person has done with what they have. Is your work impressive relative to your peers? Do you have leadership experience and have you taken initiative? Sometimes people working in small family companies or small firms have had more opportunities for leadership.
What are the hiring strengths at Columbia? [23:00]
It comes back to that question of access.
A recent grad had a lot of coffee chats with alumni and had met a lot of people at his target company, so when he went for his interview, it was much easier and more natural, thanks to his extensive research and networking, and he got the job.
There’s also a very strong career management service and very active clubs.
There are three EMBA programs (NY, Americas, Global) at Columbia. What is common to the three? [25:20]
The Columbia EMBA programs have the same core as the FT programs. The EMBA NY takes in around 144 students, starting in August, for a 20-month program (meeting on Fridays and Saturdays for 9 weekends/semester). There’s also a program on Saturdays only for 13 weekends/semester. There’s no summer internship. The Saturday-only program is 24-months.
The other programs are modular, with a 1 week intensive format. The Americas program is designed for people coming from farther away (outside NY) – students come from all over the country, and also from Latin America. There are even some students from Europe. There’s one week of class each month for the first three semesters.
EMBA Global is modular, too. [30:00]
It’s a partnership with LBS, and incorporates LBS courses. Students can take courses from either school, and can tailor their electives to whatever structure works better for them (Saturday vs modular week).
Finally, there’s the EMBA Global Asia program, which is a joint program with LBS and Hong Kong University; students actually earn a joint degree.
Would you consider the EMBA a part-time degree or a degree for more experienced students? [32:25]
It really feels like a full-time program.
It’s also lockstep – students take courses with their clusters, developing relationships in a way you generally don’t in a part-time program.
It’s not necessary to have reams and reams of work experience, but we do look more closely at work experience than academics for the EMBA. If you’re junior in your career, just think about how you’d contribute.
If you can, come and visit – talk to students. It’s the only way you’ll know how you’ll feel in the program.
What’s the EMBA admissions process? [35:40]
It’s a rolling process (just like the FT MBA, but different from our peer schools with rounds). It becomes more competitive closer to the deadline.
For EMBA: we look at your academics. We do require a test. We now accept the Executive Assessment, which has been popular with EMBA applicants.
There are three required essays. Instead of the question we ask FT applicants (about how they would take advantage of the New York location), we ask EMBA applicants how you will balance work, life, and school.
And we weight work experience a little more than academics.
What is the career benefit of the EMBA? [39:00]
Bringing new knowledge back to work in real time, and applying what you’re learning right away. It’s also a benefit to the company.
EMBA students also benefit from networking opportunities.
We had a recent student who came to the program after working in finance, and started thinking about how tough it was for vets to get services. He hooked up with other students, created a tech platform, and launched a company – it’s a real success story.
How much do EMBA and FT students mix? And is there mixing among the different EMBA programs? [44:20]
There’s definitely mixing among EMBA students.
EMBA students can take FT electives, and vice versa. International Seminars bring EMBA students together.
There’s also interaction in electives and clubs. And there’s leadership from the EMBA class in student government.
A lot of what clubs do is recruiting-focused, but they also bring speakers to campus, and EMBA students get involved with that.
As an applicant, what should I do? [48:20]
Think about your strategy. Know what you’re investing in. Visit if you can, but if you can’t, learn about the program in other ways: talk to a student on the phone; come to one of our info sessions. You need to know what you’re investing in. Also, the more you know, the stronger your essays will be.
Early decision vs regular decision for the FT MBA – how to decide? [50:00]
It’s a rolling process, so it gets more competitive later in the process.
Don’t apply Early Decision unless you know that Columbia is where you want to be, because it is binding. So make sure there aren’t any other factors determining that decision (ie a partner who might not move to NY, finances, etc).
You can still apply on the early side of the rolling process without the binding requirement of Early Decision. There’s a deadline in January for merit aid – that’s when most people apply. The final deadline is in April – by then, it’s very competitive.
Any last advice? [52:40]
Be yourself in the application. Sometimes we read an application from someone who seems to be trying to push their story into a preconceived idea of what they think the adcom wants to read, and it doesn’t match up.
You’re not competing with anyone else (especially because of the way our rolling deadline works) – you’re competing with yourself. We want students who are nice and engaged. If we get a sense that you’re completely transactional, we’ll think that’s how you’d be on campus.
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