About to post some Columbia Vs Berkeley and realized this review of the spring semester at CBS was still in my drafts box:
It’s surprising just how different the first year spring semester experience at business school is from the fall.
Students have generally found their grooves, their cliques and, for many, their summer internships. So while still a highly intense few months it felt far more settled than the manic first term.
MBA Students at Columbia have more options to break from the cluster-based core curriculum and to design a more personalized schedule based on individual interests and ambitions. Students that started school with vaguer career goals start eliminating choices (based on updated interests or just as often updated reality checks). Responsibilities also ramp up for the club Associate VP positions. For many these choices start crystalizing the directions that their lives will take for the next decade or so. The gravity of all this is probably lost on most of us as we scramble to get assignments in on time, submit cover letters to potential employers and experience a little of what the world’s greatest city has to offer.
There are many many moments where business school just feels like an expensive two year recruiting camp. Time and time again I had to step back and remind myself that I was at grad school to learn subjects that fascinated me for how they make sense of, and shape, the world we live in.
The weighty worries of student loans and uncertain futures though often proved formidable. This is where the collegiate supportive environs of Columbia Business School came in handy (students, first and second years, professors, our office of school affairs and the career advisors all play their roles here). I know I wasn’t alone in those 3am moments with a paper due the next day, a cover letter and application to an incredible job due at 9am (and probably a potentially life-changing music show a half hour subway ride away!) when I looked around Butler library and contemplated the fact I was levering up to the tune of a hundred thousand dollars for the privilege of putting myself through all that stress!
As the whitest winter New York had seen in a long time gorgeously turned into spring though, light seeped through the end of the stress tunnel as more and more of my classmates secured summer jobs. The bankers first, followed swiftly by the consultants and then the rest of us over the remaining couple of months. As it each wave of recruitment took place a noticeable shift in campus energy (in and out of the classroom) took place. By summer, an unrecognizable relaxedness permeates Uris. Again this all points to the focus at business school of securing a job over learning. Many students tune out of the academics as soon as they sign their internship offer letters.
Others, myself included, didn’t have that choice. Recruiting can go right down to the wire. Perhaps 20% of the student body wrapped up our first year without having accepted or received an offer. This can be (and certainly was for me) a nerve wracking period (this is especially pronounced at Columbia as we wrap up our semester a couple of weeks before our peers and so recruiting doesn’t really officially end until three or four weeks after our last exam).
Most if not all my classmates now seem to have found something exciting to keep them busy over the summer. The coolest are working at McKinsey, Amazon, Google, MTV, Opening Ceremony, tech, media, retail companies to name but a few.
One of my favorite parts of spring was traveling with classmates. Apart from the Silicon Valley Teck Trek (see photo of us at Facebook on the right) and the Dubai Chazen trip which took place just before school started, I managed to squeeze in a couple of snow boarding trips (Vermont and Cat Skills), Shanghai, Boston, Coachella (were it not for a misplaced passport, San Diego would have been on there too for a sports case competition). These were all incredible and I highly recommend taking part in as many trips (fun, recruiting and academic) as you can at b school.
They allow for more intimate environs to bond with class mates and are great ways of getting to know people with different class schedules. There’s 1,500 or so MBAs at Columbia so there’s always new people to meet and it’s otherwise a little too easy to stop getting to know people outside your year / cluster etc.
Some of the trips are official university trips which are cool in terms of access to businesses etc and also great ways to get to know professors better. The others are student run and organized and have a more social focus.
Academics – last and least?
Academics can often seem a bit of an after thought at business school. Not to take away from the many studious students who ace most if not all of their subjects- often the same students who seemingly live in the library or else were only really seen on campus when in class.
The structure of business school (at least at Columbia) was such that unless you were of the minority gunning for dean’s list the incentives and penalties to do well or not do poorly barely exist. It is far too easy to pass subjects without having really grasped it well enough to practise or even well enough to not potentially cause some damage – alittle bit of knowledge and all that – .
There is too much fluff squeezed into the business school curriculum (leadership, ethics etc – mostly in response to supposed developments in the real world) that detracts from the time and focus better spent on statistics, economics, mathematics and finance.