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B-School Facts & Fiction

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It’s finals time, folks! In undergrad, this meant camping out in the 24-hour library, not showering, ingesting solely caffeine and mozzarella sticks, sleeping less than four hours, arriving exam day in the ultimate defeatist attire (college hoodie and pajama pants). In business school, finals time means … hmm some light stretching, a hearty yaaaaaaaaawn from sleeping too well, award-winning hygiene, a variety of frosty beverages, and a manicure an hour before my toughest exam. I’d like to say it’s because I’m older, wiser, and better at time management, but (1) I’m a poor liar and (2) really, it’s because my many years have confirmed that looks matter more than grades.

In a similar spirit, my only other conclusions about life in business school follow. Here are few thoughts and theories I wish I had cleared up before starting, based on what prospective and newly admitted students seem to ask most often.

I am considering business school as a shelter from current and protracted unemployment. After b-school, I plan to find the same job, different company. Is business school a good place to tread water?

Dear Cyclical Hiring Consequence,

Yes, but you know this trick’s only good for one downturn.

I am considering business school to figure out what to do career-wise over the long term. I am looking to capitalize on the unique environment of business school by talking to current students and alums about possible career paths, internships, their work experience, and firm culture. Is this a fair approach, or is the MBA best for people with set ambition?

Dear Bright-Eyed, Bushy-Tailed Business ‘Bot,

Look at you, all enthused about the most work-like parts of the MBA! If I’m reading you right, you are applying out of straight out of undergrad, so first thing: either delay your application by 4-5 years or be prepared to be judged by your classmates for your work experience of zero years. While preparing your daily light-hearted-in-spirit-yet-heavy-hearted-in-regret defense, be aware that your senior thesis is, in fact, only interesting to your grandmother. And actually she just confessed that she passed out halfway through reading the title.

Do annual business school rankings matter?

Dear On the Fringes,

Meh, not really. Every year, someone somewhere sneezes and the middle bunch of names shuffle around a bit. Every five years, a school will jump more than two spots, and by no coincidence, only that school notices. The top tier rarely changes in the hearts and minds of people who value an MBA, and a quick google yields a better, simpler guide to this group (via Business Week’s MBA forums):

If someone describes their school as the top ranked school, they go to HBS or Stanford
If someone says they go to a "Top 3" school, they go to Wharton
If someone says they go to a "Top 5" school, it’s either Chicago, Kellogg, or MIT Sloan
If someone says they're in the "M7", they go to Columbia
If someone says "Top 10", they mean Tuck, Ross, Haas, or

There are lots of ways to pick apart this view, but it’s also hard to argue with it. Let’s just say the less competent and secure you feel, the more likely you care about rankings.

Additionally, I now doubt all school rankings, given how US News calculates its law school numbers:

Part of the US News algorithm is a figure called expenditures per student, which is essentially the sum that a school spends on teacher salaries, libraries and other education expenses, divided by the number of students. [This accounts for] 9.75 percent of the algorithm... The more that law schools charge their students... the better they fare in the US News rankings [emphasis mine].

“I once joked with my dean that there is a certain amount of money that we could drag into the middle of the school’s quadrangle and burn,” said John F. Duffy, a George Washington School of Law professor, “and when the flames died down, we’d be a Top 10 school.”

...this is a joke, right?

How competitive is business school?

Dear Nice Guy Who Finishes Last,

It’s no more competitive than life itself... if life were just like business school. Put it this way: nothing really comes to you in b-school -- you have to go after and apply for everything. From club co-chair positions, to try-outs in order to participate in case competitions, to spring break treks, to graduation, to helping out with Admit Weekend, to helping out someone who is helping out with Admit Weekend. But it’s cool, ‘cause it’s like the real world, right? While you’re busy applying for all that stuff, I can slide in and lock down a job you haven’t even found about yet, because it’s in the email after the tenth googleform you had to fill out to be considered to give a tour of the Harper Center.

How tough is on-campus recruiting? I read “The Interview Shame Thread” and my first thought was, “Wow, you and your friends are complete morons. CFA > MBA, for sure.” But then I wondered, are the screw-ups actually indicative of how difficult/long the process can be?

Dear Admitted and Regretting Applying,

On-campus recruiting is a motherfucking hell that will eat your ego, soul, and offspring. Not to be dramatic or anything. The process can be incredibly long and draining. There’s a fair chance you’ll end up on a month-long national tour meeting firms, talking endlessly about yourself, disingenuously proclaiming your love for different companies on different days of the week... All until you win the coveted third date with Dream Firm, that is, and then you both finally put out. And afterward, you don’t know if it’s because you actually like each other or if it’s because you’ve both invested so much in the courtship that you feel obligated.

Why are there so many theme parties in business school?

Dear Age Appropriate,

I mean, why not? Who loses from theme parties? Okay, everyone but the party hostess (who undoubtedly chose whatever theme based on items initially tossed into the Goodwill pile, but re-purposed into a slutty costume). But like when your dentist instructs you to floss after brushing, some things you don’t need to question. Just do it. And afterward, you’ll be glad that you did.

Is it true that business school students just drink and travel all the time?

Dear Jealous Law School Friend,



Real World, B-School: The Casting Special

Today we introduce you to the all-stars of my MBA program and yours. We seek only the top tier of characters that can singularly steal the show (and maybe $1.2 billion dollars in segregated customer funds on the side). The Questions Guy

 - The guy that everyone loves to hate. In any setting -- be it the classroom, company-sponsored information session, or networking circle -- The Questions Guy always has something to say. And while it technically always ends with a question mark, we understand the sentence to have the primary purpose of demonstrating some deeper knowledge of the material at hand. Sometimes these “questions” are insightful; however most times, we blame him for wasting classroom time, stealing our thunder, or dumbing everyone down with his trifling. We envy the fact that he’s clearly getting his money’s worth of his tuition … and ours. The Open Mouth Learner - Formerly some kind of nonprofit hero, the Open Mouth Learner’s jaw dropped with his first exposure to supply/demand curves, and he has remained captivated ever since. He brings up his non-traditional background at every opportunity, even if totally irrelevant to the conversation at hand. Professionally, he drops the phrase “non-traditional background” assertively in introductions, in order to ask questions in finance networking circles. At school, he drops the phrase defensively, in order to shirk the number-crunching parts of group assignments. The Open Mouth Learner is quietly both ashamed and proud of the fact that he has gotten through life this far without ever learning fractions.

B-School Problems

Apart from finding a job that will justify the hefty price tag of the MBA, the greatest challenge of the modern business school student is financing now the lifestyle that we think we deserve post-MBA. With the average MBA student taking on some $120,000+ in loans over two years, the common strategy entails paying less for the b-school basics (lunch, books, and beer) so that we can afford the real reasons we quit our day jobs: wining and dining at Alinea, re-enacting scenes from Aspen Extreme at a ski resort where beer flows like wine, and lazing on the beaches of Fiji, Brazil, and South Africa on school-organized treks designed to help us make friends before classes begin (aww!). It’s a hard-knock life, to be sure, but thankfully after surviving a year with no income, we’ve learned a trick or two that we’d like to share, on how to spend more than we’re worth. Tip #1: Share everything.

Let's Have A Vigorous Debate About Business School Rankings

And who the Marriott School of Business needs to screw to make the Top 25.

Future Panera Bread location. Corey Coyle [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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