For MBA students who favor schools with smaller cohorts, the draw is not about being a big fish in a small pond than about looking for a more intimate learning environment. Even during the pandemic, when many classes were virtual, students from schools with smaller contributions say their experience allowed them to meet classmates and teachers in the family.
“I’ve still been able to meet most of my classmates and professors,” says Jamie Rosenstein Wittman, who is one of 182 students who completed the first year of the MBA program at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. She enrolled at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, in part because of the school’s mission to provide a business education with what she calls a “personal scale.” “Both students and teachers are deeply concerned with learning from each other and building a strong community.”
In MBA programs, as in many things in life, size can matter. That’s why Harvard Business School, traditionally the U.S. business school that enrolls the most MBA students in any year, splits its 930 cohorts into approximately 90 student sections each. Smaller MBA classes promote nearby communities, along with a deeper sense of collaboration. Quality interactions stand out over quantity.
THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF BIG VS. PETIT
“I came to business school to establish new lifelong relationships with people from backgrounds other than myself,” says Nimi Ajayi, Wittman’s MBA fellow at Vanderbilt. “I needed to attend a program where I had the opportunity to make a path to meet everyone in the program before I completed business school.”
Of course, business schools that enroll hundreds and hundreds of incoming MBAs are more likely to stress the larger networks they provide, along with a wider diversity of knowledge and experiences from a larger number of classmates. In short, it is a matter of adjustment. As an applicant, will you feel more comfortable in a smaller or larger environment? There are pros and cons to each.
Last year, entering full-time MBA classes at the top 30 business schools in the Poets & Quants 2020-21 ranking, a wide range of cohort sizes were shown, from Wharton University School Pennsylvania, which enrolled its largest MBA class of 916 students down to small Georgia Tech. intake of only 66 MBA.
THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON CLASS SIZE
The pandemic had a definite impact on class size. Harvard Business School welcomed only 732 students, approximately 200 fewer MBA candidates than a more typical entrance class. A year earlier, HBS enrolled 938 MBA students. The deficit occurred after HBS gave all admitted students in the 2022 class the option to defer enrollment for a year or two and decided not to remove any more candidates from an expanded waiting list.
Harvard’s more generous deferral policy allowed Wharton, which had 21% of MBA applicants, to move to first place in terms of class size. This 21% resulted in an increase of more than 1,200 applicants compared to the total of 5,905 the previous year. The increase in the volume of applications resulted in an entry of 916 students, 7% more than the 856 who enrolled in the class that entered the school last fall.
Columbia Business School also advanced to Harvard last year and enrolled a total of 782 full-time MBAs. Columbia’s Class of 2022 is comprised of 571 students who enrolled last August and 211 who enrolled in their January cohort. Just as Harvard divides its class into sections, Columbia divides its 782 students into 11 groups of about 70 students each.
HARVARD COULD ADVANCE INSEAD IN ENROLLMENT IN THE WORLD’S LARGEST FULL-TIME MBA CLASS
This fall, HBS will regain its number one position, even surpassing INSEAD, which enrolls just over 1,000 MBA students each year. This is because Harvard plans to expand its contribution this year to approximately 1,000 students to provide space for admitted students who postponed their admission in 2020.
Among the top 30 MBA programs in the United States, the average is just over 300 students (at the Stern School of Business at New York University who enrolled 317 students in their two-year MBA experience on time). Only three of the top 30 schools enroll full-time classes of less than 100 students: the University of Indiana’s Kelley School of Business with 92 students, and the University of Washington’s Olin Business School with 90 students. and Georgia Tech’s Scheller School of Business, with just 66 students.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of choice. Eric Johnson, dean of Vanderbilt’s Owen School, equates the size of his MBA cohort with Steinway & Sons, the creator of the world’s best pianos. “At Steinway, they’ll bring the best wood in the world,” he says. “They’re going to go through this very long process: it really takes two years, like they’re an MBA,” Johnson told a group of incoming students in June. “But all this is this personal scale; they will take this wood and make the best piano they can. “
As a professor, Johnson has written a couple of case studies on Steinway, focusing in part on the company’s “intense focus of detail and personalization” as key to its success. “At Owen,” he adds, “we still have the luxury of working on this personal scale, and it’s this scale where I think a real transformation is taking place, a kind of innovative scale.”
DON’T MISS IT: PROFILES OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST BUSINESS SCHOOLS or in an OPTIONAL GMAT world, PLUMMET SCORES IN THE 50 MAIN BUSINESS SCHOOLS