The Columbia Business School is a place where business research and business practice come together. CBS faculty produce cutting-edge research that is influential in business circles around the world. The School helps ensure that this research is up-to-date, realistic, and relevant to business needs by engaging New York City-based businessmen and businesswomen as faculty, speakers, and program participants. MBA students benefit by gaining both a top-quality business education and access to leaders in fields across the full spectrum of business activity.

A distinctive feature of the Columbia MBA experience is the sense of community that students develop and maintain. Entering classes are divided into clusters of about 60 students. Each cluster of students goes through cocolumbia business school interviewre courses together, and its members subsequently cross paths in electives and through other activities. This system lays the groundwork for Columbia’s renowned alumni network, which is both large and wide-spread. At last count, over 35,000 Columbia alumni were active in 42 states and 59 countries.

Here is our interview with Linda Meehan, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Columbia Business School.

How do you see the MBA program at Columbia evolving, particularly with respect to other top MBA programs?

Columbia has always had a top-notch reputation. Under Dean Hubbard, we continue to expand the strong foundation built under the guidance of our previous dean. One of Dean Hubbard’s ideas at work is the concept of enhancing the relationship between theory and practice under one roof. So a key differentiator between Columbia and peer institutions is not just our New York City location, but what we do with this location.

Being in New York affords us the opportunity to bring experts into the classroom. They show the practical work that is being done in the field, and marry that with theory developed by our esteemed faculty. Our faculty generates ideas and theory, and the practitioners that we bring into the classroom apply that in a real environment. For those companies and those people who are looking for solutions to current problems, these relationships with our faculty and our students provide a unique approach. By putting these ideas to work under one roof, we offer an extraordinary learning experience through our MBA program, and we do it extraordinarily well.

Columbia puts particular emphasis on integrating overarching themes into core classes. Can you elaborate on this?

We focus on interweaving themes like ethics, entrepreneurship, and globalization throughout our coursework. We augment this with focused programming – again, our location provides phenomenal resources. We have a strong array of guest speakers and others who are directly involved in corporate governance as part of our network. This exposes our students to ethical issues in a practical way rather than in just a theoretical way.

Columbia Business School developed this integration of programming and coursework many years ago by integrating a global theme into our coursework. That was one of the ways that we have become the premier institution for international business studies.

We have also done this with entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not just starting a business. It is also a mindset. When you study the core courses here [at Columbia], you are gaining exposure to globalization, entrepreneurship, and ethics – all with both internal and external expertise. We think this perspective is the best way to deal with these topics.

Of course, this does not mean that you cannot take specific classes in these areas. In fact, you can actually concentrate in entrepreneurship or international business. But you don’t have to, as you will be exposed to them anyway since they are interwoven into your classes.

What are some examples of how you capitalize on Columbia’s New York location?

A great example of this is our Executive-in-Residence program. This started at Columbia, and the fact that other schools have integrated similar programs is, obviously, a great form of flattery. This program brings in leaders from all fields and all industries [to our career services]. It is made up of 10 top-level executives who advise our career services office. So, if you are interested in investment banking, you have a past Managing Director of DLJ here. Media? You have the current CEO of InterMedia Advisors. Consulting? You have a past Managing Director from McKinsey.

Again, we capitalize on our location as part of the academic experience. Our students tap into our network on a very personal level, not just through our alumni. One of the things that is spectacular about the Columbia education is the exposure students have to CEOs and people who are running major companies and organizations worldwide.

Another example [of how we capitalize on our location] is the social venture fund. If you look at all of our centers – and there are many – and if you have an interest in the research being done by faculty there, or the activities that are coming out of the centers, you can become very involved. Last year several faculty members developed a leadership program for the New York City public school system. It was highlighted in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. This project evolved into a program that actively involved both faculty and students in its implementation. Because of our faculty’s research and our location, we were able to reach out and help our community and this amazing city.

Columbia’s location in one of the financial capitals of the world is clearly an attractive advantage, but New York is often associated primarily with finance. What other industries do you see large numbers of students going into?

For most top schools, you will see in the placement reports that the majority of people are going into financial services or consulting. But that is simply because those are the two industries that have valued the MBA to the greatest extent and hire so many more MBAs than other industries do.

That is not to say that our students only go into those fields. They also take jobs in marketing, media, real estate, VC, hedge funds, start-ups, healthcare, social enterprises…it is a matter of choice, and depends on their goals. Our students go pretty much where they want to go.

And remember that there are lots of different jobs in the same area. “Marketing” can mean working in financial services at American Express, or the fashion industry at Coach, at a hospital, a pharmaceutical company, or even a newspaper or television network. Our alumni are everywhere. It is a matter of choice.

Columbia has strengths outside of finance and international business – but we make no apologies for our strengths in these areas. After all, finance is the backbone of every industry and organization, and a firm grasp of that area is mandatory.

Don’t choose a school because a publication or website identified a school as a “marketing school” or a “finance school.” That is unfair to all schools, as we are all general management programs. Look instead at whether the institution has the programs and the coursework that you want. You choose what to focus on beyond a core curriculum. At Columbia, we are very flexible on whether you concentrate or not, and how you customize your own program.

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