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Is School Culture Important for MBA Applicants?

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Feb 24, 2024

Now is the time when many potential MBA applicants are neck-deep in the school research phase of the admissions process. What matters most when choosing which business schools make your Top Five list? Do you prioritize rankings and reputation or the institution's culture and values? Defining a school's culture is a smart strategic move that many applicants overlook.

Getting a feel for the prevailing culture will help you decide whether the program fits well with your personality. Sure, you might be tempted to focus solely on the program's prestige, the faculty credentials, or the cutting-edge curriculum. While these elements are undoubtedly crucial, you shouldn't leave the business school's culture out of the equation. Here's why.

Is the school culture predominantly competitive or collaborative?

The collaborative nature of business demands effective teamwork, and school culture plays a pivotal role in fostering this environment. Imagine spending two intense years with like-minded individuals who share your values, work ethic, and aspirations. A positive and supportive culture can turn this potentially stressful period into a transformative experience, creating lasting professional connections and friendships.

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Size and location often play an essential role. Larger programs in urban centers like Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and Chicago Booth typically feel much more competitive and intense.

Smaller business schools and those located in rural settings usually foster a close-knit community feeling. Many students live on campus and regularly socialize with fellow students and faculty. Likewise, MBA programs with smaller cohorts, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Yale School of Management, take pride in their down-to-earth, collaborative cultures.

Other Cultural Aspects to Consider

Beyond the classroom, a vibrant school culture can set the stage for a rich extracurricular life. From networking events and guest lectures to business competitions and alums meetups, the opportunities to broaden your horizons are limitless.

A strong school culture encourages engagement, inspiring students to actively participate in clubs, organizations, and events that align with their interests. These experiences can be just as valuable as the formal education you receive.

Remember, your relationships with the school and your classmates last a lifetime. A comfortable and engaged student will have a more enjoyable and rewarding business school experience.

Knowing whether you'd thrive in a collegial, teamwork-driven environment or a more intense and competitive program is just one question you can ask yourself when gauging "fit" with a particular school. When assessing how well a program meshes not just with your professional goals but also your learning style, work-life schedule, and values, there's much to think about.

Choosing a school with a culture that resonates with your values ensures you'll be better equipped to navigate the intricate nuances of the modern business landscape. A little research and a hefty dose of self-reflection will help you find which MBA program fits you best. Ultimately, there's no right or wrong when it comes to evaluating school culture. It's simply a matter of choosing the best environment for you.


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.