Archive | Berkeley Haas

What is the Best Business School for a Career in Finance?

Because I worked for Goldman Sachs right out of business school, later worked in investment management, and now consult with companies like BlackRock, lots of people ask what MBA program they should attend if they want a career in finance.  And they also wonder if they should go to graduate school at all. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you want to pursue an MBA.

Riches can be yours!

Here’s what it does not depend on: rankings.  Rankings have something to do with what business school or finance degree you might want to research, but they won’t tell you whether it’s the right program for you.   And rankings are all over the place.  A few months ago, I wrote a blog post on this subject with lots of quotes from the Assistant Dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Tuck has been ranked overall #1, #6, #7, #14, #18, depending on who you talk to, and encourages students to look beyond the actual listing.

Figuring out the Right Path

So which of the top schools might be better in corporate finance, or M&A, or hedge funds, or private equity? Is Wharton better in finance than Harvard, or is Stanford the best way to get a job in venture capital?  There are a lot of opinions all over the internet – and many of them are simply wrong.  So what should you believe?  You’ve got several ways to figure this out.

1.  See who is recruiting at your target school.  Not everyone gets a job on campus, but take a look at the recruiting list for any school. You can usually find it through their employment report. Here is Columbia Business School’s  employment report, for example. The list of recruiters starts on page 10. Or here’s UC Berkeley Haas’ list of companies that have come on campus.  Examine it carefully. You might not find some of the big New York PE shops, but you’ll find Cambridge Associates, which for you, might be an even more likely stepping stone into venture capital, private equity, or hedge funds.

2.  Visit the schools and/or talk to students about their experiences. With LinkedIn and Facebook, you must know someone who knows someone.  Many schools put student contact information right on their website, for example, see this list of student ambassadors from Michigan Ross or NYU Stern. Others, like Harvard Business School, present interviews of students—who are all easy enough to find if you look hard enough.

3.  Investigate clubs at your target business school. Columbia’s Private Equity and Venture Capital Club has its own website, and don’t be fooled by the log-in.  Just jump to club officers, and you’ll have plenty to work with.  More interested in Chicago? Booth doesn’t just have a finance club, it has a  corporate finance club, an investment banking club, a PE club, and and even a distressed investing and restructuring club.

4. Talk to actual people in your target industry and find out what paths they took. While the big guys in the PE industry look like a straight shot from Morgan Stanley M&A, venture capital, hedge funds, and other investment firms might have a more circuitous route. Hey, Mitt Romney came to the private equity business by way of management consulting, so why can’t you?

5. Network.  This is essentially the same as item #4, but it’s so important that I am mentioning it again.  Because you want to hit the ground running once you get to business school, it makes sense to start building your contacts now. Brian DeChesare, an expert on breaking into Wall Street, encourages prospective financiers to “network like a ninja” because, “even if you’re at Harvard you can’t rely on on-campus recruiting.”  And even if you get an interview through on-campus recruiting, you want to have friends who can help you actually land the job and do well there.

And in the meantime, have fun with the process. You’ll learn a lot and meet lots of people. And it’s definitely more enjoyable than signing up on e-Harmony.

–Betsy Massar

Don’t forget to check out our new book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting Into a Top MBA Program

Authenticity, the Real You, and the MBA Application

self-exploration or self-excavation?

Here’s how to get into your top-choice business school: be yourself. If you are struggling with MBA essays, the last thing you want to hear are those two words, but that’s the secret. I know it seems like a cliché, but admissions officers say over and over that they want to get to know YOU in the essays. Allison Davis, Associate Director of Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business wrote those very words in a blog post, even calling them “corny, but true.”

Get Real
The only way for you to do that is to show your authentic self. Not the person you think the committee wants to read about. I guarantee this one fact: YOU are more interesting than that mythical person. They want to read about your successes and foibles. I recall an admissions officer from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business remark that he loved reading the stories where people learn from mistakes or failure. Those stories show a lot about a person’s true character. Remember, every business school class is made up of human beings, and the more you show who you really are, the more you will stand out from the crowd of generic applicants. No kidding.

Dawna Clarke, Director of Admissions at Tuck, blogs about the importance of showing the “real you.”  She reminds applicants that the admissions process is designed to facilitate self-reflection and should help you to genuinely understand yourself—something you take with you regardless of where you get in.  Clarke writes:

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to be yourself. It goes without saying that the best thing you can do is walk away from your business school application experience knowing you put your best in front of the admissions committee for consideration. Regardless of the decision outcome, you’ll have no regrets and, hopefully, you have learned a little about yourself along the way.

When your authentic voice comes through, it makes your application credible and demonstrates confidence.  Says the Stanford Graduate School of Business admissions website (look under the heading “Personal Qualities and Contributions”):

In a world that often rewards conformity, the Stanford community thrives only when you share your individual experiences and perspectives.  As a result, the strongest applications we see are those in which your thoughts and voice remain intact.

To understand how you will contribute to and benefit from the Business School community, we want to know about you: your experiences, beliefs, your passions, your dreams, your goals…most Stanford MBA students have excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. It is what you make of an experience that matters to us, not simply the experience itself.

You may be thinking, oh, I am just another cookie-cutter engineer/investment analyst/consultant/IT specialist.  But you aren’t. You are you, the real you. The more authentic “you” that shows in your application, the better your chances. Promise.

Finding the Right Fit in a Business School

Lots of angles (and curves) to measure

There’s a lot of talk about finding the “right fit” when it comes to selecting a business school.  But as is the case with many words du jour, “fit” is often thrown around without much explanation of what it means.  What exactly is a “right fit,” and how is this relevant to applying to b-school?

Self-knowledge is the secret

Fit is so popular that I’ve written about it myself , but more importantly so have some of the top business schools. Some schools are more specific than others, but the general message is more or less the same: Know yourself.  Understand the cultures of the schools to which you are applying.  Be able to explain exactly how you would strengthen these cultures.

Before you can even think about what schools fit you best, you have to really look at yourself.  You need to know yourself very, very well.  Your level of self-reflection will absolutely show through in your application, and helps admissions officers understand you and how you could fit into the life of their school.  Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, writes in her blog, “Our ability to evaluate your fit with Ross depends on how well you know and tell us about yourself.”  So know thyself!

Common culture with the school

Rose Martinelli, then Associate Dean of Admissions at Chicago Booth, stressed the importance of fit in an admissions chat, “… it all boils down to fit. The ability of the applicant to communicate path and plan, and why Chicago is a good match for them professionally and personally.”  It’s not just about who you are at work.  It’s also about who you are as a son or daughter, friend, and community member.

Berkeley-Haas, in the “Essays” section of its admissions page, goes so far as to say that it seeks applicants “who demonstrate a strong cultural fit with our program and defining principles.”  This does not mean that everyone at Berkeley shares the same opinions and experiences—quite the opposite.  It does mean, however, that students at Haas share a common culture, as outlined in the school’s Defining Principles; students question the status quo, have confidence without attitude, are lifelong learners, and think beyond themselves.

While Stanford’s Graduate School of Business doesn’t explicitly mention “fit” or “match” on its website, it does outline its “Core Values”: intellectual engagement, respect, integrity, striving for “something great,” and owning your actions.  To be a good fit for Stanford, you need to be able to demonstrate your alignment with these values.

Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management touches on fit in its third essay question, “What legacy would you hope to leave as a Johnson graduate?”  The question explains that “the adcom wants you to really evaluate what ‘fit’ means to you for Johnson.  ‘Fit’ is different for everyone, so we want to see how authentic and purposeful you are about applying.”

— Researched and written with help from the great Alice Woodman-Russell

Go Global with an MBA Exchange Program

The World is Your Oyster

Many MBA programs allow for, if not encourage or require,  study abroad, and students who leave, as well as those who host, are amazed at how much they learn.

International exchange programs were brought home to me at a Forté Foundation event last week in San Francisco when I met Katie Cannon,  a London Business School student currently on exchange at UCLA Anderson. Katie’s infectious enthusiasm for LBS and international study—and her passion for the arts and her interest in media management— make a semester in LA perfect for her.  There’s no question that the Anderson students will be learning from Katie as much as she will be learning from them.

Katie is hardly the only one studying abroad during business school.   More than half of the top MBA programs offer full-term international exchange programs. London Business School is a good example. It’s a particularly international school; about 35% of its students spend a semester in a foreign country, and a typical class may have people from over 60 different countries.  To facilitate exchange, LBS partners with over 30 schools worldwide, and students at those schools can also study in London.

UCLA Anderson, located in southern California, is an ideal exchange choice for students like Katie who want to pursue careers in film, television, or talent management—or even financial services and venture capital.  It’s also a great home-base business school for students who want to study abroad— 20% participate in an international exchange.   UCLA—along with Cornell Johnson, Duke Fuqua, NYU Stern, Chicago Booth, and Michigan Ross—is a member of the Partnership in International Management network , an international consortium of business schools, and it also has exchange agreements with schools outside that network.

UC Berkeley Haas offers exchange programs established with several leading b-schools, “if,” says the website, “you can bear to be away from Berkeley.” (Click on the Haas link for useful descriptions of each of the exchange schools.)  In addition to international offerings, Haas also has an exchange with Columbia Business School, giving students the chance to spend a semester in New York City.

Most other top schools require some form of international experience during their MBA years. For example, Yale School of Management mandates that students take a short-term trip abroad in the second semester of the first year.  Professors lead the trips in countries they specialize in, from Brazil to Estonia to Israel to Japan.  Yale also offers a more traditional fall term international exchange for second year students.  Stanford GSB  also mandates a “Global Experience Requirement” which can be fulfilled by study trips or a summer immersion program.

Another resource for current or prospective b-school students interested in international study are the Centers for International Business Education and Research (CIBERs), created by Congress in 1988.  To date, there are 33 CIBERs, located at universities around the country, including UNC Kenan-Flager, University of Texas McCombs, and George Washington University.

It’s all there for the asking – so make sure your passport is up-to-date and push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Researching MBA Programs: Finding the Right Fit

Lots of angles (and curves) to measure

Believe it or not, all business schools are not alike. They each have their own personalities, including their own strengths and weaknesses.

Even assuming you could get into every program (why not?) not every place will be just right for  you. Just like in job-hunting, the decisionmaker is going to evaluate how you fit. The best way to get that right is to do your own research.

As I’ve mentioned before, (see blog posts: Use Your Summer Wisely, Start Your App Now, and      The First Tip: Start Early), it makes sense to start early in this process, so you can refine your  choices and also learn a bit more about yourself on the way.

You can use this time to research,  network, pick up valuable work experience, visit campuses, and, believe it or not, have a good time.


Here are some things you can do to learn about where you might want to go to business school:

  • Go to MBA fairs and school-sponsored outreach events–in person (preferable) or online (easier to schedule and are increasingly available)
  • Talk to current students
  • Talk to alumni
  • Visit schools
  • Sign up for outreach programs. Examples include UCLA’s Riordan Fellows Program, the Kellogg Women’s Leadership Workshop , the  Duke’s Women’s Weekend and Stanford GSB’s Many Voices and XX programs. (Plus, too many more to list here.)
  • Read school websites
  • Read student blogs
  • Watch YouTube videos on schools – official and non-official
  • Follow/like school pages on Twitter or Facebook
  • Talk to your career mentor
  • Talk to friends and relatives you respect
  • Check out the list of chats and events at the website (the GMAT people), Bloomberg Businessweek, admission consultant websites, and reputable MBA portals.
  • Take notes!

Keep an open mind when you are researching. You never know what you will find, as schools, programs and career trends are changing all the time.

Monique, and 85 Broads member who lives in a city in Africa that will not be visited by any business schools this year, has combed through her target school sites for African graduates and students, has connected with people from her undergraduate alma mater who went to business school, and is asking through Facebook for names of current students or recent graduates, who might be in her country over the summer. She’s also emailed students who are listed as “student ambassadors” on business school websites or the student club pages.

Some schools, such as UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, ask you what you have done to learn about their program in the application. The answer will not make or break your application. However, if you live across the bridge in San Francisco, and have never set foot on the campus, then it could be an issue. With so many channels available – fairs, tours, outreach programs, student ambassadors, clubs, blogs, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, you name it – it’s hard to find an excuse not to have talked directly to students, alumni, or school reps.

So the burden is on YOU to learn about fit. But it doesn’t have to be a burden at all – you’ll be learning more about yourself and your future.  How cool is that?