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Columbia Business School Excels in Focusing on Finance

Located in the world’s financial capital, New York, Columbia Business School prides itself on being a “living laboratory” of business education.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   11-01-2011

A high-profile program in one of America’s highest-profile cities, Columbia is best known for its finance reputation and the curriculum’s strong emphasis on quantitative analysis.      

“Finance is the base of all businesses, all industries and without it, any business will fail. So if you are going to go to an MBA program, it is the finance and quantitative skills, the hard skills, that you need for your success,” says Linda Meehan, the Assistant Dean and Executive Director for Admissions at Columbia Business School.

Meehan joined Columbia University in 1989 and assumed her current role in 1994. Meehan shares valuable insights with Uttara Choudhury about how the Columbia admissions committee looks at GMAT scores, interviews and essays to weigh an application. Here are excerpts from the interview.

Columbia has an extensive history with big recruiting firms. In this uncertain economy, will Columbia continue to produce in-demand MBA’s?

Columbia benefits from a propitious location and we have a wonderful relationship with the major banks, consulting firms and companies in New York. They continue to come to our campus to hold recruiting events and on-campus interviews. Even in this economy we receive thousands of job postings for full time and intern positions.

How does Columbia view applicants who have left troubled banks or been let go by companies which have retrenched?

“Columbia delivers an MBA that mixes theory and practice under one roof.”

We don’t hold anybody accountable for things outside their control and a downturn or cutback in major companies is certainly not reflective of someone’s failure. What we’re looking for is an applicant who has had degrees of success and demonstrated leadership that we can help to nurture.

What does the admission team want to learn from an interview?

Almost all of our interviews are done either by alumni or our Hermes students, who are selected students trained by the admissions office.  Applicants are assessed on four separate measures. First, is this somebody you would like to hire? Second, is this someone you would like to go to school with? How do they think they would contribute to the classroom? And fourth, would you want them to wear the Columbia Blue?

Do you find alumni in places like India to conduct interviews?

Yes, we do since we have alumni worldwide. I spend a great deal of time when I travel meeting students and reconnecting with alumni. They’re enormously supportive, not only of the administration in the school but of those who are following in their footsteps.

How much does Columbia rely on the GMAT score?

“…If you are going to go to an MBA program, it is the finance and quantitative skills, the hard skills that you need for your success”

They count but we look at them in several ways. We’re going to look at the quantitative along with what kind of course of study an applicant took as an undergrad. We are also going to look at how comfortable the candidate is with English. Applicants from India generally don’t have a problem with this at all. We look at an application and ask “Will this person get through our program and be an active participant?” Then we look at the score in relationship to the rest of the applicant pool.

Since our average GMAT spread is strong — 660 to 760 — a lot of applicants think that if they have a moderate GMAT they shouldn't bother applying. What they need to know is that we look at the whole picture. We have taken students who scored in the 500s and obviously, we have taken them as high as 800.

Columbia often asks candidates to describe a time when they faced a setback. What’s a good way to field that question?

Part of the assessment is what people choose and what it tells us about the individual. We’re really trying through this question to get a feel for the candidate. You get an insight into a person by how they answer this question. For instance, if the only thing you can talk about, in terms of a failure, is not winning the championship game while you were in high school — honestly, that reflects on a person’s maturity, or lack of it.

What are the key differences between Columbia’s full-time September and January MBA courses?

The coursework and faculty is identical, only the timing is different. The September group does two full terms of core classes; they will then take the summer off for an internship and come back to complete the last two terms of electives.

If you enter in January, it is because you are an applicant who does not need an internship as you are from a family business, you’re starting your own venture, or you’re going back into the industry you left. Those people have built their resumes so they don’t need an internship to get a new position. They come in January and go straight through the summer and graduate in May with the preceding September class. The January class tends to be slightly more experienced.

Since Columbia is highly rated for its finance and marketing programs does it attract applicants who want to nurture their finance skills?

The whole mark of this program is our solid offerings in finance and marketing and people are certainly attracted to it. Every industry whether it is healthcare, media or real estate utilizes the strength of finance. Coming to Columbia for this is really important. But our programs in healthcare, real estate, marketing, media and management are the hallmark of our school as well.

Finance is the base of all businesses, all industries and without it, any business will fail. So if you are going to go to an MBA program, it is the finance and quantitative skills, the hard skills that you need for your success whatever be the industry that you are entering.

How much housing does Columbia have for students and what is the best way to secure housing on a student budget?

"Columbia has a wonderful relationship with the major banks, consulting firms and companies in New York. They continue to come to our campus to hold recruiting events and on-campus interviews. Even in this economy we receive thousands of job postings for full time and intern positions."

Columbia is situated in the Upper West Side and we encourage students to live close to the campus. The cost of housing in this area is generally less than what you’ll find in other parts of Manhattan.

The good news is that the vast majority of our international students are housed within Columbia housing. After you’re admitted you can apply for on-campus housing that includes a variety of choices. You can opt for International House which is a graduate facility that houses international students from all of the schools at the university. It tends to be popular with students.

When you look at the cost of going to an MBA program in the US and you compare cost of living, cost of the program, the difference from picking Columbia in New York versus another school in another part of the US is very small. It’s a big surprise to people.

Do students in the January accelerated MBA program find it harder to get Columbia housing?

We get housing allocations from the university both in January and in September. If students don’t like what they see they can definitely look on their own for apartments.

What will students experience at Columbia that is unique?

New York City — and a renowned faculty. You have the benefit of all of the experts who live and work in the city. You also have a heavy concentration of finance and media outlets in the city. This is a living laboratory of business education. Our students have access to an incredible environment. We deliver an MBA that mixes theory and practice under one roof.

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