What Makes Columbia Different
January option. Though its name is clear as to timing, the accelerated January Term—a program unique to Columbia among its peers—warrants a detailed explanation. The curriculum is identical to that used in the “normal” August start. Students enrolling in “J-Term” earn their MBA in 16 months, as opposed to 21 months for students enrolling in August. Classes begin in January and end in May of the following year, continuing throughout the summer (read: no full-time internship). When students who started the previous year return to campus as second-years, the two cohorts merge, taking electives together, going through recruiting together, and eventually walking across the stage together as one graduating class. Although this option eliminates the full-time internship (and the networking opportunities vital to many career switchers), the compacted schedule of the J-Term lowers the opportunity cost of lost salary and is ideal for:
- Students who work (or will work) in their family business.
- Students returning to their current employer, whether or not they are financially sponsored. (There are few of these; most sponsored students gravitate toward the EMBA options.)
- Candidates who possess a strong professional network in the industry of their choice.
Value investing. A cornerstone of Columbia’s finance program is the Value Investing Program in the Heilbrunn Center for Graham and Dodd Investing. That mouthful of a name is testimony to the historical depth of Columbia’s role as an incubator of value investing in terms of mindset and a discipline. Perhaps the most famous value investor in the world is Warren Buffett, a graduate of this program. The basic approach of value investing is evaluating fundamentals against market price to determine intrinsic value for a long-term buy-and-hold strategy.
Numerous value investing classes and resources are available to Columbia’s entire MBA and EMBA student bodies, even those not committed to the full program. However, the Value Investing Program is open only to MBA students, with a competitive application process for admission. The advantages? It’s taught by more than 25 investors who serve as adjunct faculty. These are practitioners, not just academics. Students also benefit from an impressive roster of guest speakers, and invaluable mentorship and recruiting support. About 40 students are selected based on interest and “aptitude” for investing as expressed in an application essay, mandatory interview, and two-page write-up of a proposed long or short investment. Many classes in the Value Investing Program require students to pitch ideas, usually multiple pitches per class. This type of hands-on training—and the exposure students get to marquee Wall Street firms—puts Columbia’s Value Investing Program in a category by itself.
Master classes. These project-based electives are superlative in terms of offering the ability of second-year students to roll up their sleeves and apply what they have learned. This is one element of Columbia’s focus on combining theory with practice. Past topics have included “Private Equity & Entrepreneurship in Africa,” “Creation of a Retail Enterprise,” and “Mergers & Acquisitions in Media.”
“CBS Matters.” These presentations offer faculty and students an opportunity to highlight what matters to them and why, so each is quite unique. They cover a range of topics: some serious, some lighthearted. Students feel that they provide an opportunity for them to get to know each other on a more personal level and have significantly enriched the business school experience.
An entrepreneurial mindset. Just as at most top programs, entrepreneurship is a popular focus of study at Columbia. However, Columbia Business School takes this even further with an emphasis on entrepreneurial thinking regardless of intended future career or discipline. Columbia proposes to imbue its graduates with an “entrepreneurial mindset for recognizing and capturing opportunity.”
Breadth of expertise. While certainly Columbia is known for finance—after all, value investing was invented there—it also has well-regarded faculty from, and deep connections to, media, real estate, retail, marketing, and other fields. The presence on the faculty of media darlings such as Milstein Real Estate Professor Chris Mayer (who was snatched away from Columbia’s competitor to the south, Wharton), Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and International Development guru Jagdish Bagwati has served to elevate the school’s profile in areas beyond finance.
Global reach. Columbia’s global perspective is the deliberate result of decades’ worth of (often-expensive) investments. The school’s global philosophy is also evident in the classroom: 42% of students are from abroad, leading every other top MBA program. Though it is not an admissions requirement, applicants demonstrating either experience abroad or functional ability in a language besides English can hold an advantage, and Uris Hall can at times seem like a modern-day Tower of Babel. In 1991, Jerome Chazen (MBA ’50) gave $10 million to found the Institute of International Business at Columbia Business School that now bears his name. (For more on the Chazen Institute, see below.) The popular joint-degree programs with the School for International and Public Affairs offer additional opportunities to Columbia students.
School-year internships. Many students do mini, unpaid internships during the school year at NYC companies. This is very different from just about any other MBA program, and speaks to both the location, and the theory and practice focus of Columbia. Students mention that it can help in breaking into difficult fields like private equity or hedge funds because these companies may not want to take the risk of a full-time, paid, summer internship, but they might be willing to take a risk on you for a part-time role while you’re in school.
Early Decision. Columbia is one of the few top programs to offer an Early Decision application option. If Columbia is your number-one choice, you may want to consider applying Early Decision, as that signifies to the admissions committee that you are serious about attending Columbia. This provides a win-win situation for both the school and the applicant, as it enables you to signal your level of interest in the school and allows Columbia to admit applicants who are much more likely to attend, improving its yield. After that, admission is on a rolling basis with no “rounds”—also unusual among top schools.
Startup Lab. A coworking space on campus, the Startup Lab is essentially a team-based incubator available to young alumni of three Columbia schools and for graduating MBA students.