Nuts & Bolts
Class organization. First-year MBA students enjoy the camaraderie, classroom contributions, and support of their cohort (called “Oceans,” because each one is named after an ocean or sea), a group of roughly 67 students who take all core courses together. Each “Ocean” is further broken down into 10 teams of six or seven students (each named after a sea-going bird). The school spends substantial time and energy to make sure the groups are highly diverse, and they’re carefully matched to include a mix of international students and women.
There is one notable exception in the core, which is the 30-person Communication for Leaders class. In this course, students typically have small discussion sections or recitations in which they have the opportunity to discuss conceptual issues and work on problem sets. Elective subjects typically have 25 to 60 students (although a few number as high as 90), and seminars may have even fewer students.
One-semester core. MBA students build the foundation of their MIT Sloan education during the first-semester core. Students develop foundational skills through required courses including economics, accounting, managerial communication, business statistics, and organizational processes (as well as an elective in marketing, finance, operations, or strategy).
A unique aspect of the MIT Sloan MBA program is that the required core is only one semester long. This allows students great freedom and flexibility to pursue their unique goals and interests throughout the rest of their time at MIT Sloan. The core courses overlap and build off of one another at a number of points. For example, students will give presentations in Communications based on assignments from Economics or Organizational Processes. Much of this work is done within core teams, which are intentionally assembled to represent a wide range of skills, personalities, and experience. Learning how to manage this broad and rigorous workload effectively as a team is a very important part of the core experience.
Course enrollment. When enrolling in elective classes, students rely on a computerized bidding system that aims to fill classes as fairly as possible based on student preferences and priority. (Sloan students get placement priority over non-Sloan students, as do second-year students over first-year students.) Starting with 1,000 points each, students place bids on courses based on their level of interest and the perceived level of demand of the rest of the student body. In typical Sloan fashion, students tend to experiment with ways to gather and share information at nearly every bidding cycle so that the community can make informed decisions and maximize the power of their bid points.
Grading policies. The MIT Sloan grading system is based on a 5.0 point scale, with a 5.0 being equivalent to an A. (A 4.0 is a B, and so on, although an F is a zero.) An average of a 4.0 or higher is required of every student in order to graduate. The school has not adopted the grade non-disclosure policy common at many schools, so recruiters and employers do indeed have access to students’ academic records (although students report that prospective employers rarely ask about grades). Faculty members are given the freedom to grade in whatever method they feel is most appropriate, and which they discuss with the class at the start of each course. Despite the assumption of widespread grade inflation in business schools, some 3.0s (Cs) are given out every year. While MIT Sloan is known for its academic rigor, students are rarely competitive about grades. It is much more common to find students focused on learning and personal goals, and the general culture tends to be one of cooperation and collaboration, especially when course-loads get demanding.
Sloan Innovation Period. At MIT Sloan, the traditional 13-week semester breaks for a unique and intense week of workshops and seminars during the Sloan Innovation Period (SIP). During this week, students break from their regular course schedule in order to learn about groundbreaking faculty research, explore new subjects areas, and take part in experiential learning exercises. This week provides students with a chance to enrich their studies with a variety of new and different ideas, and gain some healthy perspective about the world outside of their intense course-load. The sections of each semester before and after SIP week are referred to as H1 and H2, respectively. A certain number of SIP credits are required for graduation, and students bid on SIP workshops using a similar process as they do for classes. In the spring, SIP week aligns with spring break, which means two weeks to travel for many of the popular lab classes.
Independent Activities Period. Across all of MIT, the month of January is dedicated as the Independent Activities Period (IAP), a time where students can broaden their educational horizons and explore personal interests. Course offerings over IAP include both credited and non-credited classes, seminars, how-to sessions, forums, lectures, films, recitals, and tours on a wide variety of topics. IAP courses cover everything from the philosophical to the scientific to the less serious; the Annual Mystery Hunt and Charm School are always two of the most popular IAP offerings among MIT students. IAP provides a nice break from the academic grind of the fall and spring semesters, and is another unique opportunity for creativity and flexibility in learning. Students can create their own educational agendas, pursue independent projects, meet with faculty, or pursue many other options not possible during the semester. Faculty members are free to introduce innovative educational experiments as IAP activities or to work with students on independent study projects. Many students travel internationally during IAP either on independent trips or as part of class work through programs such as the Global Entrepreneurship Lab (“G-Lab”).