As the Class of 2010 heads off to school, BusinessWeek’s Francesca Levy explores MBA orientation and how it has evolved over time. Includes examples from specific top MBA programs like: Wharton, HBS and Carnegie Mellon.
Orientation Is Getting Longer
At many MBA programs, what used to be a brief meet-and-greet period is now an education in and of itself
By Francesca Levy
On a recent warm day in
No, this was not a tent revival, nor a motivational seminar. John Mather is the executive director of master’s programs at Tepper, and his demonstration was a welcome to the incoming MBA class at their fall orientation. “It was a very church-like moment,” says Hermann.
For many who attended business school more than five or 10 years ago, MBA orientations may seem unrecognizable. What was once a few days tacked on at the front of the semester, used as a time to share names, explain the course load, and distribute a map of the school grounds, has morphed into something altogether different. For many schools, orientation is now a highly programmed, committee-designed, and rigorous process. Administrators use the orientation period to accomplish a host of weighty goals—from instilling a sense of ethical responsibility in students to helping them catch up on essential math skills and prepare for an ever-earlier recruiting schedule (BusinessWeek.com, 6/8/08).
In order to accommodate these mounting demands on student attention, a number of MBA programs have stretched their orientation schedules out by days or even weeks. Orientations at the top business schools are often two-week programs, and some stretch to a month long—meaning “fall orientation” often begins in late July.
This year alone, many programs have lengthened their fall orientation to allow their career-services departments to play a greater role. Tepper, for example, doubled its program from last year’s single week to two weeks this year—and that’s up from three days in 1993.
Many programs have beefed up the career-services portion of orientation, incorporating a self-evaluation and assessment into the career department’s presentation. “Our career services has refocused their core programming to be more self-reflective for students,” says Ann Harvilla, associate dean and dean of students for full-time MBA programs at the
International students are a particular focus of orientation. Virtually all MBA programs have advance programming exclusively for international students. These students have an even heftier schedule, as their need for orientation—figuring out where they are in relationship to where they’re going—is often somewhat more literal. “For nine days in August, we teach a select group of international students who haven’t had academic experience in the
Business and Pleasure
While orientation is often used as a low-impact way to welcome students, many MBA programs get straight to business—requiring or recommending pre-term coursework that in some cases doesn’t even earn school credit. The Wharton School at the
MBA orientations, though a different breed than undergraduate orientations, also serve a social function. But MBA students are typically older and more experienced, necessitating social activities of a different sort. MBAs often have spouses or partners to accommodate. Many schools specially design events that include partners or spouses, including Stern, which offers a wine-tasting for couples. “The age of our students means that more of them are married and settling into
Staples of MBA orientations include team-building exercises such as ropes courses and community service, and social events—from clambakes to cheer competitions—to break the ice and facilitate students cohering as a class. At Kellogg, students get acquainted partly through a talent show at the end of orientation. “A lot of them are very talented. You see things from tumbling to different forms of dancing. Other things are more of a stretch,” says Fran Langewisch, Kellogg’s assistant dean for student affairs. “Like whistling.”
Keeping it Simple
But even though most business schools have made their orientations longer and more elaborate, some MBA programs have bucked the trend. Harvard Business School actually slimmed its orientation down this year, from roughly a week to three days. Jim Aisner, the school’s director of media relations, explained that admitted students visit the school in the spring, communicate in chat rooms, and many have been on campus for international student program or their pre-term “math camp.” So come fall, students have been well-integrated into the program. “There are welcoming remarks, I’m sure some sort of social event, some events with faculty and with the student learning teams, and then they’re off and running,” Aisner wrote in an e-mail.
And some administrators have acknowledged the danger of information overload at this early stage of the MBA. “At some point there are diminishing returns with how much you pour into people’s minds,” says
Levy is a BusinessWeek reporting intern.