Many top business schools, struggling to diversify their MBA programs, are increasingly launching MBA math camps to help former English literature and political-science majors prepare for math-intensive coursework before their first semesters, the Wall Street Journal reported.
MBA admissions offices historically limited applicants to the quant-heavy Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for admission. But some 91% of US business schools surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep last fall accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), an entrance exam used mainly for Social-science and Humanities Master’s programs. That is up from 24% of schools in 2009.
The same survey found that 67% of schools said offering the GRE option has increased enrollment of students from backgrounds outside the traditional pre-MBA tracks of Finance, Consulting and other business-related fields.
Business-school administrators want to make sure those students are coming to campus prepared, said Michael Malone, an associate dean at Columbia Business School (US). He told the WSJ:
There’s an industry-wide recognition from business schools. If they’re coming and feeling underprepared, that has an impact on their experience.
Each summer, the Yale School of Management (US) calls in about 20% of incoming students to a three-day “math camp,” to help students pick up the basics of topics such as calculus and statistics. The school invites students with weaker quantitative backgrounds, as evident in undergraduate transcripts and standardized test scores, according to Yale’s admissions office.
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Students in attendance might include those who took the bare minimum of undergraduate math requirements or students whose test scores indicated they might need help.
Since it was first offered a decade ago, the course has doubled in length to accommodate more material, said Professor Jonathan Feinstein, who runs the course. He added that for some of the students, when they first walk in, this is all Martian. In the end the students who are struggling quantitatively almost always make it through Yale’s program.
MBA programs, once reliable, moneymaking ventures for large universities, have experienced a steady drop in applications in recent years.
Meanwhile, options for prospective students have increased. In an attempt to court a wider swath of applicants, schools have introduced certificate programs that take less time to complete and new specialized degree tracks that focus on industries such as fashion and technology.
Schools say the decision to begin accepting the GRE is also part of an effort to attract students applying to a range of Master’s programs, and increase representation of women and underrepresented minorities.
MBA graduates have also been increasingly going into nontraditional industries once they leave school, such as technology and consumer products, while students from earlier graduating classes were more likely to seek careers in finance or consulting, according to a 2018 alumni employment report from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT.
For about one-third of students coming into the two-year MBA program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business (US), admission is contingent on completing a five-week online math course over the summer and passing a three-hour final exam. The course, first offered in 2016, is targeted toward students who wouldn’t otherwise fulfill the school’s calculus requirement. Kathryn Barraclough, head of Tepper’s MBA program, said:
We want to be able to recruit people who have strong analytical ability but may not have the most extensive quants background.
Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management (US) has a similar program. In this year’s incoming class, about 41% of students are required to take an online course that generally takes about a month to complete, depending on a student’s ability, up from 32% of incoming students last year. Christie St-John, director of M.B.A. admissions at Owen, said:
We explain to them, this is not to punish you. If you’re coming from a background of no quant, no math, you need to get yourself prepared.
Jeff Lenar said math was never his strong suit. He majored in history at the US Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps for several years before entering business school at Owen. Having completed his first year in the program, he said he is glad he took the math prep course.
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Some schools have been placing a higher premium on pre-MBA education even before the application process begins. Dawna Clarke, executive director of admissions and financial aid at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business (US), said she is always pleased to see applicants who have already completed business-focused training such as a certified-public-accountant certification or the HBX Credential of Readiness program at Harvard Business School (US), an online training curriculum covering topics such as business analytics and accounting that the school began widely offering in 2015.
Krishna Rajendran, who graduated from Harvard Business School in May, completed the HBX program, called CORe, six months before applying to MBA programs—in part, he said, to beef up his application. Mr. Rajendran said the program—which took nearly three months to complete and cost over USD 1,000—helped him keep up with material in his first semester.
Interest in HBX has been increasing. In the past year, about 6,400 students have enrolled in courses, up from about 4,300 students the previous year.
Students in several MBA programs have volunteered for math preparation. At the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business (US), a majority of incoming students take quant-focused preparation offered during an optional pre-orientation, said Morgan Bernstein, executive director of the school’s full-time MBA program.
This summer, Carnegie Mellon will make its online math refresher available to all incoming students for the first time, in response to requests from students in past years, Ms. Barraclough said.
At Harvard, about 20% of students entering the business school opt to take HBX courses before their first semesters, in addition to about 20% of incoming students who are required to do so.
Ross Pearo, senior director at HBX, said prep courses are becoming more prevalent at the most selective schools as they work to diversify their student populations. There’s more of a need for people who maybe didn’t have access to these concepts in the past, he said.
Source: The Wall Street Journal