Adaptability is crucial for survival in the business world, especially for company decision-makers. Business schools are designed to teach students how to mitigate financial risks and seize investment opportunities, and some schools excel at cultivating students’ creativity and problem-solving skills.
Prospective business students who want to hone their ability to solve serious business challenges and want training on how to develop new products or services should look for B-schools that emphasize innovation.
AACSB International, a global nonprofit organization that accredits business schools, revised its accreditation standards in 2020 and added criteria related to a school’s “agility” and “social impact” to encourage B-schools to be more nimble and influential.
“The pandemic has now shown us that we were pretty insightful in coming up with the standards and the structure for the standards,” says Caryn L. Beck-Dudley, AACSB president and CEO.
Beck-Dudley emphasizes that in a constantly changing world, it is imperative that B-schools evolve with the times. “Whole industries can go away and new industries can be created in the blink of an eye, and that will continue to happen.”
Experts on business schools say that some schools are especially pragmatic and forward-looking, teaching timely lessons and preparing students well for the future. Prospective students should consider doing these five things to determine if a B-school emphasizes innovation, experts say:
- Sit in on classes.
- Reach out directly to alumni.
- Conduct research on the curriculum.
- Examine faculty scholarship.
- Ask about guest speakers and mentors.
Sit in on Classes
One of the best ways for B-school hopefuls to evaluate the recency and utility of a B-school curriculum is to observe a class on a subject where they already have significant knowledge, says Sydney Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. “You’ll then be in a better position to evaluate – how good is this professor? Does this professor really understand what’s going on in business?”
Finkelstein, a global business consultant who has written best-selling business books, says there’s no substitute for seeing teachers in action and watching courses in session. He recommends B-school hopefuls observe at least one core course and at least one elective.
Reach Out Directly to Alumni
B-school alumni who enjoyed their courses and who believe their business degree helped their career are often enthusiastic about recommending their school to others, so it’s wise to find their social media profiles and contact them directly, Finkelstein says.
“Send them a message, tell them who you are and why you want to talk to them, and ask if they’d be willing to talk to you about the school,” Finkelstein says. “And the test is how many of those people will respond to someone out of the blue and how many people will actually take the time to have that conversation. That’s a really, really good test of how alumni feel about a school.”
While chatting with B-school alumni who have spent several years in the workforce, ask them what they remember learning in B-school, how much of that content was applicable to their career and if all of their coursework was valuable, Finkelstein advises.
Conduct Research on the Curriculum
An indication that a B-school is committed to ensuring that its courses aren’t outdated is if the school has recently done a holistic analysis of its entire curriculum and has instituted major changes as a result, Finkelstein says. Another positive sign, he says, is when a B-school offers a significant amount of interdisciplinary and project-based coursework.
Troy D’Ambrosio, assistant dean at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, which AACSB awarded an Innovations That Inspire prize in 2020 after the school launched its Master of Business Creation program, says it’s ideal when business students get the opportunity to experiment with their business ideas.
It’s also optimal if a school has internship programs and a fund that provides seed money to student entrepreneurs, adds D’Ambrosio, who is executive director of the school’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. “Rather than be educated and wait to see how it works in a company or an industry, being able to do that while you’re at university makes the learning experience so much deeper.”
Examine Faculty Scholarship
Another way to judge the real-world relevance of what professors are teaching in their classrooms, according to experts, is to look at the books and papers faculty have published that focus on your industry. Findings and insights that industry leaders could use to generate major profits or avoid catastrophic losses indicate that faculty are focusing on meaningful questions.
A bad sign, Finkelstein warns, is when a B-school faculty’s research tends to focus on areas that seem “minor” or “esoteric.”
Ask About Guest Speakers and Mentors
It’s advantageous when B-school students have the opportunity to meet seasoned CEOs and ask them for advice, so prospective business students should ask if high-profile business leaders frequently lecture on campus, participate in mentorship programs or allow students to shadow them in the workplace, experts say.
Luiz Mesquita, associate dean of graduate programs at the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business, which AACSB recognized with an Innovations That Inspire prize for its interdisciplinary applied learning labs in 2020, says MBA students at his school are paired with an executive mentor throughout their studies.
“You learn through vicarious experience what it is like to be a highly dynamic, super-successful CEO or vice president – the way you carry yourself, the way you discuss things with people, the way you display patience when the world isn’t going your way,” he says. “All of the traits that seasoned executives already display because of the many years they’ve had in the trenches.”
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