What MBA Admission Officials Are Talking About
Maria |
June 6, 2024

In this episode of Business Casual, the hosts examine the impressive financial benefits for MBA graduates from top U.S. business schools. Recent trends show significant salary hikes, exemplified by a 29.1% increase at Chicago Booth, which consistently surpasses inflation. Despite a drop in MBA applications, the substantial pay rises highlight the persistent value of an MBA in a fluctuating economic landscape.

Caroline points out how MBA career services adeptly adjust to changing recruitment trends, securing superior job offers for graduates. Maria notes that the consistent salary boosts not only mitigate inflation concerns but also solidify the strong investment return of an MBA. This episode effectively showcases the enduring appeal of the MBA as a wise investment for securing financially rewarding careers. Tune in for insights into why an MBA remains a prudent financial decision in today’s economy.






Episode Transcript

[00:00:04.370] – John

Well, hello there. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co-host, Maria Wich Vila and Caroline Diarte Edwards. We’re going to talk about the behind-the-scenes intelligence of admissions. Maria just did a European tour. She went to three leading business, business schools in Europe. More importantly, she attended the annual conference of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants. That conference attracted something like 23 different schools and their admissions officials. This is where the admission consultants and the schools get together and talk about what’s going on in the world of admissions in business schools. Maria personally also visited INSEAD, IESE in Barcelona and at just say Paris, right out in the outskirts of Paris. Maria, what did you discover top line from the AGAC conference?


[00:01:16.330] – Maria

Yeah. One of the things that an overarching thing that was really nice to see was, I think, originally, AGAC was founded with the intention of trying to build a bridge with admissions officers, a bridge between admissions consultants and admissions officers. I think at the very beginning, when the admissions consulting industry started out, it was viewed with understandable levels of skepticism, distrust, at the very minimum, bewildrement, and at the worst, perhaps an active dislike of admissions consultants from admissions officers. I think what AGAC has managed to do over the years, this was my eighth year participating in one of the conference, but it was started perhaps 10 years before that. What these original pioneers did is they were able to establish these relationships with admissions officers and to not only inform them of what we do and to let them know that members of AGAC also adhere to a certain level of professionalism, experience, and a code of ethics. For example, we will never write an essay for someone. They can rest assured We can’t say that everyone in the field is this way, but you can rest assured that if someone is an AGAC member, that they are not, in fact, doing really sketchy things.


[00:02:23.990] – Maria

What this has allowed, why am I going into this background? Because this has allowed, I think, over the years, the admissions officers to begin to go from an uneasy accepting that we’re there and like, Well, we don’t really like that admissions consultants exist, but we’ll put up with it, to an uneasy piece. I think that’s even now transforming a bit more where I think admissions officers can see that admissions consultants, we can actually share information with each other that is actually quite valuable that we can provide because we get to talk to the applicants six months, three months, a year before We see these applicants way before they see them. We are the canary in the coal mine, so to speak, of saying, Hey, here’s what we think is coming down the pike, you guys. You guys need to be aware of the fact that this AI thing, a lot of people are going to be using. We don’t agree with it, but we think that a lot of people are going to be using ChatGPT, for example. You might want to be on the lookout for that. I think over the years, it’s evolved into a much more collegial spirit, so much so that I think the pinnacle of this, certainly that I’ve ever experienced, was that when we were at Acha Ese, one of the associate deans actually gave a little talk thanking admissions consultants for the work that we do in helping people get exposed to more schools that they might not have considered, helping open their eyes to which school might be the right fit for them.


[00:03:49.890] – Maria

I think Linda Abraham and Max, some of the original AGAC founders, I think would be shocked at the 180 degrees. The good news is that now that we have this collegial sharing atmosphere, we are able to learn. Nothing super confidential is ever revealed, of course, but we are able to at least share what we’re seeing in the market. And so based on that, there were several sessions in which we covered lots of trends that both sides of the table are seeing. I can jump into some of those.


[00:04:27.060] – John

Yeah, we’d love to hear. I’m sure number one is probably the use of artificial intelligence to complete one’s application. Is that kosher or is it not kosher? And what’s the expectation?


[00:04:39.140] – Maria

So the usage of AI is surprisingly more kosher than you might think, not to start and create your application materials because that does feel a little bit like cheating. And besides, as we have experienced ourselves with the experiments that we’ve run here on this very podcast, there are hallucinations that can happen. It’s That’s a really bad idea. But the idea that AI could be a tool so that when you get to a certain point in your writing process, let’s say you’re 20 words over the word count limit, or you want a sentence to sound a little bit more powerful, If you use the AI in that way to not fundamentally change the substance of what you’re saying, but maybe to help you get it over the finish line, it’s essentially being viewed as a glorified version of spell check. From that perspective, it is, in fact, for many, many, many schools. I will say, though, that I think some schools are increasingly planning on introducing video, timed video essays, that Kira talent platform for a variety of reasons. I think the Kira talent essay is, one of the admissions officer said that it has been a tremendous boon for them in terms of if they think someone is going to be asked to interview, they will then watch the Kira talent stuff, and that helps really them filter right off the bat.


[00:06:01.550] – Maria

Like, oh, maybe this person we shouldn’t, or, Wow, this person really is a diamond in the rough. We should invite them to interview. Some of the officers had said that this is an incredibly useful tool, and then even more so in the context of, at least not yet, you cannot yet fake an AI version of yourself in video. All the more reason for the schools to start embracing that. One thing that was interesting is that there were a few schools that actually said that they are actually exploring using AI themselves to help With, only to be clear, very logistical aspects of the admissions process. So nothing with evaluation. There is no plan whatsoever for there to be an AI to say, Let’s pick the 20% of people we should accept. But things like interview scheduling. You invite a bunch of people to interview, you’ve got alumni, you’ve got students, it’s a big mess. Can we use AI to make that scheduling process easier? Things like that. Can we use AI to… I think one of the examples was something like events, targeting the people in our applicant pool that might be interested in certain events in a less manual way than what is currently being done.


[00:07:07.760] – Maria

I thought that was interesting that even some of the admissions officers were saying, Yeah, maybe even I’ve used ChatGPT to write an email to someone, to a candidate, if it was a delicate conversation.


[00:07:19.820] – John

Maria, what about the notion of detection software? I’ve read that some schools were using software to detect whether or not AI was used on essays. Is that something that anyone really cares about, or we’ve gotten to the point where we’re accepting the use of AI, and we’re just trying to counsel people to limit it as a background editor thing?


[00:07:43.440] – Maria

Yeah, my sense of that was that I think that one of the main plagiarism checkers, I believe, is called Turnitin. I think that Turnitin had claimed that they were introducing an AI detection component, but it wasn’t clear, is it really implemented? If it It has been implemented, how accurate is it? I think it’s hard for a tool to detect whether or not AI has written something. I think the biggest tell is, is the language simply empty? If so, a human can tell that. If the essay simply says, I want to come to your business school to learn the school of business because I like to business, it’s pretty clear that maybe a person didn’t write it. I did not get the sense that there was this, we are hell-bent on, we will track down anyone who used AI and we will throw out their application with pitchforks and torches. I did not get that sense, whether or not the tools can actually detect it. It certainly was not the thing where I was hearing people saying, Yes, Absolutely. The plagiarism detection software is doing a fantastic job of highlighting AI. I think that might be a feature that they’re trying to roll out, but if so, it’s not this overwhelmingly successful top-of-mind feature that’s been offered yet.


[00:08:59.400] – Maria



[00:08:59.820] – John

Bottom line, everyone expects AI to be deployed by candidates, and they’re not particularly bothered by it, it seems.


[00:09:10.800] – Maria

Again, if it’s just simply being used to polish things, again, I’m thinking of it more as if you’re using it as a glorified spell check, then obviously, if you use it to make up and invent things that you haven’t actually done, then that’s really problematic. But if you’re just using it as a tool to enhance your own communication style to the extent that in the workforce, you might also be using it to enhance your emails to clients or your emails to help you check your financial models if you become a banker or whatever it might be. I think that there’s a resignation at a minimum, or if not an embracing of the fact that this is the future, people are going to be using it. At the very minimum, let’s just at least hope that they’re using it in an ethical way.


[00:09:56.430] – John

Yes. Caroline, as we’ve talked before about AI and using it for applications. I mean, we’ve discovered together that it comes off as either dense or incredibly formal in a way that it’s really easy to detect that this is not an authentic statement from a candidate.


[00:10:18.380] – Caroline

 Yeah, I find it very bland, a very neutral style, which makes sense, right? But I absolutely agree with Maria that It can be a useful tool at a certain point in the process when you already know what you want to say. It can’t tell you what you should say in your application, or it’s not a good idea, as Maria said, to have AI tell you what to say. So you need to come up with your story and your key messaging, and that’s the bulk of the work, frankly. But yes, it can be a great tool for some of that fine-tuning. Sometimes the challenge is, as Maria said, getting from 300 words to 150 words, and It can help you with some of that process. I like how with AI, you can play around with different prompts, and you can ask it to do something, you can ask it, Give me another version of that. It can give you lots of different things to play with. I think at a certain point, it can be useful input, but you don’t want to outsource too much of your effort to AI.


[00:11:24.080] – John

Exactly. Maria, what were some other big takeaways?


[00:11:28.260] – Maria

Another one is that a number of schools were talking about that they have been seeing an increase in applications. I think the narrative maybe a year or so ago was, Oh, the applications are falling. It does seem that there is an increase in applications. However, it’s not clear if that necessarily means that there’s an increase in the number of applicants or if it’s more that more applicants are simply submitting, whereas in the past, they may have written five applications or four applications, maybe now they’re doing nine. While it’s a welcome thing to have more applications, who doesn’t like that? The problem is that I believe it might be making yield a little bit more difficult because now, instead of saying to yourself, Well, I’m probably one of three schools that this person is considering, now it’s like, Oh, gosh, am I one of 10 schools that this person is considering? What does that mean in terms of managing my yield, making offers? Obviously, I’m not going to say which school said what, but I will say that one school said that… Because one of the admissions consultants said, Hey, what was up with waitlist this year?


[00:12:33.790] – Maria

It felt like everyone got wait. It felt like everyone in round two got waitlisted. Sort of quipping that. It wasn’t literally true, but it did feel like there was a huge amount of waitlisting going on this year. One of the schools said, Look, we had an unexpectedly high yield in round one. We did not expect so many people to take our offer in round one. With so many of those spots taken in round one, we were stuck in round two. I I think the schools are in a tight spot because if they’ve built these predictions in the past based on previous behavior, and if you say, Okay, well, I think there’s a pretty good chance that if the person’s done this, and I can be pretty comfortable that they’ll accept my offer, it seems like those rules might be going out the window if there’s an arms race, so to speak, of, Well, if everyone else is applying to five schools, I’m going to apply to seven, and if everyone else is applying to seven schools, I’m going to apply to nine.


[00:13:25.820] – John

Well, Caroline, as the co founder and the director of Fortuna, one of the larger admissions consulting firms out there. I wonder, were you seeing a trend in the past year where applicants were hedging their bets a bit more and applying to a greater number of schools than they had in the past?


[00:13:42.580] – Caroline

Yeah, I’m not sure that we’ve seen that, to be honest. But then maybe because often candidates will work with us on their most competitive schools, and they may be working on other schools by themselves. So often they’ll work with us on their three or four top schools because they want to make sure that they’ve put everything they can, made every possible effort to put their best foot forward for those schools. And that gives them a great foundation that they can leverage for their applications. So we don’t always have the full picture of all the traditional schools they’re applying to.


[00:14:17.130] – John

Yeah, that’s a good point. So maybe the increase in applications is a result of some people applying to more schools than… I mean, typically, you apply to three to five schools, I think, right? I mean, generally, most people do.


[00:14:37.000] – Caroline

Yeah, I would say probably more like five than three, especially if you’re applying to very competitive schools, right? Because there is a large element of luck involved. Absolutely. It can be quite random.


[00:14:52.040] – John

Exactly. Also, I know that at one of the schools you visited, the one in Barcelona, I DSE, their increase in applications exceeded 20%, and they are increasing the size of their incoming cohort this fall by 20%, adding a sixth section as a result of that application increase.


[00:15:16.810] – Maria

I wasn’t sure if that was confidential, but that had been floated. John Burn with a scoop.


[00:15:22.890] – John

I scooped it, wrote it.


[00:15:25.570] – Maria

Wow, okay. Yes. When I saw the people, ISE’s reps in London, and I said, I hear you’re increasing your class size.


[00:15:36.920] – John

They said, What? How do you know that?


[00:15:39.920] – Maria

I guess someone else, someone attending the conference must have seen that You had said this because somebody asked them and they got the say. There was no definite like, Yes, we’re definitely doing it, but it was like, Oh, how did you hear that? We might be doing it, which I think says, yes, they are, which, by the way, is a testament to just how strong their program is. I mean, it’s one thing to say we’ve got an increase in applications. It’s another thing to say that increase in applications is also translating to an increase in yield such that we have so many more qualified candidates that we can expand the class considerably.


[00:16:15.920] – John

To be sure, that’s a contrarian move because most schools are actually struggling to fill seats, particularly second and third tier. Many of the smaller programs that are really in suboptimal size are actually losing money in Europe as well as the US.


[00:16:32.940] – Maria

Sure. Yeah. But I do think that given… I mean, one of the benefits of us visiting these schools is you get to learn, just like how we tell candidates that they should try to visit schools. It’s also good for us as admissions folks to visit schools because we get to see so much more than just what’s on the website or what’s on the brochure. I was impressed with all of the schools that I visited, but I can see why ESA has been having this increase. It’s a very program, lots of case-based discussions, lots of leadership, emphasis on leadership. I can understand why they’re having the success that they’re having. Good for them. I’m thrilled to hear it.


[00:17:13.420] – Caroline

It’s a beautiful place. It’s a beautiful campus. Oh, my gosh. Beautiful location.


[00:17:18.720] – Maria

The fact that it’s space.


[00:17:19.800] – John

Can you beat Barcelona as a place to hang out for a year or two? I mean, really?


[00:17:24.170] – Maria

You cannot.


[00:17:25.650] – John



[00:17:26.120] – Maria

That I could say with certainty. You cannot beat Barcelona. I don’t know. It’s probably one of my favorite cities on Earth. The campus itself is gorgeous, and it was just breathtaking. It’s a view. You can see the whole city and then the sea beyond, the ocean.


[00:17:43.590] – Caroline

I mean, it’s just- Yeah, it’s fantastic.


[00:17:45.590] – Maria

Not too shabby.


[00:17:47.710] – John

Was there a surprise that you took away, something that you would not have expected? Because we’ve talked about the use of AI, and we’ve talked about increasing and decreases in applications. But I wonder if you came away from the conference and your visits to the schools with something that you didn’t know that was surprised you.


[00:18:06.830] – Maria

Let’s see. There were some other things that we did talk about the testing landscape.


[00:18:12.870] – John



[00:18:13.590] – Maria

Nothing very surprising, but some of the schools that have offered, say, not test optional, but waivers, I think Ross calls it a statement of academic readiness. They have different policies around it. So some of the schools are considering keeping those in place. One thing that I was surprised to see, it was not surprising to hear that the GRE has been increasingly taking more and more market share away from the GMAT. That part was not surprising. What was surprising was more and more programs seem to be accepting the executive assessment. I feel like a few years ago, maybe only one or two programs accepted the EA, and I think more and more programs are full-time MBA programs, not executives. Full-time MBA programs are accepting the EA, which might be a… I can’t help but wonder if that’s a response to the acknowledgement that the new GMAT focus is, in fact, a harder test. There were a few folks at the conference who either do just test prep only or test prep plus admissions. A couple of the test prep, one of the test prep people in particular said that they felt that the GMAT focus was a much harder test.


[00:19:23.390] – Maria

Take that. Wow. I haven’t taken it, so I have no idea. But they said, and they were like, Which is great news for me as a tutor, But not so great for applicants. I wonder if the EA is seen as being a standardized test that from a psychometric evaluation perspective is in fact a very valid test, but may not be quite as stressful as the GMAT focus, perhaps that might be, and this is me speculating, but that might be behind why some of the full-time programs might be more accepting of it despite the fact that it was originally intended to be simply for the executive and part-time applicants. I thought that was pretty surprising.


[00:20:03.870] – John

Yeah. Now, you visited Caroline’s alma mater, INSEAD, and I wonder what your observations are. Caroline, I wonder if you might rift off of Maria’s observations?


[00:20:18.060] – Maria

It was beautiful, and I want to be able to enroll again. Can I redo my MBA, and can I do it at INSEAD this time? I love it. I mean, as we’ve chatted about before in the past, we all The three of us, we are a pretty international group. The very explicit international focus of INSEAD, all of the European programs have an incredible amount of diversity, far more nationality diversity than the US programs tend to have. But in Zad in particular, the fact that you could do… There’s so much flexibility around you can do a few months in Fontainebleau, France, and you can do a few months in Singapore. Then, I don’t know, we’ve also got this stuff in Abu Dhabi. I mean, it was It was amazing to me just how incredibly global the experience is and how flexible it is. If you want to do this, if you want to do that, if you want to do an internship, well, we have an option where you can do an internship, or we have an option where you can do all these different things. I thought it was really… It’s one thing, again, it’s one thing to see on the website where they say, We have this following options available.


[00:21:22.340] – Maria

That’s another thing to actually go to the campus and to meet the person who was from the admissions office who was leading our tour, was himself an alumnus of the program. Hearing him talk about things that his friends had done or that he had seen current students do in terms of really tailoring that inside out experience to their exact needs and interests is fascinating. Who wouldn’t want to spend some time in France and in Singapore. I mean, it would be a dream come true.


[00:21:51.130] – John

Well, Caroline lived a dream.


[00:21:53.550] – Caroline

She lived a dream. It was great. Now, I can attest it. I think one of the wonderful things about INSEAD is, as you said, you get to experience these different things, but they’re also very different places, right? So Fontainebleau is this gorgeous old little town in the middle of a beautiful forest, and you can spend a few months there, and then you can spend a few months in Singapore, which is a thriving metropolis in Southeast Asia, so completely different experience. But on both campuses, you are with a group of people who are equally diverse, who have incredible diversity of professional backgrounds, nationalities, bringing so much to the classroom. So you have that same richness of experience, but just in a very different environment. So I certainly encourage people, if they are going to Inciad, to to do the campus exchange and to go to both campuses, because it is, I think that’s one of the wonderful things about INSEAD is that they have these two parallel campuses where they offer the same MBA program. There There are differences in the electives on offer because, of course, in Europe, you’ll have some more European-focused electives, and if you’re in Singapore, that’s where you’ll get the Asia-focused electives.


[00:23:10.390] – Caroline

But otherwise, there are a lot of… You can take the same courses across both campuses. I think it’s quite a unique option to have that opportunity.


[00:23:25.080] – John

Indeed. It sounds like you had a really worthwhile, fun trip.


[00:23:30.270] – Maria

I sure did. Very informative. To Caroline’s point about the distinctiveness between Singapore versus Fontaineble. Singapore is this hyper modern city with lots of glass, shiny structures. Fontaineble, I felt like Belle in the movie Beauty and the Beast. At the beginning, we’re like, She’s walking through the village, and I was like, Oh, I half expect a baker to hop out and just hand me a baguette and be like, Bonjour, mademoiselle. I’d be like, Oh, merci beaucoup. But I did not, in fact, get a free baguette. But it felt that way. It was this magical, beautiful French town. I will say also, HEC, that’s a school that I, again, you read about it, but I had not appreciated or understood quite how residential the HEC campus is. It is on the outskirts of Paris, maybe 45 minutes to an hour away. It is accessible, though, by public transportation. But I didn’t realize, for example, that about 80% of the first term students there live on campus. There are dormitory buildings everywhere. It’s like this wooded campus where everything is in one central location. That’s quite different from, I think, a lot of other business schools around the world, not just in Europe, where, sure, we’ve got the campus in one area.


[00:24:52.340] – Maria

Here are the buildings, the academic buildings, but where you’re going to live, well, you’ll live in an apartment off campus. At HEC, it’s everything. They had a gymnasium, they had a rugby field, they had athletic fields, they had a chapel, a nondenominational chapel, dormitories. It really was this self-contained campus, which I think would really help create a strong sense of community because when you’re not just studying with people, but also living alongside them and going to the gym, and then there’s also a bar, even a pub on campus. Also, I didn’t realize fully before that Ache Esay is only business. It’s not the business part of a broader university, similar to INSEAD, I believe. But as opposed to other sometimes business schools where it’s the blah, blah School of Business, part of the broader University of blah. That’s really their focus. I also had not realized that I think the largest percentage of European-educated Fortune 500 CEOs or something comes from Asha Asha. I did not verify. I did not do any due diligence as to whether or not that clay, I don’t know why they would lie about that. But I was like, oh, that’s really impressive.


[00:26:07.290] – John

That’s true.


[00:26:07.950] – Maria

I think they’ve been around longer than INSEAD. So I’m sure INSEAD is going to catch up.


[00:26:12.360] – Caroline

Yeah. It’s also that as you say, it’s the top undergraduate business program in France. So if you’re coming out of high school and you know that you want to go into business and study business economics, there’s no better place to go than as you say. And that’s been the case for many years. I think that’s where a lot of those CEOs, that’s the route that a lot of those CEOs have taken. So the MBA is a later addition to the school, but clearly, they had an incredible foundation to start with because of that strong undergraduate and master’s program that they had.


[00:26:52.840] – Maria

Sure. They do have the broader programs, they have the longer history. But I think they said something like 80,000 alumni. That’s That’s a huge because they have so many programs, because they have a camp, they have a ton of dorms where people can live. It was just very interesting to, again, once you go see it, you’re like, Oh, all the pieces come together in your head. You’re like, I get it now. Yeah, it was a really valuable trip, and I got to see three amazing programs, and it was fantastic.


[00:27:22.340] – John

And your travels ended in a very familiar place, your Alibata, Harvard Business School, where you were attending the 20th class reunion of your husband. So what is it like to go back to a Harvard Business School reunion?


[00:27:40.290] – Maria

Oh, it is. I mean, it’s so wonderful.


[00:27:43.620] – John

I really What if you’re a failure and you go back?


[00:27:48.720] – Maria

Oh, okay. Well, that ouch. That is a harsh judgment. Well, I mean, first of all, I’d like to think that a lot of people from I’m sure this isn’t everyone, but I like to think that enough folks, at least maybe not at the one year or the five year or even the 10 year reunion, but I would like to think that by the 20th year reunion, most folks are secure enough in who they are and in the choices they’ve made and the trade offs that they’ve made. How would you define a failure? Some people might not be making as much money, but maybe they’re running nonprofits that are really helping change the lives of children. Maybe some people… I’m not sure. I’d like to think that most people would have the maturity, certainly at this age, to hopefully not refer to themselves or think of themselves as failures or to think of other classmates of theirs as failures. If anyone is that shallow and unpleasant, then I’m glad that I don’t know them. I’m glad that they’re not in my friend’s circle. I don’t know that a lot of people necessarily think that way. If they do, I would surmise that they just simply don’t show up.


[00:28:58.870] – John

What’s it like to go? What happens at a Harvard Business School reunion?


[00:29:03.300] – Maria

First of all, it’s an absolute whirlwind. Actually, before we hopped on the podcast, I wrote a very heartfelt apologetic email to someone that had been waiting for an email response from me for several days. I was like, I am so sorry, but I have not been by my computer for the past three days. It is just a whirlwind of you’re walking around the camp. First of all, they have different educational sessions. Many of the professors, the most popular professors, will give classes. They also have activities for kids, and they even do things like a case study for teens. If you’ve got a teenager who wants to get a taste of what it’s like to participate in a case study, a professor will facilitate a discussion for teenagers to get a taste of the case study. They have things for all ages, people who bring families, people who don’t bring their families. They have sessions on every possible business topic you can imagine, AI, renewable energy, anything like that. Arthur Brooks gave one of his talks on happiness, and that’s become his wheelhouse that he’s become famous for. Then when you’re either going to those sessions or you literally walk 10 feet and you bump into someone you know.


[00:30:12.920] – Maria

It’s like, Oh, my gosh, how are you? How have you been? Let’s talk and let’s catch up. It’s really wonderful. It’s fantastic. You go from 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 or midnight. I can’t pretend that I stayed awake until 1:00. I’m not My liver’s not that powerful. But other people did. In the airport the next morning, we ran into several other folks who were also coming home to LA from the class, and one of them had been out until 2:00 in the morning, and I was very impressed by that. But it’s wonderful. I do like to think that, hopefully, by the 20th reunion, a lot of folks… I like to think that people were already not superficial to begin with, but even maybe perhaps some of the more superficial people have mellowed out a bit. If people are hyper competitive, if they were hyper competitive in the past, maybe they’re not hyper competitive anymore. Or again, maybe they’re still there and I just don’t talk to them because I choose to surround myself with people who are very friendly and down to earth. But it’s just wonderful. There’s just some really good human beings, and it’s energizing to be around people who are smart and passionate about whatever it is that they’re doing in their own little corner of the professional world and people who are just fundamentally, so many of these people are just good people, and I loved it.


[00:31:35.480] – Maria

If it’s meant to help me donate, to encourage me to donate, it works. There you go.


[00:31:41.080] – John

It’s very effective. So, Caroline, I’m sure you have attended many reunions at INSEAD. I’m imagining that they’re very similar to what Maria described at the Harvard Business School. Am I right?


[00:31:54.060] – Caroline

Yes, absolutely. It’s incredibly intense. And as Maria said, it’s really inspiring. It’s so wonderful to be back with those incredible people and to reconnect. And it’s a big trip, right? Because I’m in California, I’m going back to Fontainebleau. It’s normally during my kids’ school year, so it’s a lot of logistical organization to try and extract myself from life here for a few days. But it is incredibly enriching to be back in that environment. And something Maria said that I really agree with is that you do see, I think, a change in people’s to choose over time. And so I had my 20th reunion last year. I’ve also been attending my husband’s Stanford GSB reunions over the years. And definitely by the time you get to 15, 20 plus years, people are much more relaxed and much more interested in connecting on a human level and understanding what’s going on in your life, not just in your career, right? But more interested in how people are doing in their families, their life, their marriages, their life experience. And it’s not just all about who is the most successful and who’s company is IPOed and all of that.


[00:33:15.990] – Caroline

So I think that’s a really good evolution to see. And I would agree with Maria as well, that people come from all different experiences as well. You have people who are incredibly fast track in their career and have achieved extraordinary things. And there are people who have made a complete career change and people who have taken time off to raise children. And I don’t think there’s a lot of judgment about that, especially, I think, as time goes on. And I think it’s very precious to be able to maintain those relationships over time, especially as people are spread all over the place. Hbs, the community is pretty dispersed, and INSEAD, probably even more so as people come from all over the world. So it’s a very special moment when those people all come back together and reconnect.


[00:34:14.440] – John

That’s great. The all of this conversation about reunions reminds me of one of my favorite stories that we ran at Poets and Quants. It’s called Love, Sex, and Money: A Revealing Class Portrait of the Lives of Harvard MBAs. We got our hands on a survey that was sent to a class at Harvard Business School for its reunion session. There were 85 questions on that survey, and they really give you a really good glimpse of what life is like to have a Harvard MBA and what your life is personally like, what it’s like professionally. It’s quite an incredible story. You were going to say, Maria.


[00:35:01.900] – Maria

I was going to say, and as Caroline was speaking, one thing that occurred to me that you mentioned that set off an idea in me is that I think part of what mellows people out is that the older you get, the more you start to realize that sometimes your success has been because of your hard work and your talent, but sometimes it’s just been luck. When you’re 25 years old and you’ve only been lucky and you apply to a World Top Business School and you get in, I think you go in with the idea that I have been completely responsible for my own luck. But just wait around, wait for life to happen to you. I think it’s very humbling. I think some folks have to acknowledge that, Wow, I was lucky. I did go to work for Facebook instead of of Friendster. Both of them were equally attractive startups 20 years ago, but one of them died and the other one is huge. Classmates have started startups. Some of them have IPOed and some of them have gone bankrupt. Actually, one of my friends has an industrial a company, and he is going through something very difficult right now.


[00:36:07.820] – Maria

His company, unfortunately, a worker was actually mortally wounded at the site recently. The first time ever. That’s traumatizing for you as a business owner to have someone. I think people are also open about struggles that they’re having. Wow, this is some heavy stuff. There’s also personal emotional challenges. People have children with special needs. People’s marriages might not have worked. Some folks have unfortunately passed away, or some classmates have been widowed or widowers. I think that might be another part of it where I think it’s more likely if you are going to have a charmed life that at age 26, your luck might still be… That your tank of luck might be at the 100% meter, but it will eventually start to run out just because life is what it is. I wonder if that might also be part of just general maturity, but also things like that happening that might help humble people and might be what leads to the more human side of folks coming out at these events.


[00:37:19.660] – John

 The survey I referred to in the story that we wrote about it, which is really exclusive, you should know that it was for a 25th reunion at Harvard. 47% of the class admitted to being fired from a job, 14% were divorced, 13% said they’ve been fired twice, 4% said they lost a job three times in the 25 years since graduation. So yes, it’s not all hunky-dory, but by and large, these are good charmed lives. Yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, thank you for that report, not only about reunions, but also, of course, about your trip to Europe and your visits to three schools and the AGAC conference. We hope you enjoyed it, and we hope that someday you will be attending your reunion and you’ll feel as good about it as Caroline, Maria have when they attend theirs. Hey, thanks for listening. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants


What MBA Admission Officials Are Talking About
Maria |
June 6, 2024


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