First, as the MBA is heavily based on peer learning and team work, the class profile can affect your choice of program. Second, you will need to research how you can stand out, but also fit, into the MBA classroom and highlight this in your application. You should do this because building a diverse class is part of what the admissions committees strive towards during the selection process.
Why should we look at MBA class diversity?
Maintaining class diversity is vital in today’s MBA classroom and looking at the class presentations by top business schools offers telling insights into the variety of profiles that awaits you in an MBA program.
You must be wondering what your class will look like. Are you going to be the only representative of your country or industry? Will any of your classmates have an educational background similar to yours? What kind of companies do your classmates work for? Are there entrepreneurs among them? There are many questions you may be asking yourself as you prepare to meet your fellow students for the first time.
It is worth noting that the class profiles presented by business schools simply represent a reflection of the current incoming class and do not determine the composition of future classes. The candidate pool at top business schools is ever-changing, so the class composition changes each year, too.
Why do b-schools value diversity?
Business schools are keen on forming an eclectic group of fellow students for a variety of reasons.
First, diversity fosters innovation. A class made up of people of different nationalities and backgrounds is much better at looking at a problem from many different angles and likelier to suggest a wide range of solutions than a group of people with similar profiles. Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean for admissions at the Yale School of Management (US), sums it up nicely:
You will learn a lot more when you are interacting with people who think differently from you than if you're dealing with people who already think and believe the same things as you.
Andrew Davidson, executive MBA student at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, agrees:
I believe that the bottom line of the different kinds of diversity found in an MBA classroom is the diversity of thought. It's rare that two people approach the same problem the same way, and in a class with 12 groups we often saw different teams tackle problems from 12 directions.
Another reason why diversity is highly valued is because it contributes to the creation of an inclusive environment and a global mindset. Business long ago escaped the confines of national borders and a diverse MBA class room is just a reflection of the globalized world we live in. Today’s workplace involves interaction with team members and clients from all around the globe and calls for considerably heightened cross-cultural sensitivity. In addition, research has proven that diverse business teams perform better and achieve better results. About 95% of more than 700 business leaders stated that an inclusive culture is critical to their organization's future success, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (US).
Another compelling reason for insisting on MBA class diversity is because it promotes a nuanced, multifaceted, and deep understanding of business. That is why business schools look for applicants with strong international motivation who are aware of the complexities of business in an international setting.
So, what information can you glean by reviewing class profiles? You can learn quite a lot, actually. For instance, the presentation of Stanford’s MBA Class of 2020 shows the rich diversity of backgrounds -- 63 countries, 172 undergraduate institutions, and 306 organizations.
Some schools, such as Harvard Business School (US), offer not only general highlights from the class but also student profiles which are really interesting. At Harvard, each student tells his or her personal story, which gives you an idea of the breadth of experiences represented in a given class. For instance, you can read about the Chinese student who as an undergraduate majored in engineering, yet took his first career assignment with Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong. Then he left banking to join Alibaba where he later became chief of staff to the group president. Or you can learn about the US participant who graduated with the Sustainable Development concentration at Columbia University (US) because his aunt had a farm in Ontario that he used to work on during the summer. Or about the professional from Nigeria who dreamed of becoming an accountant, of all professions, when he grew up.
But it’s not simply stories. MBA professionals reveal their ambitions, goals, and even doubts. One student, for instance, expressed skepticism about the possibility of bringing 90 people into a meaningful conversation in an MBA class. He admits, though, that discussions turned out to be productive and exciting.
Indeed, MBA class profiles can give you a good idea of how you would fit in a program, as well as what your unique contribution would be. Take a good look at the range of professional and geographical backgrounds, personalities and interests. Undoubtedly, an MBA class will enable you to gain insight into different global business practices. It is up to you to find the right composition.