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What role does cultural fit play when making a success of your MBA?

As you home in on your ideal MBA program, you may wonder how exactly to make the best investment – which program will truly feel like the right fit for you? MBA orientation platform, Unimy, has developed an innovative way for MBA candidates to find the program where they will thrive.

The MBA Cultural Fit is a free online tool that allows candidates to express their ideals about business education and find a fit between their values, preferred ways of working, and preferred ways of communicating; and a business school’s culture.

But it’s also much more than that! While the MBA Cultural Fit test will take you only ten minutes to complete – giving you your top three fitting business schools – the body of research that underpins these results reveals a lot about the difference between North American business schools and business schools globally.

So what did Unimy find out about life inside North American business schools? And how can this data help you choose the school that will truly help you realize your ambitions and develop as a person and a professional?

Why Cultural Fit matters

Although every candidate wants to find the school that suits them in terms of budget, location, and prestige – at some point you may find yourself with a small collection of seemingly similar schools on your list. Which one of them might be better for you? And how can you find out? Beyond the topline information, knowing what the experience of a particular school will really be like is tricky.

Culture matters because it tells us not just where you will get admitted, but where you will thrive. By considering the cultural aspects of your quest for an MBA, you can consider the program and people who will push you further. Doing an MBA is not just about gaining new skills, it’s also about undertaking a transformation as a professional – and, at its best, as a person.

Candidates undergo all kinds of cultural transformations to get their MBA: studying in a new state, new country, or new continent; entering a learning environment that is different to what they have experienced before; crossing from one industry to another through the course of their MBA; and meeting new people from all over the world and from many different sectors. Finding the best setting and set of people for you will enable you to benefit from the full potential of this cultural journey.

How does it work?

Back in 2019, Unimy started gathering data about business school communities and mapping their culture along six dimensions. They found that schools compared meaningfully along certain aspects such as whether they rewarded collective accomplishment or individual achievement; whether relationships were more hierarchical or more “peer to peer”; and whether schools had a liberal or classical style – among other things.

When you take the MBA Cultural Fit test, your own cultural preferences are mapped against 130+ top business schools. The resulting top three schools align best with your values, working style, and what you want from a business school community.

Comparing the culture of top North American business schools

As part of their research, what did Unimy find out about North American business schools? How do they differ culturally? And what trends do we notice? This data can also be revealing when investigating the school that will really fit with you.

One thing that becomes clear, is that North American business schools show plenty of diversity. While certain regions show shared identities, and we can see patterns of cultural difference between US schools and European schools, there are always schools that defy the trend.

Team Spirit

One dimension investigated is “collective accomplishment vs. individual achievement”. This relates to aspects such as whether the program rewards group or independent work and the extent to which those in the program value their peers as teammates and take pride in their team(s) – or see themselves as separate.

When compared to European schools, US schools tend to have higher scores in the team-oriented section of this dimension. Not surprising, perhaps, when you think about the US’ famous team spirit and can-do attitude.

Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and Michigan Ross come in as top for “collective accomplishment” within the US, with Stanford Graduate School of Business 5th on this side of the scale. But, by contrast, one US school features on the opposite end of the scale. Columbia Business School sits alongside European and Asian schools as the 6th most “individual achievement” oriented in the world.

All these schools, of course, teach and understand the value of teamwork. It is worth considering, however, where your real growth lies: do you need to understand how better to work in a group to succeed, or do you need to develop more independence? Depending on your professional background and ultimate goals in doing an MBA, your answer could be very different.

Thinking on your feet

Business schools, companies, and individuals have different approaches when it comes to achieving success. For some, it would be normal to think that one plans ahead to succeed, for others the importance of quick thinking and fast results might be paramount.

US schools tend towards valuing long-term planning more so than European schools. Although, once again we see Columbia Business School as an outlier: 3rd in the world for an “ad-hoc” orientation, coming just behind Oxford Saïd Business School and Shanghai UFE College of Business. Those US schools that most value strategic and long-term planning are Mendoza College of Business at University of Notre Dame, Foster School of Business at University of Washington, and Scheller School of Business at Georgia Tech. To include North America as a whole, Ivey Business School in Canada comes out as even more strongly in the long-term dimension – 2nd globally.

Again, the question lies with you as to which kind of approach will push you furthest. Would you like to be better at ‘on-the-spot’ performance? Do you aspire to roles that require pitching, performing, or providing on-the-spot solutions? Or instead, do you need a greater understanding of how to deliver change and results over the long term?

Liberal or Classical style?

The MBA Cultural Fit measures schools along a liberal and classical axis. In this case, these values do not equate to politics as such. Instead, they express how much a school embraces and maintains certain traditions vs. how open it is to change and fluctuation.

Interestingly we see complete diversity in US schools along this dimension. US schools feature as the most liberal style and most classical style business education in the world. As we might expect, two West Coast schools prove to have the most liberal in attitude globally: Berkeley Haas and Stanford Graduate School of Business. By contrast, Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, Cox School of Business at SMU, and Raymond A. Mason School of Business at William & Mary in Virginia come in at 4th, 5th, and 6th respectively as having a ‘classical style’.

The question for the candidate to ask is what style they prefer – a community where traditions are passed on or a community which embraces change and the fluctuations that come with that.  

Next steps: What the MBA candidate should do to find an MBA that fits

  • Use the MBA Cultural Fit as a first free and quick step in establishing schools that fit with you
  • You can also compare yourself to specific schools’ MBA Cultural Fit results if you already have a shortlist of your own
  • Once you have your results, use them to dig deeper: talk to alumni and current students, attend webinars, make campus visits where possible.

The author: Madeleine Corcoran is PR and Brand Manager for Unimy, part of Advent Group. Unimy uses AI and cultural fit to match MBA candidates with their ideal programs all over the world. Madeleine investigates all forms of cultural journeys of transformation through business education and brings these stories to light as part of Unimy’s mission to reveal the cultural dimension of business school.