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In a few short weeks, that great rite of summer for business school students—orientation—will get underway around the country.
At some schools, that means a week of sightseeing, networking, and trust-building activities in the woods. At others, the very definition of orientation is beginning to undergo a dramatic overhaul.
At such schools as Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business (Tepper Full-Time MBA Profile), the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business (Marshall Full-Time MBA Profile), and Emory University’s Goizueta Business School (Goizueta Full-Time MBA Profile), new MBA students are getting down to business. Orientation means several weeks of refresher courses in accounting and math, lecture series, online pre-coursework, case study competitions, and, yes, trust-building activities in the woods.
These institutions are taking steps to make their orientations more like the classes MBA students are about to start, so students are up to speed on academic subjects and can start their internship search much faster and with a better sense of direction. At some schools, curriculum changes pushing core classes into the first semester mean less catch-up time for students, who now take primers for those courses during orientation. For some schools grappling with an influx of career switchers or international students, the new orientation is designed to make sure those students aren’t left behind in the first few weeks of classes.
At Tepper, the bulking up of orientation means the days of two-week, required orientation are long gone. While not technically required, orientation is now highly recommended, and it takes four weeks, so students can more or less kiss August goodbye.
Beginning Aug. 1, students will attend introductions and refresher courses to prepare them for business school and the business world afterward. One new focus is a series of lectures in the first week looking at different aspects of business—accounting and finance, marketing, supply chain—and how they interact with each other.
Bryan Routledge, associate professor of finance, will be one of the presenters. To demonstrate business integration, one of the companies he and his colleagues will examine is the online retailer Amazon.com (AMZN). He will discuss details of its finances and accounting while two other colleagues focus on its supply-chain operations and on how Amazon’s brand was built.
He says many students are career-switchers who may have never thought about integration of business disciplines before. Introducing them to this perspective will help them in class and when they interview for internships and jobs, he says.
After the lecture series, students attend six refresher courses in math and workshops about time management, career services, diversity and the case study. The orientation also includes sessions on possible career paths, including entrepreneurship, consulting, marketing, operations management, and finance. These events feature presentations by faculty on industry fundamentals, as well as briefings by career services and Tepper alumni who work in the field. Two days are reserved for team-building activities and community service.
Organizers decided to call the new orientation "base camp" because it prepares new students for rigors they’re about to face. "When you’re climbing a mountain, halfway up is a base camp to acclimate and get your body ready for the push to the summit," says Laurie Weingart, professor of organizational behavior and theory who also is the orientation coordinator. "In the journey to the MBA, this acclimates them to the program."
If the first few weeks of B-school are difficult for domestic students, they’re even more difficult for international students studying in the U.S., who must quickly get used to different languages, customs, and classmate behavior.
International student orientation at the USC Marshall School grew from two days to a week this year, according to Diane Badame, assistant dean for the Marshall MBA program. In the past, orientation for international MBA students at the most diverse university in the U.S. featured a short introduction to life in the U.S., student panels about culture shock and language, and information about case study analysis. This year students will attend panels every day about how business is conducted in the U.S., discuss the role and importance of teamwork in business school, and participate in activities meant to coax shy students out of their shells. The week aims to give international students a sense of American culture and make them more comfortable with American business and students.
After the international orientation ends, orientation for the school begins. This year, all Marshall students are required to take 10 hour-long sessions of math online before orientation to ensure they have quantitative fundamentals, Badame says. The school also added three-hour crash courses in core subjects, including math, statistics, accounting, and corporate finance, on the Saturday before the first day of school. The professors who teach the courses are the same ones who teach the core classes.
The school also added a case study competition during orientation, Badame says. Students will be divided into 39 teams and prepare a presentation for faculty judges and company executives. The first case involves Starbucks (SBUX).
Goizueta’s curriculum change in 2008, moving core classes to the first semester, called for an introduction of sorts to the school’s orientation, says Brian Mitchell, associate dean for the full-time MBA programs. Students are now required to complete online math courses and have the option of attending a weeklong academic boot camp on campus and taught by Goizueta professors prior to orientation.
Last year, 23 hours of math, accounting, and Excel spreadsheets were crammed into three days; 97 percent of new students attended.
"It was intense—that was some of the feedback we received," says Corey Dortch, associate director of the MBA program. As a result, academic boot camp now stretches a week. It is at the discretion of the professor to add homework on top of class.
"It was very well received by our students who attended," Dortch says. "It was one of the things they needed to be reminded of, and they were prepared to tackle those problems in the core classes."
After academic boot camp comes the more traditional orientation, which is required and features a two-day jaunt to the woods of north Georgia for team building activities.