How MBA cohort size can increase your competitive advantage.

Potential students are often curious about the size of our MBA classes — and cohorts — and wonder if there are any benefits to being in a larger or smaller cohort.

Rather than share my opinion, I recently sat down with 2017 International MBA graduate Brittany VanderBeek to get her thoughts on program size and other considerations when selecting a program. Brittany, an automotive marketing manager at Michelin in Detroit, shared her considerations and deciding factors in evaluating and selecting the International MBA at the University of South Carolina and what her experience was like as a student in the program.

Q: What was your academic and professional background prior to pursuing your MBA?

A: “I’m a Michigan native and received my undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, where I studied corporate strategy, sustainability and Spanish. After graduating, I started a career in consulting at BrownFlynn, a leading corporate sustainability and governance advisory firm headquartered in Cleveland. I strategized with Fortune 500 companies on their sustainability impacts and priorities, wrote sustainability reports, and developed stakeholder engagement initiatives.”

Q: What did you like about your work at BrownFlynn?

A: “I enjoyed the broad industry exposure, challenging projects and the opportunity to develop expertise in sustainable business.”

Q: Why did you start thinking about pursuing a full-time MBA?

A: “While I enjoyed working across multiple industries, I was more interested in having a sustainable impact at a single company, where all of my projects could contribute to one company mission. Around the same time, I was also picking up career cues from clients who wanted support in sustainable supply chain management. I knew an MBA would be a great way for me to learn about supply chain management.”

Q: How did you develop a short list of schools?

A: “I wanted the same caliber education as my undergraduate experience, but I also wanted something new and different. I was eager to expand my horizons and live in a new part of the country. I was drawn to International MBA programs that offered language and culture immersions, and the University of South Carolina was the leading contender.

Although I was open to possibilities, I established a few parameters. My criteria were more complex than simply searching for ranking or a “big” or “small” program. I wanted to replicate my undergraduate experience where I had the best of both worlds: small classes within a large university. I liked the personal attention while having all the resources of a big state university.”

Q: How was your first visit to the Moore School?

A: “When I walked into the MBA program admissions office, I immediately felt like part of the community. The admissions officers wanted to get to know me as a person; I wasn’t just another applicant number. I didn’t have an appointment, but they graciously offered me a tour, lunch with a student, and the chance to attend a sustainable business class. The small class was very interactive with a lot of dialogue between the professor and students. As a lifelong learner who appreciates an intimate learning community, I felt the smaller class sizes I’d experience at the Moore School would be an ideal learning environment.”

Q: How did that feeling continue as an MBA candidate?

A: “Smaller classes throughout the program helped me get to know my classmates and professors extremely well. As classmates, we were aware of each other’s unique backgrounds and career interests. During our daily interactions, we could easily share perspectives in depth, which added layers of context between our coursework and the real world. It was a rich learning experience.”

Q: You mentioned the international immersion opportunities our program offered. Did the stateside classroom experience translate to your international studies?

A: “During my language immersion abroad, we also enjoyed small classes, which helped us become language and culture experts. I collaborated with some of my classmates on field research of a creperie in Paris. The close-knit community helped us better understand the unique French business approach and we enjoyed crepes in the process!”

Q: Why is fit such a critical consideration when choosing an MBA program?

A: “The size of the community will impact how you experience your MBA. Think about not only the number of students, but also the past experiences of the classmates that will surround you. They will be your future colleagues and workforce network. Establishing deep relationships as an MBA student will build connections that will last throughout your career and life.”

Q: Did UofSC help you achieve your goal of expanding your horizons?

A: “Absolutely! Moving from the Midwest to the Southeast enabled me to experience the unique Southern lifestyle. I tried hearty foods such as barbecue and grits, explored the cobblestone streets of Charleston, and hiked the mountains of Greenville. When pursuing an MBA, it’s also key to think about the life experience you’ll have beyond the classroom. Those experiences help you grow as much as your studies.”

Jennifer Ninh
Managing Director, Full-time MBA Programs