Friday Factoid: Columbia Business School’s Increasingly Flexible First-Year Curriculum

The Columbia Business School (CBS) first-year curriculum was at one time very rigid—all first-year students took all their core courses with their cluster, unless they were able to pass an exemption exam. (Each core course has a corresponding exemption exam, and no limit is placed on the number of exams students can take, though we learned that students rarely test out of more than three core classes.) Students complained, however, that this rigid core curriculum system meant that they could take only one elective course their first year, which could put them at a disadvantage when competing for summer internships. For example, previously, a CBS student who accepted a summer internship at a bank may have taken only one finance elective by the end of his/her first year, but that student’s counterparts on the internship from other schools may have taken two or three, thus potentially putting the CBS student at a disadvantage with regard to being considered for a full-time job at the end of the internship. So, after an intense process of research and evaluation, CBS launched its new core curriculum in the fall of 2008.

Now, in the first semester of the core, first-year students take full terms of “Corporate Finance” and “Financial Accounting” and half terms of “Managerial Statistics,” “Managerial Economics,” “Strategy Formulation,” “Marketing Strategy,” “Operations Management” and “Leadership Development.” In the second semester of the first-year core, the curriculum involves half terms of “Global Economic Environment,” “Decision Models” and “Managing Marketing Programs.” Students also pick three additional half-term classes from a menu of courses in the categories of markets, performance and organizations (one from each)—called flex-core courses—and then any two full-term electives they wish. This revised curriculum was developed in response to student feedback that a full term was not needed to cover the “core” elements in certain courses, and the change has given students significantly more flexibility in the first year.

CBS has thereby attempted to find a middle ground, where students learn what it regards as fundamentals while having the latitude to specialize and, anecdotally, students have responded favorably. For a thorough exploration of what CBS and other top U.S. business schools have to offer, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guides series.

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