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 a more flexible core curriculum in the fall of 2008.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, CBS will implement further changes to its core curriculum, including an increased emphasis on online components and cross-disciplinary thinking, in addition to even more flexibility. The course “Leadership,” which was previously known as “Leadership Development” and was offered during the second half of the first term, is now a pre-term course students take during orientation. Although this course spans only one week, it entails the same number of in-class hours as its previous half-term iteration. Then, in the first semester of the core, first-year students take full terms of “Accounting” and “Finance” and half terms of “Statistics,” “Strategy,” “Marketing 1,” “Microeconomics,” “Macroeconomics” and a new course called “Business Analytics” (which replaced the “Decision Models” course in the old core curriculum).

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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