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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. 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 implemented further changes to its core curriculum, including an increased emphasis on cross-disciplinary thinking, in addition to even more flexibility. The revamped core courses also make greater use of online teaching tools in an attempt to “free up more classroom time for deeper dives and discussions,” as an August 2013 Poets & Quants article explains. In the second semester of the first year, students can pick three full-term electives and two half-term electives, replacing the school’s previous “flex-core” configuration and allowing students to better prepare for summer internships. In addition, students may take exemption exams in areas in which they are already proficient, thereby opting to replace core courses with electives. 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 the school considers 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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