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Choosing an MBA Is All About the People

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Maryke Steenkamp

When choosing an MBA program, assess what type of people you would like to be surrounded by.

Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp is director MBA Marketing & Admissions, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

“The people” – this is my retort if someone asks me what I love most about my job.

I am privileged to have a job that surrounds me with amazing people – colleagues, industry peers, prospective students, current students, alumni… the list is endless. My most important advice to prospects is therefore to choose a program where they can associate with the people in the program. They need to assess what type of people they would like to be surrounded by, ensure that they will appreciate the input these people could bring into their lives, and feel a fit with the people the program represents.

Prospects should choose a program that will challenge their assumptions and stereotypes. At Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), I have six nationalities reflected in my team of nine and our MBA has an average class intake of 97 percent international students. I often joke and say that I feel as if RSM reflects the United Nations! You can imagine the interesting dynamic this environment brings. I have to admit that I sometimes wish we were all the same so that we can just get the job done. But therein lies the paradox – the fact that we are so diverse actually enables us to get the job done, and to get it done in a way that people who were similar never could have. The energy and creativity an eclectic group of people with many different opinions bring are invaluable. I urge every MBA prospect to find a programme where they can  experience the same. It makes for a challenging, but truly rewarding experience.

One of our application essays at RSM asks candidates about the most difficult decision they have had to make. Most of these stories leave me humbled. I am motivated by the strength so many of these candidates have shown. Be it personal or professional decisions, their stories reflect resilience to overcome adversity. Their essays always describe the agonizing process of coming to these decisions and the courage it took to action them. A common thread in these essays are “people." Candidates think about the effect of their actions on others and the impact of their choices. This is something we actively teach at RSM, so it is great to see this reflected in their personal essays. If prospects are looking for an experience that is more than just in-class academics, I urge them to look at programs where the stories of people are more important than only paper credentials.

Speak to Alumni and Hear Their Stories Before You Choose a School

I attend MBA events all over the world and we always have alumni turning up to support us and catch up. This means I get to engage with the people of our MBA program long after they leave the campus. My wish for every MBA graduate is to be able to have a network like this, which is why I urge prospects to reach out and speak to alumni before they choose a school. At a recent alumni dinner attended by about 20 people, I realized that we had a mini UN reflected right there. We had six couples from mixed backgrounds – Indian and Czech; South African and Dutch; American and Peruvian; Russian and German; German and Chilean; Portuguese and Belgian. This just showed me again how an experience like the MBA can bring people together. The idealist in me also left the event hopeful for the future. If this group of people could find ways to look past differences and work (and live!) together, surely the rest of the world can do the same?

Being surrounded by ambitious and enthusiastic people all looking to better themselves and, ultimately, those around them, brings me hope. Hope that if you work hard to reach your goals, you will. Hope that if you are open to those different to you, you will find common ground and learn much more than you can imagine. Hope that many different people can work together on one cause with energy and commitment. And, ultimately, hope that we can move to a society where it is all about “people”. My wish for any MBA student is that, when asked what they love most about their MBA experience, their retort, too, will be “the people”.