MBA Class Size: 5 Reasons Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better
Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia (UEA) has a strict class size cap of only 35 students on its MBA program—and they’re reaping the rewards
Last year’s Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) Application Trends Survey provided many insights on the changing trends among business school applicants in 2017—MBA class sizes included.
In GMAC’s survey, 73% of graduate business programs with a class size of over 200 reported an increase in applications, compared to 39% of programs with a class size of 50 students or fewer.
When it comes to applying for business school, applicants tend to take on the ‘bigger is better’ mentality. But this could be counterproductive. Is bigger better? When should you choose a smaller class size?
Andrew Vassallo, director of MBA programs at Norwich Business School at the University of East Anglia (UEA), where the MBA is capped strictly at 35 students, believes that their program is capable of offering a “deeper learning experience.”
“It’s become a marketing strapline, but it’s not meant to be,” he says. “I always say we’ve got a capped number of 35—that’s not a target; it’s a promise.”
Here’s five reasons why bigger isn’t always better when it comes to your MBA:
1. A more cohesive cohort
Curating a compatible group of students is a priority on the AMBA-accredited MBA at Norwich Business School.
“We spend a lot of time on recruitment,” says Andy. “I think the average time I take to interview a candidate is about 45 minutes to an hour, which is kind of unusual, talking to some of my peers.”
Andy believes that it’s important to spend enough time with people to create a class that will work well together—not easy when your class is hundreds-strong.
2. Access to professors
At Norwich, Andy’s office is 20 feet from the main lecture theater, and six or seven more of the teaching team sit just down the hall.
The staff at Norwich Business School come from a mix of academic and business backgrounds—like lecturer in brand management Dr. Jasmin Baumann who worked in Germany and Australia for Taylor Wessing and L'Oreál before entering academia at UEA.
The faculty at Norwich Business School pride themselves on their “partnership approach” to education, Andy says.
“We’re always here to listen to students,” he continues, “and support them in whatever aspect of their studies that they need help with.”
3. Open class discussions
Andy believes that smaller classes foster a greater feeling of fellowship between students, which leads to more personal discussions that students will remember for the rest of their lives.
This honesty isn’t limited to the students—the MBA at Norwich Business School incorporates talks from business leaders, and Andy finds that executives are able to open up in the more intimate environment.
Norwich MBA students have recently visited the UK Houses of Parliament, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and even the Shard, where students heard from the Shard’s CEO, Patrick Allen.
“In every case, we ask the people who are going to be presenting for honesty; to talk about the real issues they face as leaders,” Andy says. “We’re trying to convey some of the reality of what executive management is like. We want to prep these guys for the jobs that they’re going to do in the future.”
4. A more personal connection to alumni
One major advantage of Norwich Business School’s streamlined classes is its unique alumni network.
“Last year, we introduced an alumni mentoring scheme,” Andy explains. “I wait for about six weeks until I get to know the guys properly and then I put them in contact with one of our alumni who I think is a good fit.”
The selected alumni mentor their assigned students throughout the course and during the careers that follow, advising alongside careers service professionals employed by the school.
5. A well-rounded learning experience
Michelle Fung chose the MBA at Norwich Business School over programs in her native Hong Kong because it pushes her to evolve in her chosen field of luxury brand management without having to compromise in other areas—financially, for example.
The fee for January 2018 entry onto the MBA course at UEA was £19,500 ($27,000) for all students—including international students—compared to the $100,000-plus for some global MBA programs.
“The MBA course at Norwich Business School is financially-friendly compared to other top universities,” Michelle explains, “but the education quality and student support at UEA is as good as those universities.
“Moreover, the small class is very diverse, which is good for sharing thoughts and ideas from different cultures and backgrounds.”
In fact, the intimate environment that Norwich as a city and as a business school offers is a big part of why Michelle would recommend it to international students like herself.
“Norwich is a very beautiful and safe city where local people are very kind to foreigners,” she says. “If you want a quiet lifestyle during your MBA, it’s perfect for you!”