The best MBA alumni networks

BY Sydney LakeJuly 16, 2021, 2:00 AM
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Choosing where to earn your MBA isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. It’s a choice that can affect future career options and professional life. Plus, earning the degree is a big investment in yourself, says Tess Michaels, Harvard Business School class of 2020. For that reason, researching alumni networks can be an important component of your selection process.

“You want to make sure that you’re choosing the right home for you over the next couple of years and the right place to be affiliated with for the rest of your life,” says Michaels, who is also the CEO of Stride Funding, a platform that offers income-share agreements, an alternative to traditional student loans. 

Many alumni networks at top MBA programs have international reach, with schools including HBS, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania boasting tens of thousands of graduates across the globe. The “best” alumni networks can be defined in several ways, though, from the sheer number of global contacts to the strength of those connections. 

“Every top MBA program is minting enough future leaders that alumni reach should be vast,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, an MBA admissions and career consulting firm. “If you are seeking investment or trying to connect and make that big career leap, how many alumni are you going to need to contact?”

By the numbers

Given its larger class size (with more than 900 students in each cohort) HBS has one of the largest MBA alumni networks, according to Shaifali Aggarwal, an HBS graduate who is the founder and CEO of Ivy Groupe, an MBA admissions consulting firm. That equates to more than 80,000 alumni globally.

“The alumni network is global and very diverse, which provides ample opportunity to reach out to and speak to alums across practically any company, industry, function, and geography,” she adds.

Insead, which is regarded as a top international business school, with locations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America, also has a vast alumni network. The business school has a large class size of more than 1,000 students, which translates to a big network that “has a presence in every region and sector,” says Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an admissions consultancy.

Other large networks include Wharton’s more than 100,000 MBA alumni globally, the 65,000 alumni of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Columbia University with 45,000 MBA alums.

Meanwhile, smaller MBA alumni networks can be just as effective. In fact, some MBA admissions consultants believe that smaller networks are the strongest. 

“Perhaps it’s a reflection of the tighter bonds formed within a smaller class, or perhaps it’s simply easier for the school’s alumni association to rally an alumni base of 11,000 rather than 85,000 professionals scattered across the globe,” says Melody Jones, a cofounder of Vantage Point MBA Admissions Consulting. “Regardless, I always tell my clients that the strength of the alumni network is one program benefit that defies the rankings.”

Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, for example, has a smaller class size with approximately 280 to 290 students per year, but this “creates a strong sense of community,” Aggarwal says. “As a result, its alumni network and the alums’ affinity for the school is very strong, as evidenced by annual giving participation rates that often exceed 70%.”

Staying connected

A willingness from alumni to give back their time and money to the program they attended also contributes to the strength of its network, MBA admissions experts say. 

Like Tuck, USC Marshall’s alums, known as the Trojan Network, remain invested in the program, Jones says. And these MBA graduates are “loyal, passionate, and committed to giving back to their alma mater.” 

At Stanford, students stay connected after graduation through the Alumni Network, which includes a directory, discussion boards, and events calendar for alumni to access, Jones adds. Aggarwal agrees that Stanford has one of the best MBA alumni networks, adding that it has a strong presence in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley because of the school’s location.

Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, an MBA admissions consultant with Accepted, also applauds the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, which both bend over backward to host events and mentor current students, she says. 

“Alumni are incredibly enthusiastic and resourceful,” says Epstein, who saw this firsthand when she worked at both schools previously.

Should I base my decision on the alumni network alone?

While a strong alumni network can be a “door opener” for students, as Epstein puts it, it’s just one factor in the decision-making process. Kamat recommends not solely relying on the business school’s alumni network, and that it’s more important to make the right connections and to invest time in those connections.

“If you approach the alumni from other programs for help, they will not give you the cold shoulder just because you don’t share the same alma mater,” he says. 

Shinewald adds that alumni may be important while pursuing specific niches or geographic location, but that programs big and small offer “more than enough opportunity.”

“Applicants often mix up alumni and prestige,” he says. “In terms of the former, most applicants will max out on usable contacts with any top program.”