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Culture Is King at UCLA's Anderson School of Management

"We often hear, 'God, I wish I had gone after hearing about your experience at Anderson, I wish I'd gone there.' Because, people here, they interact differently."--Robert Weiler

With so many MBA programs to choose from, deciding where to earn your MBA can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. There is a complicated array of MBA school rankings to consider, including the Best Business School Rankings from U.S. News & World Report, which ranks schools based on factors such as education quality, GMAT scores, and career placement. According to a 2013 article in Businessweek, students should base their decision on other factors too, such as where they want to live after they graduate, the school's tuition, and the size.

There are many other variables that people should take into consideration. One variable that isn't often considered, however, is a school's unique cultural environment. Depending on who you talk to, college culture may just be the most important factor to consider. Take Robert Weiler, Associate Dean at UCLA's Anderson School of Management, who chose his school due to the way the campus culture made him feel on his first visit. It all came about by chance, Weiler said in an interview with MBAPrograms.org, since he was actually living on the east coast when he decided to apply to UCLA in addition to several other schools.

Weiler was accepted to all of the schools that he applied to, but after attending a reception for admitted students on the east coast and feeling out of place, he decided to attend a similar reception at UCLA. Once he set foot on the campus and felt an instant connection with its culture and the MBA community, he decided then and there that UCLA would be his choice. "I know what I saw," said Weiler. "I didn't necessarily or couldn't necessarily articulate it very well as I was going through it, but it was the right cultural fit for me."

Although Weiler's experience may sound unique, many others have reported the same sorts of feelings when recognizing a school's college culture and embracing it. Sometimes there is just something about a place, whether it's a familiar landscape, the people, or the school's philosophy. And sometimes it may actually be the school's intention to draw the right students in.

That may be the case with the Anderson School of Management, depending on who you ask. According to Weiler, the school does plenty to set itself apart from the competition, including exhibiting an extremely collaborative community. It is something that business schools try and create but may not be as successful at emulating.

"I know this from speaking with friends who have gone to other places," said Weiler. "We often hear, 'God, I wish I had gone after hearing about your experience at Anderson, I wish I'd gone there.' Because, people here, they interact differently."

"I didn't necessarily or couldn't necessarily articulate it very well as I was going through it, but [UCLA] was the right cultural fit for me."--Robert Weiler

There is much more that sets UCLA apart in terms of college culture, according to Weiler. The school goes to great lengths to create a dynamic learning environment that is culturally vibrant and different than the rest. One program that fits that description is the school's ACT program. Newly minted MBA students spend a year being mentored by second-year MBA candidates, and then move on to lead these teams in their second year. The program allows students to experience both sides of the coin while taking in all that there is to learn from both vantage points. How does UCLA Anderson's college culture play into this? The second-year MBA candidates voluntarily administer this specific program.

"It's like, alright, I got help, this worked for me, I'm going to pay it forward and help you guys, you first-years, achieve the goals that you want to achieve," Weiler said. "I've had colleagues at other schools say, 'How do you get your people to do it for free? We have to pay our people to do stuff like that.' And that's one of those cultural differences. People here practice with each other doing cases; they work together in groups in all parts of the core curriculum."

Another feature setting the school apart is the fact that students declare a specialty track right away, unlike at other schools. UCLA sees this as a benefit since it ensures that MBA candidates have ample time to prepare for the industry they pursue.

"[Our students are] signaling to the marketplace that, yeah, I'm serious about being in finance, I'm serious about being a banker, and there's no better set of tools that we can provide than arming our students with the skills they need to be successful both in their summer internship, which can then often lead to a full time job, or in their careers."

Building a unique culture is important to UCLA, because it allows them to educate the people who choose their school in a way that may better prepare them for a potential job with a company. It may end up pushing some individuals away, but that is not as important to the school as providing a quality education.

"We want to be the right school for a lot of people, but we're never going to be the right school for everybody, and we fully understand that. So I think [that] culture is a big part of what we are."

Best Business Schools, U.S. News & World Report: education, 2013, http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schoolsbest-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/mba-rankings
Interview with Robert Weiler, Associate Dean of the full-time MBA program at UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted by Jamar Ramos, MBAPrograms.org, July 11, 2013
"Tough Decisions: Choosing Among MBA Programs," Bloomberg Businessweek, Rose Martinelli, February 20, 2013, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-02-20/tough-decisions-choosing-among-mba-programs