When Katherine Axt began looking at MBA programs, it was a given that she didn’t want to quit her job as a public relations executive in New York City. She had just received a promotion to vice president at Cohn & Wolfe and had a valuable client list of healthcare companies.
She had earned her undergraduate degree from Mount Holyoke in English and French literature and wanted the core business skills that would come in an MBA program. But she didn’t want to quit her job for a full-time experience. “I didn’t want to lose my client relationships,” she says, “and I wanted to stay in the same industry.”
An alumnus of Columbia University’s Executive MBA program had told her about a new Saturday-only program the school was about to launch, the first of its kind by a top-ranked B-school. Axt applied and was accepted into the inaugural class of 88 students who began the 24-month program in May.
It’s an exceptional group of people, largely in their early 30s with anywhere from three to 12 years of work experience behind them at companies as varied as Vera Wang and Coach to Johnson & Johnson and MTV Networks. There are students form Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citibank and Blackrock, too, befitting the school’s reputation in the finance field. Some 16 percent of the students already have a master’s degree in another field, while the entry class includes on PhD and a lawyer.
The inaugural class also has attracted several students who otherwise might have gone full-time. Loretta Kilmer, 28, had applied to several full-time MBA programs. Columbia Business School, her first choice, told her about the new Saturday EMBA option and she decided to take it. Kilmer had earned her undergraduate degree from Columbia in art history.
“I realized I wouldn’t have to give up anything else to do it,” says Kilmer, who is a professional runner and sells residential real estate for the LeFrak Organization. “The big draw was being able to keep my flexible schedule and not have to give up my full-time job. You really have to change your life if you go back to school in a full time program.”
Columbia says an internal survey of the class shows that 43 percent measured the opportunity cost of attending a full-time program versus EMBA Saturday before opting for the new program. Some 89 percent of the class said EMBA Saturday was an enticing EMBA program because it gave them the opportunity to pursue the degree without having to take time off of work.
That is what certainly drew Axt to the program. In her late 20s, she considered pursuing a full-time MBA but with a liberal arts background lacked the confidence to sign up. She ultimately stayed committed to her career and began looking into executive programs in her early 30s. “I was completely converted when I learned about Columbia’s program because of the school’s large alumni network,” she says.
At $154,320, the program certainly isn’t cheap. But Axt says her company is supportive and has agreed to help out with some of the costs.
Though the class meets on only Saturday, instead of Columbia’s traditional Friday through Saturday EMBA program, Axt has found it to be highly demanding. She usually shows up on the Morningside campus at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Classes begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 6:45 p.m. More often than not, there are study group meetings that go to 8 p.m. and outings with classmates on the city after that.
Her learning group—with four other students—meets twice a week, via Webex on Sunday for an hour or so and in person on Wednesday night from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Axt’s team includes an international student from Spain who works as an investment banker at UBS (roughly 29 percent of the class is international), a person from the tech industry, a woman who is in sales for Cisco, and another woman who does quantitative analysis work for Lexis Nexis Group (about 40% of the class is composed of women).
Students say they are impressed with the caliber of their classmates. “The quality of the class is extremely high,” says Kilmer, whose learning team is largely composed of bankers and consultants, including classmates from France and Turkey. “You learn just as much from your classmates as your teachers. They always say that in the info sessions, but it is completely true.”
Axt says that her learning team has helped her through the hardest parts of the program so far, particularly the quant material. “For me, finance and accounting is a challenge and a humbling experience,” says Axt. “It comes really fast, like a fire hose hitting you in the face.” She’s looking forward to tackling marketing next term.
The program meets every Saturday over the course of two full years, excluding holidays and other breaks. It runs for six terms, in contrast to the Friday/Saturday option’s five terms over a 21-month period. Both EMBA programs include the same amount of course credits as the school’s full-time MBA program and follow the same rigorous curriculum and admissions standards, according to the school. After completing the core curriculum, EMBA Saturday students will have the opportunity to take elective courses with students in Columbia’s other EMBA programs as their schedules permit.