On a particularly hot Saturday in August, a few weeks after the latest class of Georgetown University first-years descended upon the Hilltop, over 200 different campus groups and organizations flooded Healy and Copley Lawns for the fall Council of Advisory Boards (CAB) fair.
During the fair, clubs boasted about their prestige and impressive alumni networks, giving out handouts with their various information sessions, coffee chats, application deadlines and interview expectations.
Club culture at Georgetown has built a reputation for being elitist and exclusive, with essay-based written applications and extensive rounds of interviews that often require first-years to show up in business attire. This year, however, the McDonough School of Business (MSB) has taken steps to try to alleviate the stress of club applications on students, particularly first-years.
Georgetown is far from the only university with a competitive club culture, according to an article published this week in The Atlantic. Often the process is just as competitive at other schools, including Yale University, Harvard University and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), all of which have club application processes that include multiple rounds of interviews and scores of essays.
As a transfer student to Georgetown this year, Katy Beiner (CAS ’26) said navigating the club process was intimidating.
“I felt like I was constructing a piece of IKEA furniture that was delivered without an instruction manual,” Beiner told The Hoya. “It is easy to feel lost in an environment where even a barista job can’t be taken at face value and is really one of the most sought-after organizations on campus.”
Beginning this school year, a change implemented by MSB administrators and the newly formed McDonough School of Business Student Advisory Board (MSAB), requires student groups receiving university funding to have an open access period in compliance with Georgetown’s “commitment to inclusiveness.” The new policy would impact some of the MSB’s most competitive business clubs such as Hilltop Consultants and Georgetown University Student Investment Fund (GUSIF).
The university already has an “access to benefits” policy in place for all clubs such as The Hoya, Blue & Gray Tour Guide Society and the Georgetown Eating Society. Effective Fall 2023, however, MSB administrators are ensuring all MSB-affiliated student organizations are in compliance with the university-wide policy.
One caveat exists in that certain student organizations, like those assessing athletic or musical ability, can be classified under the “special permission” Access to Benefits Clause, meaning they can use appropriate standards to determine which candidates are admitted into the club.
According to Patricia Grant, senior associate dean for the MSB undergraduate program, the school will require that its 23 recognized undergraduate student organizations meet several standards, including the mandatory open access period, which seeks to reverse the harmful impact of the historically exclusive club environment identified by school administrators in six surveys beginning in October 2018.
With these changes, those overseeing operations within the undergraduate programs of the MSB hope to further the inclusivity and overall impact of these student organizations.
Rethinking Club Applications
In years past the MSB’s selective business clubs have often had especially intense application processes, featuring a written application and multiple rounds of interviews. This year, these will remain in place, but students will also be able to become general members of these organizations.
General membership is now an enforced requirement of the clubs within the MSB, meaning any student can fill out a 15-minute intake form and become a general member. Patrick De Meulder (MSB ’25), the MSAB president, said general membership includes access to essential training, social events and shareable resources.
Full Disclosure: Patrick De Meulder previously served as Director of Business Operations at The Hoya.
As mentioned earlier, the new policy states that all recognized Georgetown student organizations must meet certain criteria in order to continue to receive university funding and official recognized status. This includes offering open access general membership, yielding at least twelve full time students as members, avoiding duplicating any existing student group and being governed by a formal constitution and agreeing to comply with all relevant university policies.
The change to club admission policies comes in part from MSAB, which is an elected group of students who govern the student organizations affiliated with the MSB. This includes working on open access, as well as working with the groups on budgeting, compliance and other concerns.
According to De Meulder, MSAB worked with the Dean’s office beginning in April 2023 following elections of the MSAB board to interpret and enforce what “open access” means.
De Meulder said the group’s mission is to promote belonging in the business school, beginning with pre-professional clubs.
“You are met with really grueling club application processes with very small acceptance rates, and then you get rejected and then you start to question if you belong, especially belong in the business school,” De Meulder said in an interview with The Hoya.
“Our clubs have been working for a really long period of time to make these clubs special, to make them worthwhile, and to make strong alumni networks,” De Meulder said.
Going forward, MSB student organizations will consist of four tiers of membership: executive leadership, leadership, applied members (members who have successfully undergone an application process that can include essays and interviews) and general members, according to De Meulder. After this semester, students who wish to become applied members will be required to have been general members previously.
De Meulder said the exclusivity of these clubs particularly disadvantaged students without any background in business.
“If you have a parent that is in finance, when you are a freshman applying into a finance club, you are going to have an upper hand because you know about finance,” De Meulder said. “But now allowing everyone to be a general member, you are giving everybody access to training and to resources.”
According to Grant, the MSB is working to revert these dynamics and improve the student experience.
“We have taken steps to address concerns related to exclusivity and intense competition, while ensuring that our student organizations continue to thrive as vibrant communities that contribute positively to the student experience,” Grant said in an email to MSB students.
Abigail Quarm (MSB ’24), the chief executive officer of Hoyalytics, an MSB-affiliated club focused on data analytics, said requiring interviews of first-year students can exacerbate existing barriers in regard to access to formal business training.
“We found that some people who went to more pre-professional focused high schools have a lot better of an understanding of how to interview,” Quarm told The Hoya.
De Meulder said the Dean’s office has had ongoing conversations with students to address the competitive nature of MSB clubs to make sure they become compliant with university access to benefits policy.
Justin Smith, associate dean for strategic initiatives in the McDonough School of Business, said that part of his role in the MSB is to work towards fostering community and a sense of belonging for undergraduate students through programming. These programs include Bagels with the Dean, Wellness Wednesdays and BUILD, a pre-orientation program for incoming first-year students. He said that student organizations also play a big role in connecting students.
“We recognized the need for change, especially for incoming first-year and transfer students. This change was also necessary to align with the University’s long-standing Access to Benefits policy, which mandates open membership,” Smith wrote to The Hoya.
Dean Smith said that changes made have included the general membership requirement, establishing MSAB and increased transparency in policies and procedures, as well as access to funding and training for student groups.
An assistant director of student development and leadership was recently hired to serve as a dedicated support staff in order to assist student groups.
In addition to their work on open access, MSAB has worked to get clubs free printing and recently put on the Back to Business fair to highlight student organizations within the business school. It was the first time that the fair has been led by students with a presentation component.
“I think that in the future, my kind of goal is that MSAB is not this open-access arm because open access is just going to be the norm. But it is going to be doing a lot of really positive things for the student groups and the students that are in them,” De Meulder said.
“While we cannot predict the exact impact of these changes, we believe it is our duty as a caring community to uphold the principle of cura personalis and address the concerns raised by our students,” Smith wrote to The Hoya.
Responses Vary Among Clubs
Clubs have interpreted these new guidelines differently, crafting unique ways to approach what open access means to them. Certain groups have implemented educational events, while others allow any student to take place in their training programs.
Innovo Consulting is an undergraduate consulting club that operates by working with different clients and provides pro bono consulting services to different nonprofit and Corporate Social Responsibility clients.
“Innovo celebrates our diversity of consultants and encourages each student in our organization to share their identity, passions, and talents with the rest of the club. At the core of Innovo is our people,” Innovo executive director Viha Vishwanathan (MSB ’24) wrote to The Hoya.
Innovo’s application process for applied members has remained the same, with a written application component and one round of interviews. Vishwanathan said that the application rate has remained steady.
However, applied membership is for only returning and transfer students, and general membership is open to all students. General membership is through a Google Form that takes less than two minutes to complete and can be done at any time in the semester. Vishwanathan said that this Google Form will provide students with access to various educational and social events.
“Innovo is partnering with Hilltop Consultants and Georgetown Eco Consultants to host these events. By pooling our resources, we hope to be able to meet more students and cater to a wide variety of educational interests,” Vishwanathan said.
Vishwanathan hopes these changes will give new students more time to explore their interests and foster an overall greater feeling of belonging.
Quarm said that Hoyalytics has changed its structure following the new MSB guidelines. Instead of the previous application process that required a written application and two rounds of interviews, they will now be offering a 12-week analyst training program open to all students to teach the fundamentals of data analytics. Every student at Georgetown, regardless of school or class year, can take part in the training sequence.
“We have a lot of goals, but maybe the top one would be bridging the gap of knowledge in data analytics; so really giving an opportunity for anyone no matter what school or what class year they’re in to be able to have that kind of data analytics knowledge,” Quarm said.
Hoyalytics has also made all of their general board meetings and social events open to general members. Following completion of the analyst program, if students remain in good standing with the club and meet all expectations, they will be able to move into one of the three divisions of applied membership, which include training, consulting and analytics.
Georgetown Student Capital Partners (GSCP) is a student club that provides students access to the investment world through their education program as well as partnerships with private equity and venture capital firms. Their leadership is aiming to take advantage of the new policy to widen their impact among students.
“We are trying to provide students with knowledge of an industry they may never have encountered without our organization, as early as possible,” GSCP chief executive officer Bryant Hill (MSB ’24) wrote to The Hoya.
Prior to new guidance from MSAB, GSCP’s fall analyst class mainly consisted of first-year students who had applied and interviewed. Now the club is offering an open education program for every student at Georgetown, as well as an applied membership option available for upperclassmen.
“The open education program has the purpose of making education materials as accessible as possible, and our organization benefits from being able to involve more students in our program than in previous years,” Hill wrote to The Hoya.
As students continue to adjust to the newly regulated club policies, there is a realm of differing opinions and interpretations.
“There’s been some easy conversations and some hard conversations with clubs to make sure that we are all on the same page,” De Meulder said.
“We admit that it is not a perfect process, and I don’t think anyone from the dean’s office to MSAB would tell you that it is,” De Meulder said. “We don’t expect every club to perfectly have general membership down, but they need to be in that direction.”