The Challenge With Cohorts

If you’ve ever wondered what cohort you were in, you’re not alone. For most Haas students the cohort program has proven to be less than interesting and has become something that people only hear about once in a while from the UGBA weekly or in an email from their cohort leaders. This apathy is visible in the low participation rates of the cohort challenges. Despite the belief that these challenges are lazily put together at the last minute, the reality is that plenty of research, time, and resources are put into them. This begs the question: If nobody really cares about the cohort system, why should Haas even bother with it?


Cohort participation has been low. The first cohort challenge at Memorial Glade had a turn out of roughly twelve people, that’s one person per cohort participating. It should be noted that the first CAL football game of the year was being played that day and understandably many students were busy. This is something worth

Memorial Glade Challenge

discussing: poor timing. The Rocksmith Launch Party and Canned Food Drive also suffered from this with the Launch Party occurring around midterms and the Canned Food Drive being pushed during finals. While it’s true the Food Drive was successful, the level of participation was quite low. On the other hand The Deans Undergraduate Reception challenge resulted in the best turn out for that event in the schools history. It was held during a relative lull in academic demands, which could explain the high rate of participation.

It’s possible that there’s more at work here, and that timing has less of an impact than it would appear. Another possible impact on participation is how information regarding the challenges is disseminated. For every cohort challenge cohort leaders are supposed to send an email to their cohort members informing them of the event, the date and time of the events are also posted in every issue of the UGBA weekly leading up to the challenge. Outside of that there is very little communication to the student body. Because the UGBA weekly is full of information, it is difficult to easily sift through it for information on upcoming challenges. This puts a lot of pressure on the cohort leader emails to make sure students are informed.

Just as important as cohort leaders composing email alerts, it’s just as important that students read these emails to know what’s going on. Looking at the numbers that isn’t the case. On average, cohort leader emails are being read 35% of the time. That number is compiled from numbers of emails that have been opened and not necessarily read. This means that the real number of students who read these emails is even lower. With so much pressure on these cohort emails to inform the students, and the low level of them being read it really shouldn’t be a surprise that participation is low. People just don’t know about the cohort challenges.

Taking this into consideration, the lack of cohort participation can be linked to both poor timing and poor communication. Yet the lack of students reading their cohort emails raises another issue that impacts participation: Interest.


It’s possible the cohort challenges fail to reflect the interests of the Haas student body.  Looking at the levels of participation in challenges the top events were the Deans Undergraduate Reception and the most recent Virtual Cohort Challenge, the losers with the lowest participation were the Memorial Glade Challenge and the Rocksmith Launch Party.

Why were the Dean’s reception and the Virtual Challenge more successful than the challenge at Memorial Glade or the Rocksmith event? It’s difficult to really know the truth but we can try to break down the events to see how they would appeal to the Haas student body. The Virtual Challenge was by far the easiest event to participate in.

Dean Rich Lyons (This Guy Knows How To Draw A Crowd)

All it required was changing one’s profile picture on Facebook using a photo from orientation. With the ease of the event, and the added bonus of appealing personally to every student (who isn’t interested in seeing pictures of themselves?), the challenge was a success. Likewise the Dean’s reception took place during a fairly calm week, academically speaking. There was also the chance for students to meet the Dean and other distinguished members of the administration, making the event valuable in terms of networking.

If we consider ease of participation and applicability to the general interests of the Haas student body, we can deduce that the easier events are to participate in and the more they appeal to the general Haas audience, the more successful they will be. Yet only 49 people participated in the Virtual Cohort Challenge, that’s about 7% of all cohort members. If with events that are easily accessible and interesting turnout is still low is it possible that another factor has something to do with limited participation?


The major motivating factor of the Cohort Challenges, the end of year prize might give some insight into the

Jim Block

matter. For those that still don’t know the prize given to each member of the winning cohort is a personal photo shoot by Haas’ photographer Jim Block. Mention of this prize has been found in cohort emails and even several times on the undergraduate blog. Still participation levels remain consistently low. Judging by that response to the announcement of this prize we can assume that students just don’t care enough about it to make the effort and participate.

If a personal photo shoot can’t get students excited, what can? Perhaps a special networking opportunity with Haas alumni or recruiters at prominent firms, or maybe something else entirely. Wharton hands out commemorative sweatshirts and hosts a celebratory event for their cohort winners, maybe Haas do the same.

Tying It All Together

After examining the last few cohort challenges it seems we’ve come up with more questions than answers. It’s obvious there’s limited interest in the current challenges, in part because they may be too intrusive into students

Haas, A Place For Solutions And Innovation (Let's Apply That To Our Cohort Program)

already demanding lives, or maybe because they just don’t appeal to many people. We can also conclude that the prize support may also be lacking.

Hope is not lost for Haas’ cohort program, and that’s where the community comes in. I’m certain I haven’t touched on every reason the cohort system isn’t working (in all honesty this article is wordy enough) that leaves room for outside input. I encourage every member of the Haas community to share their ideas or concerns regarding the cohort program in the comments section below, or by email. Together we can overcome the greatest cohort challenge of all, creating a cohort program that works.

3 Replies to “The Challenge With Cohorts”

  1. Great article. I have a few suggestions for you:

    People go to the Deans Undergraduate Reception for reasons unrelated to the cohorts–because we care about Dean Lyons, and we want a chance to voice our input.

    You are trying to separate all the reasons cohort activities fail — bad timing during midterms, ease of activity, but the truth is:
    The cohorts don’t serve students in any way from the beginning.

    1. The events are terrible. They don’t provide a fun avenue for entertainment that I would want to go to with my friends in Haas.
    – When I go, the most I can expect is an awkward setting with people I don’t know.
    2. We don’t care about prizes. No matter how good the prizes get, unless they are individual in nature I highly doubt they will make a difference in our motivation.
    3. It’s humorous to expect that, when we have so many real things to compete over, we will want to compete over something that doesn’t matter. This is about building relationships – that’s the only way you will get participation.
    4. Since when can you run an effective organization with a one person in charge of and trying to motivate 200 people? Make smaller teams! establish a hierarchy and I’m certain you will receive a better response.
    5. The cohort system is forced upon us – we need to find a way to give ownership of it to the students. Let us vote on events. Decide which cohorts to be in. Just let us name them ourselves. Do all of these things and we will feel like we own it.

  2. Thanks for the response, you make some very good points.

    I agree that the real draw to the Dean’s Reception has to do more with reasons outside the Cohorts, and that the success of the Cohort Challenge for the Reception may have more to do with student interest in the event then consideration of Cohorts.

    I think it’s important that you mentioned the cohorts failing to serve students from the beginning and I feel like the system itself, and the way it’s currently implemented feels tacked on to the undergraduate program.

    Establishment of a hierarchy and more ownership of the cohorts handed over to the students are also great suggestions and hopefully moving forward the cohort system can implement both ideas into the structure of the program.

  3. Tyler, thanks for this great article. Anthony, thanks for your comments. We are definitively listening and paying attention. We are going to poll all current juniors, and see what other prizes may be possible. I will post something on your Facebook Page where juniors will be able to chime in regarding what kind of prize *they* would like to have for next year. Thanks!

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