Do I need to take Calculus prior to business school?

For a good number of years, Calculus was a prerequisite to joining any decent MBA program.

There were several good reasons for this, including the fact that rate of change (computed using Calculus from the first derivative of an equation), is a very useful concept and commonly seen not only in finance coursework, but also in other classes where time is a factor (arguably almost any business concept has some component of time).  But over the years, we have seen an increasing number of schools drop Calculus from the required list (cue the cheering crowd of “poets!”)

As a matter of fact, Duke Fuqua and Cornell Johnson, two of the last bastions of this onerous prerequisite, both recently abandoned the requirement for new applicants (cue more cheers).


It’s hard to say exactly, and there are some who would argue it’s to the detriment of the MBA. Are they dumbing down the degree?  Likely not, but the simple matter of fact is that calculus was actually never used extensively in any MBA curriculum beyond what a very cursory understanding of the basic concepts would provide.  Those who lament its uneventful killing perhaps feel in doing so, schools have invited a shallower understanding of math in general from the student body.  I mean, if you made it all the way through calculus with decent grades, it implies you not only understand Newton’s glorious invention itself, but also all of the prior mathematical disciplines which came before it.  After all, you can’t just jump into calculus—you must take algebra, geometry and trigonometry first.  This makes Calculus a bit of a calling card or club.  Simply put: it tells folks you’re smart.

What schools are doing now is explaining the basic concepts needed for understanding the calculus behind certain formulas on the fly (example: Black Scholes Model), and then leaving it up to students if they want to go deeper on their own.  

Because very few careers will require you to use it, it’s not something they are making you demonstrate prior to b-school.  This makes MBA programs a bit more accessible for the folks who are brilliant in other ways.  Business schools pride themselves on a diverse, high achieving body of students, and if everyone is a math whiz, it’s likely they are leaving other perspectives out of the proverbial equation (see what I did there?)  So the real question now becomes not whether you need calculus, but whether you want calculus.  Before you celebrate too loudly the fact you will not have to spend this winter or next summer cranking through calculus at your local night school, know that if you actually take the course, you will likely enter your program more fully prepared and with more confidence — and who in the world would be opposed to that?

If you are in the midst of this process, congrats and good luck!   If you are just starting out on your admissions journey, contact us at or for a free consultation.