YOU ARE A STUDENT…AND A TEACHER
Before entering business school, MIT’s Carolyn Escobar Kent had endured plenty of doubts working in the nonprofit sector. Like Nordman, she found a home in business school, where social impact has emerged as a driving force — not a footnote. “I can’t tell you the number of times someone has jokingly asked me if I even knew what profit was given my background,” she laments. “That was not the case at Sloan. It was one of the few places where I felt like I didn’t have to justify why I belonged in a business setting.”
That’s one of the differentiators of graduate business education: Every student belongs because each plays a unique and indispensible role in their class. That epiphany required a big adjustment for Molly Duncan, who came to the University of Virginia planning to soak up everything she could. However, she immediately discovered that the school’s vaunted case method required her to act as both learner and teacher depending on the moment.
“I have provided insights on the healthcare industry and helped teach some of my classmates about different marketing techniques I used in a previous role,” she asserts. “On the flipside, I have been the beneficiary of many lessons in accounting and finance from my peers with real-world experience. The extent to which I rely on classmates and they in turn rely on me is a really unique way of learning that extends outside of the traditional professor-student relationship.”
RELATIONSHIPS MATTER MORE THAN GRADES
In the end, it is relationships, says Vanderbilt’s Caroline Collins, that divine the success or failure of a business school experience. “The most surprising thing about business school is that the relationships you make are more important than the grades you earn,” she divulges. “In the beginning, this is a difficult concept to grasp, especially for a group of Type A personalities.”
That’s not to say classes aren’t important. The MBA curriculum just doesn’t require the same type of coursework that students complete as undergrads. This change was the biggest surprise that IE Business School’s Lolita Munos Taub encountered. While she continued to read heavily and take tests, they were far from the only learning tools being deployed.
“For whatever reason, I always thought that business schools would make it their number one priority to promote perfection, top academic performance, and urge students to get the best jobs out there,” she says. Instead, I’ve realized that business school, above all, encourages you to be unusual, to take advantage of the opportunity to fail without repercussions, to explore opportunities you would have never considered, and to spend a lot of time building relationships and learning from your classmates. It’s a mind shift that’s made all the difference in my personal and professional evolution.”
LECTURE GIVES WAY TO HANDS-ON LEARNING
Across the pond, Cornell’s Patrick Grumley underwent a similar transition. A U.S. Navy Officer, his pre-MBA formula presumed that 80% of his time would be devoted to academics with the remaining 20% going to networking. However, he neglected another variable: extracurricular activities like running student clubs or serving as a student ambassador. That’s particularly true at a program like Duke, which has been described as completely student-led. “I don’t think I really understood how true this was until I arrived on campus,” adds Jennifer Nicole Miller, a 2017 Fuqua grad ticketed to Deloitte Consulting. “Students run everything from admissions interviews to end-of-term parties to cap and gown rental at graduation. If there’s a need, students fill it.”
The classroom experience also demanded that MBA candidates re-orient their thinking. Forget regurgitation and retention. At USC, for example, Laja Obasaju was immersed in real world projects that delivered impact. ”At the end of our second semester,” she details, “we conducted projects for international companies around the Pacific Rim. With my team, I had the opportunity to devise a United States social media strategy for the Taiwanese memory device company Transcend. We then got to see Transcend implement some of our suggestions via Twitter and Instagram over the course of the next year.”
The experiential nature of business school education is amplified at Columbia Business School. Here, students like Todd Wisman, a U.S. Special Forces Officer, often complete in-semester internships, a surprising wrinkle that gives a decided advantage to CBS grads. “Most students will build their schedules to support in-semester internships,” he notes, “which provide additional avenues to gain work experience outside of the normal summer internship cycle. Columbia’s connection to NYC creates a unique environment where you can learn a new concept in the morning and implement that idea at your office in the afternoon.”
A TWO YEAR JOB FAIR
The emphasis on hands-on learning wasn’t the only surprise in store for the Class of 2017 during the academic calendar. In an “all’s well that ends well” story, Laura Gonzalez turned long hours of preparation into an internship (and eventual job offer) from Johnson & Johnson. It wasn’t an easy path by any stretch, however.
“I did not anticipate the amount of time I would have to dedicate to career preparation and job hunting,” she admits. “During the first three months of the program, I spent about 60% of my time preparing for interviews, attending MBA career fairs, filling out job applications, visiting companies, and going through the actual interview process with numerous companies. This demanding amount of work took me by surprise since I was not expecting it to happen as soon as I started the program.”