These days, there is plenty of advice for applicants to MBA programs — as the home of the world’s largest directory of admissions consultants, we ought to know. But advice for students once they’ve been accepted — for those heady days before they decamp to their new academic home, and once they get swept away by the lightning pace of school — is at a bit more of a premium. And that’s where Al Dea steps in.
Dea, founder of MBASchooled.com, is a 2015 graduate of the MBA program at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. He graduated and went on to begin what has so far been a successful career. But he wishes someone had guided him a little more about the day-to-day realities of business school.
“There’s a lot of great information out there about how to apply to school, and how to use the right tool,” says Dea, who started his blog early in the second semester of his second year at UNC. “And one of the things that I wanted to bring to light more is as focus on students, how they can be using their time at business school — to achieve their career goals, to transition into a new career, or to take advantage of experiences and opportunities to develop themselves.
“And I just started the blog by trying to put some stuff out there that I thought was really interesting, and it just became a labor of love.” That labor of love has produced more than 200 articles on everything from pre-MBA resources to internships and career searches. MBASchooled is a repository of knowledge compiled by Dea based on hundreds of conversations with prospective students, faculty, staff, current MBA students, MBA graduates, friends, and family — info straight from the source, as it were. Now Dea has compiled the best advice into a book, MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience.
“I really just focused on how I can bring some light on how students are using their time in business school,” he tells Poets&Quants. “As B-school is an expensive investment, they need to make informed decisions. I really just want them to get the most for their buck.”
BIRTH OF A B-SCHOOL BOOK
The great thing about business school, Dea says, is that every year a new class of students graduates and goes off and does all sorts of amazing things. Yet that also has a downside: So much knowledge goes with MBA graduates when they leave school. “I wanted to be able to capture this somewhere and to make it accessible,” he says.
“There’s so much knowledge that could potentially go to waste because people have graduated and leave and never get a chance to really codify what they’ve learned,” he adds. “My life motto and my life mission has always kind of been around, where are my strengths and how can I use them to make an impact?”
Dea started writing the book in December 2018, after he’d been doing the blog for about four years. “I just started thinking about the goals I want to have, in terms of being able to take the blog to the next level, and I thought one way of doing that would be to write a book — to make an MBA textbook, if you will, that current students could read so that they can know how to navigate school.” Initially the book was planned as a simple collection of facts, data, and narratives from the blog; but Dea also did a lot of other research, talked to dozens of students, administrators, and others, and “it strengthened and rounded out the book itself.”
MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience has chapters on preparing for and transitioning to MBA life, as well as lengthy disquisitions on not only the academic experience but extracurricular balance — clubs, activities, leadership opportunities, and more — and career planning. The 234-page book was released about a month ago and is available at Amazon.
AN AUTHOR WITH INSIGHTS INTO THE MBA’S CURRENT REALITY
Dea’s five years immersed in the world of B-school admissions and advice has given him unique insights into the state of the MBA today. How does he feel about the degree’s future?
“I think schools have an adapt or perish mindset at this point,” he tells P&Q. “I think it’s going to have to evolve, I think we’re already seeing it evolving.
“But the way that I look at it, while the numbers of applications are dropping and that certainly is a cause for concern, the MBA is one pathway of many to being able to navigate what we now love to call the future of work — where, at the end of the day, the people who will be successful are the people who can adapt, who can learn to continuously acquire and gain new skills, who can work across multiple platforms. They have to work globally. And so a two-year MBA program will not make sense for everyone, but it will make sense for a lot of people, and the fact that there are one-year master’s programs or 18-month programs, or online programs and things like that, those are all other outlets to other aspects of the future of work as well. And I think obviously if you want to do something like investment banking or management consulting, I think for now, you still have to go get a top MBA.
“If you’re someone who wants to run a large global corporation or have a role where you’re doing something like that, you’re going to be, potentially, a future leader of a company in the future of work. And so learning the management and leadership skills for how to beat these types of companies, I think that is something that you can still get within an MBA. So I’m optimistic about it overall.”
What about U.S. schools’ move to designate their MBA programs, in part or in full, as STEM programs, to lure more international students?
“I’m not a politician and I don’t understand politics, so I’m not going to pretend to really truly be able to answer the geopolitical ramifications,” Dea says. “But if you are going to move in this direction, where you are going to focus more on STEM, the types of applicants you attract as well as the fields that they’re going to potentially be going into might shift a little bit. And so how, as a school, are you going to respond to accommodate that? Are you going to be able to accommodate and create more courses that have more knowledge and research in those particular fields? Do I need to scale off, in some resources, and scale down in others? So I look at it from that lens. If you are going to change your demographic pool a little bit, are you making sure that you’re providing students with the same kinds of resources available?”
FOR SOME, AN MBA MAY NOT BE THE RIGHT CHOICE
For all his expertise in getting an MBA, Dea has thoughts on not getting one, too. The fact is, it’s not always the right path, he says — and there’s not a lot of time to reflect on life changes once you’re in the thick of it.
“It’s hard to make broad generalizations, but fundamentally, if an MBA isn’t going to get you where you need to be — if you know what your career goals are and an MBA isn’t going to actually move you toward them — then it doesn’t make sense,” he says. “Or if you could get an MBA but there are other options that are potentially cheaper or that don’t require you to take out debt or whatever, then there might be other ways to do it.
“In that case I would probably really encourage someone to think about alternatives, because it is quite a financial investment. And I also really try to discourage people who, when I ask them, ‘What do you want to achieve for business school, where are you looking to go to your career?’ and they say, ‘I’m not sure, but I’d like to use business school and figure it out.’ I won’t tell them not to do it, but I’ll strongly discourage them from applying, because while I do think that plenty of people change careers in business school or change their outlook once they get to business school, there really isn’t a lot of time to just have two years to reflect. You kind of have to go in with an agenda to make the most of it, because things just start so fast.
“People who are like, ‘Oh, I think I might want to do it, but I don’t really know what I want to do,’ then I really say, ‘You know what? I wouldn’t recommend applying. You kind of have to have a better sense of whether you should or not, because it’s just too big of an investment to leave it up to chance or leave it up to a lack of due diligence. It just costs too much.”