At first, it may seem silly to give up two years of pay to return to school. After all, there are droves of information and learnings now available online. Still, there are nearly 200,000 students who make this very decision in getting their MBAs each year. Most of these individuals will tell you that it comes with a positive Net Present Value (NPV), meaning there is a positive payoff in the long term.
So, if there isn’t a monetary cost in the long run, what is the true cost?
What most MBAs fail to divulge is how your lifestyle changes. And then changes again…and again. These changes are much more than a temporary lack of income because work and school have such different demands. In just my first semester at Goizueta, I was an eager “freshman” at the bottom of the totem pole for the first time since 2012. I remembered that there are some topics (i.e., macroeconomics) that I’ll never quite understand. I also met hundreds of brilliant classmates and applied for more than 25 internships (remember, I willingly just gave up a job to get denied 20+ times). On top of that, I practiced my resume walk more times than I would wish to count, pulled a few all-nighters to meet project deadlines, and joined more clubs than I had in undergrad (despite saying I’ll learn how to say “no.”).
And I’m one of the lucky ones!
I did most of my recruiting in the summer before school started and already lived in Atlanta. I didn’t even have to move to a new house since I was so close to campus. Of course, there’s always a learning curve when starting something new like a new consulting project, but the learning curve at school just keeps curving! Overall, the biggest differences between come in the forms of time, mindset, and relationships.
The largest transition for me — and my favorite part of school — has been the ability to manage my own schedule. While there are always the occasional fires at work things are relatively predictable on a week-to-week or day-to-day basis for the most part. School has significant ups-and-downs with some weeks of no deliverables and other crazy weeks full of midterms, projects, interviews, networking events, and more. While school can regularly reach outside of the typical 8AM to 5PM barriers that work has, it does add significant flexibility.
Therefore, the way you manage your down time differs. I personally love being able to take off a few hours in the middle of the day when I don’t have class to go for a run and clear my mind. While this comes at a cost of some late nights or early mornings, this couldn’t be a better tradeoff for me as someone who is very much a night owl. At the end of the day, business school puts more onus on you to manage your time, because you’re in control. While things certainly vary, they’re typically planned in advance, which is great for all of those who put time management as a skill on their resume.
The second area of transition for me has been in terms of my mindset. Being around so many people who can orate their experience and career goals at the snap of a finger can be very intimidating, especially when you’re not sure about where you’re headed. The truth is, nobody knows what they truly want to do and the people who say they know are lying. I’ve had to switch from understanding what it is going to take to move up in the next logical position to exploring the possibilities of where I could be. Sure, you can switch jobs, roles, or projects at work. However, the sheer breadth of experiences in terms of classes, clubs, speakers, and more are unmatched at business school. On top of that, school is one of the most risk-free environments you’ll be in, so test out a variety of things, embrace failure, and chart your own path. I’ve signed up for classes that sounds way over my head — and even agreed to write a monthly column…when I am a terrible writer.
Further, work is very much focused on value in the form of output and creativity while a typical complaint about the education system is that school is focused on reciprocation and grades. Understanding the concept, apply it, get a good grade, move on. I’ve had to regularly remind myself to maintain that value-focused mindset and take advantage of this amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and come up with creative solutions to real problems . At Goizueta, I’ve found plenty of opportunities to do this both outside of the classroom through clubs as well as inside the classroom through our IMPACT consulting projects where we helped clients solve some of their most pressing issues over 16 weeks.
3. People / Relationships
If you’re lucky, you enjoy being around the people you work with. At school, you are lucky because you mostly get to choose the people you want to be around. While you can’t choose your core group (a group of 4-6 individuals that you do most group project work with during your first semester at Goizueta) nearly all other work, activities, and clubs are self-selected. You get the chance to develop the relationships you want, and these relationships are based on much more than just work products. While I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing co-workers that I still stay in touch with, there is just so much more of an opportunity to creating lasting relationships at school.
I once heard the phrase at work “nobody looks out for #1 like #1 looks out for #1” and I’ve found that to be somewhat true in my past. I worked in consulting, which can often have shorter, more transactional relationships due to the short nature of projects. However, I’ve noticed the complete opposite at Emory. We are graded on a curve, which means other students doing better is worse for us. Yet, the environment is incredibly collaborative and filled with people assisting others as much as they can because we value each other and understand that helping someone learn is more important than a grade.
Obviously, one benefit of these relationships involves networking. While that number of 200,000 students that get their MBAs each year sounds large, it is only about .1% of the ~160 million person workforce in the US. Translation: these high performing individuals are nowhere near the majority, so sticking around them can lead to some great business opportunities. However, there is so much more than that – they can help you discover your interests, give advice, and simply be there for you when you need them to be. Stay connected with the classes around you and find time to catch up with your classmates – many are truly amazing people.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou
Lastly, to help navigate some of these changes, I’d like to highlight a few key items at each transition point that I’ve learned from my classmates, professors, mentors, and own experiences. Disclaimer: This does not mean I followed them.
Transition 1: Work to School
Understand what you’re looking to get out of school, regardless of what that may be. Try new things but be strategic about your time and don’t sign up for everything. Once you succeed, help others. Never forget, the most important thing – at work or at school – is the people.
Transition 2: School to Internship
Outside of getting a return offer, your main goal at your internship should be to learn about the company, the people, the culture, and what your future would look like there. The internship is a two-way evaluation, and you need to ensure that you know whether that is the right place for you.
Transition 3: Back to School
Senioritis is real. However, now is not the time for second-years to be complacent, so explore. If you didn’t like your internship, then re-recruit. On the other side, don’t forget to enjoy your experience. This might be the last time you have a two-year break from work, so take advantage of it!
Transition 4: And back to Work
I’m not at this stage yet, so I’ll have to come back to update this. For now, I’ll say that my approach is to always continue growing but know that there’s more to life than work. Focus on yourself and what is most important to you first.
Kegan is an MBA student at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, where he is concentrating in Marketing, Analytics, and Social Enterprise. Kegan graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016, majoring in Marketing and Statistics. Prior to business school, Kegan was a consultant in the Strategy & Analytics practice at Deloitte, focusing on data analysis and marketing strategies. Outside of work, he is (sadly) a huge Atlanta sports fan and is often running, play tennis, or enjoying time with wife, friends, and family.
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