If you've ever considered getting a master's of business administration, you're in good company. There are more than 100,000 MBAs awarded annually in the U.S., according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, making it one of the most popular degrees there is. The luster of this degree, and its seemingly guaranteed path to a good business career, is appealing to many prospective students, many of whom are relatively unfamiliar with what the degree actually involves.
Knowing what to expect in an MBA program can be extremely helpful in deciding whether this degree is right for you. We spoke to faculty members at three prominent business schools about what students can expect while pursuing an MBA. Here are their answers.
In the first couple of weeks of an MBA program, what types of experiences can a new student expect?
Assistant Dean, Full-time MBA Program & Admissions
Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley
Meeting new people who share your journey and maybe even similar goals is one of the biggest new experiences for newly enrolled MBA students. Many students have to move and set up in a new location and learn to navigate this new environment. It is a huge lifestyle change.
The greater novelty we warn Berkeley MBA students about comes at a much more personal level. At Berkeley-Haas we are extremely selective and enroll only about 11-12 percent of our applicants. During one of our orientation sessions, we alert students to the fact that while they have been top of their class from kindergarten through college and their early careers to make it into the program, they are now sharing the room with others who are equally accomplished. That requires a mental and an emotional adjustment.
"At Berkeley-Haas... We urge [students] to use their time in the MBA to learn, to be open to experiences they are less comfortable with, and to test new skills."
- Stephanie Fujii, Assistant Dean at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley
At the same time, the MBA experience is not about getting straight As, it's about learning new skills and growing as individuals. That requires making yourself vulnerable, allowing yourself to struggle and then to learn from the experience. People tend to want to focus on what they already do well, but that's what jobs are about. We urge them to use their time in the MBA to learn, to be open to experiences they are less comfortable with, and to test new skills.
A big part of the MBA learning experience is participating in leadership roles in student government, clubs, conferences and other MBA activities that allow you to practice in a safe environment all the new leadership skills you learn about in class. We seek students who embrace this Students Always mentality, who have a curiosity about the world around them and how to seek opportunities to learn, grow and improve.
Gerardo A. Okhuysen
Associate Dean of Masters Programs
Professor of Organization & Management
The Paul Merage School of Business
University of California, Irvine
The MBA classroom is quite different from a typical undergraduate classroom. For instance, students will be asked to express opinions based on information provided in a case, and will be expected to defend this opinion in front of their peers.
The Paul Merage School of Business' Associate Dean Gerardo A. Okhuysen says you can expect a significant difference in terms of MBA homework load — homework precedes the actual class session, rather than follows it.
Another difference is that, often, significant homework precedes the actual class session, rather than following it. These seemingly odd aspects of an MBA classroom enhance the education of students, because they make it easier for students to assimilate the information in both a conceptual and practical manner.
La Velle Mills
Associate Dean of Graduate Business Programs
Professor of Management, College of Business
West Texas A&M University
Immediate basic requirements of new students will involve a need to become acquainted with the facilities (on campus and/or online), the processes involved in course selection and registration, and the course container used to support on campus courses and to deliver online courses. Students who have been out of school for a few years will need to get back in the routine of being a student again.
"Taking advantage of the opportunity to work with career services of the school where they are pursuing their graduate degree can lead to opportunities for promotion or advancement. "
I would also encourage new students to take advantage of opportunities to network with other students in the program and with faculty. It's important to get to know your colleagues, the people who are in your cohort. This is an opportunity to build professional relationships that can last for many years. Taking advantage of the opportunity to work with career services of the school where they are pursuing their graduate degree can lead to opportunities for promotion or advancement.
Take advantage of opportunities to learn about careers and career goals of other students in the program. Become an active participant in the classes and get to know the students you are working with and your faculty. Look for opportunities to be involved in professional student organizations. It's a good way to get to know other students and many times it is also a way to network with potential employers.