Going for an MBA involves a lot more than simply attending classes. As an MBA student, you have opportunities all around you that can add to the overall value of your experience–if you are smart enough to take full advantage of them.
It makes me cringe when I hear people say things like, “you don’t need an MBA”. Of course, you don’t need a lot of things. That’s not the point. Just because an MBA might not be for everyone doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
Before I get into the value of an MBA outside the classroom, let’s talk about what is happening inside the classroom. There are some people who say that all an MBA means is that you are good at taking tests and operating in a classroom. I’ve got news for those people: What goes on in an MBA classroom is a lot different than what went on in your 8th-grade classroom.
In business school, you learn by doing. Here are just a few things I’ve learned in my classes, aside from the actual subject matter taught in the courses:
- How to communicate effectively.
- How to make a presentation in front of a group of people.
- How to work on a team of people with diverse opinions.
- How to negotiate, persuade, and gain buy-in for your ideas.
- How to systematically approach and solve problems.
An MBA program is a perfect training facility to develop these important “real world” skills. One of my professors recently noted, “It doesn’t matter how much you know–what matters is how well you communicate what you know.” Learning how to formulate opinions and then articulate your ideas to others is a central focus of an MBA program.
Beyond the in-class coursework, there are many factors that make an MBA valuable, and I’ve attempted to list the most important ones below. While this list is about b-school, I think most (if not all) of these reasons could apply to any kind of degree, whether it is an undergraduate degree or any type of advanced degree. I chose to write this list based on the MBA specifically because it is the one I’m going through right now (so it is what I’m most familiar with).
Here are my top twelve reasons why an MBA is valuable beyond the classroom, in no particular order:
1. Your professors are valuable industry contacts. In business school, many of the professors have been around the block a few times. Some of my professors have held prominent positions at Fortune 500 companies. Others have launched startups in various industries. And almost all of them have done consulting for large companies. This means your professors are a wealth of industry experience and great contacts to have both during and after your time in school.
2. Your fellow classmates are great additions to your network. Your classes are filled with people who want to better themselves, advance their careers, and achieve great things. Talk to them. Make friends. Since you are all in it together, there is a sense of camaraderie that you don’t get in most other situations. So take advantage of the opportunity–classmates can help each other in a number of ways, and you never know who you will run into down the road.
3. There is an alumni network waiting to help you. Every school has an alumni network that is designed to help current students get advice, help, contacts, etc. These alumni volunteer their time to help out students like you. Even alumni who don’t officially volunteer with the school will likely be receptive to you if you reach out to them via LinkedIn or other means. And when you graduate, you will be one of thousands of alumni who all went through the same MBA program. Don’t underestimate the bond that fellow alumni share.
4. You can spend time in another country by studying abroad. I’m a little biased on this one because I studied abroad in Australia during my undergrad studies, but I believe everyone should consider spending some time abroad. In business schools there are all kinds of international programs ranging from a couple of weeks to several months. This is a great way to experience a foreign culture and learn about doing business in international markets.
5. The university library is full of great resources. The library at your college or university is a lot different than your local library. A business school library has subscriptions to all kinds of relevant journals, publications, and databases that would cost you a ton of money to subscribe to on your own. And you don’t even have to go there physically–there are all kinds of online databases that you access from your own computer. These resources are great whether you are writing a research paper, a magazine article, or a business plan.
6. Strangers are willing to help students. Yes, that’s right–even complete strangers show a greater willingness to help you when they know you’re a student. I don’t know why this is–maybe it makes them feel more like an expert. But telling someone that you are a student when asking for help immediately gets them to take their guard down. I’ve used this to my advantage many times to interview people in various industries and even land consulting gigs.
7. It’s easy to get recognition. There are so many opportunities to get recognized in business school, including business plan competitions, case competitions, academic awards, and volunteer opportunities. Sometimes you will even have opportunities to get your work published in trade journals. And schools are always eager to publish the accomplishments of students through their newsletters or website.
8. Business incubators can help you start your business. If you are a budding entrepreneur, some business schools can provide you with a free or low-cost business incubator to help you get your business off the ground. This can include office space, utilities, technology, and access to business advisors and investors. Even if your school doesn’t have its own business incubator, it is probably affiliated with a school that does.
9. There are tons of student clubs and organizations to choose from. One of the best ways to meet people with similar interests is to join a club. Business schools have a wide variety of organizations–some are business related and some are not. There might be a local Toastmasters’ chapter, an entrepreneurs’ club, or even a wine club. Join several of these organizations–they are a great way to expand your network and learn about specific topics. If there isn’t a club at your school for a particular topic that interests you, you can start your own.
10. There are always interesting events going on around campus. In business school, you have the opportunity to attend seminars, discussion panels, workshops, or book signings right on your own campus. My school even had a speed networking event where I made a lot of great contacts. Make sure you join any available email lists (sometimes called “listservs”) to find out about what is going on at your school.
11. Your school offers free career counseling services. Most colleges and universities have an Office of Career Management (or “Career Services”) that can help you with everything from resume writing to mock interviewing. Not sure exactly what path you want to take? They can help you figure it out. They also offer exclusive job listings from companies who want to hire candidates from your school, and many times they facilitate on-campus interviews. Does it get any easier than that?
12. Being an MBA student or graduate increases your credibility. Now, I know some people are going to say that what you’ve done in the “real world” is more important than what you’ve done in the classroom, and that is true. But, whether you are a current MBA student or an MBA graduate, you will benefit from some degree of increased credibility. Earning the degree is an achievement in itself, but it also implies that you are an expert in your field, and that you have a certain level of dedication and work ethic. It’s up to you to make the credibility stick, by substantiating it with your actions, knowledge, and achievements.
Of course, being a student does not guarantee you will gain value from all of these factors. But being a student makes it easy to take advantage of these opportunities because they are right there in front of you.
The value you derive from an MBA outside of the classroom will largely depend on your reason for pursuing the MBA in the first place. That is one of the great things about it–you can customize it to your needs and your situation. As with anything else, your experience in business school is what you make of it.
What are some other ways an MBA is valuable?