MBA Reflections

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As I attended my MBA convocation this past Friday, I was originally going to write about the cliché bittersweet feeling of completing my degree and how my experience was filled with highs and lows, and then end with the corny acknowledgement of all the great friends that I made. But as I reflected on what I valued most from my MBA experience, I was eventually reminded of what bothers me about traditional education – precisely because my MBA was able to step outside the bounds of traditional education.

So while I did in fact have an enjoyable experience and made plenty of new friends, I’d like to instead focus on what I specifically found valuable about my MBA experience and briefly discuss why, as a result, I believe that education needs to be revisited (as Mark Ecko would agree).

But before I get into the details, it helps to address a few of the many common myths that I feel have given the MBA a bit of a bad rap.

Myth #1: MBA programs are full of cutthroat, egotistical go-getters looking to climb the corporate ladder at any cost. Not true. I used to have this impression of MBA students as well, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Certainly, the students at Schulich are ambitious, but they are also some of the most passionate, collaborative, helpful, funny, kind, and inspiring individuals I’ve ever met.

Myth #2: MBA students don’t add value, they just use meaningless buzz words. As I discuss below, the frameworks that are taught in business school are valuable in a way that is often underestimated in the professional world. “Buzz words” are only meaningless if they’re irrelevant; when used appropriately, they are helpful in critical analysis.

Myth #3: The MBA adds no value to one’s professional career. This depends entirely on the student’s purpose for pursuing an MBA degree. In most cases, it’s not about the technical course content – most of the concepts can be learned from reading books or online materials. But it’s primarily the social and analytical skills developed and the connections built that are most valuable in the MBA.

More specifically, the Schulich MBA had several elements that were crucial to my personal and professional development, and that shaped my overall experience at the school:

Projects: The Schulich MBA program is highlighted by a capstone consulting project known as the “601”, which is an 8-month consulting engagement with a real client to whom students provide a strategic recommendation based on countless hours of research, analysis, and team meetings. I also had the pleasure of taking Negotiations, one of many practical courses that develop soft skills by putting students through various real life simulations. And most courses don’t have a final exam – instead, they have final presentations, reports, assignments, etc, which encourages learning by doing, rather than by regurgitating.

Frameworks: While many business frameworks can be learned on your own, it’s the mindset that students are encouraged to develop that can be taken with them to their future professional roles. They provide a certain perspective that may not otherwise be immediately apparent to someone who only views their organization working from the inside.

Class discussions: These were eye-opening for me as I now understand why most MBA programs require students to have work experience in order to be accepted. Your peers provide such a diverse range of real life experiences that contribute to the content and the quality of discussions. I am also impressed with the quality of faculty members that teach at Schulich. Unlike my experience in my undergrad, I can definitively say that I have loved each and every professor that I’ve had at Schulich because of their extensive backgrounds, their fascinating insights, and their ability to hold engaging discussions.

Extracurricular activities: This was what I missed the most after completing my undergrad and entering the workforce. Going back to school gave me a second chance to get involved with one of my biggest passions in attending and organizing students clubs and events, which I did through my involvement with the Schulich Marketing Association (SMA).

Connections, networks, relationships: Schulich peers, alumni, professors, guest speakers, Career Development Centre employees, etc…they have all played a role in my development and such relationships will last well beyond my time at the school.

Notice that all of these elements of the MBA program have a practical application to the real world. What’s a little concerning for me was that I had to pursue a master’s degree and pay over $30,000 in tuition to earn these experiences – experiences that I did not have in my undergraduate studies. Much of the course content in both my undergrad and my MBA is similar, yet most undergrad programs focuses heavily on measuring student performance via written exams and give minimal attention to other, more practical, methods of learning. If we wish to better prepare students for their professional lives after school, we need to provide them with opportunities for skill development earlier in their careers. And as such, once again, education needs to be revisited.

Notwithstanding my concerns, the MBA was no doubt a worthwhile endeavour and I am grateful for the doors it has opened for me in pursuing my passions and furthering my career goals.

 

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