Business Administration

6 Things Every MBA Student Will Understand

6 Things Every MBA Student Will Understand
Whether you're earning an MBA for leadership skills, a salary bump, or executive roles in the field, there are some things that all MBA students understand. Image from Unsplash
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Mairead Kelly October 30, 2019

Sure, the mini grilled cheese might be killer, but it's going to take a lot more than free food to get you excited about this networking event.

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As an MBA student, you may have encountered people who hear about your program and say, “oh, you want to manage people,” or ask, “isn’t a business major enough?” Chances are, you responded in a way that made these people feel entirely validated, but you know firsthand that certain conceptions surrounding your program turn out to be completely wrong.

Sure, life as an MBA student may seem similar to those in most graduate school programs. Still, you know that your degree comes with its own unique approach to training, coursework, and real-world application—as it does specific experiences and struggles that at the end of the day, most people can’t always relate to. But don’t worry, your peers will always get it. Now, has anybody heard whether Susan got the consulting gig with Bain yet?

1. No two MBA career goals are exactly the same.

For some, an MBA serves as an entry into the business field. For others already established in their industry, the degree can help secure leadership roles. MBA programs are also a viable way to fast track the expertise students need to launch their careers in a new direction.

Unlike the nature of other business-related graduate degrees to provide students with a particular framework to tackle a segmented area of the field, MBA programs provide students with well-rounded training to address a range of opportunities across business management and administration. During the latter part programs, students can choose to specialize in a particular area. Whether risk management, finance, or healthcare, a student’s preferred subfield depends on priorities like job prospects and pay, as well as personal interests and professional goals.


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2. When it comes to spreadsheets, there isn’t much middle ground.

With the right functions and shortcuts, some MBA students master spreadsheets in record time. There’s a lot to sort through, but hey, nobody ever said that the calculations behind complicated quantitative financial analyses happen instantly, right? The colorful conditional formatting and sweet pivot tables are pretty fun too.

Then there’s another type of MBA student, who sees a collection of rows and columns generate with a slightly more negative outlook. The threat they feel from anyone who can create a bell curve in under ten minutes is vague but real. They know that one incorrectly entered piece of data can spawn a domino effect causing all sorts of serious problems, and ultimately ruin a day.

Like them or not, spreadsheets remain an essential tool for students to organize, analyze and present all kinds of business concepts and ideas—and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere soon. Students who tend to trip over the basics will need to find a way to put their hatred aside—and probably pay someone to help them get up to speed.

3. Today’s cohorts are more diverse than people think.

While the stereotype of a white guy in a gingham button-down and Patagonia vest still rings somewhat true, the image of the typical MBA student is growing increasingly nuanced. Forbes backs this up with a report indicating that the class of 2017 at many top MBA programs had more female and international students than ever before.

Take the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, for example, where women made up 43 percent of students. Just 15 years earlier, their demographic encompassed 31 to 32 percent of students. International students made up 42 percent of students at the business school of Columbia University and 34 percent at the business school of Harvard University, compared to 27 and 20 percent, respectively, just 15 years before.

4. Networking can be a love-hate thing.

Networking may be crucial to career success, but that doesn’t mean that all MBA students see it as an enjoyable pastime. In-person events, in particular, can feel like pulling teeth, especially for introverts or anyone who doesn’t have a plan for how to pitch their career goals over the drone of a crowded cocktail hour.

In many cases, it’s the connections MBA students form with one another that help them make the most of their business school experience. Whether forged over group assignments, while cramming for exams, or over drinks after class, these relationships can seem more authentic and may prove to be incredibly lucrative down the line.

5. Every program has a genius or two.

While some MBA classes can be difficult, to say the least, the intellectual challenges they pose may seem like no challenge at all for an extremely limited, ridiculously intelligent few. Maybe it’s a quantitative thing, like a knack for understanding a particular pricing model that runs deep enough to make you skeptical—that is, until they explain their work to everyone else. Or maybe it’s the kind of creative brilliance known for proposing ideas that don’t go by the book and aren’t the least bit safe or easy.

In any case, these students tend to exercise their skills naturally, which makes it easy to forget how hard they worked to build them. However, the more time you spend with them, the better you’ll be able to learn why they do what they do—and pick up their skills in your own way.

6. School reputation matters, but it doesn’t always matter most.

Unless students plan to go from business school to a Fortune 500 company or management-consulting firm, the effectiveness of a program—whether completed full-time, part-time, or online—has more to do with personal priorities than it’s rankings. Maybe hiring statistics after graduation is the most important criteria for a student. Another may find that scholarships are more likely through a non-elite program.

Additionally, much of the research in recent history measuring the value of an MBA focused on the starting salaries of graduated students. However, recent studies have begun comparing additional factors that might influence optimal MBA program selections. Take salary-to-debt ratio data from the top 14 business schools, which Quartz analyzed and reported on in 2017.

When looking at the efficiency of student investment at a range of schools, the rankings changed, mainly in part because the most reputable schools tend to charge the highest tuition. As a result, schools like the McCombs School of Business atthe University of Texas at Austin and Goizueta Business School at Emory University, which generally rank moderately, come out on to in terms of financial payoff.

Another report from Priceonomics Data Studio indicates that while MBA holders enjoy a lower salary-to-debt ratio than those with a range of advanced degrees, they have the flattest trajectory toward debt freedom and make the least progress in the decade after graduation.

With this in mind, rankings of any kind are still not the absolute authority of program quality, primarily when based on opinion. Plus, they tend to change from year-to-year. In the end, what matters most is that you choose an MBA from a quality, accredited institution—and leverage the skills, knowledge, and network you gain through it to bring value to your industry.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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