6 Things That Might Surprise You About B-School

September 10, 2012

Well I’m 3 weeks into my last semester of my MBA program, and I thought I might take a moment or two to reflect (before I get too excited about graduation). Not necessarily about my experience in general (maybe that will come later), but about all of the things that surprised me along this journey. Yes, just when you think you have it all figured out and you know what to expect, you realize that you still have a lot to learn.

So here are six big eye-openers that surprised me along the way.

#1 – Graduate students complain…a lot. I noticed both within my own program and the college where I worked (where it was M.Ed. students) that there was tons of complaining from the students on a consistent basis. I don’t know what it is exactly. Maybe graduate students feel entitled. Perhaps having work experience and being on your own for a while makes you take ownership of your education. Or maybe they feel justified being that they are paying the bill this time around. Who knows. But what I do know is that graduate students are always voicing their displeasure…whether it is the test format, the cost of books, the grade they received on their project, etc., etc. From my perspective there seems to be an even split between the justified and unjustified complaining. After a while, you need to decide if you are annoyed by it, or if you feel compelled to join in on the pity party yourself.

#2 – Some graduate classes are just overpriced undergraduate classes. Many MBA programs that I’ve seen offer pre-requisite, or “foundation” courses for people who lack an undergraduate degree in business. However these courses are charged at a graduate tuition rate. You can most likely take undergraduate courses that can waive these…and save a pretty penny at the same time. But there are two big things you should look out for: 1) take these courses before you enroll in your MBA program in that after you are enrolled, credit earned elsewhere is considered transient credit, and most graduate schools severely limit the amount of transient credit you can earn. 2) If you plan to enroll into an AACSB-accredited MBA program, be sure to take any undergraduate/pre-requisite coursework at an AACSB-accredited school as well, or else the MBA program may deny the credit.

#3 – Yes, you really do need that textbook now. Countless times as an undergraduate, I was able to get away with not buying the textbook for a course, or sharing the textbook with someone else, etc. Either that or I opted for used books or an e-book, which I would read on my iPad like a true hipster. Well, this plan isn’t really the way to go in grad school. You should assume that your textbook will be in limited supply at the college bookstore and that you won’t get chummy enough with any of your classmates to just share it. And while e-books are cheaper, they also can be limiting in regards to your ability to print the pages, have access to the material after the semester, or include access codes and software that come bundled with the physical book. You can still opt to either rent your textbooks, or shop around for them online. But then you still have to worry about obtaining online access codes and supplemental software. Oh, and I’ve absolutely needed the textbook for every single one of my MBA classes, no ways around it!

#4 – Your family is/will be proud of you, but they still don’t understand why you did it. Just last week, I was chatting with my Grandmother, who asked (for the 50th time at least) what my degree is in and what type of jobs does my degree prepare me for? As exasperating as these questions can be, I have to keep in mind that few people from my parents’ generation, much less my grandparents’ generation, went to graduate school. Back then, a bachelor’s degree was plenty to make you competitive professionally. Today, the bar has been raised. But that’s a bewildering concept to parents who wonder why their child opted for a graduate degree without becoming a lawyer or doctor in the end.

#5 – Once you earn your MBA, things will get weird at your current job. Your co-workers and boss may or may not be openly encouraging of your pursuit of an MBA. At the worst, they’ll be resentful or jealous (although my assumption is this is rare; and it will be even more unlikely that you’ll be fired due to your ambition). But regardless of what is explicitly said, there will be an unavoidable tension surrounding you. Unless your boss has laid out a clear plan for what happens next, there will be dual uncertainty around what happens once you get your degree. You may have grandiose plans for yourself after graduation; which may or may not include your present employer. Your boss may we wary of you asking for a pay raise, promotion or change in responsibilities or title. Your co-workers, who only know the office version of you, not the rock-star MBA student version, may think that you are all puffed up on a lot of pride and little substance. Oh and of course there are those pesky tuition reimbursement programs that sometimes require that you stay with the company for so many years in exchange for them paying your tuition. These could be a good deal for some, but lead to resentment in others when they have to remain at the same company, yet there is little room for advancement, effectively delaying the applicability of your MBA.

#6 – There’s no such thing as a non-traditional student in graduate school. Well, unless you are truly of retirement age I guess. I put this out there because I returned to my undergraduate as an older, non-traditional student. And while I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, it was very different that that of most of my class peers. Not better or worse…just different. And it helped to mold my approach to and my perspective on my studies. But as a graduate student, most of my peers have work experience, current jobs, pay their own tuition, have children and have generally “been there, done that”. It is a wake-up call and basically makes you realize that you need to put on your big girl/boy undies and face the music. But you can still complain (see #1) about it until your heart’s content! 😀

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