Don’t tackle that MBA without first asking yourself these key questions and learning to get the most out of your business school investment.
MBA programs are all designed with the same goal in mind — to turn out well educated, ready-to-lead MBAs. But not all MBA students are created equal, as evidenced by that mid-career professional looking to launch into the next phase, the young college grad planning to enter the workforce with that all-important master’s in hand, and the entrepreneur who recognizes that while experience can be a great teacher, she can also be an expensive one that could use a little formal education as a supplement.
Would completing the same program, in the same way, benefit all three of them equally? Of course not. And neither does it benefit you. Follow these five tips to personalize your MBA and to maximize your investment: (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Figure out why you are enrolled in an MBA program
Duh. This sounds like a no-brainer, but have you done it? I mean, really done it. If you haven’t, do it now, before you enter the first class. Sit down and evaluate your goals.
Are you looking for a promotion? Do you want to improve your skills for the position you’re already in? Do you want to earn more money? Start a business? Find a new opportunity? What do you imagine happening once you graduate? Is that goal attainable? Or are you going back to school because because your employer will pay for it, so why not do it?
No matter what your goal is, you have a long, hard road ahead, so make sure that is clear in your mind before you embark.
2. OK, you know why you are going back (or continuing to go) to school. It’s time to start
Look at your options. Do you want to go to evening classes? Weekend intensives? Online? A combination? Or full-time? Refer to No. 1: Assess your goal (and your current situation, of course). The in-class setting does add time to your schedule — commute time, waiting time, break time — but it also adds something that can be hard to get online: networking.
Yes, your MBA is all about improving yourself, but would it benefit your business to get to know other professionals looking to improve themselves? For the entrepreneur, any answer but “yes” should be seriously reexamined.
For the college grad, same thing. Who better to refer you to an open position than someone who knows that you have a stellar education? For others, consider your position and whether you handle outside business and clients. If so, consider at least a combination of classroom and online courses.
3. What’s your field of expertise? Marketing, finance, HR, management
An MBA program will expose you to all facets of business administration, but most programs also offer the ability to add an emphasis. Sound good? Well, take a look first at the added investment — those extra credit hours equal more time and more money. Do you really need that emphasis? If your employer is paying, and you have the time, it may be worth it. If not, look at ways to customize your courses to get the most out of your field of interest.
If you’re in marketing, and you’re taking that required accounting class, how do the two relate? Consider this: Great marketing is all about improving the bottom line. Use the time in your accounting course to understand the relationship between income and expenses, and your role in that. Successful marketers know how to balance budget and ROI, so take advantage of this opportunity to get the “behind the scenes” look at what the people who write your checks see. And then be sure to use that knowledge!
4. Get to know your instructors
Many MBA courses feature an asset that can be under-utilized: successful professionals who are in the position that you are enrolled to attain right at your fingertips.
One of the best ways to personalize your MBA is to form relationships with those instructors who strike a chord with you. Maybe they work directly in your field, maybe they have relationships that can help advance you, or maybe they’re just really great people who genuinely like to help others succeed. You may find a friend, a future employer, a referral source or a mentor — and they are standing right in front of you.
5. Ask to adjust assignments
This is a great benefit to getting to know your instructors. You are not just like the person sitting next to you. You’re unique, and so are your goals. Whenever possible, ask if you can tailor your assignments so that you can get the most out of the experience.
Let’s go back to the marketing/accounting example. You’ll have to do the basics, of course. But if you could also enlist your instructor to help you design an assignment that would teach you how to demonstrate the relationship of a marketing expenditure to the bottom line of your organization, you’ll come out of school not just with a degree, but with a serious competitive advantage.
An MBA can be an asset, a necessity, or a stepping stone, but when you personalize your experience and take control of your education, it is guaranteed to set you up to succeed.
Amanda Aschinger has worked with just about every type of person, business and entity imaginable. When she isn’t out telling great stories on video and film, she enjoys writing them. Amanda is a serial entrepreneur and a lover of great businesses.