Changing the MBA Conversation
Education and Careers Clarion University of Pennsylvania graduate Stephanie Warner outlines the benefits of getting an MBA.
How does an MBA prepare you to be a better business owner?
SW: An MBA teaches you how to plan for the future of any business by giving you the foundations for strategy formulization. My classes allowed me to gain a better understanding of a broad range of business concepts, which is very important when starting a business because one needs to be able to understand all of the moving parts and how they holistically work together to run a smooth operation. In addition, my MBA helped me obtain non-technical, soft-skills such as time management, leadership, critical thinking and communication. When a business’ leadership is lacking these important attributes, it’s hard for any business to thrive. While obtaining my MBA, I was given ample opportunities to complete projects based on my own real-life experiences. Instead of being assigned businesses to research and use in projects, we were encouraged to use companies that we were familiar with and worked for. This is a huge advantage to anyone attempting to start their own business.
What are a lot of the misconceptions around getting your MBA? How can individuals remedy those misconceptions?
SW: One misconception is that MBA programs are typically too rigid for working individuals. However, with an MBA from Clarion you can choose your own schedule. You could complete it in a year if that fits your timeline or take a little longer if necessary. Further, most classes have a “work at your own pace” philosophy meaning that there are a few deadlines throughout the semester that keep you on track but still allow you to get your work done when it is convenient for you.
Specifically, I have heard some misconceptions about online programs. A lot of people believe that you can’t receive the same quality education from an online program as you can with a face-to-face in-class program. I actually feel that the exact opposite is true. Online programs force you to become self-motivated and teach you more than just the necessary technical topics. Through my online program, I was tasked with working with individuals that I did not know very well that lived on the opposite side of the country. Further, most were at very different areas of their life than I was. Learning to adapt to and work with these different personalities while never meeting these people was a real challenge that I have faced in the real world. Because of my online experience, I was already familiar with these types of situations which made it easier to adapt when it really mattered.
EH: We often hear that students associate a higher tuition cost with a higher quality online MBA program. However, cost is not the only factor to consider when weighing the caliber or potential impact a program can have on your career. Take the time to figure out what is truly important to you – such as class size, diversity of the student body, institutional reputation, and program strength in relation to your field of interest. You may be surprised to find that the best online MBA program for you may not be the most expensive one available.
What are the biggest challenges in getting your MBA that individuals should prepare for?
SW: A big challenge I faced early on in my studies was self-discipline. Especially with an online program with minimal due dates, it is easy to wait until the last minute to get work done. I learned very fast however that I couldn’t continue doing that. The reason for the lack of deadlines is to give people the opportunity and flexibility to work at their own pace, but it doesn’t always work out very well for people who lack self-discipline and self-motivation.
Along the same lines, another challenge I faced was having to work with individuals that weren’t as dedicated to their studies as I was. While most students at this level are very driven and self-motivated, I was placed in a few groups with individuals that weren’t as responsible as I would expect. Because of this, more work fell on me and other members of the group. However, this was a great learning experience for situations that I have encountered outside of my studies.
EH: Earning your MBA takes time and requires backing from your support network - supervisors, family and friends. Understanding the demands of an online MBA program and preparing to make space in your life for class and study is key. Formulate a plan and gain support from those around you to ensure you are positioned to succeed.
How do you recommend they prepare?
SW: Create a to-do list at the beginning of each week with everything you want to accomplish. While the professor’s first deadline may not be until the middle of the semester, that does not mean you should wait that long to get it done. Work ahead at the beginning so you have extra time to focus on projects and studying for finals toward the end of the semester.
One last recommendation is for older individuals who are planning on going back for their MBA. Invest the time and take an excel class. If you do not use excel in your day-to-day work life, it may be beneficial to sharpen up on a few things. While most classes do not require any excel functionality and none of them are very intensive, it helps to have a basic background because you will be taking at least one accounting/finance course where you will more than likely use the program in some capacity.