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Businesses play a critical role in the community and economic development. They provide goods, services, and jobs while fostering innovation and generating wealth.
It's understandable why business is the most popular degree. In 2019-20, 23% of all graduate degrees were in business, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Over 250,000 students enrolled in MBA programs in 2020-21, according to AACSB.
MBA students often become the innovators, strategists, managers, and consultants that lead businesses and communities forward. MBA programs can be competitive and intensive. Students must balance their studies with work and home life while engaging with the material and classes to get the most from their experience.
We chatted with two MBA students to get their take on the program and learn about their unique MBA journeys.
Who are MBA Students?
MBA students have various backgrounds, but most pursue the degree with a similar goal: career advancement. An MBA helps business professionals advance within their organization or field or switch careers and industries.
According to the 2022 GMAC Prospective Students Survey, most graduate business students seek raises, promotions, and leadership responsibilities. They often pursue consulting services, technology, and financial industries, aspiring for jobs as consultants, strategists, and managers.
Yet, MBA students take slightly different paths than other master's degree candidates. Master's degree students, for example, focus on developing entry- or mid-level skills in data analysis and quantitative tasks.
MBA students typically focus on developing human capital management and complex leadership skills. With more business experience, MBA students might better understand the skills needed to manage current and future organizations.
For Kelli Best and Bethany Little, two students on their MBA journey, MBA programs provided them credibility and new opportunities.
Listen to how enrolling in an MBA program helps Bethany with her job:
"So I actually just started a new full-time job recently with the company that I really see myself with, and I've been loving it! It really encompasses a bunch of different things...I love data, but I also love creating things, and it's a position that combines all that. So, being in school for my MBA definitely helped me get the job."
Duties of an MBA Student
Commit to Studies
An MBA program takes time and focus to complete. Students should attend classes regularly, complete daily assignments, and get a jumpstart on research and projects whenever possible.
Network with Peers
MBA students should always take networking seriously. The relationships they build in these programs can turn into future internships, jobs, collaborations, and mentorships. Networking also helps students build a support network.
Many MBA students maintain employment during their program. They need to find the right balance of work and study to be successful. Maintaining a good balance between school and home life can also improve a student's focus and mental health.
Find a Mentor
Mentors help students navigate their studies. These experienced professionals may offer emotional support, academic or professional guidance, and long-term partnerships and relationships. Mentors can also challenge a student's perspectives and help them grow as leaders.
Prepare for Life After Graduation
During the program, MBA students must prepare for their post-graduate career. This can include building a network, pursuing internships, and using career service resources. By laying the proper groundwork, students can improve their employment chances and take advantage of their MBA program.
Earning an MBA challenges students in different ways, depending on their experiences, schedules, and learning styles.
Bethany Little, a mother and full-time worker, prioritized a program with a flexible schedule:
"That's one thing I really love about the program I'm in," she said. "I could do it from my phone. I don't have to be on the computer. So I try to find a lot of downtime, and instead of scrolling on social media, I will try to read at least a little bit for my coursework. And then, you know, in the evenings. It's usually when I find time to look at that."
She also needed to find new ways of studying and relating to the materials: "I struggle with technical text," Little admitted. "That was something I had to figure out. Okay, how can I make it a little bit more interesting so that I am comprehending it and not just reading it?"
For Kelli Best, preparation was key. She needed to reorganize her life to increase her chances of success: "I did have to actually take a step back with my career," she said. "Knowing how I get overwhelmed quickly with a lot of work, I had to work from home. I couldn't be in that environment every day and then come home and do work."
Best also leaned on the people around her. She received advice, motivation, and encouragement and then acted on it: "Get a mentor," she advised. "I think mentorship is important in different aspects of life: school, personal, and professional. Get advice from other people doing the same thing you would like to do in the future."
Working While Getting an MBA
MBA students regularly balance work and study. Many MBA programs require previous work experience and highlight practical experience in the classroom. Rather than relying on theory, MBA students can contextualize their studies with hands-on experiences.
Balancing work and study is not without its challenges. MBA students need to find time to complete their readings, research, and assignments.
"Get a calendar," urges Best. "Maybe get different types of skills or techniques to be organized because you do have to be organized in this program for sure."
Little asked herself a simple question: "What fits my life better?" The answer helped her choose a program delivery type. "I felt like a self-paced format worked for me. But, for my husband, that wouldn't work very well because he would need that set time to log on and maybe talk to a teacher or just…a set time that you're doing school."
Listen to how Kelli ensures her school work gets done during the week:
"I push Monday and Tuesday. I do a little bit of research on Wednesday, and then I finish out strong on Friday. I don't like to take it over into the weekend."
Which MBA is Right for You?
Choosing the right program is a big part of the MBA journey. Most business schools offer general MBA programs, which have a broad scope and teach widely applicable leadership skills. MBA programs may also provide concentrations in business disciplines, such as marketing, finance, and consulting.
You can inform your MBA program and concentration decision in several ways, including:
- Evaluating your career goals
- Following your interests
- Identifying desirable and in-demand skills
- Researching industry trends
Both Best and Little chose general MBAs. Best sought out the advanced management and leadership skills these programs offer:
"The advantage for a business owner is that it gives you the opportunity to look into all the functions. So when you get to the point of hiring people or expanding your team, then you have that experience, and you can be a part of the training and teach other people how you want things done."
Little chose a general MBA to keep her career options open after graduation:
Listen to Bethany’s thoughts on why she chose a general MBA degree:
"Not having a super clear path of where I want to be, or a specific job I want to do, I felt like the general MBA would give me the overall background of processes and all the things that go into running a business."
How to Choose Your School
Choosing a school requires you to carefully consider many factors, including your needs and goals. You must also evaluate and compare how each school measures up in certain areas:
An MBA school's reputation can have a big impact on your futures. You can learn a lot from the school's faculty, former students, alumni network, and industry partnerships.
Along with the program's cost, you should look at how the school helps you afford the program. You may examine the available financial aid programs or how the schedule accommodates working students. There are many affordable online MBA programs that you can choose from.
Identify what courses, specializations, skills, and learning experiences you want and need. Then, look for the school and program that best matches your criteria.
Program delivery can affect when and how you learn. Think about how well you would fare in a fully online, in-person, or hybrid program. If you're choosing an online program, consider how asynchronous or synchronous formats work with your learning style and scheduling needs.
Investigate how well the school supports its students. Explore the academic and career services the school offers, including mentorship, coaching, and networking opportunities.
Listen to why Kelli chose her school:
"It was very established to me and I like how they have an online presence. A lot of schools had online presence but it wasn't relatable. I couldn't really get a feel because I knew I wasn't going to be on campus, but I wanted to be a part [of the school]. That was important too."
The Benefits of a Support System
A strong support system can make a world of difference in your MBA journey.
You can build a support system with friends and family by talking to them about the program and what you hope to get from the degree. Joining a student group or organization can also help. Many schools have MBA groups filled with like-minded students that welcome on-campus and online learners.
A strong professional network can also double as a support system. This might include coworkers, managers, or industry leaders. You can expand your network by reaching out to your school's alumni, scrolling social media, attending networking events, and joining professional organizations.
Little found her support system at home. By taking care of her son and other responsibilities, her family provided Little with the luxury of time. "My husband has been really helpful with that," she said. "My mom has also been helpful."
Best benefitted from a supportive and encouraging work environment at work. "I had my manager. I had a coworker doing account management with me," she explained. "They really stressed the importance of an MBA."
Meet the Authors
I'm a current MBA student in a value-focused online program. Before graduate school, I was a sociology/business major. I have always been business minded and curious. My studies have given me guidance and the confidence to pursue business consulting and content creation further. Having a great support team and flexible program allows me to thrive. My career goals consist of growing my retail e-commerce business, partnering with companies to create value-based content, and providing digital resources for business professionals. In my current role, I support an expense management SAAS product. I believe every experience has the ability to propel you forward and that hard work pays off.
Best is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance Student Network.
I am a former fourth grade teacher who has transitioned into tech and am completing my MBA to advance myself forward in the tech space. I am a current master of business administration student with Western Governors University. I completed my bachelor's degree in elementary education with Indiana University and also completed a project management certification with Google. I work as a customer enablement specialist with a tech startup and can't wait to see where my MBA takes me in the future! My toddler and husband make up my time outside of my full-time job and schoolwork.
Little is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance Student Network.
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