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MBA programmes are highly interactive, practical, and a natural ground for peer learning. But let’s take a look at what constitutes the overall immersive learning experience during MBA studies.Once enrolled in an MBA programme, business professionals are immersed in an environment designed to help them become capable and responsible business leaders. Here are the main constituent elements of the MBA experience.
The academic backbone
The curriculum is the backbone of the MBA programme. It provides business professionals with the indispensable business skills they need to succeed in the business world. The curriculum keeps programme participants up to date with changing trends in the business world, preparing them to lay the foundations for a successful career.
No two MBA programmes are alike. Business schools have the freedom to shape their courses as they see fit, which explains the variety of structures across the MBA spectrum. Programmes are usually built around core courses such as Financial Accounting, Strategy, Organisational Behaviour, and Macroeconomics. These are designed to give students a solid foundation of the key management disciplines. In addition to the core courses there are electives, optional courses in a variety of subjects from which business professionals can choose depending on their interests and career plans. The elective subjects are countless, ranging from Corporate Entrepreneurship to Creating Value in Health. But the MBA is much more than core courses and electives. So, what else is built into an MBA programme that adds to the overall learning experience?
Extracurricular learning opportunities
Apart from the curriculum, business schools offer a plethora of extracurricular activities catering to the needs and interests of students. For example, at INSEAD (France) there are more than 20 MBA student clubs, all run by students and supported by the school. According to the business school, “they play an important role in the student life, and solidify the MBA experience” by helping sharpen students’ leadership skills and enabling them to explore new interests or old passions. Fascinated about the challenging yet exciting business and social impact opportunities in Africa today? Then join the Africa club. Want to create more opportunities for women to become stronger leaders and future role models? The Women in Business club has got it covered. Interested in family-owned business? The Family Business Club is open to new members.
In addition, INSEAD has its own talent show, called Cabaret, taking place twice a year in Singapore and Fontainebleau, which gives students the opportunity to show off their talents and entertain their classmates. The arts are used in training in various programmes at different universities (not only as part of extracurricular activities) to open up participants to self-discovery and innovation.
Once enrolled in an MBA programme, business professionals are immersed in an environment designed to help them become capable and responsible business leaders. Here are the main constituent elements of the MBA experience.
Study trips have become an integral part of the MBA experience. Trips can be to one or more countries, adding a global flavour to the programme by taking participants to different continents and exposing them to foreign cultures.
As part of a Global Study Trips initiative, MBA students at Stanford Graduate School of Business (US) can spend 8-10 days in an intensive group-learning experience in a foreign country. The goal of these trips is to enable students to gain the skills to critically examine a challenging global issue. They meet stakeholders such as CEOs, small business owners, young professionals, government officials, and entrepreneurs and try to understand their perspectives.
Stanford MBAs can also participate in a programme called Global Management Immersion Experience (GMIX), which enables participants to spend at least four weeks during the summer working on projects for a sponsoring organisation in an industry such as consumer products, international development, energy, finance, health care, media and entertainment, technology or telecommunications. Vartika Bansal, MBA Class of 2015, says: “GMIX is a great way to utilise a month and experiment in a new geography, learn about a new industry, and play a role you’ve never played before in life.”
(Pre-) MBA boot camps
Those unfamiliar with business education could be forgiven for believing that boot camps are for soldiers and summer camps are for kids. MBA aspirants know, however, that this is not true. Increasingly, business schools are organising pre-MBA boot camps and other networking events over the summer to help prospective students or newly admitted MBAs “get their toes wet” before they take the plunge. There are also boot camps which take place during the programme designed to help non-traditional or foreign MBA candidates to acquire knowledge in fields such as finance or to close a culture gap, but pre-MBA training camps are more common.
China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) has realised that, for many students, the decision to study an MBA in China means entering uncharted waters. Therefore, it has created the CEIBS Summer Pre-MBA Boot Camp to help prospective students understand China both inside and outside of the classroom. The one-week stay in Shanghai exposes them to the MBA curriculum and gives them a feel of how things are done in this part of the world.
It should be noted that there are also pre- MBA summer events – not just boot camps but also seminars and networking events – at which newly admitted students are introduced to potential future employers from the banking, consulting, and other sectors, who are eager to be the first to meet the new crop of talented MBAs.
Insights on real business challenges
It is a common practice for MBA programmes to invite renowned entrepreneurs, scholars, and international corporate leaders as guest speakers. For example, the guest speakers who addressed the 2017 MBA class at IMD (Switzerland) included Paul Bulcke, chairman of the board of directors of Nestlé; Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestlé and a former CEO of Fresenius; Gerard Kleisterlee, chairman of Vodafone Group; Mauro Xavier, senior director of Microsoft Western Europe; Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer and Hublot, and many more.
These events allow students to actually meet successful business professionals and talk to them. Charlotte Auterac, MBA Class of 2017, EDHEC (France) says of her experience: “We had some wonderful guest lectures from some amazing companies including Google, Amadeus, and Amazon. And, during my Finance track, the managing partner of Astarte Capital Partners ran a module for the course. We got talking about my background and experience and then he offered me a summer internship!”
Every business school invites renowned guest speakers to give students the opportunity to hear about the realities of leadership from those who meet its challenges every day. Some institutions, such as Cambridge Judge Business School, do not focus only on business luminaries but also include younger leaders and start-up founders.
Pushing past your limit
Leadership coaching is an essential management training tool to help business professionals hone the essential skills for senior managers, and gain a better understanding of what it means to be a leader. This kind of coaching in MBA education typically involves professional coaches working with students individually and in small groups throughout the programme. The participants are subjected to a variety of situations where they are supposed to show their leadership skills and then receive individual feedback.
Rebecca Wellisch, MBA Class of 2017 at Michigan Ross (US), says: “Coaching has been really helpful, to get an objective opinion of what’s happening and provide strategies to manage through that. It has applications not only in the programme, but really fundamentally out in the work world.”
Caring about career progression
MBA participants are nothing if not career-minded. Business schools, being aware of that, put a premium on career services, which are a valuable resource not only for MBA students but also for companies on the lookout for highly talented individuals. Students can take advantage of services such as one-on-one career advising, on-campus career workshops, networking events, panels with executive consultants, and more. In addition, some business schools offer graduates lifelong access to their job banks, thus lending them a hand in their careers long after they have obtained the degree. Students receive support throughout the programme as they define the most effective career strategy,
seek links to employers, and prepare to re-enter the job market after graduation. Therefore, it is wise to look for business schools whose career services can fully meet your needs. Virve Tulamo, MBA Class of 2016 at SDA Bocconi (Italy), notes: “The strong connections of the career services with all the top consulting companies in Italy really helped me in securing my post- MBA dream job in strategic consulting.” She currently works as a consultant at Bain&Company in Milan, having graduated from Bocconi with distinction (top 5% of the class).
Rubbing shoulders with business leaders
Any business person would testify that who you know is as important as what you know. Networking is so important to success in business that many MBA programmes even include it in their curricula. The opportunity to rub shoulders with future business leaders is one of the major reasons business professionals enrol in MBA programmes, anyway. Networking is a skill and as such it needs to be developed. Julia Hobsbawm OBE, honorary visiting professor at Cass Business School (UK), says: “Even the best business minds need to practise their learning in the field – the field of actually going out and making connections which happen away from the desk.”
The importance of networking is also evidenced by the fact that The Economist has a business school ranking for alumni networks. The school that topped the ranking in 2017, Henley Business School at the University of Reading (UK), has 70,000 alumni spread across 150 countries. It also has regional and country-based alumni groups and a strong LinkedIn community. There are events for alumni around the world almost every week. This is just one example of the importance business schools place on their alumni networks.
Professionals have different reasons for heading to business schools for an MBA degree. Addressing the diversity of expectations builds the rich learning experience that brings much more personal and professional value beyond the academic curriculum and the degree.