Making the Move Back (when it feels like you never left)

Monday, November 9, 2015

For a large portion of our Part-Time MBA community at Carlson, their undergraduate experience is a not-so-distant memory. Many young professionals are going back to get their MBAs much sooner than their B-School predecessors (all you have to do is google “MBA Millennial Generation” to get a wide range of articles and studies on the trend). I belong to the “less than 5 years’ work experience” demographic at Carlson, having begun my MBA journey just over 2 years after hanging up my undergraduate cap and gown. There are definitely benefits to making this choice early, but it is not without its drawbacks, and it’s not for everyone! Of course, everything here reflects my personal experience and is not one-size fits all, but I hope to provide some insight into what an MBA experience with a relatively short time in the workplace can be like.

First, the benefits. I was lucky enough to be a part of a rotational leadership program at Target Corporation straight out of my undergraduate studies. This meant I was automatically exposed to a wide range of roles and work within cross-functional teams right away in my career. A very good reason Carlson encourages applicants to wait at least 2 years before applying is you need a variety of exposure to work situations in order for the course material to really resonate. My experience within my work role allowed me to have a good foundation of work experience before heading into class, as well as the knowledge that I had a lot to learn from those who had been in the workforce far longer than I had. Keeping that insight in mind is key to networking and group project success within the part-time MBA program.

The logistical benefit of returning to school so soon is that studying and approaching coursework felt like a natural transition. Though I won’t pretend I ever enjoyed preparing for an exam or writing a paper, the relatively short amount of time I had been away from that environment made recalling my study habits and approach to schoolwork relatively natural. This is not necessarily unique to early starters, many people keep their lifelong learner habits going even after school formally ends, but I felt like it was an advantage in some of the more computation-based courses (like finance or accounting, which may not come as naturally to people and are harder to generate good theory discussions based on experience alone).

I have already touched briefly on some of the challenges of being a young MBA candidate, but I believe the main one is that we simply have not had as many opportunities to gain real-life work experience. This doesn’t have to be a disadvantage, however, as long as your mind stays open and your approach is adaptable. Your peers in the part-time program are the best and brightest (as Professor Kramer will remind you at the end of every class). They cover a broad range of industries, roles, and time in the work force. Networking can feel forced or tedious after a full day at the office and the prospect of sitting in a 3 hour lecture, but the best thing about the part-time program is the people you can meet. Almost every course is going to have a component of group work, and I believe success in those situations is highly correlated to really comprehending what each group member brings to the group.

Even, and perhaps especially, outside of course work, your program peers with more work experience can become great mentors, or at the very least provide some insight and advice in the time you have together in class. Likewise, think about what you can bring to the table. The level of tech savvy and social connectedness that young professionals bring to their jobs and to graduate programs can sometimes be perceived as a negative effect of our generation, however knowing when to apply those insights and creating a good brand for yourself and your age group will go far in your school network, your personal network, and your professional life. Your more experienced peers have their work experiences to lean on, but you in turn can bring a fresh perspective, outside-the-box thinking, and more recent academic experience to them if both parties keep an open mind!