The Biggest Myths About Executive MBA Programs

Olabayo Allen-Taylor,, Johnson (JGSM) Cornell Executive MBA Americas

“I think the key to going back to school at this stage is to consider the various obligations you have; determine what, if anything, can be scaled back; and to work with everyone involved to build a new routine instead of attempting to ‘squeeze’ school into an existing routine,” says the Georgetown McDonough grad.

You Can Find Time For Anything If You Try 

That doesn’t mean students should buy into the myth that they must give up their personal life and take short cuts to survive. Instead, business school is a balancing act, a constant back-and-forth between priorities and commitments that shifts alongside family, school, and work. For Cornell Johnson’s Olabayo Allen-Taylor, an elementary school principal from Oakland, this troika of demands forced her to look closely at where she devoted her time.

“Going back to school helped me to prioritize my personal life more by realizing how much time I’d been wasting on things that didn’t bring much value into my life,” she admits. “Cutting out watching television and checking social media was one of the main sacrifices that I had to make. In the end, it gave me more time to spend with my family and my new friendship circle, my Executive MBA teammates.”

That doesn’t mean the two (or more) years spent in an EMBA program will be “all-consuming,” in the words of Indiana Kelley’s Holly Robinson. In fact, she found that some students use academics as a crutch to scale back and withdraw. This is exactly the opposite of what they should do, she cautions.

An undergrad professor gave me the most impactful advice of my life,” she reminisces. “If you are going to go to medical school, you better figure out how to live a real life at the same time.” Life changing – I have never used my academic pursuits as a reason not to “have a life.” Tradeoffs and creativity are key…and great family support!”

Teamwork: Fear It Or Embrace It? 

Charlotte Robertson, who heads operations for José Andrés restaurants in Las Vegas, also doesn’t buy the “Too busy” or “Can’t find the time” myths. “So many people in my class had babies, switched jobs, moved cities, all while working full time and going to school,” points out the University of Virginia Darden grad. “It’s uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to it, you can make the time.”

That’s not to say students are solely responsible for their performance. Instead, says Georgetown McDonough’s Dana Hoover, business school is generally an exercise where success is driven by teams. This dynamic, where individual authority and recognition is collateral to team consensus and roles, can be uncomfortable. That doesn’t make teamwork more difficult or less effective, as the myth goes.

Rupinder Dhillon, University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

“I had heard a lot about the dread of study teams and group work – the inevitable friction from clashing personalities, people not pulling their weight, and the difficulty in coordinating schedules,” acknowledges the University of Toronto Rotman’s Rupinder Dhillon. I was very fortunate that my study team experience was nothing like what I had anticipated and was in fact one of the most enriching parts of the program.

“While we all had different personalities and working styles, we developed a culture of mutual respect and trust early on and it fostered an environment of collaboration, collective growth, and a genuine interest in each other’s personal and professional development through the program. I learned something from each of my group members and am grateful that I got the chance to work with them.”

This Isn’t Gordon Gekko’s Business School 

The hazard of teamwork isn’t the only misconception dogging business schools. When Omar Rhiman joined London Business School, he came across people who equated attending a top programwith enrolling in a nursery for the Wolves of Wall Street – that we are taught to be ruthless, cost-cutters trained to ‘win at any cost’.” In reality, it was a boot camp for creating connection and fostering fairness.

“There is as much focus on people management, communication, teamwork, corporate social responsibility, and ethics as on traditional finance courses,” he says. “A great deal of value is placed on being able to navigate effectively in global settings and to develop collaborative professional networks.”

Academia itself wasn’t spared among the biggest EMBA myths. Notably, there was a view that professors were out of touch, theorists whose complex constructs would quickly collapse under the weight of red ledgers or double-crossing clients. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Victor Limjoco, an Emmy-winning producer at NBC Nightly News, found academia to be the exact opposite of a bubble.

Top Researchers + Experienced Students = Amazing Learning  

“The remarkable thing about Wharton is that it brings together professors who are top researchers in their field, many of them with decades of industry experience, with students who are crushing it in their professions,” he reflects. You see this in every class discussion, where academic theories meet real-life perspectives.”

It wasn’t a strength that was just found at Wharton, adds UCLA Anderson’s Iris Pioch.

“One myth that was pretty quickly dispelled as absolute nonsense was that academia does not reflect the real world. I got to analyze and reflect on topical issues, using innovative and certainly non-antiquated tools and equipment, and I felt appreciated for and challenged in my academic performance on the basis of my intellect, not my gender. This environment helps everyone to thrive, no matter what age or gender.”

What myths have you encountered? How do they hold up under scrutiny? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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