The Gies Online MBA Experience: A Guide to Success
You have envisioned climbing up the corporate ladder, but perhaps that role you’ve always wanted was slightly out of reach. You’ve determined your career needs a boost, but you don’t have the flexibility or financial means to attend a full-time MBA program. Can this new class of brand-name, lower-priced online business programs meet your higher education needs? I’m here to share what I wish I’d known before starting my journey, and how I made it work for me.
First, ask yourself if you are truly ready.
There will never be a perfect time to add 10-15 hours of study time into a week that’s already filled with work and family demands. You have to take this commitment seriously to reap the benefits of the program. That means your demeanor, not your business experience, will likely become your greatest success factor.
Before choosing a program, ask a lot of questions about the real-time interactions of the live sessions and quality of the faculty. Dynamic professors and seamless connectivity make a significant difference when you’re logging in from an airport lounge or a cubicle 7,000 miles away from campus. If the class is simply a video feed of a faculty member clicking through PowerPoint slides, you are likely to disengage and not get any value out of the session. With the goal to expand my professional network, I also looked for a global offering with a large cohort and access to alumni from the entire business school.
The next step is to dive in and acclimate yourself to the new norm of weekly assignments and deadlines. To determine whether the online environment is right for you, many students register for non-degree courses that can be later converted to your degree plan. This allows you to become comfortable with the technology experience and learn to navigate the platforms you’ll ultimately be using to do everything from finding a course syllabus to completing a final exam.
Find an online program that can be tailored to your specific career goals and aspirations. Once you’ve selected your areas of concentration and registered for your first set of classes, here are four ways to thrive in an online MBA program:
Take advantage of learning from your peers.
My institution not only offered live chats and office hours, but also an integrated social media platform for resource sharing and getting help. For some of the more challenging quantitative courses, the online platform enabled students to share tips and tricks to help each other grasp concepts that may be foreign to them. Join the student-led study sessions to go through challenging concepts and homework. Have the courage to ask questions and learn with your fellow students; they are happy to help. If you still need additional support, reach out to your assigned mentor or seek out your program’s Q&A section; there you can find answers to frequently asked questions from like-minded students.
When you hit a wall, take a step back and think about the big picture.
My fellow students in the program often tell each other to take a deep breath, don’t give up, and try again. Take your time to study and think through the concepts as everything the faculty teaches can be learned. There is a lot of information being delivered, and it’s important to digest it and determine what the main points are. Understand there’s no room for coasting in group projects and team assignments; be a team player. Take advantage of the team’s diversity by sharing ideas to create more efficient and innovative solutions.
Embrace the social side of online learning.
Get to know your peers outside the classroom. The best programs attract students from every stage in their career. Build relationships with students from various backgrounds, skill sets, and professions that either mirror yours or ones you’d like to pursue. Search for peers who share your same interests or are perhaps at the same phase in their lives. Tips on how to find time for your kid’s bedtime story or juggling work deadlines are just as valuable as the solution to an advanced accounting problem. I established new lifelong friendships at meet-ups in my hometown, annual events on campus, and supplemental immersion trips in places like Germany and Brazil. After daily virtual interactions with classmates and faculty, it made our in-person interactions even more meaningful. It was as if we’ve known each other for years!
Share your schedule with those who can support you.
Improving yourself doesn’t need to be a covert activity. Explain to your family, friends, boss, and colleagues why this is important to you and what you hope to accomplish. In return for that support, diligently prioritize and schedule your time, whether it be for studying, working out, playtime with the kids, or a date with your significant other. Mark your calendar and share it with those who need to know. Your time will no doubt be limited, and communicating with others clearly will help explain your time constraints (and stress levels).
Although I was initially reluctant to enroll in an online-only program, the reality is this is the future of education and it represents how global companies operate today. Having spent my undergrad at a large state university, I feel the online interactions have far exceeded my expectations because it has provided me a more personal experience. The convenience of the online format worked for my busy life, and it afforded me the opportunity to put 100% into everything I’ve accomplished.
If you stay on top of your schedule and deadlines, everything else will fall into place. As you move through the program, you’ll begin to realize the value of higher education and how you can apply the concepts you learned immediately in the workplace. The MBA completely elevates your thought process and the people around you will take notice. I encourage you to learn as much as you can and enjoy the experience. Grades will follow and so will untold new career opportunities.
Got questions? I’d enjoy hearing from you. Connect with me on LinkedIn.
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