It’s not going to go as planned. At work, you’re bound to have an all-hands-on-deck week with heavy demands and unforgiving deadlines. At home, a loved one will get sick and a household appliance will go haywire. It’ll all happen at the worst possible time – probably in succession – leaving you tired, distracted, and defeated.
That’s before bookending early-morning readings with late-night homework during your executive MBA.
During these times, you’ll probably ask yourself: “Am I really up to this?” If you ask the Class of 2023, they’ll urge to ask a different question: “Why am I doing this?”
NEVER FORGET YOUR PURPOSE
Go back to the beginning and start with why. Remember what you want and what it’ll do for you. Focus on the overriding mission and the temporary discomfort feels less formidable. This advice made all the difference to Corey R. Bailey, a ’23 graduate of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School EMBA program. By day, he headed up middle market and business banking for Comerica, a $93 billion dollar Texas institution. By night, he trudged through applied microeconomics and business decision models like his classmates. In between, he never lost sight of his purpose – his why.
“It provides you with a clear sense of direction, helping you establish goals, make decisions, and allocate your resources in a strategic way,” he tells P&Q. “Knowing your why allows you to prioritize what truly matters, ensuring that your actions are aligned with your core beliefs.”
By understanding your ‘why’, Bailey adds, you can turn your attention to what really matters – ‘how’.
“Learning on the job offers an opportunity to learn alongside professionals who possess a wealth of real-world knowledge and industry expertise. I strongly recommend pursuing an Executive MBA to enhance your existing leadership skills. EMBAs are designed to emphasize practical, hands-on learning that can be readily applied to your current role, helping to solve current business challenges.”
Bailey is one of the 106 top graduates that P&Q asked to share their advice to prospective executive MBA applicants. From networking to self-care, here are 10 ways that future EMBAs can make the most of their time in business school.
1) Fully Commit: “The dean of Georgetown’s Executive MBA program, Bardia Kamrad, once told our cohort, “You’ll never know how much you’re capable of until you give something your all.” I remember writing that down the second I heard it, and it’s stuck with me for nearly two years. If you are interested in an Executive MBA program and you’re willing to invest yourself in it fully. It can be one of the most rewarding, fulfilling, and memorable experiences of your life. It certainly has been for me.”
Adam Lair, Georgetown University (McDonough)
“Recognize that the difficulties, investments, and opportunities to connect with people are all temporary. The academic part is often what you worry about most before enrolling. That’s especially true at the beginning of the program because most haven’t been in the student mindset for many years. Trust that you will find ways to adjust and try not to let that get in the way of building relationships, exploring, and maintaining your health. Looking back years later, you probably won’t be too concerned if you get an A- in accounting, but you will regret not spending as much time building relationships with people who will go on to do incredible things.”
Mike Misch, Cornell University (Johnson)
2) Do More Than Take Classes: “If you are constantly trying to outgrow yourself, you will be fine. The executive program is rigorous and time-consuming. However, it is also rewarding and will be an unparalleled experience. Try to make as many new connections as possible. Take advantage of the phenomenal resources the school offers, including career management, industry-focused institutions, and the network. Make sure you join a club. Enjoy every moment because time will fly by quicker than expected.”
Claudia Gernegross, Columbia Business School
3) Emphasize Networking: “Prioritize building relationships with your cohort by taking advantage of the time you have both inside and outside the classroom. The relationships you forge with your classmates will be one of the most valuable assets coming out of the program. Not only will they help you get through the coursework and assignments, but they’ll also provide you with a network of like-minded professionals to lean on throughout your career. Learn from them, lean on them, and help them when they’re struggling. You won’t regret it.”
Pamela Wilson, Georgetown University (McDonough)
4) Don’t Wait for the Perfect Time to Start: “Juggling big life events, a meaningful and challenging career – it can be tempting to put your professional and personal development on the back burner and convince yourself you’re not ready to make the leap. But you need to trust the process, trust yourself and lean-in to your journey to get the most out of the experience. If you’ve given real consideration to your application already – then you’re probably ready to just go for it!!”
Eleanor Hevey, University of Oxford (Said)
“There will always be obstacles in life. However, it’s important to prioritize your growth and development. The program will challenge you and make you a more confident and capable business leader. This will lead to greater success in your career and contributions to your family, company and community.”
Mary Kathryn Dow, Notre Dame (Mendoza)
5) Take a Pause and Listen: “In elementary school we are taught about listening ears and this carries all the way through to our professional lives, but it’s very easy to feign listening ears while our brains are already thinking about the next point we need to make. This program taught me to set my pride aside, it provided space to really hear the people in the room around me and take a moment to absorb what I am hearing and the experiences they are sharing before leaning into the next “to-do” list item.”
Corey Scott, University of Minnesota (Carlson)
6) Admit What You Don’t Know: “I’m naturally curious and often ask questions when I’m wondering. It was humbling to go from being a resource in my professional career to asking a professor to explain a concept again because I did not understand it the first time. I was there to learn and sometimes that meant scheduling office hours with a professor for extra assistance. At business school, I quickly got comfortable admitting when I did not understand and asking for help. At work, I try to create an environment where others feel comfortable asking questions and acknowledging when things do not make sense. I invite questions when I’m in large group and model inquiry by asking questions to generate conversations and to benefit from the wisdom in the room.”
Deon Johnson, Purdue University (Daniels)
7) Be a Team Player Everyone Would Want To Hire: “Everyone in the EMBA program has a busy life. The benefit of a cohesive, conscientious, and supportive team is that you will achieve class and program goals together without undo burden and stress on you or your fellow busy team members. How you show up as a team member reflects who you are. Would your team members want to hire you? They might be in the position to do that someday.”
Stephanie E. Green, Ohio State (Fisher)
8) Stay Confident: “I think everyone is nervous about applying or about going back to school at an older age. It becomes very apparent that we are all her to learn and no one is trying to outdo others. Everyone in a program brings storied professional and personal experiences to the classroom and your input is just as valuable as others. You will be strengthened in your weak areas, just as you will likewise strengthen others. Don’t be afraid to speak up to test a theory, volunteer to work through a problem, or provide a partial answer.”
Jarred Mack, University of Virginia (Darden)
“Keep calm and carry on.” If you are considering an executive MBA program, it’s highly likely that you will never be 100% ready to apply and enroll in the program. Your life will always be full of surprises, both good and bad, on top of your career. You may find yourself overwhelmed with school and things may feel out of your control sometimes, but you must take a deep breath and continue to push through. Having a strong support system really helps!”
Yeonjung Park, University of Chicago (Booth)
9) Start with the Why: “Through conversations with classmates, I’ve found that everyone’s “why” is unique – whether it’s a promotion, a better salary, reentering the job market, a career change or refining managerial skills. Having a clear purpose and motivation is critical for pushing through the program and achieving your goal. It’s easy to lose sight of your “why” while balancing everything. As a result, you can go through the motions without taking advantage of the program’s resources that will get you to your desired end state.”
Carly Connell, University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)
“Reflect on your motivations and goals. A strong sense of purpose will help you persevere through challenges and setbacks, fostering resilience and preventing premature resignation from the program. Include your family and friends in your potential decision and acceptance into the program so that they can keep you accountable. Lastly, don’t beat yourself up — you will have good and bad days, which is inevitable, but you can control your attitude. Anything is possible with the right attitude.
Glen Martin, University of Maryland (Smith)
10) Get Everyone On Board: “My most important piece of advice is to enter the program with your eyes wide open as to the personal sacrifices that have to be made. Make sure key individuals in other areas of your life are also aware of those sacrifices and are on board. With that understanding and support, executive MBA students can more comfortably direct their energy to the program and maximize the opportunity.”
Ryan Carter, Brigham Young University (Marrott)
And here’s one more…
11) Just Do It: “Get ready for a dynamic and transformative journey that will be equally as challenging as gratifying. Prepare yourself and your villages (your loved ones comprising your family village, your work village, and your soon-to-be executive MBA village) for your very best and your very worst self. You will face some trying times, but you will also have some of your most enlightening moments and make some amazing memories. Soak in every moment of the journey because you will sorely miss it when you reach your destination, but you will look back with absolute fondness and pride. I promise you that it is completely worth it in the end. Being able to cross the graduation stage alongside your amazing classmates with your loved ones, faculty, and staff cheering you on will help all the pieces fall into place. For me, just having my daughter watch her mom graduate from Wharton from the very first row made everything so worth it. And that’s only the beginning of my ROI!”
Devika Varsani, Wharton School
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