It’s back to school time, but for the first time since 2005 I am not going back to graduate school this fall. After completing the Evening UST MBA program in 2009, I continued taking classes through the business communication certificate program until I finished it this spring. With eight years of classes under my belt, I feel like this is a good time to reflect on what I would do differently if I could hop in a time machine. If you are starting a graduate program this fall or thinking about it in the near future, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and have an ever better graduate degree experience than I did. (Although, mine was pretty great!)
- Build your network. Social media provides a very easy way to keep connected with classmates. Each semester, go through and add your classmates on Linked In. Make note of which class(es) you took with them in case it is helpful in the future. You never know when having a connection at xyz company or remembering the name of someone you were in class with will be helpful. Connecting with a classmate on Linked In, Twitter or Facebook is one thing. Actually getting to know them is another. Take the time to get to know some of your classmates well. Don’t just talk with them in class. Even though it is late, take the time to grab a drink after class. Set up a quick dinner or happy hour before class with friends you met in past semesters. If you are doing things right, the better you know others in the program, the more advocates you will have moving through your career.
- Don’t be afraid to use class as an excuse to meet others in your company or talk to people in other companies. You’ll work on many projects throughout the program. Some of these projects will be in areas not directly related to your day-to-day job. Use school projects as an opportunity to branch out and talk with senior leaders you don’t talk with on a regular basis. Learning about other areas may open up opportunities in the future and help you to become well-rounded in your understanding of your current company and companies you’d like to work for.
- Enjoy it, learn from it, and don’t just try to get through it. The admissions staff determined that you are capable of completing the program. It is up to you to get the most out of the classes as possible. Don’t skimp on reading. Don’t cram. Try to learn the information so that when you have a conversation about areas other than your core competency, you really know the information rather than simply knew it at one point. I would recommend revisiting this point at the start, middle and end of each semester. It is easy to get into autopilot mode when balancing competing priorities but it is a lot more rewarding if you regularly remind yourself why you wanted to complete an MBA to begin with.
- Make an effort to educate your boss about the types of things you are learning in class. Completing an MBA will open up areas you may have never considered but now see a need to improve. These types of areas can sometimes serve a dual purpose in providing both a project for class and kudos at work. Bottom line is: show your employer the value you are adding because you are putting your own time and effort into continuous improvement.
- Take advantage of all of the great benefits of being part of a university. The Opus College of Business and greater university community has great events on campus. While you are a student and once you graduate, go to these. Do it even if you are exhausted after work and don’t feel like you can absorb any more information. You can still absorb the information and really, listening to good speakers often helps to energize. Not only can you often get a free dinner and maybe even a drink or two, you can learn from people who started their own business like Monica Nasiff, founder of Caldrea, work with big companies like Kathleen Edmonds, chief ethics officer for Best Buy, or make a difference in the world like Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org.
Best of luck to those starting the program, those continuing and all of you who, like me, are trying to remember what life was like without class! To the latter, if you have words of advice for those starting the program, we (and they) would like to hear them. Add a comment with your best advice.