On the Fallacy of the Business Major and Always Being a Student


During my application process and after my acceptance to Haas, I thought I would have an advantage over my classmates when it came to the academic setting of business school. The completion of my first quarter at Haas has made me reevaluate this opinion.

A little over four years ago I was graduating from the University of Maryland with not one, but two business degrees, one in Finance and one in Marketing. This is not to say that the Robert Smith School of Business, which was ranked in the top 30 when I attended, did a poor job at educating me. They did a great job and I stand by Maryland as a good school. The key difference between what I learned at Maryland and what I am now learning at Haas is one of perspective.

At Maryland, I was taught the language and methods of business. I was given the terminology and mindset to operate well within that world. I took that knowledge and became a management consultant. I did very well there, successfully completing projects in a half dozen industries. It wasn't just my inherent traits that allowed me to succeed there. My undergraduate business education was vital to my success.

After four years as a consultant, I decided I wanted to return and get my MBA. My main motivation to do this was to make a transition in geography, industry, and role - while this sounds extreme, it is not uncommon in business school. I didn't come back expecting to learn a tremendous amount from the core courses at Haas. This is the fallacy of the business major: expecting that a previous business education will make some parts of the MBA redundant. Well, they're not.

I said earlier that the difference was one of perspective. Let me elaborate. In my undergraduate experience, I was taught how to be a cog in the business machine. I was given the tools to be more than just a cog, but didn't make extensive use of them in school. The difference with the MBA is that you are always taught as if you are the decision maker. You aren't just given the tools to make decisions, you have to use them every day in class. You absorb them and make them a part of your mental processes.

Business undergraduates may think they are more than prepared for the core MBA courses, and for bankers and accountants that will be true with some of the classes. However, the majority of business majors will still derive academic value from them.

My main point is that people considering getting an MBA should be ready to be a student. This is one of the defining principles for the Haas School of Business, and I have embraced it completely. Don't assume you've learned everything you need to from your past experience. There are many lessons ahead and you'll find them in surprising places. Come back to school with an open mind and you'll be ready for an absolutely phenomenal experience.

Brian Guenther also writes at his personal blog, www.digitalerudite.com, on topics ranging from technology to marketing. He can also be found on Twitter (@bguenther).

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