5 things I learned in my first 10 weeks as an EWMBA student

By Kate Kleinschmidt

When I started business school, I had a lot of goals -- learn new skills, grow my network, advance my career and much more. Now, I'm ten weeks into this 3-year adventure, and I've already learned a lot -- not just from classes, but from several parts of the experience. 

As I was applying to Haas last year, I wondered what going back to school to get a part-time MBA would really feel like. For anyone who's considering taking the plunge into the Evening & Weekend Berkeley program, here's a little insight into a few things (not related to accounting, marketing, or course content at all) I've learned so far:

1. Group work is even harder (but also more rewarding) than I thought it would be

Whenever you talk about business school, people immediately say "Wow, I hear business school is a lot of group work…" and so far, they're right. For both of our classes during Fall A we had significant group projects to complete. Wrangling 5 busy professionals to work on a school project is a challenge in itself -- but then you get started working on things and realize it's even harder than just scheduling logistics. My study group is an amazing mix of awesome people, who I've really enjoyed spending time with. But we also all work differently, and it's sometimes challenging to figure out how to navigate a big project. The group work has been as much of a learning experience as our classes this semester -- but I've had a blast working with my study group and I'm really proud of the projects we've produced.

2. I can still make time for the things that matter in my life

Another thing people always said once I told them I was doing this was "Oh, wow, get ready to never see your friends again!" but it's not really true. I've definitely had to prioritize things in my life between school, work, family, friends, exercise, and sleep. It's only been ten weeks, so I don't think I've nailed this yet. It's challenging to get everything done, but it's getting easier each week. I've made a point to see friends and family as much as I can, and I have a planned date night with my husband every week. One nice thing about the evening program is that I can still plan weekend trips to visit friends, as long as they don't mind me taking a chunk of time to study and do homework while I visit.

3. There are more events and opportunities than one person can possibly attend

Berkeley Haas has dozens of awesome events every week. There are lectures, panels, club meetings, case projects, happy hours, mixers, and parties. And it's hard to decide what to do and what to skip. Going hand-in-hand with #2 above, it's all about prioritizing. One of the best pieces of advice we heard at orientation weekend was: "Make a list of what you want to get out of this experience - and whenever you're in doubt about whether you should do something, refer back to that list." It's easier said than done, but focusing on what's important has helped my prioritize what I attend and what I skip -- and sometimes when it's ok to slack on reading for class in order to attend a really great event (just don't tell my professors!).

4. Even in a class of 60+ people, a class can still feel small and personal

At Haas, EWMBA students are divided into 4 cohorts of about 65 students. We will be with our cohorts for half of our program, before we start choosing elective courses. Coming into the program, I wondered what it would be like to have class discussions with such a large group of people. In the past several weeks, I've realized that once you get to know your classmates a bit, a group of 65 no longer feels that large. Plus, our professors for Fall A have done a great job at making discussions friendly and welcoming. One of the most valuable parts of the experience so far has been hearing perspectives from other classmates' experiences. Whenever someone starts a sentence with "Well, where I work…" I know that the contribution to class discussion is going to be valuable and interesting.

5. There are people who have jobs I didn't even know were jobs

One of the other benefits of the EWMBA program is really getting to know the other professionals in the cohort. Between us, we probably have about 500 years of work experience, so there's a lot to learn from. One thing I realized is that people have jobs in industries and functions that I never even knew existed! One of my classmates buys and trades dairy for an international food company. Another chooses and plans the clothing inventory at a major national clothing chain. Another is a cardiac anesthesiologist (ok, I knew what that one means, but I never thought I'd get to know one in my MBA program!). I’m looking forward to continuing to learn more about my classmates and all their experiences.

Overall, the first ten weeks of my MBA experience have been challenging, interesting, and invigorating. There's a lot of work, but a TON of learning -- so much more learning than you just get in the classroom.

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Posted on November 5, 2014