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Optimizing Your MBA

It’s not like they suddenly discovered that they were going to have thousands of hours of free time on their hands that needed to be filled. Yet here they were, on the verge of one of those key life moments, looking ready, excited, a little stressed, and a bit uncertain, all at the same time. And I knew exactly how they felt because 15 years earlier I was sitting right where they were. Their lives were about to change.

On Saturday I had the privilege of speaking to the incoming class at the Meredith College School of Business about their upcoming graduate school experience. Most of these students are at least in their 30’s with a minimum of 10 to 15 years of professional experience, and many are in leadership positions. And they have a tall task in front of them: to successfully complete a challenging two-year, part-time MBA program while balancing their already busy personal and professional lives.

So with this opportunity in full view, I wanted to focus my talk on two primary objectives:

1. Expose them to a broader, leadership perspective regarding their upcoming MBA experience, and

2. Provide them with some practical ideas and actions to help them get the most out of the next two years…and beyond.


We began by talking about why they wanted to get an MBA. Their responses were thoughtful yet consistent with what you might expect, such as improved job skills, higher earning potential, new contacts, exposure to new subject areas, and improved job prospects. But it was also evident that if they were going to truly optimize their MBA, an even broader perspective might be of value. When I received my MBA I did a lot right, but there were many areas where I could have done better, and having a broader perspective was one of them.


Leaders take the long view. Leaders put current situations and activities into context, and MBA students need to do the same. Here are a few ways that this can be accomplished:

1.  Identify specific short- and long-term goals, both personal and professional. Write them down. Develop an action plan and measure progress. Be proactive and take control of your school experience.

2.  Each semester, discuss with your manager how to leverage your MBA. How can you get the best ROI for your MBA at work? Instead of merely gaining new knowledge, focus on the utilization of that knowledge and how to make a positive impact on the business’ key challenges.

3.  Identify your key learning objectives for each class and discuss these with your professor. Are your learning objectives and the course syllabus in alignment? Determine ahead of time how you can get the most out of every class.

4.  Keep a journal for your key learnings and how to utilize them on the job and at home. We often don’t see the forest for the trees, so keep track of what you learn and tie these to your personal strategic plan (hopefully you have one) to help you gauge your success. Grades are important, but they are not the only measure of success – define what success means to you, class by class.

5.  Visualize your long-term relationship with your graduate school. The earlier you can determine how you want to engage going forward, the earlier you can get started and make an impact. Whether it’s meeting with a prospective MBA student, helping alumni stay connected, or assisting with development and fund raising, there are plenty of areas where you can contribute.

6.  Get to know every student in each class. Instead of merely making new contacts, reach out and develop relationships. This may be difficult for some who don’t feel they have the time or who find it difficult to connect on this level, but growing relationships that extend beyond the classroom can be invaluable. 

7.  During your MBA experience, do one thing a semester to help someone else. Students tend to be "takers": receivers of information, assignments, lectures, etc. But even though time is tight, make it a priority to be a giver: speak at a high school career day, organize a class volunteer event, or deliver gifts to children at Christmas.

8.  Provide meaningful feedback and evaluations to your professors and the school’s administration. Don’t take lightly the value of your input; especially the benefit for future students. Help make your graduate school even better and stronger.

9.  Involve your family and friends. Their lives will change because of your MBA activities and many adjustments may be required. You’ll need their support and understanding while attaining your MBA and they’ll need to know that they remain as important a priority to you as ever.

10.  Reflect often. Adjust your goals & plans (see # 1 above) accordingly. It’s been said that a bad plan is better than no plan at all. As things change during your MBA experience, revise your plan to continually give yourself the best opportunity for success.


Again, it’s important for MBA students to take the long view. Standing back and thinking about the big picture will help you optimize your MBA experience. One helpful exercise is to visualize your life 5 years after your MBA and complete this sentence: "Attaining my MBA was so important to me because _________." Then focus on these areas of importance so that you afford yourself every opportunity to accomplish them.