I still measure time in academic years. The calendars want you to believe that the new year begins on Jan. 1, but ever since kindergarten I have mentally celebrated New Year's Eve on the last day of school before summer vacation. And now, having completed another academic year and my first as a graduate student in the Wake Forest University MBA program (Wake Forest Full-Time MBA Profile), I'll take the opportunity to reflect on the past nine months.
The transition from Army officer to MBA student was easier than I expected. Concepts such as time management and teamwork were familiar to me; shareholder value maximization and the theory of rational markets, not so much. I loved being in class for less than five hours a day, and I missed seeing my paycheck every month. (Dear Paycheck, are you mad at me? Where did you go? Please call â Andy.) Before orientation began, I started reading The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis and studied a little basic accounting in preparation for my coursework; in hindsight, I should have bought three more pairs of khaki pants.
There are a number of things that I really liked about being a first-year MBA student at Wake Forest. First, the program was academically rigorous. I think my classmates would generally agree that we had to put forth considerable effort to be successful, and that effort was rewarded by the breadth and depth of education that we received. Second, I had several "aha!" moments throughout the year where I learned how stuff really works. These moments ranged from the trivial ("So that's why Coke and Pepsi go on sale every other week!") to the realization that I could not only understand the mechanics behind the Greek debt crisis, but explain them to someone else. Finally, I really appreciated the collegial atmosphere of the program. My peers never hesitated to help me out when I needed it, and the professors did everything they could to be as accessible as possible outside of class. Even the few lecture-style classes we had throughout the year felt more like collaborative discussions than one-way instruction.
Of course, there were some aspects of the MBA program that I didn't enjoy. I really missed the satisfaction that comes from a job well done because you don't really have much to show for yourself after a year as a graduate student. I did plenty of work, but it was mostly schoolwork with results far less tangible and meaningful compared with my time in the Army. On a related note, I was also a little frustrated with the way an MBA education is structured. The Harvard Business Review article "How Business Schools Lost Their Way" accurately describes the same criticisms that I have with MBA programs in general.
As a personal example, the undisputed best session of my first-year competitive strategy course was one led not by our professor but by a visiting director of strategic market insights from a national hardware retailer. There's no substitute for real-world experience, and the more you can introduce this into an MBA program, the better.
Aside from the heaping piles of knowledge crammed into my head, what else did I take away from the past year? I know that I want to work in a privately held company post-MBA; the further away I am from shareholders and maximizing their value, the better. I also received the Six Sigma Green Belt certification and all I got was a lousy certificate (no belt, alas).
Unlike my peers, I will move on to my first year of law school in the fall. According to some of the other dual-degree candidates, law school isn't anything like business school. I'm looking forward to a different way of learning and approaching problems, and I always get excited about a new challenge. In the meantime I'll be spending my summer as an intern with a "small business accelerator" startup, elbow-deep in business models and due diligence, desperately seeking nondilutive funding.