My Initial Thoughts on Being an EMBA Student

We are nearing the end of our first term of the MBA for Executives (EMBA) program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and it has been quite the ride already. Our cohort of 62 has finished a week-long leadership residency (LR1), two On-Grounds (OG1, OG2) sessions (Thursday-Saturday full days on grounds at Darden), and about eight distance learning classes (90 minute Adobe Connect sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings on non LR or OG weeks) and it’s time for our first round of exams for Leading Organizations, Global Economic Management, and Decision Analysis.

The new Dean of Darden, Scott Beardsley, opened his home on the UVA Lawn for our MBA for Executives class of 2017 this past weekend.
The new Dean of Darden, Scott Beardsley, opened his home on the UVA Lawn for our MBA for Executives class of 2017 this past weekend.

My initial thoughts:

  • The Darden EMBA has already been one of the more fulfilling things I’ve done in life. I love the academic challenge as well as the camaraderie of our class.
  • An MBA for Executives is no joke. It’s very often I have to remind myself that this is a full time program, not part time, which means the same workload as the resident students, but while also working full time and for many of us, raising a kid full time! The work-life balance challenge is very real as my employer, girlfriend, and kids can probably all attest to at this point. It’s also well represented in a recent Poets & Quants article about The Hardest Part of an Executive MBA Program. If considering an EMBA program, I also suggest checking out this article about finding work-life balance in an EMBA program.
  • Going back to school is scary! It’s been over a decade since I’ve studied and done academic work. But it comes back very fast and you’ll be surprised how much the years of experience and insight will contribute to both the coursework, but also the class discussion. When considering the timing and schedule, added expenses, and lack of any formal business training (I majored in history), I was a bit anxious about how this would all work. However, like comments in another Poets & Quants article on the most surprising things about of an EMBA, many other classmates have the same fears. I can’t really compare the experience to the resident program, but I’d imagine the benefits of the executive format is that the cohort is less competitive and also has the advantage of being able to apply the lessons learned immediately at our day jobs.
  • My classmates are simply amazing. We have such a broad sampling of industries and experience among our classmates that I’m often amazed to be a part of the group. We have CEO’s, entrepreneurs, operational leaders, non-profit founders, and technical experts in many fields and I’ve learned as much from them as the professors. They’re also a lot of fun to spend time with! I’m definitely not able to party like an undergraduate anymore, but they gave me the honor of letting me be a social co-rep for the class meaning I get to plan lots of social activities for us. During our on-grounds sessions, we are often done studying around 9pm and hitting our pub or heading into town to socialize. I can’t stress the importance of establishing these bonds and the network among classmates. It makes mornings pretty hard though… but that brings me to my next point.
  • The Case Method is by far the best way I’ve ever learned. Darden’s Case Method means we are all actively engaged in the learning each day and I’ve found that no matter how tired I’ve been, I’ve never once been tired or dis-engaged during our classes. It’s very interesting to have classmates essentially driving the lesson and having very knowledgeable professors allow us to fully explore our thoughts, even when incorrect, to get to the main teaching points. The Case Method is one of the reasons I knew I would love Darden and it holds true to this point. But there’s one reality of the Case Method… do all of your case study reading before you get to class or risk being outed!!!

Are you considering an MBA for Executives program? My advice is to put your fears aside and go for it. There’s never really a good time to work and study full time, but it’s definitely worth it. The collaborative settings will help counteract the times you can’t get the reading done or find yourself struggling through statistics or economics. You’ll learn valuable leadership and business lessons that may immediately improve your career and work life, not to mention open up new opportunities. Best of luck to you!!! Hopefully my attitude doesn’t drastically change after the first round of exams.

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