Most people find studying hard. It takes self-discipline, sacrificing time one could be spending with family and friends, and a considerable financial investment. Studying for a business qualification also brings its own unique set of challenges.
Business schools are sometimes mistakenly thought of as offering one program: the Master of Business Administration (MBA). On the contrary, there are several types of schools of business administration, business management and commerce offering associate degrees, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, including a range of executive education courses.
The first challenge for business school students is gaining a place. Admission to many schools is highly competitive, and many require prior qualifications and work experience. There are good reasons for this: students are expected to participate in and contribute actively to their learning, bringing their own experience to bear on case studies and discussions.
A Fortune magazine article ranked the MBA as the most popular master’s degree in the U.S., and business administration still tops the list as the most popular college major for 2023. Small wonder that there is stiff competition for admission!
An MBA is by definition a postgraduate qualification, requiring an undergraduate degree for admission. Most programs also require at least two years’ work experience, and a successful interview process.
While little or no work experience will impact your ability to benefit from the program, it may be compensated for with a strong portfolio of academic achievement at undergraduate level, and evidence of self-taught skills, voluntary or part-time work and extracurricular activities and achievements. This requirement highlights the need to start building your portfolio of evidence from an early age.
Prior work experience can be a challenge as well as an opportunity. The difficulty lies in confronting your limited understanding in the face of new knowledge. Group discussions may also provide insights that challenge previously held beliefs and convictions.
The Case Method
Another challenge may be the use of case studies around which much of the teaching is structured. Also known as the Harvard Case Method – which was introduced 100 years ago at Harvard Business School – the case method challenges students to understand how different people use the same information to arrive at diverse conclusions.
This is all good preparation for the real world and for your job interview, as large consulting firms like McKinsey expect applicants to solve a case study during their interview, and other firms are increasingly using case studies to assess group dynamics and interpersonal skills amongst a group of applicants.
A further challenge of the case method — and group projects generally, which tend to be a feature of business programs — is the vying for leadership within the group. Business students are by nature competitive in wanting to express their opinions and have them accepted by the group. Getting five Type-A personalities — competitive, work-obsessed and achievement-oriented — to work as a team takes skilled teamwork and empathy.
Which, of course, is all part of the learning.
Case studies and group work are some of the ways in which an MBA takes learning from theory to practice. Top business schools make judicious use of case studies to encourage the development of these crucial problem-solving skills.
Although specialization is possible and available, business management programs typically cover the knowledge areas required by business: accounting and finance, business strategy, marketing and sales, supply chain management, HR and ICT, etc. Most business students have an interest and aptitude for some —but not all — of these subjects.
The real challenge is not just in mastering each of these subject disciplines, but in their cross-functional integration. One of the tests of business leadership is to manage the sometimes conflicting priorities of different functions in the business; for example, it is useless for sales and marketing to turn in an order for a million widgets if the factory cannot produce them.
A business management qualification facilitates this wider appreciation and understanding of how to lead an integrated business operation. Partly for this reason, the University of Pretoria renamed its MBA program a Master in Business Leadership.
Some business programs create an intentionally stressed environment. This is supposed to simulate the work pressures that students will be exposed to in the real world, as well as creating a situation where students are pressured into making decisions under time and other resource constraints.
The challenge is to recognize the constraints, work within them, and develop the time management skills that allow for planned work and relaxation —the latter in the form of socializing and networking with colleagues who make up one’s support base.
Many business schools today offer an extensive menu of options to cater for all interests and specializations at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
EU Business School, with three European campuses plus a fully digital option, offers English-taught classes to students from 100+ nationalities at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. See our website for full details and admission procedures.