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How MBA Programs Work

Attending Business School
Business schools often rely on a mix of lectures from accomplished professors and collaborative group work.
Business schools often rely on a mix of lectures from accomplished professors and collaborative group work.

Depending on the type of program, the amount of time you spent obtaining your MBA can vary widely -- from nine months to more than two years or longer if you go part time.

Unlike, say, British universities, U.S. business schools generally mix collaborative group work with lectures from experienced professors. The structure of your program will vary depending on the school, and your school's curriculum and teaching style should be a factor in your decision to attend. Perhaps, for example, you'll find yourself attracted to Wake Forest University's MBA program because they teach core concepts that are used in multiple classes. On the other hand, that integrated approach, combined with Wake Forest's assigning students to six-member "learning teams," may not be as appealing to you if you prefer to work independently [source: Rinehart].

In any case, expect a lot of reading -- more than you can handle, many b-school alumni say -- and to be quizzed on anything assigned. Not unlike college or even law school, MBA programs value and attempt to instill time-management skills in their students, often by assigning workloads that seem unmanageable. Some schools, like Penn's Wharton School of Business and Berkeley's Haas School of Business, use traditional letter grades, along with the familiar four-point grade point average system. Others, like Emory's Goizueta School of Business, use proprietary systems; Emory, for example, offers grades of (beginning with the best) Distinction, High Performance, Performance Standard, Low Performance and No Credit [source: Emory]. Some courses at these and other schools may be graded as pass/fail.

Although business programs, of course, focus on inculcating their students with business, entrepreneurial and financial skills, some schools now provide the sort of critical thinking and multicultural studies commonly found in liberal arts programs [source: Wallace]. The shift from discipline-based classes like accounting or marketing hasn't caught on everywhere, but it's not uncommon now to find classes like "Critical and Analytical Thinking" offered alongside others about hedge funds and high finance.

As a consequence of the Great Recession, some schools have beefed up their offerings of courses on corporate responsibility and leadership, including using examples from other cultures and countries. U.S. business schools are also forming partnerships with schools from abroad, such as one between UCLA and the National University of Singapore. Similar agreements exist between schools in the U.S. and those in Hong Kong, China and India.

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