Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that during the last few months I have posted a bit less frequently than at any time during the last fifteen years. There’s good reason for that: I was in business school and doing an accelerated online MBA program. Starting November 3, 2014, I was studying 6-15 hours/day, 7 days/week, until completion of the Master of Business Administration degree.
Happily, then, on March 18, 2015 or 4.5 months later, I finished the MBA—13.5 months ahead of a typical two-year schedule. It was such an intense, enriching experience that I wanted to share it. In this post, I explain the how and why and hope to inspire others in furthering their own educational journeys.
Why Do an MBA
You may be wondering: why do an MBA in the first place? Every person has their different motivations, but as someone who is self-employed and already achieved financial independence, I had three primary reasons.
First, I wanted to enhance my business and leadership skills. The former would come in handy in my engineering consulting practice, and the latter is useful for the various leadership and board of director roles I currently take on with local organizations such as this one. In an MBA program, I would acquire standard tools for organizing business activity, managing business processes, and solving business problems.
Second, I had a case of epistemophilia, or a love of learning. When I was a kid, I would check out half a dozen books and magazines from the library each week. This habit spilled over into adulthood, albeit in digitized, paperless form. A structured degree program seemed like a more comprehensive way to delve deeper into a genre I was really interested in than Wikipedia articles or self-help books.
Third, I sought something that explains why I do ultra-endurance sports: challenge! A graduate degree is already challenging in itself—which may be one reason why only one out of ten Americans have done so. I figured, doing it in under five months would add to the stimulation of the experience, much like trying to run 26.2 miles in a Boston-qualifying time does.
Challenge, incidentally, is a reason the great Dr. O’Neal, a.k.a. the Big Aristotle, cited in doing his graduate degrees, which included not only an online MBA but a doctorate in education. I can only hope to one day be half the Renaissance Man that Shaq the basketball player, rapper, actor, television analyst, businessman, reserve police officer, mixed martial artist, and real estate investor already is.
Is an MBA Worth It?
This is a good question. With the inflation-outpacing costs of formal education, many people are asking just that. A friend even recently showed me a magazine article that argued that it would take decades of working with an increased salary to pay off both graduate school tuition and two years’ opportunity cost of not working.
Indeed, Tim Ferriss, a Princeton alumnus and author of a trilogy of best selling, highly recommended life-hacking books such as The 4-Hour Work Week and The 4-Hour Body, decided that getting an MBA was not worth it. He once had dreamed of getting an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), but after sitting in on a class that was “taught by Ph.D. theoreticians who used big words and lots of PowerPoint slides,” he decided it would be a waste of his time and money. Instead of spending $120,000 over two years for a Stanford MBA, he concluded, it would be better to spend that amount of dollars over two years on angel investing on 6-12 companies with $10-20,000 chunks as his own real-life “business school.” (Note: it now costs over $160,000 for a Stanford MBA.) Fair enough—especially since he ended up doing brilliantly with his investments in companies such as Twitter, Uber, and Evernote.
But an issue with both the magazine article and Tim Ferriss’ premises is that they assume the following: that an MBA requires years of study, and that it is too expensive. Or that an MBA is only worth its weight if you get it from a prestigious university such as Stanford.
If those assumptions held true, then the answer to whether an MBA is worth the trouble may very well be no for all but the highest-paid executives. But consider: what if you could do a legitimate MBA in much less than two years for a few thousand dollars? Then would it be worth paying a school money to lay a solid foundation of business skills and knowledge at the very outset instead of learning as you go by trial and error?
For me, the answer to that question was a resounding yes. Of course, it depends on how you define “legitimate.” In my case, I decided that “fully accredited” was perfectly adequate and I did not need an MBA from a super-selective school such as Harvard or Stanford, especially since I do not aspire to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 multi-national corporation where having a more prestigious degree could be helpful.
Besides, I already have one degree from Stanford (in mechanical engineering). I did not need another one.
Introducing Western Governors University and Its Accelerated Online MBA Program
If you have not heard of the little jewel of Salt Lake City, Utah that is Western Governors University (WGU), I would not blame you. Neither did I. I only knew of it because of my friend Tim. Not Tim Ferriss, but Tim Vail.
Tim is one of a kind, a person you would be lucky to meet once in your lifetime. I was fortunate to live next door to him. He and I would do everything together: run, swim, bike, and attend Spanish and French conversation meetings. He could do the latter because he was proficient in ten languages. Yes, ten. He even learned to speak and write Korean and created an English-teaching website that is mostly in Korean. I miss him dearly.
Anyhow, a few years ago while he was still living 50 feet away, he was essentially locked up in his house and I hardly saw him. I would invite him to come to Spanish, French or track, but he kept declining, politely saying words to the effect of, “Sorry, I’m really busy.” Turns out he was just extremely focused… doing an accelerated online MBA program.
Finally—about a month before his family was set to move to Florida—he came out. “I’m done with my MBA,” he said. “What,” I replied, “after just nine months?”
Yes, at Western Governors University. “Let me know if you ever want to apply,” he said, “and I can refer you to it and save you the application fee.”
A couple years later, I was ready to apply. Of course, I researched other options as well. Like Tim, I decided that WGU would be the best fit.
First, some history about Western Governors University. In 1997, 19 governors of U.S. states officially founded WGU as a means of providing affordable, competency-based education using 21st century tools. While seed money was provided by government sources, the university was established as a self-supporting private, non-profit institution. Within 13 years the Salt Lake City-based university was so successful that offshoots were created in other states, including WGU Indiana, WGU Texas, and WGU Washington, with $4.5 million of funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2011. Two more offshoots, WGU Tennessee and WGU Missouri, were founded in 2013. These offshoots are basically in name only with all education provided by the Utah branch, but serve as a good marketing boost and allow for local graduation ceremonies. State education grants, such as in Indiana, can also be used to pay for tuition.
Western Governors University has garnered numerous accolades in recent years, which is great for those who care about rankings. In 2013, WGU was ranked #1 in GuidetoOnlineSchools.com’s Top Online Colleges. In 2014, US News & World Report ranked WGU #1 for secondary teacher education among both online and traditional universities. WGU also earned the 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning from the United States Distance Learning Association for several years running.
One thing that blew me away was Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2013 issue. WGU was ranked the 28th most innovative company, 20 spots ahead of my technology favorite, Microsoft. In fact, there was only one other educational institution on the list, Coursera (another resource I intend to use in the future, as its courses are free), at #40.
Employers also agree that WGU provides quality education. According to an independent research company, Lighthouse Research and Development, 95% of 80 companies from 29 states polled in Fall 2008 rated their WGU grads as better than or as good as employees who graduated from other colleges and universities. Ninety-eight percent of employers rated employees with degrees from WGU as either “excellent” or “good.”
Western Governors University has a motto that sums up its advantages very succinctly: Online. Accelerated. Affordable. Accredited. Hence, I begin with those advantages.
More and more universities are offering online classes these days, but most of them still require you to come in once in awhile to sit for an exam or meet with a group. WGU, on the other hand, is 100% online with all the benefits that affords.
For example, you save eons of time not having to drive to school, park, walk to a classroom and wait for a professor to begin. I figure, if I went to Colorado State University here in Fort Collins, I would spend 1.5 hours each day, five days a week, doing just that. That’s 7.5 hours of unproductive time each week in which I could have read four chapters already.
Furthermore, I’ve usually found reading textbooks to be a much more effective way of learning than attending lectures. Maybe it’s partly because of my learning style, but it’s also because I can read three times faster than I can listen, plus I can stop, reflect on, and review what I’ve just read whereas that is not possible in a lecture setting without missing out on what the professor is saying next. Teaching ability of professors can also vary widely, as I discovered even at Stanford.
In the instances where lectures are helpful—for example, in the mathematics-heavy subject of Financial Management—pre-recorded videos can offer more polished presentations than a professor who has to ad lib live. WGU provides such videos which can be paused, rewound, re-watched, and played at up to 2X speed.
Being able to learn in the privacy of your own home eliminates the distractions that other students can cause. It’s also easier to take notes: you can frantically type at 90 words per minute without disturbing classmates, and everything online can be easily cut and pasted.
At WGU, you even take the tests online with a live proctor. WGU sends you a webcam, and you can arrange to take an exam with Proctor U at almost any time of day (including midnight) and just 5-10 minutes of notice. The exceptions are holidays when Proctor U closes and gives their proctors the day off. While having a proctor watching you over the webcam take an exam inside your home might sound kind of creepy, that was not the case for me. I always found talking with the cheery and enthusiastic proctors to be pleasant and even encouraging.
(Edit September 1, 2016) Apparently it is also possible to take exams at a local testing center (e.g., Sylvan tutoring center) near you. Thanks to reader Rosario J. for this added bit of info.
At Western Governors University, you go entirely your own pace. You can start and finish a class (by passing its assessments) in as quick as one day, to as normal as 8 weeks (what the WGU pacing guides assume), to as long as you need.
As discussed in the preceding subsection, having all the classes and exams held online helps with acceleration due to eliminating wasted time and not having to wait to take exams. The amount you accelerate is really only limited by your motivation, ability and circumstances.
Western Governors University charges by the semester, not by the unit. In that sense, it is like Stanford (which charges by the quarter) and unlike a community college. Of course, WGU charges a whole lot less than Stanford.
How much do they charge? When I started my MBA in November 2014, it was $3,395/semester. This usually places WGU in the top 5 in the lists of the most affordable MBA programs in the United States, and that is assuming one does the MBA in the more typical two years (or $13,580 total).
Do it in less than a semester, and then there is no contest: WGU’s cost is only $3,395. If you qualify for financial assistance, tuition can be even less than that. In my case, I paid entirely out of pocket, but because the U.S. government gives education tax credits to just about everyone, I figure my final cost was around $2,500 or so.
That amount is less than many people’s monthly mortgage or a 10-day vacation. Also, tuition at WGU includes all textbooks (electronic, of course) and learning material. There are no other hidden costs, which should be a relief to any college student accustomed to paying $1000/year for 500-page books weighing two pounds each.
WGU is the first and only university to have received regional accreditation simultaneously from four regional accrediting commissions. According to About.com, regional accreditation is the most commonly accepted form of accreditation, and some employers prefer degrees from regionally accredited schools.
Western Governors University is particularly innovative in that it follows a competency-based model. What is competency-based? It basically means you only pass a class, and are given a degree, when you prove that you are fully “competent” as measured by assessments. This is the same approach followed when you take a licensing or board exam to work in a particular profession such as law, architecture, engineering and medicine. But it differs from most schools because instead of giving you an A, B, C, D, or F for a class and a final grade point average, you either pass (“competent”) or receive no credit.
Why is the competency-based model superior? For one thing, grades should not be meted out just because you have attended a class and turned in sub-standard assignments. If you receive a C or D in a class, are you really competent in that subject? In my view, anyone receiving those grades are still shaky in those subjects and should be forced to repeat them. Having a C or a D on a transcript provides no value to an employer. In fact, employers would likely view a transcript containing those grades negatively. Yet, most universities regularly confer degrees to students who have received such grades.
In a competency-based model such as WGU, you cannot pass a class if you have not mastered the material enough to prove you are competent. You are going to have to keep studying or retrying until you know the subject matter thoroughly. You can take tests multiple times if you have to, but the same questions are never repeated, and WGU imposes a penalty (something like $60 and a two-week wait time) if you have to retake an exam a third time. This provides an incentive to try as hard as you can to pass the first time.
When you have passed all your classes, you can rest assured you are competent and that you have achieved, in the words of WGU, at least a B equivalent average. Not having to worry about getting an A provides a couple benefits.
One, of course, is reduced stress. Having to merely “pass” an exam induces a whole lot less anxiety than feeling you MUST score as close to 100% as possible (as I would feel in high school). The second benefit is less wasted time from over-studying. It could take 60 hours of studying, for example, to achieve 80% on a WGU exam. But to achieve 95% on the same test, you might need to study for twice that amount of time. It would be much harder to accelerate if the school used a traditional grading system, just because the student would feel compelled to over-study just for marginal gains.
In the real world, “competent” is usually the standard one is held to, not “perfectionist.”
Easy admissions process
Most universities, even ones not named Stanford or Harvard, make you jump through all sorts of hoops just to gain admission and prove you are worthy enough to transfer tens of thousands a dollars a year to them from your bank accounts. These hoops usually include taking some sort of $200 standardized test like the GRE, letters of recommendations, a tax-form-like application with multiple essay questions and in-person interviews to “prove” your motivation and of course the background check for cheap that you have undergo. Because paying thousands of dollars of your own money for tuition is not “proof” enough.
And then there is the long, drawn-out thrill of seeing whether or not you have been “accepted” and have the privilege of attending the fine institution… next year.
All sarcasm aside, I think the hoops exist at most universities due to scarcity of resources. With a brick-and-mortar school, there’s a finite number of rooms and desks, professors and graders. Many, if not most schools, receive more applicants than they have spots for. (For a Stanford undergraduate education in 2015, for example, over 40,000 well qualified students applied for only 2,000 spots, for an acceptance rate of only 5%.) Universities thus erect the barriers to reduce the size of the applicant pool and also to select the ones most likely to succeed.
In contrast, Western Governors University is entirely Internet based and has yet to reach the constraints of its resources. In 2014, WGU surpassed 50,000 enrolled students nationwide, and since it admitted its first student only 15 years ago, it is growing exponentially.
Its admission process is easy, with only a simple online application and a friendly half-hour phone interview with an enrollment counselor to make sure the program would be a good fit for you. You also will need to submit your résumé and have your college transcripts forwarded to WGU. The normal application fee is $65, but you can get that waived by acquiring a referral link from a WGU alumnus. Email me and I can send you a referral link that allows you to apply for free.
Flexible start dates
With most universities, there are usually only two or three start dates per year depending on whether they are on a semester or quarter system. With WGU, you can literally start any time after your application is approved, although your term officially begins on the first day of the month following your application approval. I recommend applying at least four weeks before you want to begin, or at least six weeks if you need to apply for financial aid.
Classes are sequential
Unlike during high school and my undergraduate studies, at WGU, classes are only taken one at a time. I am not sure if that is how classes are normally done at other graduate schools, but it was a refreshing approach for me. This is because I am most effective when focusing on one thing at a time, and it was great not having to shift gears constantly from one subject to another each day, which would have otherwise severely slowed me down.
I am not sure why such an approach is not taken in high school or college. Maybe it is to give students a constant variety of subjects so they would not get bored. It is also probably logistically more difficult to do so in a brick-and-mortar school. Doing one subject one at a time would require six hours in the same classroom for the same subject (to utilize the entire school day) with new classes beginning every month instead of every quarter or semester. A teacher would only get to know the students for a few weeks before they moved on to the next class.
Still, from a learning point of view, I believe that focusing intently on one subject at a time enables quicker learning, and WGU enables this.
Because all exams are electronic, you know whether you have passed them (and the class) the minute after you complete them. There is no waiting a week or more for results like I had to during college and high school.
Even papers are graded relatively quickly. After submitting a paper to TaskStream.com, you can see where it is in the queue. WGU outsources grading to a third party. (Corrected August 2016) Evaluators employed by WGU then retrieve and grade your paper, strictly following a rubric. Papers are usually graded within two to three days, and the instant the task is marked as “requirements met,” the class is marked as complete.
Limited social contact
Many people go to college and even graduate school for the social aspect: to meet others their age and to have the social support of peers working towards similar goals. But at WGU, you work entirely independently except in the final Capstone course in which there is a group simulation project. The most amount of contact you have with a living person at WGU occurs during the weekly phone calls with your student mentor who checks in with you in support of your goals.
You can “meet” other current WGU students through WGU forums and Facebook groups, but do not expect to make many friends this way, much less hang out and study together in person. Western Governors University is thus even less of a party school than another Utah institution, Brigham Young University.
For me that was not a problem. Over the years I have met many interesting new people through other mediums, such as Spanish and French conversation groups, running clubs, Tuesday Night Track workouts, and my rock climbing clan. It was just as well that I could not make new friends through WGU because at the accelerated pace I was going at, I would not have had time to spend with any of them anyhow.
Limited networking opportunities
If you go to Stanford GSB, you are likely to mingle with people like Steve Fossett, Phil Knight, and Mitt Romney (all GSB alumni). The classmates you bump elbows with will probably be big movers and shakers in the world. Those connections could be very valuable in the future.
There are no such networking opportunities at WGU. If networking is important to you, I would suggest spending some time attending local business and entrepreneur gatherings and Meetups. You could also try hanging out online on networking sites such as LinkedIn.
In my case, I probably could tap some of the alumni resources provided by Stanford.
Inability to Ask Questions During a Lecture
Western Governor University classes are not like regular classes, where you can (sometimes) interrupt a professor to ask him a question and get an immediate answer.
However, each class has course mentors. My experience with them was mixed. There were a couple classes where I e-mailed the course mentors questions related to the course materials and received replies that were immediate but merely said, “I’ll look into it and get back to you.” And then the mentors never followed up and I had already moved on to the next class. But I am pretty sure if I pressed the issue I could have gotten a more satisfactory response, and for more urgent questions I could have picked up the phone and called them during office hours instead of emailing.
Below is my actual timeline for obtaining a Master of Business Administration degree in 4.5 months. There were a total of 11 classes, with each one being three units except for the final Capstone class, which was four.
|Class||Chapters to read||Assessments||Dates||Time Completed|
|C200 Managing Organizations & Leading People||9||2 papers||November 3-18||16 days|
|C211 Global Economics for Managers||20||exam||November 19-26||8 days|
|C202 Managing Human Capital||14||exam||November 27-December 5||9 days|
|C204 Management Communication||16||oral presentation, paper||December 5-13||9 days|
|C212 Marketing||22||paper, exam||December 13-23||11 days|
|C213 Accounting for Decision makers||11||exam||December 24-January 2||10 days|
|C206 Ethical Leadership||8||2 papers, exam||January 2-14||13 days|
|C214 Financial Management||15||exam||January 14-21||8 days|
|C207 Data-Driven Decision Making||7||2 papers, exam||January 21-30||10 days|
|C215 Operations Management||13||exam||January 30-February 6||8 days|
|C216 Capstone||7||6 quizzes, team simulation, 3 papers, oral presentation||February 7-March 18||40 days|
|Total||142||11 papers, 6 quizzes, 8 exams, 1 team simulation, 2 oral presentations||November 3-March 18||135 days (4.5 months)|
The bulk of my papers were 11-18 pages long, with one task being 4 pages and the final real-world business problem being 30. If you remove the cover and reference pages, that is about 135 pages worth of papers (double-spaced in American Psychological Association format).
In other words, WGU’s MBA program required writing the equivalent of a novel.
- C200 Task 1: 18 pages
- C200 Task 2: 15 pages
- C204 Task 2: 14 pages
- C212 Task 1: 12 pages
- C206 Task 1: 12 pages
- C206 Task 2: 16 pages
- C207 Task 1: 4 pages
- C207 Task 2: 11 pages
- C216 Task 1: 11 pages
- C216 Task 2D: 14 pages
- C216 Task 4: 30 pages
Note: There is no page length requirements for papers. I listed the above to give you an idea of how much writing you can expect to do to complete the assessments. How long your papers would be depends entirely on how concisely you write to fulfill the requirements of the rubrics.
The way exams work at Western Governors University is before you can take a “real” exam, you must take a pre-assessment exam which mimics the real one. Once you pass the pre-assessment, you ask your student mentor to allow you to take the real exam. Completion of a pre-assessment generates a helpful coaching report of the topics you should study more.
Generally, I thought the real exams were of equal or slightly higher difficulty than the pre-assessments. However, the number and type of questions were exactly the same.
The exams were multiple choice and difficult enough that I honestly did not feel I could have passed any of them without reading the chapters in their entirety. But keep in mind that I’ve only taken one business-related class previously in my life, that being an Engineering Economics course class at Stanford. I know of at least one WGU alumnus who said he was able to pass a lot of the exams by simply taking the pre-assessments, then figuring out what he missed and reviewing pertinent chapter sections, and then taking the real exams. However, he was a business major as an undergraduate so most of the material was not new to him.
The most difficult classes—aside from the Capstone class—were the Data-Driven Decision Making and Financial Management classes. Actually, for the math-heavy Financial Management class I did very well, scoring 88% on an exam that had a cut (passing) score of 61%, but you might expect that for a financially independent mechanical engineer. The Data-Driven Decision Making class was truly difficult and I barely passed the pre-assessment, due in part to not taking it as seriously as I probably should have after passing the exams in all previous classes. That was a wake up call for me and I ended up using the whole two hours allotted for the real Data-Driven Decision Making exam. I passed that with a 12% margin.
Here are a few sample exam questions:
- C211: What happens to a country’s real exchange rate and nominal interest rate as the price level increases, assuming all other factors are unchanged? (a) Exchange rates appreciate; interest rates decrease. (b) Exchange rates depreciate; interest rates decrease. (c) Exchange rates depreciate; interest rates increase. (d) Exchange rates appreciate; interest rates increase. (Correct answer: c)
- C202: How does human resource management support organizational leadership? (a) By setting individual limits for vacation time and financial benefits. (b) By creating clear policies related to employee schedules and document control. (c) By documenting hiring processes that promote ascension, efficiency, and timeliness. (d) By providing employees with opportunities for professional development and growth. (Correct answer: c)
- C212: What are two of the three common internationally integrated structures that global corporations use to implement their marketing strategy? (a) Joint venture. (b) Multinational marketing. (c) Geographic area. (d) Product division. (Correct answer: c & d)
Final Capstone Class
It took me just over three months to finish the first ten classes, or about one class every 10 days. In contrast, the final Capstone class took six weeks. There were a few reasons why the final class took me so long.
First, it was simply a ton of work. There was a surprising amount of pre-work to be done before engaging in the Capsim team simulation, and I also had to meet with a local business to solve one of their business problems as one of the other assignments. Then there was doing the simulation itself and writing a couple papers and a PowerPoint presentation for that, and writing a 30-page paper for the business problem solution. To cap it all off, I had to do an oral presentation. Mine was 17 minutes long, which required a lot of rehearsing.
Then there was the matter of working with teammates. All three of mine were very smart and hard working but had full-time jobs and families to tend to, and therefore were doing their MBAs over two or three years. Thus, we had to work at a slower pace than I was accustomed to. Because I had more time, I was CEO of the group and happily took on extra roles, including spending a bit of time trying to get a team member up to speed when he started falling behind due to his employer making him work 22-hour days on business travel. Ultimately, this team member had to drop out of our group due to the insane work schedule, reducing our team to three and having me take on yet another role to fill in for him.
The remaining three of us had a passion for excellence and as a team we were super competitive, so in the eight competition simulation rounds (which simulated eight years of running a sensor-producing business), we did not let up and spent more time than was probably necessary to pass the simulation.
In the end it was worth it. My team dominated and completed the simulation with a final score of 99 percentile, the highest possible that can be achieved. (We only needed a score of 50 percentile to pass, which actually seemed like a challenge when we were doing the practice rounds due to the complexity of the simulation.) I was extremely proud of my team and I do not think any of us would have traded a faster completion time over our score, a score that earned us a spot on Capsim’s webpage of distinction and also a nice letter and certificate from WGU.
In this section, I give advice that could help you finish a WGU MBA more quickly than you might have imagined.
- Create outlines for papers before you begin writing them to organize your thoughts.
- Follow the rubrics for each task; they tell you exactly what needs to be in your task submission for you to pass.
- Download an APA-formatted template (link) for Word, provided by Microsoft itself. Papers need to be in APA format. The template is extremely useful, especially for citing references. Do not bother to spend hours like I did going through WGU’s Center for Writing Excellence website to learn how to format a paper per APA guidelines.
- Use video editing for the oral presentation of the final Capstone class; it is explicitly allowed. I split my oral presentation into multiple segments and spliced them all together using Microsoft Movie Maker, and then uploaded to WGU’s Panapto website. I had to do multiple takes for each segment to create one polished presentation. The alternative is to do the (approximately 17-minute) presentation in one shot, which I could have done but would have required (at least for me) several days of rehearsing.
- Watch the case study videos; they were very interesting and helpful. This includes even the cheesy ones with third-rate acting; I thought they were very effective in making their points.
- Watch the other videos at 1.5X or 2X speed on Panapto. Definitely watch the very helpful Capsim Demonstration video by Professor Loretta Davis for the final Capsim simulation project. That video otherwise would have taken 45 minutes to watch, but at 2X speed, it took only 23.
- Take screenshots of each question of the pre-assessments. This can be accomplished by pressing the Windows key and PrtScn simultaneously in Windows 8.1, and finding the screenshots later in a Screenshots folder within your Pictures folder. Then, after finishing the pre-assessments, try to figure out which questions you missed. Doing so can be a bit time-consuming, but an effective way to improve on anything in life is to figure out mistakes you made and learning from them. (Note: Keep the screenshots for your own use and do not disseminate them to other students, which would be unethical.)
- Do not bother with the forums or Cohorts. Once in a while I visited the forums for tips from course mentors in regards to specific tasks, but tuning in to forums or Cohorts was usually not an efficient use of time. If you get really stuck, contact a course mentor directly.
- Communicate regularly with your Student Mentor. Not only is he or she there to offer support and encouragement, but is the gateway for taking exams and enrolling into your next class. Discuss your concerns ahead of time and definitely keep the mentor informed of your goals and progress. Some students felt that weekly calls with mentors were too much like babysitting, but I found them so reassuring that when my mentor gave me the option of conducting the calls every two weeks (after it became obvious that I was a motivated and effective independent worker), I insisted on keeping our calls weekly. (My student mentor was great, by the way. Thank you Rochelle Davis!)
- Take notes using a note-taking program such as Microsoft OneNote. I could sing the praises of OneNote all day. It has been the single biggest enhancement to keeping my life organized since I’ve adopted it a few years ago. It synchronizes to all devices instantly and makes clipping notes from a variety of sources super easy. Evernote is also a good option, but I prefer OneNote especially since I am happily entrenched in the Microsoft ecosystem. Either is far superior to pen and paper.
- Learn how to read faster if you haven’t already. Back at Stanford, I took a speed-reading seminar. It was only an hour or two long, but has probably saved me days, if not months, of reading time over my lifetime. Using its principles, I could read a business school chapter every 1.5-2.5 hours with full comprehension. When you have 142 chapters to read in total, it behooves you to be able to read even slightly faster if you really want to accelerate your learning.
- Adopt the motto “once and done.” Strive to pass the pre-assessments, exams, and papers on your first try. Having to redo them wastes time. I was able to pass everything on my first attempt, although I did have a close call with the C207 pre-assessment as mentioned earlier.
- Use every moment of the day. Eating breakfast? You can study during it. On your lunch hour? Ditto. In today’s mobile world, it is easy to whip out your cell phone and do some studying while standing in a grocery line, or waiting for someone to show for coffee.
- Reduce your life to the basics if you are serious about completing an MBA as quickly as possible. I even went six weeks before doing any cleaning of the house. Hire a housecleaner and gardener if you need to; remember that finishing earlier will easily pay for them in terms of reduced tuition (in the case of finishing semesters early) and the opportunity cost associated with time.
Before I commenced Western Governors University’s MBA program, I wondered if I could go back to being a full-time student. I had been out of college for a whopping 17 years and have quite enjoyed having my evenings and weekends free without having to worry about having some exam to study for or paper to write.
The first week of the program put those concerns to rest. The material was super interesting and engaging. I experienced no eye-strain while studying in front of the computer(s) from dawn to dusk. Despite usually studying alone at home (which I found to be much more efficient than at, say, a coffee shop), I did not fall victim to loneliness and despair. In today’s world, it’s easy to keep in touch with other with a simple text on Google Voice, or a quick email over Outlook. During my graduate studies, this was usually enough.
I had to cut back on things such as freelance work, news reading, weekly rock climbing, exercise, house projects, blogging, French Film & Culture Club, and general socializing, but it was actually liberating to pare life to the bare essentials. No longer did I waste energy noticing what shenanigans Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber were up to, nor did I bother to do things of trifling importance such as cleaning until surfaces began to get too gross. What I had to do each day was already laid out; all I needed to do was execute efficiently and effectively.
Eventually I did begin to miss the level of physical fitness I attained last year and definitely the company of my friends. But 4.5 months was a short enough period of time that neither were lost for good.
Could I have done the MBA program any faster? Probably. For one thing, I did get distracted by the holidays, the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. Another thing is I did not take any shortcuts. If my sole objective was to get an MBA, I probably could have read less of the material, foregone all the videos and auxiliary reading links, spent less time proofreading my papers, spent many fewer days on the Capsim simulation, and still would have passed the classes. But a big part of my goal was to learn as much as I could about business through the program. Indeed, within those months, I learned more than I have in the last 10, maybe 15 years.
The quality of the MBA program was outstanding and I would highly recommend Western Governors University to anyone. I believe its online learning model and competency-based approach is the future of education. But ultimately, regardless of whatever university you enroll in, the quality of your education depends on how you make the most of the resources that are available to you.
What’s next? Educationally and professionally, there’s still some stuff I want to learn about, including 3D printing, app writing, and becoming a better public speaker. And considering that this master’s degree took half the time I had originally planned on, it is mighty tempting to do another graduate degree—especially if I could do it in another 4.5 months. That would give me as many degrees as Shaq.
But instead, I think I will take a break. I may even take a vacation or two. do the Trans Am Bike Race. Even the Big Diesel needs a little rest.
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