For many, education is a solitary exercise. They read and research, scribble notes, and memorize facts. Over time, they learn to frame issues, identify patterns, and devise solutions. In recent decades, education has increasingly followed the model popularized by business. Here, practitioners work in teams that bind functions, levels, and locations. In the process, these teams tap into a variety of experiences that only make their work more relevant, complete, and lasting.

To put it another way…

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.


Indiana University’s Allie Pearson

Allie Pearson learned the value of this proverb as an online MBA student at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. An Assistant Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble, Pearson was accustomed to working in teams to market products like Luvs and Herbal Essences. At Kelley, Pearson found a true community…and reaped unexpected benefits.

“In an online program, your classmates live all around the world and participate in a variety of industries,” she writes. “Their anecdotes, perspective, and knowledge are incredibly helpful to getting a broader view of the business world and a taste of what it’s like to work on projects far different than the ones on your own work plan.”

Shared expertise is just one benefit to the online MBA’s team-driven approach. In Pearson’s experience, the support of her classmates was equally valuable. That’s why she counsels MBA applicants to appreciate the peers learning along with them. In the end, these classmates will play a big part in their success.


“An online MBA is difficult,” Pearson admits. “It’s not just because of the coursework rigor, but also because you’re choosing to balance it with your career, family, hobbies, etc. It is invaluable to have people in your corner to help you through it. Friends help with confusing assignments, recruit you for team projects, and cheer you on when you feel like you’re under a pile of work. It also works vice versa: you’re able to help and cheer for your new friends too. When we all work together, the workload becomes far more manageable. We learn more by teaching each other and asking each other questions, and we all deliver higher quality work. For example, in my operations course, we had to manage a factory simulation that was running 24 hours each day for a whole week. Let’s just say if my classmates hadn’t patiently provided the coaching that they did, my factory would have quickly been out of business.”

Poets&Quants recently published its 3rd annual Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Class of 2020 story, which honored 52 highly-accomplished MBAs from the Class of 2020 at the most highly ranked online MBA programs. As part of their nominations, these students were asked the following: What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? From time management to setting expectations, here are the 10 best nuggets of advice from this year’s Best & Brightest.

University of Maryland’s Leland Naslow

1) Set Expectations: “Get your entire team on board before you even start. Pursuing an online MBA program as a working professional is grueling at times and the total support of your inner circle is the key to keeping it moving when doubts start to surface. Special shout out to my amazing wife Nataly and our entire supportive family.”
Leland Nislow, University of Maryland (Smith)

“One thing that has helped sustain me over the past two years in this program is the understanding and support of my family. Getting them on board and sharing the workload around the house has enabled me to make getting my MBA a top priority. One tactic I have used is to set aside one day a week [usually Wednesdays] where we can have a night together as a family. I don’t schedule team meetings and I ensure that any work I need to do is completed before or after this day. This routine has allowed me a nice pause mid-week to rest and be able to spend quality time with those that are on this journey with me.”
Robert Bussey, Penn State (Smeal)

2) Ask The Right Questions: “Take the time to answer critical questions before you even start your program:

    • Is graduate school really what you want next and will it help get you where you want to go or is there an alternative solution?
    • Is now the right time for a graduate program, and how much time can you dedicate to it? How will you make space for this in your life?
    • What are your requirements or constraints? Budget, location, flexibility, academic focus, networking, travel, and more may all impact your choice.
    • How will you change your current life and lifestyle to support the added responsibilities of graduate work? Do you have a support system or solution in place to fill in any gaps (care for dependents, coverage at work, etc.)?”

Celina Rosita Tousignant, Syracuse University (Whitman)

University of Maryland’s Vi Zenone

3) Leverage Your Classmates and School Network: “Make connections. Reach out to other people in the cohort, at the university, in your company and your industry. Use the topics you learn about to start a discussion with them, and you will be amazed by their hidden experience, insights, and personal or professional connections you can make. A highlight of our MBA was the Interview a Leader exercise where, as part of our Personal Leadership Journey, we were asked to reach out to C-suite executives of our current or target industries. I used the chance to speak to the Director-General of CERN and ITER as well as to the CEO and COO of my company. It was inspiring to speak to all of them and I learned a great deal about their pathways and values. Many in my cohort even stayed connected and gained an amazing mentor through this exercise.”
Eva Belonohy-Borba, Imperial College

“Time management was key to my success in the program. My goal was to stay a week ahead of assignments. Being disciplined and sticking to a study schedule allowed me to keep up with work and family commitments. Also, take advantage of the available resources. I knew I wanted to switch careers once I was done with the program. I reached out to Career Services after my first year and worked with a coach to update my resume and maximize my network. The preparation paid off so when the career opportunity presented itself, I was ready to make the change.”
Vi Zenone, University of Maryland (Smith)

“You will get out of the program what you put into it. There is a lot to balance when adding a Master’s degree to your schedule, and an online MBA is no less rigorous than any other. Time management is key to staying on top of all the work – don’t get behind. To get the most out of the program, also be intentional to reach out to those in your cohort, professors, and other academic opportunities your school provides. There are ways to be involved and add to your learning experience virtually.”
Cari G. Lim, USC (Marshall)

4) Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable: “You will be introduced to new concepts, technology tools, individuals, and ways of thinking right out of the gate. It can be overwhelming trying to keep up and also maintaining balance within the rest of your life. Be patient with yourself as you learn how to become a student again and are exposed to courses outside your areas of expertise. Befriend, lean on, and support your classmates; they are in the same boat.”
Jaime Xinos, University of Illinois (Gies)

University of Illinois’ Rebecca Radney

5) Take A Break: “Something I learned very early on was its ok to take a day off from school. If you live a hectic lifestyle and decide to add the iMBA to the mix, you can burn out. Don’t feel guilty for taking time to yourself for a needed break. School is not going anywhere, and it will be there tomorrow.”
Rebecca Radney, University of Illinois (Gies)

6) Treat School Like A Job: “My best piece of advice to an applicant for an online MBA program is to treat the program as an extension of your current job. As a student, if you can apply existing problems facing you in your career to your assignments and readings, your knowledge will multiply significantly. Your classmates and professors are invaluable resources and can drive an impressive level of performance.”
Jaime Wise, Jack Welch Management Institute

7) Use Available Time: “Carving out chunks of time during the day to prepare for the evening workload allowed me to be much more productive in the evening. I would get the readings done during the commute to work or during lunch and would have the day to mull over the lessons while seeking a way to make them relevant in the workplace. Having a notebook handy allowed me to jot down thoughts throughout the day to the point that I sometimes found myself with a good outline that just needed fleshing out in the evening, giving me more time for the kids or for myself. Also, print out the readings as much as possible. Retention is increased when reading from paper than from an electronic display.”
Joseph Peter Park Florendo, Jack Welch Management Institute

Arizona State’s Rachel Pruitt

8) Be A Good Teammate: “Make connections. Be a quality teammate. Add value to your cohort and your groups. It will make for a better learning experience for you as a student while paying dividends down the road by conditioning you to act as an effective part of a team once you get the opportunity to put your education to use. Nobody works in a vacuum.”
Patrick Brennan, University of Florida (Warrington)

9) Learn To Read Fast: “Learning speed reading and retention techniques is hugely beneficial in this program. You will dedicate hours to reading each week. Even basic techniques like using your finger to follow along on the page while reading can really decrease the amount of time you spend reading.”
Rachel Pruitt, Arizona State University (W. P. Carey)

10) Get Ready To Work: “Do not let “online” cloud your thinking, a hybrid MBA is not for everyone and it is also not an “easy” or “lite” way to earn an MBA. At Tepper, the full-time and part-time curriculum and requirements are the same, taught by the same professors in the same classrooms. Buckle up and get ready to work. This is the real deal.”
Andrew Woodward, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)


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