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Brittany Floyd

What It’s Like to Start an MBA During a Pandemic

This article was originally written and published on LinkedIn on August 17, 2020, by Consortium member Brittany Floyd, a 2022 MBA candidate at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.

Before this year, starting a full-time MBA was a rite of passage met with professional conferences, pre-MBA travel, cohort bonding and hands-on career exploration. Business school at its core is all about learning, making connections and recruiting for future opportunities. But the pandemic, coupled with a time of social unrest, really changed the landscape for prospective students and schools, as well as for companies.

Schools were forced to rethink admissions requirements, quickly convert their curriculums to an online format, evaluate their diversity and inclusion efforts, support international students and still figure out how to provide maximum value based on the high price tag for business programs. Although some students decided to defer, most — like myself — decided it was worth the risk to carry on in times of uncertainty.

Companies are now under the spotlight based on how they support and protect their employees health and well-being and how agile they are during this time. They are also having to address inequities in their hiring practices and career development pipelines, and work to create short- and long-term plans to make their companies more diverse and inclusive than in the past.

Yes, most classes are online. 

I have taken over a dozen online courses in my [educational] career, and I have come to realize that the way courses are taught really matters. Although self-paced (asynchronous) learning is the standard, and quite frankly, the allure for online courses, synchronous classes provide the most in-class-like experience.

I took a few synchronous courses over the summer and found out that #ZoomCollege does allow for more natural class participation than discussion boards. Being able to see my classmates and professors faces enhanced the human element of learning and helped us foster closer bonds. Luckily, my school, Simon Business School, has selected a hybrid format and synchronous lectures, which will provide a platform for my classmates and I to get the closest-to-normal experience that is humanly possible during a global pandemic.

 All conferences were, and will continue to be, virtual. 

Conferences provide a platform for future and current MBA candidates to get in front of recruiters and to help build out a professional network. Honestly, one of the biggest concerns I had about starting during the pandemic was the possibility that I would miss out on genuine in-person connections and possible internship opportunities.

I attended The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management‘s annual conference, the Orientation Program & Career Forum, in June, and although it didn’t come without challenges, I was able to leverage technology to meet fellow students and companies of interest.

Despite so much uncertainty, I was able to secure MBA marketing internship offers from a few Fortune 500 Companies for summer 2021 in greater New York City. It goes to show that it is possible to recruit for top companies, even if you have to meet the entire team and go through multiple rounds of interviews on Zoom. Connections are still entirely real and possible.

To be quite honest, millennials make up the majority of incoming full-time MBA candidates this year (with an average age of 28) and, as a whole, are probably the most prepared to handle the virtual world, due to coming-of-age during the Digital Revolution. We have lived the majority of our lives connecting in some way or another on the internet using a range of technologies and mediums; we were built for this moment!

Uncertainty is uncertain, but it prepares us as future leaders.

More than ever, companies are looking for employees and future leaders who can thrive during uncertain times. Almost every company expressed wanting candidates who were agile, comfortable with ambiguity and able to work under pressure. The weight of this year, and those to follow, set us up to experience all that — plus some.

Even though my classmates and I didn’t anticipate this experience, we are poised to be some of the most resilient and capable leaders of the future. We will build more agile, innovative and strong businesses. Our strategic process and long-term planning will be informed by planning for problems no one has ever seen. We will be able to anticipate and assess problems in a superlative fashion. We are encountering such unique challenges at the beginning of our journey that may have taken other people decades to experience.

There is always a silver lining. 

This could have easily been one of the worst years of my life, but getting the opportunity to begin my MBA, even in these times, will give me the right tools to easily pivot into a career in marketing and consumer goods. I’m also lucky to have a small but mighty network of Simon alums and an incredibly dedicated administrative team to help me along the way.

It has also been extremely comforting to know that I’m not alone during this process, it is new for literally everyone. We are all trying our best and showing up every day to keep our lives moving along as best as possible. I am personally working toward accepting that we are entering a paradigm shift and that I have to be open and ready to influence and accept the new normal — whatever that’s going to be.

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