Debunking Common Myths About Graduate Business School: Insights From Karen Heise At Washington University’s Olin Business School

If you’re thinking about going back to school for an MBA, the process can undoubtedly feel overwhelming. You might think you need to quit your job, that it would be impossible to finance, or that perhaps universities are disconnected from the actual business world.

We spoke with Karen Heise, the interim director of Olin Business School’s Weston Career Center, and discovered that’s not the case at all. Heise gave us the lowdown on common myths when it comes to exploring graduate programs and the many options available to students that you might not expect: flexible programs that work around a full-time work schedule, scholarships and financing options, and professors who are business leaders in their respective fields.

Read below to learn about some common myths and perceptions about business school, and the reality of today’s business education landscape based on Heise’s answers.

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Myth #1: The full-time MBA is my only graduate degree option.
In the 21st century, graduate business programs are embracing more than just one type of program. For example, WashU does offer an immersive full-time MBA, but they also have a part-time MBA program and specialized masters programs, none of which require that your undergraduate degree be in business. The part-time program, also known as Olin’s Professional MBA (PMBA), has evening and weekend options, making it possible for working adults to achieve their educational goals. “Our PMBA talent is of real interest to the market. For example, if Deloitte visits campus to interview our MBAs, they look at our PMBAs as well,” says Heise. “The part-time MBA program generally takes a student three years to complete because they’re working all day and then taking classes at night or on Saturday, frequently with our full-time MBAs. Part-time students aren’t in the thick of the MBA experience the way full-time MBA students are, but they’re still very attractive to recruiters.”

Potential graduate students also have more focused degree options in the form of specialized masters degrees. As the name indicates, these two- and three-semester programs are highly focused—they’re also growing in popularity. Says Heise, “Specialized masters students, who usually have minimal work experience before the program, are focused down a specific pathway. At Olin, we have four specialized degree options—accounting, finance, customer analytics and supply chain management—which provide students with a depth of curriculum. And we’re certainly seeing an appetite for this talent in the market. They’re attractive to firms because of that specialized knowledge.”

Myth #2: My job market is limited to the same city where the university is located.
This is a myth Heise frequently comes across in her work. “People often ask if the job opportunities are only in St. Louis, and they’re not. Our MBAs in particular come from around the globe and land around the globe. We’re not only doing business with St. Louis and regional firms—we have relationships with companies like Google, Amazon and McKinsey, and our students find opportunities across industries around the globe.”

While it is certainly a possibility to stay in St. Louis if that’s an MBA student’s preference, job opportunities are everywhere. “Prospective students often think, ‘I will have to get a job in St. Louis if I’m going to go to school in St. Louis, and that’s just not true,” says Heise.

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Myth #3: There’s no way I’ll be able to pay for my MBA—and even if I can finance it, I won’t be able to pay it off in my lifetime.
“From where I sit, it’s clear the investment in an MBA or specialized masters degree is a very good one,” says Heise, who sees students graduate every year with high earning potential and solid job prospects. “Our students have very strong earning potential across a number of industries—and in areas like healthcare and technology, not just consulting and banking.”

As far as affording and financing a graduate degree, Heise is both candid and hopeful. “We do everything we can to help students afford our programs. We have such high-quality professors and curriculum and make significant investments in having the best programs possible. But also as a school, we’re trying to do different things to make WashU affordable for students.” WashU is a Yellow Ribbon School for veterans, Heise notes, and the subsidized cost has brought in a strong, diverse contingent of veterans into graduate degree programs. “We offer scholarships as well, so students should certainly ask what’s possible. We’re thankful to many of our generous donors that help students afford their degrees. We work to help undergraduate and graduate students alike.” In fact, Olin offers a variety of fellowship and scholarship opportunities for prospective female, LGBT and international students.

Myth #4: Academic programs aren’t connected to the actual business world.
WashU’s professors, well-respected thought leaders in their fields, are approachable and invested in student success. Many professors are working professionals themselves, creating a direct link between the academia of graduate programs and the market. “One of the things we’re very proud of here at WashU is our collaboration and the benefit that brings to students. Olin faculty collaborates regularly with business and our career center team. We work very closely with faculty to bring in employers who are hiring our students, and my colleagues often attend classes. We’re very aligned with the faculty,” Heise corroborates.

Myth #5: Business school is only for students who know exactly what they want to do.
From their very first visit to Olin’s Weston Career Center, Heise is emphatic that students are educated about their many career options after business school. And oftentimes, those options are much more extensive than students think. “In our advising appointments we expose students to the wide variety of career and job options they really have. For example, a student might only be aware of three or four consulting firms on the planet. But there are hundreds of great firms, and students just don’t know they exist. Their options are much more abundant than they realize. WashU graduates are following career paths as entrepreneurs, in nonprofits, or in family businesses. Not just corporate America. They may not realize it when they start their degree program, but that’s why we’re here. It’s rigorous work, but it is also life-changing, fun, and very rewarding.”

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