The Chicago Booth EMBA Experience
Guest post by Zofia Mroz
Zofia is an EMBA Candidate at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She started her EMBA adventure in September of 2020 in Hong Kong where she is currently based. Professionally, Zofia is working as Asia Regional Marketing Lead at the Hong Kong Asia Pacific office of a US multinational company.
When I applied for EMBA program at Chicago Booth, back in Fall of 2019 no one heard about Covid-19 and the word “pandemic” was used in historic context to refer to Spanish Flu. However, between being admitted in early February and making the final decision to start the program in September (the original date was pushed back from June), I spent a lot of time debating what was the right decision for me.
My thoughts centered around two topics:
Best time to start an EMBA?
First was a question I kept asking myself – is it smart, given the level of uncertainty in our lives, to add another layer of complexity and go through an extremely demanding program, knowing the format will be different to how it has been run thus far?
After much consideration and countless discussions with people whose opinions I value, it became very clear to me that 2020 was the best time to start my EMBA. I am convinced that enhancing my knowledge and expanding my skill set during difficult times will increase my value on the job market as we come out of this crisis.
Additionally, I have always been very passionate about working with people and becoming a better leader. The pandemic is showing us that resilience as well as being able to adapt and lead in quickly changing and uncertain environment are extremely important characteristic of good leaders. What better way to put these skills to work than in the current situation with a support of coaches from Chicago Booth?
Securing funds for tuition.
The second and equally important matter, was securing the funds to cover the tuition. My situation was somewhat peculiar, despite being a foreigner based in Hong Kong the fact that school campus is also located in Hong Kong, disqualified me from applying for any international student loans. After searching both in my home country and my current residency the Admission Office suggested that I look into Lendwise. It turned out to be a great recommendation. The staff are extremely helpful and responsive, but most importantly, everyone has a “can do”, consumer-friendly approach which was a refreshing change after dealing with several other financial institutions.
The start of the first quarter naturally brought both excitement and some anxiety about the work and course load, new format and overall high expectations from the program. Although at times it felt like a wild ride, I greatly enjoyed every minute of that experience. I’ve met incredible people from all over the world, with very different backgrounds and various experiences, which spark a lot of fascinating discussions. Booth community is incredibly supportive and collaborative across the three campuses and cohorts. Although the vast majority of our interactions is happening in the virtual space, I can already feel the bonds forming between us.
It is hard to believe how quickly the first term has gone by, especially given that out of 3 courses, 2 were extremely demanding core classes, necessary to progress further in the program. Each of the Professors had a different approach to teaching remotely, which was also very dependent on the subject they taught. Managerial Psychology was centered around pre-lecture readings and in class discussions and applications in smaller groups as well as in the main classroom. Fundamental courses – Financial Accounting and Microeconomics were more lecture based but with time built in for questions, discussions as well as break out room sessions to work on problems. Faculty was also available during office hours, TA review sessions and study group time, as well as via email or other means of communication, which allowed for extending the discussions way beyond classroom.
Personally, and to my surprise, I found that the online format with pre-recorded sessions as well as recorded lectures allowed me to get more from the classes at least from a purely academic standpoint than I would have gotten had the classes been in person. The ability of going back to the recordings and re-watching the more difficult parts of the lectures was invaluable in preparation to the exams. Additionally, the idea of break out rooms and the randomization aspect allowed us to meet and work with more of our classmates, which in my experience might have been more difficult given the in-person classes. It is worth noting however that not everyone finds the online model suitable for their learning needs and some of my peers struggle with this format.
The biggest challenge and the most obvious one is the lack of physical presence and interactions on and off campus. On one hand the lack of in person classes to some extent limits the in-class discussions or makes them somewhat unnatural. It requires more effort to have a lively conversation on Zoom – allowing for supporting and/or contrasting points of view to come across and at the same time ensuring that everyone is not speaking at once.
Expand your network.
The other and in my opinion, more important matter is the impact on networking. One of key reasons of going to Business School is expanding one’s connections, which is hindered by the lack of in person interaction. The School is trying to help facilitate contacts between students outside the classroom, through various online events and initiatives, however nothing brings people closer than being physically on campus, learning, studying, eating and working together. Simply spending time in person with each other.
The few of us living in Hong Kong were fortunate enough to have an option at some point to attend the classes from Campus. However due to strict regulations the attendance was only restricted to the duration of the lecture and obviously only to the ones who live in Hong Kong and were comfortable with visiting the Campus.
Time management and organisational skills.
Every EMBA program is demanding on two levels – performing academically and juggling it with professional and personal life. Chicago Booth is known for its rigorous curriculum and the first quarter gave all of us a great taste of how time management and organisational skills play a crucial role in succeeding in this program. It’s not only the days when we have classes, it’s also (or more so) the time in between spent on reading, studying, preparing and meeting with the study group.
A very interesting concept which I came to realize through a workshop organised by Global Career and Leadership Development team at Booth, is that if I do not have time for something it means that thing is not a priority. It really refocused the way I’m starting to think about time management. Although I still have a long way to go I strongly believe that planning the time needs to start with setting clear priorities and ensuring that we find time for what is important and either skip or delegate the less important matters to us.
Finally, it is incredibly important to have a strong support system in professional and personal life. I am very lucky to have both, because as John Donne said “No man is an island.” Now more than ever I see how true and powerful these words are.
Read more about postgraduate student experiences.