Friday, July 2, 2010

Thoughts about UMass Boston

UMass Boston feels more like high school than it does like college. Perhaps that's because it's so big or perhaps that's because I get to and from it on public transportation. Perhaps it's just that it's, um, a good deal more multi-cultural than Carleton College. Which is like saying that there's more chance of snow in Boston than there is in Miami.

I was extremely proud of myself for actually getting accepted into an MBA program, and I'm kicking myself for not applying 3 years earlier. But I kept thinking that it would all be too Hard and that I wasn't going to be smart enough do well on the GMAT and besides I'd never get accepted anywhere (after all, my undergraduate grades-about which I can do nothing at this point-were not at all impressive.) So I was thrilled to discover that 1) I was not too dumb to take the GMAT 2)I could in fact get into a graduate degree program.

Of course, because I'm me, I quickly came up with excuses for why this is not such a big deal.("It's just a commuter school-it's not like you got into Sloan-or even Northeastern." "Everyone else you know got their degree at least 5 years ago and you're only getting an MBA-it's not like it's an MFA.") My inner-German is very good at that sort of thing. And I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a stock character from a sit-com the middle-aged divorcee* going to night school to get her advanced degree.

To be fair, some of the reason that I see getting into UMass Boston's MBA program as less of a big deal is that I have noticed, in the 1.5 terms I have been there that the professors are less strict with their grading than the professors at Carleton College or the teachers at Stuyvesant High School. Yes, I know-you're shocked. You are clutching your pearls and calling for your smelling salts.

I know I've when I've handed in A quality work and when I've handed in work that is not my best effort. So it's a bit of a shock to get an A for less than perfect work. I know-this is not a bad problem to have.

However, it has been my experience with education that you get out of it what you put into it. I do not want to start putting less effort into work because I can get a good grade easily. Of course I want to get good grades, but if there's actually something to be learned then I want to learn it.

The other most important factor in getting a good education is your fellow students. The instructor matters too, but not as much as your peers. It doesn't matter if Einstein is teaching you-if you are surrounded by droolers you will not get much out of the class.

MBA work involves a lot of team work. I strongly suspect that the whole point of any MBA program is to teach you to deal with other people. Yes there are courses in Change Management and in Accounting, but learning the subject matter of these courses is less important than learning to Work Well With Others and to get them to work well with you. You get one grade for your team projects--if you wrote the whole paper yourself while all your teammates were on Cape Cod you all get the same grade.

The teamwork aspect of the experience keeps me from being a slacker. It's not enough to impress the professor-I must impress my teammates. However, the hard part is not just doing your part, but making everyone else do his or her part. If you go through the program and just do all the projects yourself then you haven't learned what you needed to learn, because the point is not to learn to write a 20 page paper on Econ or Marketing or Organizational Analysis but to learn to collaborate with other people.

And who are these other people? My peers vary from kids who who just graduated from college to people like me who work full time and have decided to go back to school. As I mentioned above, UMass Boston is a pretty multicultural place. There are a lot of students from Asia and Europe, but strangely enough there are almost no African Americans among the student body. That's strange but it seems to me that it is not unusual for Boston.

It's true that my fellow students are not all the sharpest tacks in the box, but Flying Spaghetti Monster, they work hard. The guy who sits behind me in my Econ class works 12 hour days and he's taking two courses this session. This means that he's in class four nights a week. He says he gets about five hours sleep a night. Last term both of the guys I was working with were taking two classes (I only took one) and they both worked full time.

I don't know how potential employers will consider me or my classmates when we go up against some American Beauty Rose from Sloan School, but I know who I'd prefer to work with.

*I'm not really a divorcee since we were never married, but nine years?

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