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Briefcase to Backpack: Five tips for leaving full-time work for a full-time MBA


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I have always been the type of person who loved school. But when I considered entering the full-time Crosby MBA Program in January 2016, I was petrified. I had just spent four years working in the sport apparel industry and earned an education in exercise and sports science. My resume certainly contained meaningful educational and professional experiences, but I had no formal “business” exposure. Fast forward two years and two months, I am proud to say that I am nearing graduation from the Crosby MBA Program.

The decision to leave the workforce and pursue an MBA was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

In light of my previous apprehension about going back to school, here are five lessons that I hope will inspire others to confidently leave the workforce and enter a full-time MBA program.

  1. Do not let a non-business degree deter you from earning your MBA

I admittedly had some insecurities about making the transition from science to business. What I did not realize is how my scientific education refined universal critical thinking and analytical skills. Although my experience teaching human cadaver labs did not necessarily help me understand discounted cash flow models, it certainly fueled my inquisitive nature to master a concept. Truthfully, any form of formal education can translate to gains in the MBA realm. The trick is to make associations and utilize your unique background and skill sets.

  1. Full-time work experience is transferable in the classroom

When I started the MBA program, I was not sure what I would have to offer during in-class discussions. I knew I could engage in class material and homework assignments, but I was not confident in my foundational business knowledge. I soon discovered that my experiences in project management, development, and operations were 100% applicable. Also, given my work at a global company, my exposure to diverse cross-functional teams was extremely relevant. Connecting previous professional experiences with academic principles is a meaningful learning opportunity.

  1. Investing in your classmates is critical

I entered the MBA program convinced that focusing on academics over friendships was critical to my success. Fortunately, my ingrained social behaviors took over and I quickly formed relationships with my classmates. As a result, these connections have been enriching on both professional and personal levels. I have benefited from my classmates’ intelligence as well as their friendship.  Of course, there is a strategic advantage to investing in your classmates as well.

By immersing yourself into projects and experiences, you become fully aware of your classmates’ strengths and abilities. Your MBA classmates may be your future employees, employers, and professional counterparts. Using your time together as MBA students can instill trust in addition to building an unbreakable network and bond for the future.

  1. Embrace specialized opportunities associated with academia

As a Crosby MBA student, I was granted the opportunity to attend professional conferences, travel to Nicaragua on a consulting project, and even meet Warren Buffett. These experiences would not have been made available to me unless I was a MBA student at Mizzou. I chose to take advantage of these experiences because I recognized the “once in a lifetime” merit offered by each opportunity. As a bonus, I also formed stronger relationships with my classmates outside the classroom. Many students will avoid these specialized opportunities due to potential class absences or the overall time commitment. However, the lessons learned in these unique environments can easily surpass gains in any classroom setting.

  1. Abandon your intellectual comfort zone and learn new things

If you are back in school (again), maximizing your exposure to new topics is imperative. I entered the MBA program intent on pursuing a marketing concentration, but quickly learned that finance was my weakest area. As a result, I pivoted to concentrate on finance and have supplemented that coursework with several specialized electives in alternative topics. This was a conscious decision that was incredibly uncomfortable, but entirely economical. Student life equates to an opportunity cost associated with collecting a full-time salary. It is both professionally and financially critical that your time as an MBA student is used to study new and challenging topics that complement in your known strengths.

I hope these lessons offer encouragement and fresh insight. I truly believe that MBA programs are best represented when there is diversity in age, experience, and education. Going back to school is not always an easy decision or transition, but it is a life-changing experience that is worth the effort.

Callie Gunderson is a second-year MBA student concentrating in Finance and Consulting. Her previous education includes a Master of Science in Exercise and Sport Studies from Boise State University. Callie serves as the President of the Crosby MBA Association (CMBAA) and oversees the CMBAA Policy Committee. She has accepted a full-time position as a Senior Consultant with Cognizant Technology Solutions and will begin in August 2018.