A major reason I chose to get my MBA was the opportunity to learn in a structured environment again. One regret from my undergrad experience was not treating education like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Business school can be one’s last opportunity to step out of the workforce and be rewarded with a new set of well-founded ideas about how business should be done. In that vein, I wanted to take classes that would deepen the knowledge I already had, so I chose two concentrations to be the foundation of my academic path. However, I’d do myself a disservice if I only studied what I know. What could I take to broaden my learning? Or better yet, expose me to disciplines I hadn’t even heard of before? This is where my elective selection strategy came into play.
Given the coursework demands I already had from my concentrations and my desire to occasionally sleep, I needed to be judicious about which classes I used for those slots. So I did what any good business school student would do and created a process to maximize my positive elective experience. It simplifies to five main points:
1. Get Intentional
I asked students in the class ahead of me what their number one regret was at the end of their experience, and a few felt they hadn’t been choosey enough with the activities they undertook, including classwork. To that end, I planned out my electives as far in advance as possible. I didn’t always get what I wanted, but I at least knew what I was looking for.
I could have read all the descriptions and selected the courses that sounded most interesting to me, but that would have only painted half the picture. One of the benefits of going to a school like Fuqua is that you’re surrounded by lots of people who are sound decision-makers. Therefore, I sought counsel from classmates who had taken specific courses recently, and rounded out my understanding using our course reviews database. This helped steer me towards some courses that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about and away from some classes whose execution was different than their description.
3. Follow Certain Teachers
There are a handful of teachers at Fuqua who hold status among their peers as student favorites. Regardless of how dry the material may have seemed at first glance, every class I took from one of these professors changed the way I thought about the business world. As a result, I remember and understand the class more completely than I would have thought possible.
4. Chase Down Opportunity
In spite of all of your planning, some courses will not have much information about them available in advance and require a lottery entry to attend. Don’t let that stop you from signing up for them. I was lucky enough to take a class with General Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Obama. All of the jumping-through-hoops and wonky scheduling was made up for by the stories and perspective that I had the opportunity to gain in the classroom. Take these classes, even if they don’t fit in a certain category.
5. Realize Not All Learning Happens in the Classroom
One of my most memorable and practical learning experiences was an optional after-class lecture and mini-collaboration session with a Game Theory practitioner who uses his skills to help his company make better strategic decisions. This session ended up providing an easy way for me to use my classroom learning on day one of my job after graduation. My experience in the class, and at the school, would not have been as rich had I not attended this.
Bonus Tip: Take an Elective Through Another School
In addition to electives at Fuqua, students can take crossover classes at many of the other schools at Duke, at other colleges in the area, or even attend exchange experiences abroad. I took a superb Brand Management class at Melbourne Business School during the winter break exchange term. These electives can be more variable, but don’t forget them as viable options.
Whatever your approach to choosing MBA electives, don’t stress too much. You’ll find that like most of business school, choosing electives becomes a choice between a very good option and a great one, so the end result will likely be enriching either way.