Too Old for an MBA? Check Out 3 Outstanding MBA and EMBA Alternatives [Episode 166]

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Today we’re discussing a unique MBA option for mid-career professionals – an option to study in a full-time, immersive program with other professionals at the same level.

Joining us today are: Stephen Sacca, Director, MIT Sloan Fellows Program; Silvia McCalliser-Castillo, Director, London Business School EMBA-Global and Sloan Programmes; and Mike Hochleutner, Director, Stanford MSx Program. Welcome!

Why pursue mid-career graduate education in business? [3:00]

Stephen: It’s not easy to hit the pause button in an established career that’s gaining momentum, but it’s really to pause and reflect on what you’ve done and what you’d like to do. I think of it as a reflection year from a personal perspective.

Mike: The world has evolved a lot. People are marrying later, having children later, etc. And they’re going through more career transitions and working longer. The notion that early career training/education will train you for a full career isn’t as accurate as it once was.

Silvia: I absolutely agree. Careers are evolving – people are living longer and working longer. Our program is actually trending older (more years of experience). The opportunity to study with other mature students with a similar amount of experience is really compelling! Students gain exposure to new frames of reference, new industries, new ideas.

Can you give us an overview of your programs? [6:35]

Mike: These three programs have some common heritage. The program at MIT was started with the support of Alfred Sloan, the retired CEO of GM – a forward thinking CEO. The idea was to create a model of education for people who already had some experience, and the potential to run great companies on a global level.

Here at Stanford, our program is in its 60th year. The MSx program is one of only two grad programs in the b-school. We require a minimum of 8 years of work experience.
The MSx program is integrated with the FT MBA: for electives, MSx students have free rein within the GSB and the full university (you can take classes across the campus). We have a global and diverse cohort. We want to help students create a network they’ll draw on for the next 20, 30, 40 years.

Silvia: The LBS Sloan Fellows Programme is a master’s in leadership and strategy. Our students have, on average, 15-18 years’ experience (no less than 10 years), and their average age is 42-44. They take a core curriculum in cohort, all together: some of our areas of emphasis include globalization and strategy in a changing world. LBS has a lot of master’s programs, EMBA programs and partnership programs. Sloan students can take electives with the entire b-school, or with part time students.

Stephen: MIT’s Sloan Fellows Program is in its 87th year. Alfred P. Sloan started the program for people with exceptional potential to lead dynamic organizations. It’s a combination of academics and practice. We emphasize 3 pillars: Academics, leadership, and global perspective. We have 110 students from 35 countries. The minimum is 10 years’ experience, and the average is 14. Our cohort is 70% men and 30% women.

Mike: The minimum experience for Stanford’s MSx program is 8 years. We’re looking for people who have experience in a managerial role: people who have grappled with management challenges.

What is the application process? [13:50]

Silvia: At LBS, we have a unique process for the Sloan Fellows. First, we ask interested candidates to submit a copy of their CV and have a chat with a recruitment coordinator to see whether it’s a good fit. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time. If it’s not right, we may recommend another program at LBS, or waiting a few years to apply, or even applying to a different school. If it’s a good fit, we encourage them to apply. In terms of the application process, it’s an online form (essays, LORs), and they submit their scores from the GMAT or the new Executive Assessment.

[Do the other programs accept the Executive Assessment? MIT: talking about it! Stanford: GMAT or GRE is required.]

Silvia: The process continues with interviews. We’re looking for people who’ve had important responsibility. Our cohort is only about 50-60 people, so it’s important to get the class dynamic right!

Stephen: The process is similar for the Sloan Fellows at MIT. There’s a registration form on the website. We contact people who seem like a good fit and invite them for a campus visit. We also do global visits in the fall. We normally interview about 40% of the applicant pool. If applicants would be a better fit elsewhere, we often counsel them to consider other programs. Our cohort is about 110.

Mike: There are lots of opportunities for people to learn about the MSx program. We do an initial review to see if it’s a good fit, so people can assess before they go through the process. We’re looking for three things: 1. Demonstrated leadership and accomplishment (made an impact) 2. Intellectual vitality (aptitude and attitude) 3. Clarity of purpose. The third point is very important! This is a 1-year program. It’s important to know what you want to do with the program. If you don’t know what your plans are, you might spend the year going too many different directions.

We ask for essays, test scores, LORs. We also consider work experience. And we work hard to assess fit.

What kind of career services support does your program offer? [22:00]

Stephen: We have a shared career services office – within that office, we have people who have experience with executive level career searchers. We’re not seeking career changers, but if they come, we’ll give them what we can offer them. There’s no on-campus recruiting. But we provide coaching on resume development, how to approach the search, etc. And we have tailored help for international students. We expect students to be fully engaged in the program. We had 46% sponsorship this year, and we would like to increase that. If somebody’s looking to pivot, we’re happy to help them, but they have to have a plan.

Mike: The career situation for mid-career folks returning to school is a bit of a quandary. We made a choice: focusing entirely on sponsorship wasn’t in our interest. About 30% of our fellows are sponsored. We have a dedicated team in our career management center that works with our students and sees how they’re different from MBA students. We also work with our employer relations team to make sure they’re aware of our more experienced students. It’s very much a networking-based job search process. It can be a challenging cohort to work with from a career development perspective. But one of the things we can help give people is a set of skills.

Silvia: The LBS Sloan Fellows are a mix of sponsored students, entrepreneurs, and self-sponsored students looking for a change. We don’t have on-campus recruiting. But we work with our contacts to promote our students. And we teach our students to manage their careers. We provide career coaching, mentoring, and advice. Each student is expected to come in with a plan. And the coaching continues after graduation.

What kind of contact do students have with the wider b-school community? [35:45]

Silvia: During electives, our students might work alongside both fellow Sloan fellows with decades of experience and 23-year-old MiM students. We also promote social interaction through clubs and societies.

Stephen: MIT Sloan offers 10 degree programs; 56% of the courses the Sloan Fellows take are electives that are integrated with other students (other courses from the b-school, and the whole MIT campus – as well as Harvard). Our competitions engage the full campus. And every year we have the 1 Sloan Initiative, to bring the school together.

Mike: The GSB has 150 electives for the MBA and MSx programs. And about 15% of the required units can be taken across the full campus, in any division (engineering, education, etc).

How would you coach somebody deciding between the MBA and MSx? [39:20]

Mike: They’re similar in terms of content. What’s different is the individual learning process. (For example, there are smaller sections in the MSx.) Some people want a 2-year program. The core of the MSx is that it’s building on what they’ve already done. If you have over 10 years of experience, that’s what they probably should be doing. We let people make the choice in terms of what’s most appropriate for them. If I think they can get more from another program, I’ll direct them in that way.

MIT has a full menu of programs – who should choose what? [42:50]

Stephen: We’re up-front: we share our portfolio of programs so people can see which program will be most appropriate for them. We’re up-front about our minimum criteria. We don’t encourage people to apply to both the Sloan Fellows and the MBA.

How do you help people determine which LBS program is right for them? [44:30]

Silvia: A lot of Sloans already have an advanced degree. Often, people who choose the Sloan program over an EMBA are people who are looking for a full-time degree.
We encourage people to talk to their employer if they’re hesitating between the EMBA and Sloan Fellows. Sloan is differentiating more and more from other programs. A lot of EMBAs are hoping to accelerate their careers. And we’re finding that Sloans are looking to take a step back, think about their legacy – many are considering entrepreneurship or other pivots (social enterprise, etc).

What do you consider the strengths of your specific programs? [48:00]

Stephen: Sloan is the business brain of MIT, where we have unparalleled strength in science and engineering. We’re also in a densely populated university environment in Boston-Cambridge, which provides a unique environment.

Mike: The strength is Stanford. It’s a unique school and a unique environment at the heart of the innovation economy – it places students in a special ecosystem in Silicon Valley, amid innovative companies in every industry. It’s a global center of innovation.

Silvia: For us, the London experience is critical. London is a world city with a global outlook. We just set a Guinness World Record for a song sung in the most languages here at LBS – and it wasn’t even difficult. This was the first non-US business school to have the top-ranked MBA program.

Can you tell us about a recent grad doing great things? 53:45

Silvia: We had a recent student from Northern Spain who wanted to grow his network in the UK for entrepreneurship. He invested in a classmate’s startup (she’s from Mexico and had been working in the US). It was such a great story of people working together who wouldn’t have met except for the program.

Mike: We had a couple of students, one from a tech background and another from consumer marketing, who were in class, and talking about how social norms can be as motivating as financial incentives when it comes to paying back loans. This led to the idea behind SoFI. A team of 4 students raised $50K in seed money from their classmates, then $70 million after graduation. And now the company is the largest financer of student loans, and it’s moved into mortgages, and is valued at $4 billion. From an insight they had during the program and their work together, this is what they created. It’s not a typical story! But a phenomenal one.

Stephen: A couple of recent grads – one from the US and one from Mexico – had sold their ventures before coming to Sloan. They did a joint thesis, and have now launched a new venture with several of our faculty members on the advisory board. Funding is looking very promising! The program allows people who have mid-career experience to harness their opportunities in ways other people might not see.

The importance of the immersive experience: it gives participants a chance to unplug, but also a chance to get skills (strategy, leadership), along with perspective. [60:50]

Can you share one piece of advice for prospective applicants? [61:55]

Stephen: Be very clear on your objectives and how the program will help. We take the essays very seriously. We want to know why you’re interested in this program, and why now – your real interest and motivation. This year we’re adding a short video.

Silvia: I agree completely! Also: talk to alumni. Sometimes people have forgotten what it’s like to be a student and underestimate how difficult it can be to return to school. Get a sense of what it’s like.

Mike: One of the criteria we look at is clarity of purpose. This is not a program for people who’re trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up. Set priorities. And get clarity in order to explore the program and also get the most out of it.

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Related Links:

MIT Sloan Fellows
Stanford MSx
London Business School Sloan Fellows
EMBA 101

Related Shows:

A Transformational Year: The MIT Sloan Fellows Program
Insights into MIT Sloan MBA Admissions with Dawna Levenson
The Stanford MSx Program for Experienced Leaders
SoFi: Alumni Funded Student Loans
The Scoop on the London Business School MiM Program
How to Become a Corporate Executive
Excellent Executive MBA Admissions Advice
The Wharton Executive MBA Program: An Insider’s View


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