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Why Smart MBA Programs Put Theory into Practice

Applicants to businesses schools might wonder why so many MBA programs require applicants to have some, if not years, of experience. Certainly, the point of an MBA is to learn the skills necessary to qualify for positions where you will gain experience? But as many MBA students are finding, experience is not just required; it's necessary in order to learn, and the ability to put theory into practice has become a vital credential for students around the globe. Read on to find out why having the experience to put theory into practice is a good thing for MBA students.

Dec 14, 2015
  • Student Tips
Why Smart MBA Programs Put Theory into Practice
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For the majority of MBA students, consulting projects have become a standard part of the curriculum. Projects are designed to give students the chance to role-play what they've learned in situations they would likely encounter in future endeavors. But as more and more employers search for experienced MBAs with the skills to problem-solve and think on their feet, business schools are pushing the boundaries of consulting projects to a whole new level. Welcome to the world of experiential learning programs – where students must apply theory to practice because the stakes aren't just high, they're real.

How does it work?

While some students will find that simulation-based projects still lie at the core of their theory-to-practice learning, many schools are moving away from desk and classroom-based methods and sending students out into the real world of business. Students from business schools around the world are finding that their studies require hands-on experience – students are sent on consulting trips with real start-ups, flown abroad for market-research, or are placed on the boards of non-profits to learn first-hand the realities of the business world. Experiential learning programs range from short-term projects that take a few days or a week, to semester long assignments working for Fortune 500 companies. Some schools, like Nottingham University Business School, allow students the option of an experiential learning opportunity and foster relationships with companies in various sectors so that students can choose an area that interests them.

So why is putting theory into practice important and why should you choose a program that offers experiential learning opportunities?

1. Because you need work experience

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Experiential learning is one of the reasons business schools look for MBA students with real-world experience. Consulting for a real company requires the ability to think and act quickly, and students with experience are more likely to succeed. But experiential learning also means working directly with your peers, and you'll learn more effectively and organically from others with experience. Students in some business schools, like Imperial College Business School, report that up to 90% of their learning came from their classmates and peers. Plus, experiential learning translates to real-world benefits – a great mark on a simulation project might earn the grade, but a reference from the project manager of a real company will mean a lot more on your resume.

2. Because you find solutions for real people/companies


Experiential learning programs let you apply theory to real-life situations, and that's what makes them so rewarding. Sure, you're gaining loads of experience, but you could do that with a simulation. Experiential learning allows you not only to put theory into practice but to see how that theory plays out in the real world. The stakes are higher, because if you fail there are actual consequences, but when you succeed, you'll have something real to show for it.

3. Because you learn about new industries

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MBA in Business students need prior experience because it will help them put theory into practice and allow them to contribute meaningfully in class and projects. But experiential learning programs also give students a chance to move outside their comfort zone and try something new. Perhaps all your work-experience falls in retail, but your experiential learning project is tech-based. Business school is all about the challenge of taking what you already know and applying it to something you don't, and experiential learning programs are a true test of a student's ability to apply theory and prior experience to a new problem. And who knows, you might come away and realize that you have a knack for a field or position you never encountered before.

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4. Because every case is unique allowing you to develop creativity

Creativity is probably the most important trait that a successful business student can have. The ability to see problems from different angles, to come up with solutions that no one has thought of before, or simply to present an idea in a new way is what makes individuals stand out from the crowd. Because experiential learning programs don't have a set outcome like a simulation-based model, they force students to exercise their creativity and will give you a chance to demonstrate your ability to think outside the box.

There are tons of different business schools out there, and even more varieties of programs. But if you're an ambitious leader considering an MBA, take some time to consider a course that offers experiential learning. Top companies are looking for MBAs that have the ability to apply theory to practice, and an experiential learning program will give you the chance to demonstrate all that you have to offer.

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