Student Voices: Lessons Learned from MBA@UNC (Part One)

Ana-Laura Diaz Class of 2013 The other day it dawned on me that I am more than halfway through the MBA@UNC program. With this realization, I mostly felt relief that I have managed to make it this far, but I also felt a sense of nostalgia for the unfettered optimism and enthusiasm with which I began my studies.

Though my optimism and enthusiasm remain, I can admit that the first year of MBA@UNC—as with any MBA program—is difficult. When I look back, I realize that I can offer a few tips that will make the first year in MBA@UNC just a little bit easier.

1. Time management is key

I thought I knew this going into the program. In fact, being able to manage my time effectively and efficiently has always been a source of pride for me. What I didn’t realize was that a program as rigorous as MBA@UNC tests everyone’s time management skills. There is more involved than just setting aside time for weekly live classes and group meetings. And it’s not just carving out chunks of time to watch the asynchronous material. The challenge goes beyond doing homework and setting up times to meet with group members who are undoubtedly as busy as you are. The real challenge is doing all that while balancing personal and work obligations. MBA@UNC is a program for working professionals, but it is most definitely not a watered-down version of UNC’s traditional MBA program. Although the delivery is different, we receive a UNC Kenan-Flagler education through and through. For most of my classmates and me, the ability to experience a top-ranked MBA program while also having the flexibility of online learning is the allure of MBA@UNC. MBA@UNC is hard work and takes the same level of dedication as a traditional MBA. The good news is that you also reap all the same rewards.

2. Support is necessary

I cannot emphasize enough how instrumental it is to have the support of family, friends and your employer. In this MBA program, there will be times when you will have to pass on dinner with your family or happy hour with your co-workers to participate in your weekly live class. I’ve been on weekend vacations where, after a day of hiking, I’ve left my friends to watch asynchronous material. Lucky for me, I have incredibly understanding people in my life. Before you begin your online program, talk to the people in your life. Make sure they understand what you’ve signed on for so that there are no surprises down the line. Of course, success in an MBA program goes beyond personal support. One of the benefits of MBA@UNC is the unwavering support of UNC’s faculty and staff. The program’s leadership team says they have an open door policy—and in their case it’s actually true. Associate Dean Doug Shackelford and Executive Director Susan Cates request questions and take the time to answer them during the Town Hall meetings at each immersion. And the faculty members who teach in the program are similarly accessible. From live, online office hours to Saturday morning phone calls to study sessions before exams, the professors are eager to support students.

3. Be ready to learn!

This lesson seems obvious, but I am still pleasantly surprised at the breadth and depth of the knowledge I’m gaining. I have a legal background, so I have a lot to learn about business. For me, learning about balance sheets, valuation and projecting cash flows has been a challenge that is expanding my knowledge base. Even fellow classmates who are well versed in finance and accounting admit to looking at things differently since beginning the program. Recently, one classmate realized he was not maximizing the present value of money; he had been letting his business expenses accumulate for months at a time instead of submitting them to his company every month. He was open to the lively discussion that followed about the time value of money and how applicable it is in our everyday lives. The discussion was strengthened by the diverse backgrounds represented by our cohort. This happens often in my MBA@UNC classes, and being active and ready to engage leads to more productive and detailed debates. Stay tuned for part two of Lessons from MBA@UNC.

About Ana-Laura Diaz: About Ana-Laura: Ana-Laura Diaz is currently a practicing attorney living in the South Florida area. After attending UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergraduate, she received her J.D. from the University of Miami. Her love for all things Carolina and the desire to expand her horizons led her to the MBA@UNC program, where she continues to be “Tar Heel bred.”