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Discussing the Future of MBA Programs with Alladi Venkatesh from UC Irvine

Alladi Venkatesh, UC IrvineIn today's academic landscape, prospective MBA students have a dizzying array of program options to choose from. We spoke with Professor Alladi Venkatesh, Associate Dean of Masters Programs and Professor of marketing at The Paul Merage School of Business, about navigating the application process and the future of MBA programs.

What advice would you give students trying to figure out which type of MBA program is right for them?

Most programs are very similar, except some are "case" oriented. It is not so much which program you select, but rather what you are seeking to get out of it.

All programs will have core courses in different areas (e.g. accounting, finance, marketing, Org Behavior, Operations Management, Info Systems, and Business Policy). These courses deliver foundational principles from which students can develop a management or business vision. But, the instructor can only do so much…A lot depends on the student himself or herself. The student should have a passion for learning and develop a "business vision." A student's "business vision" should be one that will remain with them years after graduation. The business vision includes how to deal with the subject matter and basic knowledge, how to take risks, and how to deal with people and situations. All those skills are important. Don't think of an MBA as a mere degree or a passport to the next job. You are spending a precious part of your life at school. So get the most out of it.

The core courses typically involve principles and applications. It is important that the students master the principles and then apply to practical situations. I found that sometimes students look for practical situations and ignore the basic principles. That's like putting the cart before the horse.

I usually give example of an "architect" and a "builder." An architect has a vision about the spatial patterns, the physical environment, and the social settings and people. He or she is a risk taker and is not afraid of small setbacks. The architect's vision does not change constantly. On the other hand, the builder keeps worrying about building materials and has to keep up with day to day operations. So, think of yourself as an architect and not a builder.

How do you think that MBA admissions requirements have changed and evolved over the course of the last few years?

The really top schools look for students who show initiative and are not afraid of taking risks. They look for serious learners and try to avoid applicants who just come for a degree.

How much should students be concerned with their undergraduate GPA when it comes to MBA admissions?

The undergraduate GPA is important but not very critical. I would rather select a student who has taken challenging courses, even if the grade point average is slightly lower. Unfortunately, agencies like US News, who do the business school rankings, focus a lot of attention on undergraduate GPA.

What are some of the biggest changes you foresee with the MBA and how it is applied going forward?

I hope to see closer collaboration between business schools and industry, or the world of practice. I think business schools should follow more of a medical or legal school model where the both medical and legal education depend on well trained professionals who are certified for practice. For example, you can't be a doctor unless you finish residency and take the qualifying exam. Similarly, lawyers cannot practice without passing the bar exam. And, also accountants have to pass the CPA exam. I would welcome the introduction of a similar business certification process.

On the same note, I am hoping that business school faculty will begin to enhance their interaction with industry. There is a lot to learn from the world of practice. Students will respect the faculty more if we connect to the real world. The business schools should provide incentives to faculty who engage in such activities. What is the use of producing academic research if we don't make an impact on practice? Similarly, I encourage leaders in business and industry to actively seek to provide such opportunities for interaction with the faculty.

Keeping a global perspective in mind, how do you think that the MBA is evolving and will continue to change with our interconnectivity?

Of course everybody knows that MBAs need to develop a global vision. The question is how to implement it. Most business schools pay lip service to global knowledge. Going to China or South America for a couple of weeks is not my view of global training. It is better if the business schools in the U.S. send their students abroad for an entire quarter for rigorous training. There is no question that MBAs trained in the U.S. are falling behind. This needs to be corrected.

What is the biggest change in thinking you'd like to see with regards to the MBA for students?

I would like to see MBA students who are inquisitive, dedicated and look for substance rather than those who are entering educational institutions as an entitlement. Similarly, I hope the faculty at business schools have an exposure to business practice and take time off to work in industry or public organizations.

What advice would you give to a student applying to an MBA program now?

Do you just want an MBA degree or are you serious about business education. If you are coming in just for a degree, you will be disappointed with your strategy. Come to the school with an idea of developing your own business vision and take advantage of all the resources the school has to offer.

For more information on MBA program options, including an in-depth look at the many specializations available to students today, visit our MBA Programs Directory page.