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December 28, 2011

For those of you who are thinking about applying to the MIT EMBA, I would suggest that you think carefully about the realities of the time commitment for this program. I have lauded the Sloan experience in this blog and deservedly so. The benefits of attending the program, even when measured at the end of just the first semester have already far surpassed my expectations. They have, however, come at a considerable time cost that I significantly underestimated when I applied to the program. This blog post is my attempt to evenly and unemotionally describe the realities of that time cost.

The MIT EMBA has five, week-long intensives. Four are held each October and March, with the fifth intensive in mid-May, just prior to graduation. Between each pair of intensives, EMBA students return to Boston every 2nd or 3rd weekend for the horribly inadequately named “Weekend Sessions”. The name “Intensive” is a very accurate experiential descriptor for the week long sessions. They are indeed intense. Sloan needs to adopt an equally accurate experiential descriptor for its other sessions, which, after long thought I have unilaterally decided to rename Just-as-Intensives. We can call them JAI’s (pronounced JAY’s) to evoke a cult-like mythos of esoteric knowledge.

The framework of the Program Schedule  lulled me into a false sense of capacity. I looked at the schedule and thought, “Well, that certainly looks doable!”  The Intensives clearly convey the lengthy commitment required of the participant: nine days in Boston, generally unavailable to your company, and certainly not very available to your family either. But there were only five of them and the rest of the schedule looked like a set of innocuous two day events scattered evenly throughout the calendar.

The JAI’s really snuck up on me. On the calendar, they actually look like weekend breaks. A Friday and Saturday spent in Boston, only four class sessions total, with perhaps a reception or a guest speaker. On paper it totally looks like a breeze, but as I’m sure you can already sense from my tone, not to mention our new JAI acronym, appearances are not what they seem. The problem is that the the time commitment between the JAI’s, either to complete assignments or attend recitations related to the last one, or complete readings in preparation for the next one, are not represented on the schedule. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m probably putting in 25 or more hours per week in these activities. They are clearly an important component of the EMBA learning experience, but I feel that it’s important for new applications to understand the time that will be required between-JAI’s. Apply with your eyes wide open. Know what you are getting yourself into.

Let’s begin with recitations. The MIT EMBA program features one-hour WebEx-based course recitations between JAI’s. The recitations are as valuable as the lectures themselves and the quality of the recitation instructors is quite impressive. Each recitation is recorded and made available online through the EMBA site so that students can playback recitations. This is useful if you can’t attend the live broadcast, although you miss the opportunity to ask questions. It is also very useful to play back recitations (as well as lectures, which are also recorded) when preparing for finals.

Between JAI’s, one can expect to have one recitation per  week. We once had two recitations during one week, but that was at the students’ request. I have found the recitations to be invaluable to reducing the number of hours that I need to put into homework. I work through each homework prior to the recitation and often find one or two problems that I just am not sure how to solve. Often, just attending the recitation clarifies a concept or provides information that I was missing, thus helping me to avoid spending hours puzzling over the problem.

I have mentioned in prior posts that I find the MIT Executive MBA program very respectful of my time as an executive. They are quite clear about what I am required to learn as a student, but they have developed and practice educational methods that make that learning process quite time efficient. You should not confuse my praise for their support of an efficient learning process with my current explanation of the significant time required of a student. MIT won’t waste your time. The time that you do spend in the program is almost entirely focused on productive learning. But you will still spend an enormous amount of your time learning.

Also between JAI’s, EMBA learning teams or study groups organize independent meetings over WebEx. We have found that it’s very efficient to review our homework a few days before they are due. Students individually work through each of the homework problems and then we gather online to review our results. Even the process of reviewing homework becomes systematically more time-efficient. We’ve found that having one person volunteer to read his or her results for each problem, then having everyone else simply call out if they have arrived at a different answer is a fast way to figure out which problems we should spend group time reviewing in detail. While it may sound silly to develop a time-efficient review process, it turns out to be very important when homework compete with work time or, even more importantly, family time. MIT continually forces you to find new ways to be ever more time efficient everywhere that you can. These homework reviews typically last 1 – 1.5 hours per week.

You can begin to construct an estimate of the time commitment required between JAI’s based on my explanation so far:

  • Recitations: 1 – 1.5 hours per week;
  • Homework: 1-2 homework assignments per week. Each homework is taking me approximately 6 hours to complete.
  • Homework Reviews with my Study Group: 1-2 hours per homework assignment.
  • Readings, Lecture Note Reviews, etc.: 10-15 hours per week.

Total time requirement, based on the low / high ranges above: 18 – 32 hours per week. This seems to align well with my prior general estimate of 25 hours per week on average.

I may very well be over-investing in this program, but from what other classmates have indicated my efforts do not seem exaggerated or out-of-line compared with theirs. At the end of the day, I take the perspective that this is a unique opportunity to learn and I am more than willing to devote significant amounts of time to that end.




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