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Learning from Fellow Students

An often overlooked benefit of a business degree is the person sitting next to you.

Having spoken with hundreds (honestly, more like thousands) of recent business graduates, they frequently comment on the impact that other students had on their learning.

The Value of Other Students

The primary ways in which fellow students contribute to one’s learning experience include:

  • Camaraderie – School can be difficult. This becomes increasingly true for individuals who have extensive commitments outside of their normal course load. Students draw on each other for friendship and support throughout the program. This might come in the form of simply having someone to talk with who understands the difficulty of the situation. It’s easy to underestimated the value of simply having someone who understands your situation to commiserate. I have witnessed many students remark that they would not have made it through a business program without the support of a fellow student.
  • Motivation – It is a well-known fact that students motivate each other. Some students respond well to the competitive environment inherent in many business classes. That is, you strive to perform better so as to outperform others. In this way, assigning grades can be a motivating factor for students (though it can have a demotivating effect on others). Also, business classes frequently integrate team or group work. This is particularly true for MBA programs. Students may also find motivation in not disappointing the other students with whom they have group or team projects.
  • Diversity of Opinion/Knowledge – We tend to think of professors and textbooks providing all of the learning material in a business program. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Students learn a great deal from other students. All students have their own experiences, beliefs, values, interests, and understanding that leads to a collective knowledge. Interacting with others allows us to understand diverse points of view. It also fosters the sharing of knowledge between individuals.

The Student Effect on Business Schools

The traditional thought is that business schools strive to enroll the “smartest” students possible.

Being smart or having intelligence are very poorly understood words or phrases. Some might think of individuals who have lots of education as smart. Others may focus on one’s ability to learn new things. Another definition focuses on one’s ability to apply acquired knowledge to a situation. And, of course, all of these can certainly be attributes of being smart. Intelligence, however, is far more complicated. In fact, research has identified various types of intelligence. A simple definition of smart, in terms of school, might identify who have a high grade point average as smart. In reality, a high grade point average relates more closely to work ethic and study habits than to intelligence.

With this in mind, business schools seek to enroll students who are smart in various senses of the word. They recognize that an active learning environment should promote all available types of intelligence. This requires identifying students with diverse knowledge, interests, backgrounds, experiences, and accomplishments. In this way, having a diverse student body serves to improve the educational experience for all students involved.

  • Note: Of course, having a high GPA in high school or undergraduate is a positive factor for gaining acceptance into a business program.

In additional to learning from the experiences and knowledge of other students, there is a subconscious effect to having a diverse student body. One of the greatest enemies of learning is engrained or implicit bias. That is, we are all a product of our experiences and environment. This means that our knowledge or understanding is limited or constrained by these factors. Students who are diverse to us allow us share in their values, beliefs, interests, and points of view. While we may not adopt any of these aspects, we tend to develop greater understanding, respect, and, hopefully, a degree of empathy.

Evaluating the Student Effect in a Business Program

Only you known your specific situation. If you decide to pursue a formal business education, you should seek to enroll in a program that meets your individual needs. Take a look at our article, Do You Need a Business Degree?, for more information on what value a business degree has to offer.

When evaluating a business program, you shouldn’t overlook the beneficial effects of other students in the program. My advice is that you look for a program that provides a diverse student body, as well as a student body with traditional high performance metrics (GPA). A combination of these elements will ensure that you gain exposure to and learn from various types of knowledgeable and intelligent individuals.

  • Note: The benefits of other students is reduced (and sometimes non-existent) in online degree programs that offer very little interaction with classmates. Similarly, programs that offer limited interaction with other students or have very little diversity cannot offer the same value as full-time business programs with a diverse student body.

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