To a Certain Degree (Part 1)
Some Learnings from Graduate School

It’s been over a year since I graduated from business school, so this post is quite overdue. A bunch of my friends are graduating today, though, making this a good opportunity as any to upload this post.

Since I graduated, folks would ask me whether my master’s degree was worth it. This was a question I myself asked of other MBAs before. Would it be worth it? I was quite hesitant about getting an MBA that I sat on it for the best part of three years. After all that contemplation, I just decided that the best approach would be to jump in with both feet. Damn it to hell – what’s the worst that can happen?

Illustration A: the worst that can happen.

For people on the fence (like I was), I would emphatically say: get that degree. With the exception of a graduation pic that is a point of contention in the RH bill debates for being contraceptive, you will not end up dumber for your decision.

I’ll try to convince you, dear candidate, why business school is worth your while, ceteris paribus. By now you’re probably thinking, “You just threw in that Latin phrase to sound smart, you tool.” Well, caveat emptor: do not trust an MBA, especially one who likes to use Latin phrases. MBAs of this sort will eat your young as a midnight snack with a chaser of lawyer. Just the same, please hear me out. I know I won’t convince you through academic geekery. It’s a given that you will learn about business concepts and principles. I won’t, therefore, tell you about balance sheets, hurdle rates, brand management, inventory models, balanced scorecards, and most especially, mission and vision statements. These are all important, mind you, but please forget about them for the moment. More than anything that you can learn from a textbook, you will pick up stuff simply by going through the inconvenient scholastic grind. Securing that MBA degree will require you to do the damnedest things, and you won’t enjoy them. Dignity is overrated, though. You’ll just have to stop being a baby and suck it up because you will find that those annoying things you go through will prove helpful. Annoying things such as…



Despite what you may think, taking an MBA isn’t all about playing polo, fending off groupies, and snorting the fine Colombian. That only happens during the weekends, I’m afraid.

We mostly just party with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models at the beach. [thanks, SI]

For the most part, MBA students are buried to their necks in readings. This is as exciting as it sounds that, to spice it up, they occasionally break intellectual property laws by photocopying textbooks wholesale. For each course (i.e. subject), expect to do one to three textbook chapters per week. Assuming a ‘regular’ load of three courses, you will be looking at around a hundred pages per week. Because you will most likely pursue your MBA while holding down a job, you will also have to get creative in cramming all that reading (not to mention other schoolwork). Some friends I know read at work or during meals. For myself, I found that slow Manila traffic and the solitary splendor of the toilet became my best friends in ninja reading.

I had good training from reading FHM, luckily. [thanks, Summit]

Here’s something to know: if you are familiar with the exact syllabus of a course, all you need to do is read the relevant textbook on your own and you’re set. You don’t need a teacher or a school for this. Theoretically, you can attain the same knowledge on a subject matter through self-study because the courses parallel the textbooks anyway. Why even bother with tuition? All you need to do is cut down on Facebooking and do one chapter in lieu of fairy tales before bedtime – easy peasy. That’s the ideal case, of course. Honestly, though, who among us would finish that textbook when left to our own devices? Most of us will require the formal route, unfortunately. We deal with a lot of distractions that an instructor or guide may prove necessary just to pace us along. Let’s not consider the myriad benefits of having a good professor yet… at the very minimum, an authority can give us a sense of urgency about our endeavors. Deadlines are there so that we can meet them, after all, and most of us cannot afford to slack off when we’re afraid.


Your Takeaway: Diligence

The good thing is that, by subjecting yourself to the beat of a different drummer, you eventually learn to become your own timekeeper. When multitasking between the corporate and the scholastic, you inevitably develop both flexibility and a capacity for pressure. Factoring other demands, such as those from family and frenemies, you also discover a sense of priority and compromise. Multitasking is difficult, to say the least. It’s trying to force order into chaos, and may sometimes feel hopeless when there’s too much to figure out. Timekeepers often automatically try to enforce a rhythm to tackle the different demands of life by – some would call it diligence but it’s really just time management. In one way, graduate school trains the mind through compartmentalization: every problem can be broken down into sortable and digestible chunks. It is when armed with this mindset that you become able to incorporate three chapters of accounting and two of statistics into a weekend of breastfeeding, playing polo, and getting ugly drunk with your frenemies. Doing this on a regular basis, you will find, can be quite gratifying.

Mostly because of the getting drunk part.

Endless reading is one thing, but it’ll feel more endless with…



Ok, I hear you. You’re saying that you don’t mind setting aside your nightly Liwayway-reading time, except you only want to learn about ‘important’ things. You’re thinking, why in the world should you take another English subject? Do you really need more units of math? Haven’t you had enough of those in college? High school? What’s this thing called ‘ethics’?

Damned if I know…

MBA curricula are fairly standard, and they will rarely make concessions about your case, no matter how big you are on the basic stuff. In some instances, you may ask to be exempted from certain prerequisite subjects, so try going for that. Please be advised, though, that exemptions are rare (save for most accountants and the basic accounting course). You are being primed for a business degree, after all, so the new Math and English courses often have subtle differences from the previous subjects you took. It’ll be best to just sign up for the prerequisites anyway if only for the students. Those classes will be mostly composed of newbies like you, providing you excellent opportunities to meet people who will be on the same academic and social grounding as you. It won’t be fun to be the one alien in a class full of folks who already know each other (trust me). You will likely learn new things too, especially if, like myself, you find out that the years have dulled down your math and communication skills.

The interwebs will not help. [thanks, Cheezburger]

As with the course subjects you take, each syllabus will also have recurring topics. Every finance course, for example, will deal with compounding and discounting during the introductory sessions. Those can feel repetitive, especially when you didn’t bother to pay attention the last time(s). Do realize that these basic topics keep being reintroduced because they are critical to the subject, if not the field. One rarely begins a book on a random chapter (unless you’re reading Betty and Veronica Double Digest).

In which case, may I overnight please? [thanks, Archie]

Courses proceed through their assigned fifteen weeks in an outlined fashion in the same way that books are read front to back (unless you’re reading Lao Fu Zi).

In which case, may I overnight please? [thanks, Lao Fu Zi]


Your Takeaway: Discipline

Generally, a strict curriculum may feel constricting when you want to learn all the big business stuff in the least time possible. Filipinos happen to be extra keen on constantly looking for shortcuts, too, regardless of appropriateness. We like to circumvent (a practice now popularly called ‘hacking’; FYI though, most non-computer ‘hackers’ are plainly just hacks). By resisting the easy appeal of shortcuts, however, you learn the proper ways of achieving what you want. You work within the established order and not around it, making achievements all the more valid and meaningful. Besides, given the material to be covered, the two years of standard MBA schooling prescribed is already quite a short cut. The curriculum progresses in a semi-linear fashion. You may think of it as a roadmap, with prerequisites and redundant topics serving as checkpoints. This provides you with direction, allowing you to not become overwhelmed. It is how you then put two and two together, realizing that it is not enough to just do it: you must also do it properly. You’ve proven yourself diligent, so finding discipline becomes the next natural thing – the method in the madness. You’ll find your inner Miyagi in understanding that the basics are important, and that you should not fall behind. In appropriating a gaming term that’s been misappropriated by jeje-speak, you then level up. Your barbarian becomes more formidable without you even resorting to warp zones. I just mixed my metaphors. If you even understood what I meant, then you seem like the type who’ll need discipline.

Now load up on life XP, loser. [thanks, Diablo/Mario]

Please follow me with my next installment…

Categories: [self-help]

[2] Comments


  • julochka says:
    October 22, 2012 A.D. at 10:14 PM

    i remember when i was at the university of chicago. we used to go over to the business school to have lunch in their cafeteria and to point and laugh at the students who actually paid (a small fortunate) to be there. we probably should have been thanking them for paying our tuition instead of laughing at them and drinking all their coffee. and of course, they’re laughing now, with their big fancy jobs and paychecks.

    but i digress.

    • Ronan says:
      October 24, 2012 A.D. at 8:15 PM

      i didn’t pay for anyone else’s tuition, but people still pointed and laughed at me. i decided, at that point, to withhold their coffee. turned out, it was the coffee that made them so mean.



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