The B-School "Bubble" Effect

B-schools are particularly well known for their all-consuming, high-pressure, and demanding environment, filled with ambitious young professionals. But is that all it is? What else is there in the B-school bubble?  

When I first talked about the B-school bubble, people thought I was alluring to the suggestion that an MBA degree is losing its value, that tuition costs are too high, or that there is an over-supply of MBA grads. (I completely disagree with all the above claims – but we can leave that for another post.)  

I won’t be writing about that type of bubble.  

Before you start your MBA, you have an idea about B-school life through your friends, the online blog posts, the Financial Times articles, and the like. You may think it’s mainly about the academics, or that it’s all play and no work, or that the network is all you will get out of it.  

In general business schools can be seen as:  

Business school = Network Connections + University Reputation & Credibility + Academic Content + Certificate  

However, there is a ‘je ne sais quoi’ still missing from the formula. I go to the analogy of the bubble to solve the missing element. As soon as your first day of your MBA starts, or even before, you are in the bubble, whether you know it or not. B-schools are like bubbles in multiple ways:  

1- Close-Knit Community. Business schools have tight-knit communities with unique traits that someone can only fully understand when inside the “bubble.” The “bubble” at times is so consuming that you nearly forget about the world beyond business school, and even what existed in your life before it came about (much like a baby… or so they tell me).  

2- Intimate Network. The B-school community does not venture socially outside itself often, therefore staying enclosed in it’s “bubble.” Each B-school “bubble” is unique in it’s particulars, but generally follow the same set of broad features.  

3- Temporary. The experience is one you can’t catch, nor hold forever; it is temporary, like a bubble. In particular, a bubble’s existence is quite brief: when it pops, the moment is over. In the B-school “bubble” every moment goes by fast and they feel fairly fleeting too.  

4- The more you put in, the more you get. The more air you blow into the soap, the bigger the bubble; likewise, the more you contribute to and involve yourself in the B-school “bubble,” the more the benefits that will come your way. B-school can be a life-changing experience if you want it to be.  

I find that these analogies encompass some of the different aspects of the B-school community and experience. Sure, undergoing an MBA program is an investment in your future. But it’s that unattainable value of going through a B-school programme that makes the year such a memorable experience. You step into the B-school bubble, and suddenly it becomes so much more than a degree. I haven’t met a B-schooler who hasn’t told me that in some way or another. The phrase “Best year of your Life” is said by Alumni to countless of us, over and over again, year after year. Well, three months to go for me…    

[1] Adapted from Mona Bijjani’s book The Unofficial Guide to Business School Partner Life, now found at InStore, at the INSEAD Asia campus.