Mimi Pichette (1L, JD/MBA)
One of the biggest challenges facing those in the JD/MBA program is the vast difference in the academic and social approaches between the two distinct parts of that program. Upper-years note this when advising those of us in our first year of the MBA, pointing out that the MBA is much busier and the grading approach is quite different.
For example, exams and assignments at the law school are graded by professors, whereas MBA deliverables (assignments) are graded by TAs. This may not seem like it would matter that much, but it means that, in the MBA, you’re trying to hit all of the points on the grading rubric, rather than demonstrating that you really understand the material and can apply it creatively. I didn’t think much of this when I first heard it, but it has turned out to be quite a frustrating aspect of the MBA. Having just gone through a round of midterms, it was very disheartening to get results back where marks were lost not because the concept was incorrectly conveyed but because the exact words on the rubric were not transcribed verbatim. This seems to me less an exercise in learning than in pointless memorization and chance.
Another key differences is the amount of class time and deliverables. Aamir Chherawala (2L) explains: “In some respects, the MBA is more work than law school; while law is stressful, there are few deliverables and not as much class time.” The MBA is more work in that there are constant deliverables and four to six hours of class daily. Then there are group projects, and group meetings can take time and organization. This is one of the differences that definitely takes adjustment, because you constantly feel like you are trying to just get work submitted regardless of its quality. This is in contrast to law, where mastery of the subject is key.
The MBA is touted as being no more challenging than an undergrad degree in commerce (or, at the very least, quite similar to it). Aamir comments that the MBA is similar to undergrad in the sense that “you can get away with doing a lot of the work last minute and, while they are important, readings are not imperative for understanding the course materials.”
This sounds reassuring, as we’ve all gone through undergrad successfully and know how to do that kind of work. What it neglects to take into account is that, as with a law degree, most people taking an undergrad commerce degree are more or less on the same footing in terms of exposure to the subject matter. At Rotman, however, you are taking introductory accounting with accountants and introductory finance courses with people who have CFAs. This alters the playing field. Devon Willitts (2L), for example, entered the JD/MBA with a commerce background and, therefore, found 1L much more difficult than the MBA. This extends further than just commerce backgrounds: having an undergrad degree in economics, math, engineering, accounting, or any other field tangentially related to business will likely give you a leg up.
Therefore, when people qualify the MBA as more work but conceptually easier than 1L, it may be because those people have backgrounds that are well suited to first-year MBA courses. Rotman draws attention to the fact that its classes are composed of people from all ranges of backgrounds, making it seem accessible to anyone with previous academic and professional success. However, based on how the curriculum is structured, it gives a direct upper hand to those with the backgrounds I’ve mentioned. I entered my MBA year expecting some people to have a bit of an advantage based on work experience or background, but I didn’t anticipate exactly how large this advantage would be.
In considering all of this, and all that is to come, would I still choose to do this rigorous program? Well, it’s easy to feel disheartened two weeks before finals. Ask me again in June.
When I asked upper years whether they would do it again, some responded with an unequivocal yes, while others were less sure. This is very fair, considering the rigours of the program. For those thinking about entering it, it is well worth some serious consideration.