Choosing Elective Classes for Next Term

On November 12, 2011, in Business School, by Jeremy C Wilson

After working hard during the first year curriculum at Kellogg, we all get a lot more choice in our class selection in the second year. We more options for classes and more independent studies and experiential courses at our fingertips. As you might imagine, class selection can be a difficult process. Not only are there a lot of classes to choose from but there are also pros and cons to every class you might be considering.  And it can be especially difficult for the JD-MBAs who not only have to choose classes but have to do it at both schools, where the timetables and bidding systems are entirely different. Well, now that we’re in the final few weeks of the term now, we are starting to think about choosing classes for next term.

At long last, it’s that time of year again. Time to think about what classes to take next quarter. A process that some undertake in a matter of minutes. But also a process that some people spend hours on. After all, we only have a limited number of elective classes, so people here want to be sure to make the most of them, depending on what their priorities are.

In the process, we’re all given access to surveys about how the different classes went in previous terms. Almost like a Zagat survey of restaurants, or US News report on MBA programs. The surveys provide ratings on the classes based on student feedback.  They also show previous bids to give you a sense of how many points the classes should go for.  At Kellogg, it’s all based on a survey we fill out at the end of the class, just before the final exam. The survey has 3o or 40 questions, which include ones about the professor, the class content, and the fairness of grading, And it uses a scale from 1 to 10.

At the law school, it’s a bit more qualitative. In addition to having a rating scale from 1 to 5, the survey also has a qualitative portion. This allows students to provide constructive (usually) written feedback about the class. And the material actually ends up being quite helpful as we select classes. I think the business school should consider adopting this system.

The most popular elective courses are Entrepreneurial Finance  (Rogers),  Managerial Leadership (Kraemer), Global Lab, Negotiations (Medvek), Financial Decisions (Raviv) and Management Communications (Van Camp).  Last year, I took Entrepreneurial Finance and thought the class was definitely good. Next quarter, I successfully bid on Management Communications, a class that aims to improve student skills in communication. In short, this is an experiential course where you have to deliver a speech every week in order to get better at communicating.

The challenge of picking the right classes is daunting. And for JD-MBAs it can take a herculean effort to get everything to work out in the end.  First you have to figure out what types of classes to take. At Kellogg, people take classes for a few different reasons. One reason is to gain knowledge in a specific area. That happens a lot with the finance and marketing classes. Another reason is because they want to work on more practical skills. That’s where classes like Negotiations and Communications comes in to play. Students also choose classes purely from interest; so they pick a topic they don’t know much about. And students also pick classes because they have top professors. It all stems from the motto, “Take the professor not the course.” This is what happens a lot of time in the most popular courses.

After you have a list of courses you want to consider taking, next you have to figure out how much to bid for them. If you didn’t bid a lot of points on the popular classes, then you had no shot of getting them. Entrepreneurial Finance has traditionally been one of the highest closing classes every year. Next quarter’s class went for just under 1300 points.  Global Lab went for higher than ever before at over 1450 points, and Negotiations went for over 1500 points, which might also be an all-time high.  The tricky part here is that everyone only has a limited number of points, so you can’t bid high for everything.

Then third, you have to balance all of that, with fitting everything into your schedule. So getting them on the right days at the right times. Which is especially tricky for JD-MBAs that have law school classes downtown but also Kellogg classes in Evanston. Further, we have to do that while also balancing graduation requirements at both schools rather than at just one.

In sum, picking classes is a big part of the MBA and JD-MBA experience. The number of classes is high and there are pros and cons with any class you might be considering.

It will be interesting to see how everyone’s schedules turn out for next term.

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