Duke MBA Classroom Student Experience (Reader Request)

A reader had made a blog post request to learn more about what the classroom experience is like in the Duke MBA. Thank you Sakthi for asking this! I'm glad that this was asked as it is an important experience that so far has been missing from this blog.  Please leave any future requests in the comments section in this post. I get email alerts for any comments so you can expect a response within the same day.

The classroom experience is a critical consideration of any MBA program. Tuition is expensive, and is becoming even more so. Aside from a school's reputation, alumni network, industry relationships, leadership training, students ultimately need to learn fundamental business skills - accounting, finance, marketing, and so forth.

Understanding the value of a classroom experience is very important, as business education can be acquired outside the MBA as I discussed here. There are plenty of free online business courses and cases/papers used in the MBA can often be found for free or at an affordable price. A list of the courses I've taken in the Duke MBA so far are at the bottom of this post for those interested.

Here are 4 reasons why the classroom experience in the Duke MBA has been invaluable:

1. Learning from classmates

One thing I quickly realized was that I was surrounded by amazing classmates with amazing experiences. In my health care courses I had classmates who were in consulting, provider, pharma, medical devices, and health IT roles before school. For non health care courses, we had an even wider range of industries and functions covered. Fuqua's classrooms fit about 70 people so each class creates a very diverse sample set. Together, this creates a very valuable cross-learning opportunity in the classroom and I probably learn as much from my reading as I do from my classmates.

In most classes, students are incentivized to contribute. Typical tools include cold calling and class participation grades. I've been very impressed with the quality of the discussions in class. The typical structure of a lecture is as follows: we spend 1 hour discussing the case for the class and the majority of comments will be from students. A 15-minute break follows and we proceed with the lecture that go through the lecture material.

Discussions have really stood out in my health care classes as it's easy to tell all students are very passionate about the topics (as you can tell I'm biased). However, this is also the case in other classes, for example strategy and operations. In my section we had folks who were from leading consulting firms and we got to learn from them. In operations, we dedicated one class for students to share their previous experiences in project management and supply chain optimization. The classroom experience offers fantastic opportunities to learn from the rich and diverse experiences of every classmate.

2. Opportunity to challenge professors

The business environment today is high complex and ambiguous. There are likely no right or wrong answers. This is when having a professor really helps. They offer context and provide guidance for students, and really make a difference when discussing topics with no clear answers. Students also can challenge the statements that professors make or request clarification. These often turn into very meaningful discussions that really elevates the content from simply reading a textbook or an article. This is especially important as many of the topics we discuss may not yet have a textbook or an article written yet.

Fuqua professors have been excellent in stirring up discussions on topics in class and in posing questions that took the discussion further. They are all passionate about the topics that they teach and make lectures very interesting. I never thought I'd enjoy learning accounting or economics as much as I did.

3. Defend your ideas

When you're reading a case or article on your own, you have one interpretation. At Fuqua, we are able to get the feedback from a professor, and also get access to the interpretations of our classmates. It not only creates an incentive for sufficient preparation, but also makes classes much more interesting. I don't have a business background or experience in provider/payer aspects of health care, so I make sure to study extra hard for those classes.

This creates a fantastic opportunity for speaking up and defending your ideas in front of a group of smart and competitive people. It trains students to interpret facts and new information quickly, and think on the spot. It also offers a platform for students to practice articulating their ideas and defending them. The professor is a key moderator of these discussions and have been very effective in making sure everyone is on the same page, asking for clarification or counter arguments if necessary.

4. Perform with limited resources

Most Fuqua MBA students will admit that they are not always fully prepared for every class. This is understandable given our other commitments in the MBA program - club events, recruiting, P4E, FCCP, etc. However, this closely mirrors the resource constrained business environment we'll face after we leave school. It is guaranteed that all students will be under heavy load and challenged, especially in the fall terms of the first year.

I quickly realized that reading cases or articles from start to finish was not going to work. I needed to be more effective at filtering information and learning concepts that mattered the most. The Duke MBA offers a great opportunity to practice this skill - by not only providing a very intense environment, but also a platform to evaluate our performance, which includes the classroom.

Summary and sit in on a Fuqua MBA class:

Overall, the classroom experience has been very satisfying and a valuable component of the Duke MBA. In the fall and spring, prospective students are invited to see Fuqua in action by attending a lecture during a campus visit or interview. Please see here for more information.

Duke MBA classes I've taken thus far in my first year:

Summer 2013:
Health Sector Management Bootcamp (I wrote about it here)
Global Institutes and Environments (I wrote about it here)
Leadership, Ethics, and Organizations (I wrote about it here)

Fall 1 2013: (I wrote about it here)
Leadership Communication

Fall 2 2013: (I wrote about it here)
Leadership Communication

Spring 1:2014 (I wrote about it here)
Health Care Markets

Spring 2: 2014 (Part 1 here, Part 2 here)
Decision Models
Marketing Strategy
Product Management


  1. Hey Steven, Nice post. I am glad you touched on this topic. I have a few questions here

    1) Is the grading of classes quantitative ( i mean, do you get a GPA for every class and a cumulative GPA at the end of 2 years?). If yes, how important a role does this play in your recruitment.

    2) I am a biologist by training, just like you, and was wondering if taking a calculus class would help in excelling at course work during MBA. How important is calculus in typical MBA modules and as a biologist what were the challenges you faced in navigating the accounting, economics and financial modelling courses?

    3) Apart from Calculus, what other math/economics/(anything else that i am missing :) ), serve as good foundation for courses in MBA?



    1. Hi Sathya, thanks for reading! Here's some quick answers:

      1) Most classes, with the exception of a few, are graded with GPA. The only industries that look at GPA are consulting and finance, I believe.

      2) Calculus is required to understand some finance and economics principles in probably 2 lectures total. In other words, not a whole lot. However, it is a fundamental quant course and I'd recommend taking it if you have a chance. It'll help you with the theoretical frameworks.

      I'll answer your remainder questions in a future post as I'd like to go more in depth. Stay tuned, and thanks for commenting on my blog =)