The work world may be in constant flux, but one thing remains the same: better relationships lead to better business.
Building interpersonal and intrapersonal skills is a key objective of the MBA experience, and the more options a student has for collaboration, the more prepared they will be to lead their own teams. This philosophy helped drive the design of our Online MBA, leading to a program culture that is built for students to forge lifelong connections. The cohort model also has the advantage of more directly reflecting the relationship-oriented business world.
What is a Cohort-Based MBA Program?
A learning cohort is a group of students who move through a program of study simultaneously. They start in the same semester or quarter, take many of the same classes together and finish at approximately the same time. They may also collaborate on shared projects and regularly meet as a group.
For online MBAs, a cohort learning model builds a sense of community from afar. Thanks to the increased availability of video-sharing platforms and online workspaces, students can meet and create as if they were in the same classroom.
Students who participate in a cohort report that they feel more supported, that they are more motivated to finish their degree and that they were better equipped to inspire others. Other benefits include:
- Development of soft skills such as communication, feedback and accountability
- Exposure to diverse backgrounds and points of view
- Access to a supportive peer network during and after the program
- Increased feeling of connection to the courses and institution
- Concrete examples of teamwork that can be used for resumes and career development
If you are researching MBA options and wondering whether a cohort approach is a good match for you, here is what you can expect from participating in this framework.
Benefits of Cohort-Based Learning
Nearly all students pursuing an MBA already have on-the-job experience. They have likely worked on or even led teams. But they still have much to gain from participating in an MBA cohort.
Exposure to New Perspectives
A cohort puts you in direct contact with people in different industries, from different backgrounds and who bring different approaches to solving problems. And, with online MBAs especially, cohorts give you a chance to study with people who live all over the world. Interacting with diverse viewpoints can make you a stronger manager who is more open to innovation. Plus, research shows that interacting closely with diverse groups can help you further cultivate your own ideals and personal strengths.
Idea Sharing with Other Entrepreneurs
MBA cohorts are made up of students selected through the program’s rigorous application process. They have years of work experience and may already run their own companies. That means you’ll get to talk strategy with people who are dedicated entrepreneurs, experienced leaders and professionals from different business functions. You can bounce ideas off of one another, offer feedback on proposals and even brainstorm new ventures.
A Built-in Support System
Going back to school is an excellent way to advance your career. But it does take dedication to balance education with other personal and professional responsibilities. Your cohort is full of people who know exactly what you are experiencing and who can offer support if you need it.
Lasting Professional Connections
While a cohort only officially exists for the length of a degree, the relationships that form can last long afterward. MBA graduates get the benefits of joining their institution’s alumni network, which can be a powerful resource. But those who participate in a cohort often forge bonds that carry over into the professional world. Cohort participants have gone on to recommend each other for jobs and even go into business together.
What to Expect in an Online MBA Cohort
Starting an MBA with a cohort is a bit like starting a new job with a group of fellow new employees. Everyone brings a unique work history to the group. There will be an introductory period where group members get to know each other and learn the ropes of the MBA program, in some cases through an in-person session. After the members get to know each other and begin collaborating on projects together, they’ll cohere into a true team.
Teamwork + Coursework
As part of an MBA cohort, you will collaborate with your partners to analyze and solve business problems, create pitches and practice strategic decision-making. The amount of teamwork versus individual work varies by institution; in the Marshall Online MBA, for example, up to 50% of classwork is conducted in teams.
In addition to group projects within a course, cohorts often cooperate on a larger project that spans multiple courses, or a capstone project that serves as an aggregation of everything learned in the MBA program. Team members may present these projects to executives and solve real-world business challenges.
While cohorts enhance the learning experience, they do not change the fundamental MBA curriculum. Students will still learn advanced management skills from skilled instructors in areas such as marketing, finance, management, accounting, and entrepreneurship. But they also have the chance to learn from fellow students who have worked in and led teams in these industries. Students are still responsible for their individual output, and their final grades will ultimately reflect their own performance.
Connecting with Your Cohort
A common question about online cohort-based programs is: How do we work with each other when we are not in the same place? Luckily, it is easier than ever for online cohorts to connect virtually. Students usually have structured video opportunities to meet with other students, such as through faculty-led online sessions or regular check-in meetings, and more casual chances through virtual study sessions and social hours. Beyond video interactions, cohorts stay in touch through messaging apps like WhatsApp and Slack and via discussion boards on learning management systems such as Canvas.
These digital meetups are critical to getting all the benefits of a cohort. While not all meetings will be mandatory, it is important that students set some time aside for these interactions
While most communication in an online MBA takes place virtually, there are chances for cohorts to meet in person. Many universities kick off their programs with an opportunity for cohort members to meet each other and the faculty. For example, students in the Marshall Online MBA usually begin the degree by spending an intensive week in California with their new cohort, completing coursework and building camaraderie. And, when circumstances permit it, cohort members may organize social events with other participants who live in their area.
Cohorts in the USC Marshall Online MBA
The Marshall School of Business convened its inaugural cohort in 2016 when USC first offered its top-ranked MBA online.
While demand for the Marshall Online MBA increases every year, USC Marshall maintains tight-knit groups. The average cohort size is 45 to 50 students, with students also rotating among smaller groups of 4 to 5 people. There are two cohort starts a year, in December and August, and cohort members complete six courses together over the 21 months of the degree.
Each cohort’s makeup is unique, with students from financial services, healthcare, defense, entertainment, engineering, consulting and more. Student members have an average work history of eight years.
USC Marshall is one of the premier business schools in the U.S. and internationally recognized as a home for path-breaking research that emphasizes entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership and social responsibility. The USC Online MBA from the Marshall School of Business is built to help students succeed in the digitally driven business landscape, providing a curriculum focused on the practical skills expected of today’s global leaders. Marshall brings its graduate students a unique perspective on the world, including global opportunities for experiential learning. The Marshall alumni community includes more than 89,000 people in 92 countries, making them a vibrant and active part of the full Trojan Family — now more than 390,000 strong.