Second-Year Shares Insight on Life as an Older Student in Wharton’s EMBA Program

While the majority of students in Wharton’s MBA for Executives Program have around 10 years of work experience, some students arrive with two to three times that, bringing a particularly unique perspective to the classroom.  To learn more about what it’s like to be an older student in our EMBA program, we asked East Coast second-year student Kevin Covert, who is 51 and vice president and deputy general counsel at Honeywell International, Inc. in New Jersey, to share some of his experiences.  Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m the oldest person in my class by seven years and already have a J.D. and an LL.M., so this will be my fourth degree.  I’m also very senior at my company with constant interaction with the CEO and the most senior officers on a variety of issues that have huge implications for the company.  Before I started the program, I would have thought that someone more junior in their career would have had an easier time because they wouldn’t have the same level of responsibility and executive visibility, but that has proven to be somewhat true and somewhat not true.

Some things have been easier for me because I’ve seen more and done more.  The people I report to are quite senior.   They’re at the pinnacles of their careers and are understanding and flexible about time commitments.  On the other hand, when you operate at the top of the pyramid there is nowhere else for the buck to stop.  There is no ball that can ever hit the ground, school or no school.

Another challenge for older students is that people our age tend to have more things going on in their lives. We typically are married, have kids, maybe even are divorced, and are involved with our community.  I have four kids ranging from college age to 2 years old and I sit on the board of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in addition to putting in long work days at my company.

Given these responsibilities, older students have to understand going into the program that all of these things and people will compete for your time and you have to set expectations for how you will allocate your time for the next two years.  Your spouse has to understand that after coming home from work, you can spend an hour or so with the kids, but then will disappear to study for a few hours.

And you have to make an effort to make sure your kids feel you are still engaged. One of my kids is a high school athlete and I try very hard to get to his events, but if I can’t then I make it a point to try to do other things together, like going to Phillies games or playing golf or tennis.  There will be less time, but you have to make sure that the time you do spend with them is engaging rather than just sitting in the same room with your nose in a book or on a conference call.

While the professors certainly understand that you have a day job and other responsibilities, having a lot of school work is the nature of the beast with this type of program.  At the end of the day, Wharton makes sure that the people graduating from the executive MBA program are every bit as qualified as someone coming out of the full-time program.  It’s not an MBA-lite where the work load is much less or easier.  I’m learning the same course materials in the same way as a full-time student.  So we have a huge volume of work juxtaposed against the natural limitations on our time.

But all of that juggling is worth it.  Since you end up practically living with your classmates on weekends, they become like your family.  They are enormously talented people and each has different attributes that they bring from different walks of life and different job experiences – from running nonprofits to medical doctors and virtually everything in between.

The professors are outstanding as well.  They are willing to give their time outside of the classroom not only to help you with things you might be struggling with in class, but also to give you their professional and experiential insights.  I can’t tell you how many professors I’ve engaged in issues that I grapple with at work and they seem to enjoy the interaction as much as we do.  My classmates and professors are clearly the highlight of the program.

While I’m looking forward to getting more sleep and spending more time with my family after graduation, I’m going to miss seeing my classmates and professors every other weekend!  Older students might have to juggle a few extra balls, but Wharton’s EMBA Program is worth it! I’ve learned what I set out to learn – and more – as well as formed incredible friendships that will last the rest of my professional and nonprofessional life.”