95% of Stanford MBA students take a nonrequired course nicknamed 'Touchy Feely.' Here's why alumni say it's been voted the most popular elective for 45 years.
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Often the expression "touchy feely" evokes a negative connotation of being overly affectionate and too open with your emotions — but not at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). At Stanford GSB — ranked the top business school in the world, according to the 2021 Global MBA Ranking by education analyst QS Quacquarelli Symonds — "Touchy Feely" is the informal name for the MBA program's most popular course, "Interpersonal Dynamics." Stanford GSB shared with Business Insider that 95% of Stanford GSB students take this beloved course, even though it's not required. It has been voted the most popular elective for 45 years running, and many students credit it as being the most important class they took in business school. In fact, the course's popularity has increased so much in recent years that it is now offered every quarter (it used to only be offered once a year). Other evidence of the class' growing success? GSB started offering it to people outside of its MBA program as a three-day weekend lab, as well as a week-long executive education version of the class in the summer for non-GSB students. The GSB offered the weekend lab for the first time in New York City in March of last year as a response to receiving so many requests from non-GSB students wanting to participate. Due to the GSB's commitment to an international perspective, they're now expanding this three-day offering to Paris as well. What's the structure of 'Interpersonal Dynamics'? While Stanford GSB was not at liberty to share the syllabus, the school did explain in detail what students can expect from the "Touchy Feely" course, which is designed to be a transformative experience to help students discover their own personal leadership style and develop authentic leadership skills. The focus of the course is on increasing participants' competencies in building more effective relationships, with learning occurring primarily through feedback from other classmates and group members. In terms of the course's structure, students are divided into three 12-person "T-groups" that meet the same evening of the class for three hours. Attendance at the first class is a strict requirement, with failure to attend resulting in the student being automatically dropped from the course. Some sections of the two-day-per-week version of the course also require attendance at the second or third class to remain enrolled. As the course catalog emphasizes, "It is very important to note that when you decide to take this course, you make an explicit contract to be actively involved." The class also has a highly interactive weekend retreat that takes place on the seventh or eighth week of the course, which all students must attend. Stanford GSB's course catalog also warns that "This course is very involving and, at times, can be quite emotional. However, this course is not a substitute for therapy," and cites that the class deals more with "interpersonal issues" than with "intra-personal ones." Who teaches 'Interpersonal Dynamics'? Six different lecturers currently teach the course, including Andrea Corney, lecturer in management at Stanford GSB. "One of the goals of 'Interpersonal Dynamics' is to improve students' awareness of their impact on others," Corney said. "The learning process can be uncomfortable, as it involves exploring feelings, expressing vulnerability, and giving and receiving difficult feedback. For most students these behaviors are way outside their comfort zones. The course gives them the opportunity to experiment with these new behaviors, discover that they can survive the discomfort, and realize that they are more resilient than they knew." Lecturers in Management Leslie Chin, Gary Dexter, Collins Dobbs, and Yifat Sharabi-Levine and Lecturer in Organizational Behavior Richard P. Francisco also currently teach "Interpersonal Dynamics." Brian Lowery, senior associate dean for academic affairs, is the director of the "Interpersonal Dynamics Weekend Lab: Leadership from the Inside Out" in New York and Paris, as well as codirector of the executive education course, "Interpersonal Dynamics for High-Performance Executives."
"'Interpersonal Dynamics' offers students an opportunity to experience a high degree of connection and intimacy with their peers, building key skills that have a tremendous impact as they transition into roles that require them to be interpersonally effective and self-aware leaders," Lowery said. "It is a powerful experience in which students welcome honest, transparent feedback from their peers, allowing them to see themselves from the perspective of others. Learning how your actions impact those around you makes an effective leader, which is what 'Interpersonal Dynamics' is designed to accomplish." What makes 'Interpersonal Dynamics' so special? Ian Cinnamon, an alum of Stanford GSB and president and founder of Synapse Technology Corporation, said that the "Interpersonal Dynamics" course helped him become more self-aware. "I'm generally a very happy and positive person, but when situations get tumultuous, [it helps to have an] understanding that having a purely optimistic outlook is not effective in leadership positions," Cinnamon said. "I learned that pairing my natural optimism with my vulnerabilities, fear, and emotions really motivates my peers and helps make me more influential."
Cinnamon added that now, whenever he's in any difficult situation, it's become "instinct" to think back to what he learned from the "Touchy Feely" course. "I try to really understand the core motivations and feelings of others whenever there is conflict or tension," he said. "It gives me a competitive edge in business." Jenna Nicholas, also a Stanford GSB alum and CEO of Impact Experience — which is focused on building bridges between impact investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, and marginalized communities — listed multiple takeaways she gained from "Interpersonal Dynamics," including "the importance of being open and vulnerable, and in particular the depth and respect that can come about through opening up." She added that other highlights of the course for her were "the power of creating spaces for honest feedback, and the depth of friendships that can emerge from the open sharing." Nicholas also conveyed that "Touchy Feely" has positively impacted her career path, particularly over the past few years when she has been building out her organization. "'Touchy Feely' has been influential in much of our work at Impact Experience," she said. "Our work is focused on creating spaces for holding difficult conversations in communities that have been historically oppressed, and driving toward commitments and ongoing collaboration."
She added that the importance of "being held by a group" runs throughout her organization's work, as well as an active acknowledgement of the importance of questioning assumptions and preconceived notions, both of which were discussed in the class. Another Stanford GSB alum, Patrick Robinson, who is a service design and innovation manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), also took "Interpersonal Dynamics" as a GSB elective. He cited several main takeaways from the course, starting with appreciating his emotions' role in his communication with others and helping him make better decisions. Robinson also listed understanding that he learns more if he "leans into emotional discomfort with curiosity," allowing himself to be vulnerable with others to support deeper connection and trust, and being able to better receive what people are communicating by "being attentive to … others." "Across all of these takeaways [from the course], I came to understand how important it is for me to have a deeper vocabulary for engaging with emotional content," Robinson said. "That includes refining how I describe my emotions, as well as identifying the assumptions and attributions I'm making so I can share them with others in a way they are more likely to receive." He added that the same vocabulary explained in the course also gives him a mental model for how he can better understand what others are communicating to him. Like Nicholas, Robinson saw clear application from "Touchy Feely" to his present career. After earning his MBA, Robinson began working at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in late 2015. Robinson works on the criminal justice reform team, partnering with and supporting organizations on the frontlines of efforts to seek a safe end to mass incarceration. He explained that his work demands that he "grapple with the presence of inequity, racism, and unfairness."
"I came to the Stanford GSB with a military and legal background — both of which are arenas where stoicism and rationality are prized over emotional decision making," Robinson said. "'Touchy Feely' and the courses in leadership that build from its approach … helped me develop the tools I now employ on a daily basis." As a concrete example, Robinson shared that he is often faced with different perspectives that are challenging, if not impossible, to fully reconcile — but the insights he has gained from the most popular Stanford GSB course have helped. "By applying what I've learned in 'Touchy Feely,' I'm better able to lead across these diverse groups even when the outcome isn't exactly what each person was after," he said. "Instead of persuading others to my point of view, I focus on fully hearing theirs. It's getting results, and I credit 'Touchy Feely' and the GSB with reframing my perspective and giving me a safe place to make mistakes as I learned." This article was originally published on Business Insider September 25, 2019.SEE ALSO: Here's exactly what it takes to get accepted into Stanford Graduate School of Business, according to 6 grads and the assistant dean of admissions READ MORE: Required reading: These are the books top professors at the best business schools in the country are having their MBA students read Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Here's what it's like to travel during the coronavirus outbreak
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Summary List Placement You're ready to level up in your career, and you've decided that pursuing...Summary List Placement You're ready to level up in your career, and you've decided that pursuing an MBA is the best way to do it. Not only can MBA programs provide you with a comprehensive education, but they can also help you increase your professional network, shed light on new career paths, and — depending on what you do with your degree afterward — your earning potential, too. But we can't ignore the fact that the price of most MBA programs is very steep. In fact, the average price of full-time tuition is $50,000. Per year. That's a large investment. There's some good news, though. Each year, the US government dedicates around $120 billion for federal student aid, and graduate students can apply for some of it. All you need to do is fill out a FAFSA form. Here's what you need to know about this process. What is FAFSA? FAFSA (which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a questionnaire you need to complete if you want schools to consider you for financial aid. It's approximately 100 questions long, with question topics ranging from your educational history to your income to any investments you might have. It's a lot of information, but every single answer is factored into your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which schools use to determine if you need aid and, if so, how much. Can MBA students get federal funding? It's never a guarantee for anyone, but graduate students can definitely apply for federal student aid. If you applied for FAFSA for your undergraduate education, the process for grad students is almost exactly the same. There are just three differences you should know about. First, you won't be eligible for all the types of aid that undergraduates are. MBA students can get two types of loans: the Federal Stafford Loan and the Federal Grad PLUS. As these are loans, you must pay back the full amount you borrowed plus any interest that accrues over time. Second, whereas the loans for undergraduate students are subsidized (meaning the government pays the interest on them until graduation), graduate student loans are completely unsubsidized. That means that interest starts building up from the very day the money is distributed to you or the school you're enrolled in. The third main difference is that, while undergraduate students are usually filing as a dependant of their parents or guardians, the vast majority of grad students must file independently. "Students seeking financial aid for their MBA are automatically declared an independent," said Betterment Certified Financial Planner Nick Holeman. "This typically makes the application process much easier as applicants don't have to report their family's income and only [have to report] their own personal tax return." This will directly impact your EFC — instead of factoring in your parents' or guardians' income, the school only considers yours (and your spouse's, if applicable). How much money can you get from FAFSA? The maximum amount of funding a graduate student can receive from the Stafford Loan is $20,500 each school year. With the Grad PLUS loan, you can borrow the total amount the program will cost you, though if you receive financial aid from any other sources, they'll subtract that from your maximum allowance. There's no concrete answer to how much you, specifically, will be awarded (and there's no guarantee that you'll be awarded any at all). The final number is largely dependent on the program you want to join and your EFC. When you fill out your FAFSA form, you'll indicate between one and 10 schools you want the form sent to. Each institution will use that to figure out how much aid they should award you. To do this, they take the total price of attendance and subtract your EFC. Sometimes, they include cost of living in the attendance cost, too. How do you qualify for financial aid? Before you fill out your form, confirm that you are, in fact, eligible to apply. That means you must be a US citizen or an eligible non-citizen, have a high school diploma or GED, and have a social security number. You also need to prove that you're already accepted into or enrolled in a degree program and that you have some level of financial need. (There are a few other requirements you should check out, too.) If you're not sure if you have a true financial need, you should still apply — there's no max income cutoff, and you can't be 100% certain what your EFC will be. It could very well be below what the total costs of the program will be. How do you apply for FAFSA? Here's the good news: This is a fairly straightforward process. It just requires filling out a form, and the easiest way to go about it is to fill it out online. There's also a paper version of the FAFSA form, but know that this can slow down the process. Before you start, gather all the relevant information so you don't have to dig for it when the question pops up. This includes (but is not limited to): All records of money earned (for example, tax forms, W-2s, W-9s) Bank and brokerage statements Details of any investments you may have List of schools you want to send FAFSA to While the process is pretty clear-cut, it can be tedious, as it requires a lot of little details. One good thing about filing independently is that you can completely skip Section 4, which is the parent and guardian information section. That's about 40 questions you get to pass right on by! When are the deadlines for FAFSA? The FAFSA application opens on October 1 every year (so for the 2020-2021 school year, it opened October 1, 2019). Every state has different deadlines. Connecticut's is February 15, for example, and New York's is June 30. Deadlines are based on your state of legal residence — not the state in which the schools you listed are located. Find the FAFSA deadlines here. Though you can apply until the last day, Holeman advised submitting your application as soon as possible. "Some schools and states grant financial aid on a first-come-first serve basis," he said. "So waiting until the last second may cause you to miss out." What happens after you apply? Once you hit submit, your form is sent to the financial aid offices of the schools you listed. Some universities may require you to fill out additional forms, so make sure you check into that. Between three days and three weeks after submitted, the US Department of Education will send you a student aid report (SAR) summarizing your answers and letting you know what your EFC is. Based on all of this information, they'll decide how much financial aid you'll get and will send you an award letting. If you accept the financial aid package, your loan money is distributed to that school's financial aid office. They'll use it to pay off the expenses you owe them first. You'll receive any remaining funds that you can use toward additional educational expenses. What happens if you don't receive any aid? If you don't receive any financial aid and are concerned about how you'll pay for your MBA, Holeman suggested the following options: Consider private loans: MBA students can get credit-based private student loans. Compare the top options and decide which works best for you. Look into tax advantages: Specifically, check out the Lifetime Learning Credit and consider a 529 savings plan. Apply for scholarships, fellowships, and assistantship positions: This is money you don't have to pay back, and I can vouch for the fact that this is a great option. An assistantship paid for my second year of grad school and gave me a monthly stipend. Additional education can be invaluable when it comes to your career — just make sure that you've done the research to make sure an MBA is the very best option for you before you borrow money. Because you have to pay these loans (and more) back, you want to make sure the investment is worth it and you have a plan to pay them back on time after you graduate. READ MORE: BUSINESS SCHOOL LIBRARY: Everything you need to know about applying to business school and financing your degree Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the suicide hotline saved my life
5 great alternatives to getting your MBA that'll cost substantially less and still give you all the benefits of a business school degree
Nearly half of students in leading MBA programs borrowed at least $100,000 to complete their degree,...Nearly half of students in leading MBA programs borrowed at least $100,000 to complete their degree, according to a 2019 Bloomberg Businessweek survey. Instead of an MBA, certificate programs, specialized master's degrees, and other alternatives can be more economical and aligned to your goals. Many hiring managers are looking for tangible skills over fancy degrees. As a result, investing your money in building a business, networking, or taking a certification course may be more beneficial in the long run. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. For anyone looking to grow or start a business, the idea of getting an MBA may seem like a great stepping stone toward your goals. But while it may be the most obvious choice, it's not always the best one. For starters, there's the biggest deterrent: cost. Higher education is incredibly expensive in America and is only increasing in price — at a rate of almost eight times wage increases, Camilo Maldonad, cofounder of The Finance Twins, reported in Forbes. While paying for an undergraduate degree can be difficult enough — a fact that forced 69% of the class of 2018 to take out loans, according to Student Loan Hero — graduate programs are often even more expensive. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek survey of 10,000 2018 MBA graduates found that almost half the students attending the best business schools had to borrow a minimum of $100,000 in order to complete their education. As the focus on fancy degrees dims compared to tangible experience, it becomes increasingly hard to justify putting that much money toward an MBA. "An MBA is a huge financial investment and requires two years of full-time school to attain. Pursuing an MBA puts students in debt and can slow down their career trajectory by removing them from the workforce," said Dennis Shirshikov, a financial analyst at Fit Small Business, a company that provides advice and resources for small businesses. "The great thing about taking the alternatives approach rather than getting an MBA is that they don't remove an MBA as an option. If my career requires an MBA in the future it's still an option, but at that point, I will be positioned to leverage it for maximum impact." With all that in mind, it's worth considering other avenues for success. Which begs the question: If you're not going to get an MBA, then what steps can you take instead? When it comes down to it, your end goal determines which alternative to an MBA is best for you. Check out these other great options, and why these successful people chose each. 1. Complete a certificate program You may find that you can learn everything you want in a short and cost-effective certificate program, an option offered by most colleges. "I was seriously considering getting my MBA from Wharton, but ended up doing their digital marketing certificate program and it was awesome," said Jessie Nichols, director of marketing and public relations at All Things Equal, an original games company. In making this decision, she said the time and financial commitment factored in (the program costs only $2,340), as did her desire to obtain a more industry-specific education. "In digital marketing, things are advancing and changing every day. I needed really top-notch instruction and I was really comfortable investing in the Wharton certificate," she said. This also allowed her to keep working with clients while pursuing the certificate. A certificate course also allows you to test the waters before diving into a large commitment like an MBA. For more information on online MBAs, check out these stories from students from Harvard Business School online and The Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon, which has one of the top online MBA programs in the US. 2. Take a qualifying exam Depending on what your end goal is, you may be able to substitute out an MBA for an exam. Take Lou Haverty, a corporate banker, who debated getting his MBA. "For me, it came down to price and what gave me the best chance of getting into the industry I wanted to pursue," he told Business Insider. "The CFA exam wouldn't require any debt and probably gave me the best chance to get into a competitive industry. If I went down the MBA path, I would have taken on extra debt and I may not have gotten into one of the top tier programs." That's another great thing about these tests — anyone can study and take them. Whether you want to be a CFA, certified public accountant, civil servant, or something else, there are plenty of careers in which taking a qualifying exam is all you really need. 3. Get a more specialized master's degree Maybe a master's degree is the right move for you, but an MBA just isn't. Depending on what you're looking to accomplish, putting your money toward a more specialized master's degree is worth considering. "I chose to pursue a master's degree in risk management and financial modeling [at Queens College] instead of an MBA because it offered greater specialization, lower costs, shorter time commitment, and quicker growth for my career," said Shirshikov. "Unlike an MBA, the total cost of a master's degree in a specialized field is often much lower, and it left me with a much more specialized and sought after skill set." He explained that when he was looking for jobs after graduating, this specialization made him more attractive to employers than if he had completed the more general MBA program. "Employers were able to see that I was a subject matter expert in financial risk management, rather than a generalist with an MBA," he said. "This specialization landed me several interviews within risk departments across a variety of industries. It's unlikely I would have had the same opportunities with an MBA. Considering that the degree was a fraction of the cost of most MBA programs, the return on investment for the degree was also much higher for me." 4. Start your own business As Ray Bradbury once said, "Sometimes you just have to jump out the window and grow wings on the way down." You could fail with or without an MBA, so why not invest your money into growing a business instead of a big, fancy degree? You'll be surprised how much you can learn on your own. "There is no teacher like necessity and a small budget. YouTube, late nights, and time will teach you most, if not more, than MBA students learn," Hannah Maruyama, owner of cosmetic tattoo company YAMA Studios, told Business Insider. From marketing and networking to sales and investments, there are so many skills you can gain as you build your own business. Sure, you will get tripped up at times, but you'll learn and adjust course as you do. "It took me years of failure to learn to focus and how to work, but now I'm an author and business owner and I have people with an MBA apply to intern with me. It just goes to show that the way education works is slowly being turned upside down," Maruyama said. 5. Attend networking events It's true that getting an MBA gives you the opportunity to connect with teachers, fellow students, and visitors to your school. While this is undoubtedly advantageous, it's also possible to recreate on your own. "Rather than spending $100,000 or more to get those connections, it can be valuable to attend conferences and meetups with other professionals both within and outside the field," Shirshikov said. "Personally, I attended conferences held by top universities within a reasonable driving distance and had great success with meeting both current MBA students and other professionals. In my experience attending open houses for MBA programs and speaking to graduates, there are fewer industries and skill sets represented in the program." Alternatively, Shirshikov said that going to a range of conferences has exposed him to new people in his industry and new perspectives. "I've done this with conferences including everything from investment opportunities on the African Continent to the rapidly growing market for antique cars," he said. "A network of people across multiple lines of work is more applicable to business today, especially as we become more networked and the problems that leaders face are more complex. Importantly, it's also easier to stand out as the only risk or finance person at an AI conference than if you are one of the hundreds with that skill set at an MBA program." Putting yourself out there can certainly be hard, but think of it this way: It's a lot easier than paying back all that debt.SEE ALSO: Required reading: These are the books top professors at the best business schools in the country are having their MBA students read READ MORE: 24 podcasts picked by industry leaders, successful executives, and business school professors that are almost as good as getting an MBA Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: A cleaning expert reveals her 3-step method for cleaning your entire home quickly