Here's some of what I've come up with thus far:
- School (in terms of a long-term program in which you're enrolled) is really a solitary endeavor, whether it be grad school or college, because at the end of the day it's really you vs. the learning objective. Friends and family can support you (indeed, you couldn't "do" school without their support) but it all comes down to YOU: your performance on exams, your reading and retention, your commitment and participation.
- Whether grad school or college, it's still "you vs. the professor" and "you wrestling with the big ideas." It's been funny how my classmates in this program (in our 30s and 40s) still take on much of the same mannerisms and behavior as college students. We complain about workload, we commiserate about assignments, we debate the gritty details of each professor's approach to teaching, we complain about grades, we meet at the Corner Bar after class, and we're always really tired. Our clothes may be fancier than those we wore in college, and many of us may have since gotten married and have families of our own, but deep down we're still students.
- The material is challenging. Learning should push us beyond our comfort zones, and anyone who attended a decent college (or who's attending a decent grad program such as ours) will find their horizons expanded. I've found that this is much more difficult to achieve in "everyday life" when working in the corporate environment.
- The "cohort" structure of this program breeds much the same closeness and shared triumph over adversity as college did. Only recently have I realized that my MBA experience would be completely different (and much less memorable or cohesive) if I wasn't experiencing it in a cohort format. I fully expect to walk out of this program, as I walked out of college, with lifelong friends. I don't know if that would have happened in the full-time or part-time MBA program, and it has made this experience much more worthwhile.
- The diversity of our class forces each of to see things from the perspective of another. This just doesn't happen much in the business world-- too often we end up surrounded by people who are too much like us. In college, as in this MBA program, that hasn't been a problem. Who knew I'd end up debating (and loving the dialogue) with a stock trader who refused to wear shoes to MBA class? I never would have met that person in my "normal" life, and looking back, I've learned a lot from many of my classmates (beyond what's in the syllabus).
Hopefully I'll have more to add to this list as time goes on, but there you have it for now.