Corinna Aiken is already an entrepreneur, and she is eager to take on a different career challenge.
"I wanted to step into a new industry and use my management skills to maybe do consulting work, operations management or corporate marketing," she said. "As I searched the job market, I realized that a lot of the positions I wanted to apply for required a master's degree. It's the first time I felt like I needed one."
Aiken, who owns a Mattress by Appointment store in Orangeburg, South Carolina, completed the online Master of Business Administration General program at the University of South Carolina Aiken (UofSC Aiken) in November 2020.
"Eventually, my goal is to take a step back from the store I am running and let somebody else manage the day-to-day, which can be physically exhausting," she said. "But while I was in the MBA program, I was still operating the store full time: six days and 60-70 hours a week. The online format was much more manageable than going to classes in person. The flexibility was essential for me."
Having several irons in the fire is nothing new for Aiken. Prior to starting her business, she worked in real estate, event planning, accounting, public relations and photography, including a stint of over eight years at Walt Disney World.
"I am a jill of all trades," she said. "I have to figure out what I am best at and find a job that suits it. I am definitely keeping the store. I started it with a friend of mine whose family owned a Mattress By Appointment in south Florida.
"I looked into what it took to own a location. It seemed perfect for me. I was working from home, doing bookkeeping and opening up small businesses for a different company. I was excited about having my own personal small business. I had never done retail before, so it gave me a new perspective."
Aiken is from Eden, North Carolina, and had several interests as a student at East Carolina University. She graduated with two bachelor's degrees – one in fine arts (photography) and the other in communication (public relations) in 2009.
"My initial idea was to go into public relations and do freelance photography on the side," she said. "Public relations didn't work out. In practice, I was much better at the marketing side of communication. I did freelance photography for a few years, and I still accept contract work sometimes, but it's not my bread and butter."
When Aiken decided to return to college for a master's degree, she chose UofSC Aiken for several reasons, including cost and proximity to where she lives. The reputation of the University of South Carolina system also informed her choice, and her work experience enabled her to get a GMAT waiver.
"I was grateful that my work experience was enough for me to get into the program without having to do a lot of prerequisites. It was perfect all the way around," she said.
However, Aiken still had to prove to herself that she could thrive as an online student after struggling to do so in the past.
"I was telling [MBA program director] Dr. Linda Rodriguez that I was surprised," she said. "I didn't think I would be able to get through the program because it had been 10 years since I had been in school, and I was not successful the first time I tried to take online classes in undergrad.
"Online was not a good way for me to do schoolwork in the past, but UofSC Aiken made it easy to contact the professors and ask questions. Obviously, I am also older and more disciplined about doing work than I was before. I enjoyed the MBA program a lot."
A Firm Decision
Although Aiken wanted an MBA to create more career opportunities, the knowledge that she gained in the program has already benefited her own business.
"I especially liked the marketing class [MKTG A716: Marketing Management] because it resonated with so much of what I have already done," she said.
"I was able to connect the dots and understand it on a new level. I took a lot of what I learned and applied it to different marketing projects for the store. All of the classes have helped my business and me."
Aiken, who also enjoyed BADM A720: Legal and Ethical Environment of Business and MGMT A728: Operations Management, is the first person in her immediate family to earn a master's degree.
"My friends and family are excited for me," she said. "Having an MBA, combined with my work experience, is going to accelerate my business and future career quite a bit."
Now that Aiken has completed the program, she believes that having the right mindset is key to success as a student.
"It's a combination of good time management and making school a priority," she said. "You have to prioritize it earlier in the week, read the textbooks and don't be afraid to reach out to your teachers and ask questions.
"Also, reach out to other students. I connected with a couple of classmates who helped out with studying. They eventually bought mattresses from me too. Overall, the MBA program was a great experience."
Learn more about UofSC Aiken's MBA General online program.
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