Deciding to apply to business school is a big step in your life. You’re on your way to either advancing your career or starting a completely new one. With essays, recommendations, interviews, and the GMAT, so much is involved before you start your first class. Here are five things you should know about business school before applying.
1. Everyone goes to business school for different reasons
And those reasons will not necessarily match yours. Some students are more focused on academics, some only want to concentrate on building their careers, while others find the social activities most appealing. You will encounter a multitude of personalities through your MBA program, and each person—from classmates and professors to recruiters and administrators—will have his or her own agenda. Though it can be tough, navigating these personalities is part of the process, a management skill that will serve you well as you move throughout your career. While learning what motivates other people, figure out what motivates you, too. Knowing who you are will help you find the MBA success you are seeking.
2. Don’t measure your achievements by how successful you think your classmates are
Everyone comes to business school with different backgrounds, skills, privileges, connections, and baggage. You may think you know, but sometimes you have no idea what’s going on in the lives of your new friends. Don’t make assumptions about your peers. Keep your focus on where you want to go.
For instance, you might overhear that your classmate Jody—whose daily contribution to your Brand Management class is a series of prolonged snores—has job offers from three Fortune 500 CPG companies, while you’re still waiting to land an interview in finance. You presume she must be well-connected, or lucky. But what you don’t know is Jody has been working in brand management for a Fortune 100 company since her sophomore year of college, and she is only applying to opportunities in the same industry and function. Instead of gauging your progress against Jody’s, take her out for coffee, congratulate her on her success, and pick her brain about the culture of the finance department at her previous company. You build better networking relationships with honey than with jealousy.
3. You will have very little downtime
But you still will be having a lot of fun! Let your friends and family know this before you apply. They might start to realize how busy you will be when you start the application process, with your calendar full of studying for the GMAT, wrangling recommendations, writing and rewriting essays, and attending MBA recruiting events. Once your student orientation begins, free moments will seem like a thing of the past. Classes, mixers, study groups, conferences, info sessions, and new peers will consume much of your schedule, minimizing free time outside of those endeavors. Adjust expectations accordingly and make the effort to pencil in time to catch up with your old friends and family over academic breaks.
4. Like college, students often change their concentration
Even though you initially intended to enter consulting as a new career, a conversation with a second-year student who had a grueling consulting internship over the summer may change your mind. It’s okay to adjust your path; don’t be afraid to create a new plan. Explore new industries and functions that you had not previously considered or heard of. Find something you like, and discover how to achieve MBA success in a new way.
5. An MBA program lasts a “short” period of time
As most alumni will tell you, business school goes by quickly, so enjoy your one-, two-, or three-year program while you’re in it! Write down the goals you want to accomplish before you start, or else you might not get to them before graduation. There aren’t enough hours to complete all of your classwork, lead every club, participate in every case competition, attend every MBA conference, develop relationships with all of your classmates and professors, interview with every company, and start your new career in the period allotted. Pick a few significant things across those categories to maximize your experience, and add or subtract along the way.
Business school is an exciting journey filled with new friends, new experiences, and a rigorous education inside and outside the classroom. It’s also a brief moment in your career that won’t last forever. You have the rest of your life ahead of you—but first, you have to apply and get in, of course! Do your research, and let your knowledge of who you are and what you want inform both your applications and your MBA life.