What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Business School

The following is a guest post written by Mahlena Johnson, a tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors.

Whether your MBA program lasts one, two, or three years, the time will go by quickly. There is so much that you may want to accomplish during those short semesters, but you may be wondering how to go about doing so. How would past students who have successfully graduated with their MBA degree advise new students entering this arena for the first time? What did they wish they had known when they started their MBA programs? Things I wish I knew before starting business school include understanding everyone is there for a different reason, that you may need to ask for help, and that companies don’t always choose students with the most experience.

Feeling prepared when entering business school can go a long way. Here are three things I wish I knew before starting business school:

I wish I knew that professors will assign more work than you can accomplish on your own

During your undergraduate years, you may have occasionally worked on group projects, but many of your assignments could be completed independently. It is important to understand that this is different in business school. In addition to the academic demands of your coursework, you will also have company presentations to attend, cover letters to write, informational interviews to conduct, and classmates to socialize with. How can you possibly get all of these tasks done in the same semester?

One tried-and-true method to perform well in your classes is to make a friend and start a study group. By working together, you can share the workload by each taking the lead on a particular section or chapter of the course textbook, and reporting back on your takeaways. Additionally, you can learn from your peers’ perspectives on the same material. Hearing different viewpoints will help you think about the subjects in new ways. Use the power of many hands and minds so that you can all move forward together.

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I wish I knew that companies don’t necessarily select MBAs with the most experience

Attending business school puts you in a different league with your career search. At this level, every person applying to an MBA-specific position often has a lot of great, relevant experience. Therefore, recruiters must incorporate additional dimensions to compare the many qualified candidates. How can they decide among multiple, excellent candidates with similar backgrounds?

One of the dimensions can be the quantity and quality of interactions that a candidate has had with representatives at that company. For instance, let’s say Cappie and Florian attend the same business school, have equivalent years of experience in their industries, share similar educational backgrounds, and are applying to the same position at a corporation. Florian attended the company presentation at their school, and has spoken with an alumnus currently working there. Cappie was unable to attend that presentation, but has already met with those representatives at two MBA conferences and has sent them thank you emails.

Cappie has also conducted informational interviews with every second year student in the class above her who interned at the corporation the previous summer. Cappie has also scheduled coffee meetings with each person those students referred her to at the corporation. A recruiter would look favorably upon Cappie’s initiative and has more points of reference when asking who knows something about the people applying for the position.

Therefore, make yourself known—in a professional manner—at the companies you want to be a part of. A little networking can go a long way in your job search.

[RELATED: 5 Questions Grad Students Should Ask Their Advisors]

I wish I knew that not everyone attends business school for the same reason

All MBA students have their own motivations for going through this rigorous process, including:

  • Starting a new business

  • Accelerating your current career

  • Changing careers

  • Exploring new industries or functions

  • Furthering your education through a master’s degree program.

The most important question you should ask yourself is, “Why am I attending business school?” Your answer is the only one that should matter to you. Let your reasons, and yours alone, guide you through your graduate education.

Talk with current students as well as alumni from your preferred MBA programs to learn about what they wish they had known before starting business school. They can provide you with insights on how to navigate your graduate school experience. Also ask your fellow classmates about what they are going through now. They will probably share some of your thoughts and experiences. By communicating with the people you pass by in class, at lunch, and in the hallway, you will realize that you’re all in this together.

[RELATED: 4 Questions to Ask Your First MBA Professor]


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