So you thought sailing into a top business school meant you were a hot shot. Wait till you take your first class. That’s when the bullets really begin to fly.
For many students, the ‘MBA experience’ is as humbling as it is exciting. Not only is it gruelling, the pace is scorching, and, for most candidates, the overriding feeling during the first semester is one of drowning, arms flailing et al.
Anyone who’s taken the program will tell you that it’s a very visceral experience, both the highs and the lows, and there’s really very little that can prepare you for it.
‘Immersive’ is perhaps the best way to describe this two-year course. Apart from classroom learning, there is so much else you can do towards achieving self-discovery, and social and academic growth, that you always have to keep your eye on the ball lest you lose sight of your goals.
We don’t mean to scare you; we are simply validating your feelings of vulnerability. Some even describe it as being ‘shell shocked’. So get your finger off the panic button and take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone.
That’s because many of your classmates feel the same way. Here’s a survival guide that will help you navigate two of the best and stormiest years of your life.
Unlike undergrad, in business school, you are always surrounded by other bright minds, just like yours. So comparing your performance to that of your peers is futile.
Also, since each student comes from a different professional, academic and cultural background, baselines vary wildly.
The best way to measure your performance is to set a baseline for yourself and compare your progress against your own benchmark. This will help you realise that your growth as a student and as a person is enormous, which is its own reward.
As competitive as the program may often seem, remember, the MBA experience is not really a competition. You are here to achieve some very specific career goals, and all that matters is getting there.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information you have to process. But more than that, it’s the sheer number of new concepts you have to grasp and then use instantaneously.
A good tip is to remember that you don’t have to master every single new concept. You have signed up to get an understanding of business, acquire new tools and skills, and take your first steps towards becoming a leader.
To get the most out of your MBA experience, set up ‘informational interviews’. These are mock interviews, which are a great source of information about an industry or a career that you are interested in.
You could either set up an interview with an ‘insider’ or tap your network to get an expert to speak to you on the same. The discussion, which takes place outside the formal interview environment, gives you valuable intelligence that you would otherwise not be privy to.
You can ask these experts what they do, what the prospects are, to point to potential career paths and what advice they may have for you.
Informational interviews can add valuable contacts to your network and help you build relationships within your career domain.
A large part of the learning process takes place outside the classroom. It’s your social learning curve. And we don’t mean partying. The whole point is to evolve socially and academically by pushing your boundaries.
Taking classes and attending seminars on subjects that never interested you before, and joining clubs on campus will bring out facets of your personality you never knew existed. Taking the plunge will expose you to new ideas and ways of thinking that will serve as grist to your mill.
It’s all about self-discovery with a view to developing your skills and building a solid network. Every time you step outside your comfort zone, you expose yourself to a fresh wave of ideas and perspectives. It’s like hitting ‘refresh’ every single time.
When they sell an MBA program as an ‘immersive experience’, what they forget to mention is the enormity of the course work and the way they will blitz you with it. This can be devastating for many, who begin to experience serious self-doubt half-way through their first semester.
Rest assured there are others like you, and, just like you, they are just not letting on. If you feel overwhelmed and wonder if you had made the right choice because you are finding it difficult to cope – reach out for help.
Once you do, you will realise there are others in the same boat as you and, no, no one will judge you for it. Since the curriculum is tough and parts of it are pretty technical, you could join a study group, where the members help each other study, depending on their strengths and weaknesses.
Learning to prioritise while multi-tasking – otherwise called ‘time management’ – is the only way you will successfully navigate the bombardment of stimuli in business school. The work load is colossal and so are the opportunities to learn and enjoy yourself.
Should you volunteer to do community service, assist a professor with his or her research study, take a short-term internship, attend networking events, attend workshops and talks, team up with a colleague to launch a start-up or enter a start-up competition yourself?
The world is truly your oyster and you will probably never get opportunities like these again. Before you sign up for any of them, choose wisely and learn to say ‘no’ to some. It’s easy to get carried away!
By now you’ve probably figured that an MBA program is a delicate balancing act that clearly favours those who can multi-task.
As a foreign student, your challenge is even greater, for besides the workload and extra-curricular activities on offer, you have to adjust to a new country and culture as well.
Our advice to those who may question their decision to sign up for an MBA program is this: every year, thousands of candidates find themselves in your shoes. They eventually find their own momentum and graduate with flying colours.
Keep your head down and keep moving forward. The MBA program is a great way to discover your hidden strengths.