A Pre-MBA Boot Camp For New Admits

Ivan Kerbel, founder and CEO of Practice LLC

During the nearly half dozen years that Ivan Kerbel spent helping Wharton and Yale MBAs land dream jobs, he noticed that some students hit the campus running. Others seemed to flounder and struggle.

More often than not, Kerbel discovered, it was the international student or the non-traditional MBA candidate who had the most trouble surviving the business school experience. Either they had to overcome language and cultural norms or adjust to quant work that could be baffling to those who majored in humanities and worked in non-profits.

“You are an MBA only once and you can in fact screw up,” says Kerbel, founder and CEO of Practice LLC. “If your background is something other than business, it can really feel like it takes you much longer to do pretty much anything. You have six months of time from when you get into business school until the time you have to show up. How do you close the knowledge and culture gap? How do you avoid the time crunch once school starts?”


When Kerbel left Yale University’s School of Management last June as director of career development, he had some answers to those questions. What if he could put together an intensive summer boot camp to help those incoming MBA students get off to a fast start. Thus was born Practice MBA Summer Forum, which debuts this July in Seattle.

To get newly admitted MBAs up to speed, the three-week course has five course modules that cover academic preparation, career development, language and culture orientation, software and research skills, and a personal performance lab. Forum participants have to take a minimum of three out of the five course modules to attend.

“Half of it is aimed at poets and half of it is defacto for quants,” says Kerbel. “You probably don’t need to do a program as rigorous and comprehensive as this if you were an undergraduate business major. But if you spent three years in the Peace Corps in Tonga or majored in the French Renaissance and are working in communications, the goal of this program is to prepare you to succeed in business school.”


Kerbel knows this story all too well. He had been a history major at Yale University who later found himself as an editorial associate for a biology journal and a paralegal in General Electric’s office of chief litigation counsel. He picked up master’s degrees in history at the University of Auckland and international relations at Johns Hopkins University before going to Wharton for his MBA in 2003.

After a two-year stint in management consulting with Katzenbach Partners, he returned to Wharton as senior associate director of MBA career management for two and one-half years. Then, he moved on to Yale’s School of Management as director of the school’s career development office, a post he held fore more than three years.

In those jobs, he was well positioned to see how the fast trackers won the leadership positions in the MBA clubs, scooped up all the best grades and honors, landed the most desired summer internships, and ultimately walked off into the highest paying jobs. What separated those students from the others was rarely smarts. It was that the fast trackers had the background and experiences to better prepare them to take full advantage of the business school experience.


They had studied business, accounting or finance in their undergrad years. They had jobs at financial or consulting firms where they learned discounted cash flow analysis and the difference between an income statement and a balance sheet. And they often knew exactly what they wanted to get out of their two-year MBA education.

“The greatest factor contributing to students feeling totally overwhelmed and knocked off balance was the amount of exposure and comfort level they had with what goes on in business school,” explains Kerbel. “Once you are in business school, you are in a race. Some hit the ground running and others don’t.”

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