Whether or not you should undertake one of these programs depends on your own pre-MBA education and work background. A rising MBA who has an undergraduate business degree, several years of rigorous professional services work experience (e.g., in investment banking or management consulting), and already possesses a strong professional network in the city or part of the country where he or she is about to attend business school, likely has the skills, tools, and social capital required to perform well and to maximize all of the resources and relationships available in business school.
PRE-MBA PROGRAMS ESPECIALLY MAKE SENSE FOR NON-TRADITIONAL STUDENTS
On the other hand, MBAs coming from ‘non-traditional’ pre-MBA backgrounds – whether military service, nonprofit management, sports, the creative arts, government, teaching, science, medicine, or law – as well as all international students, likely have one or more significant knowledge or skills gaps (everything from financial modeling via Excel to understanding and being comfortable in a new host country academic, social, and professional environment) that could be addressed by enrolling in a pre-MBA program.
Beyond making a decision about whether you are prepared to engage with MBA employer-sponsored programs as a means to prepare yourself to engage with MBA employers, and obvious considerations with respect to duration, scope, and cost of any pre-MBA program, there are additional personal factors to weigh: are you simply in need of content and willing to budget the necessary study time on your own (an online, MOOC option might therefore be best), or are you seeking a pre-MBA experience (an intensive, in-person educational program, or a backcountry hiking trip with fellow rising MBAs might be most applicable)?
For a good perspective on how to avoid undergoing the first-year of business school “in a state of intellectual and emotional free-fall,” I recommend reading Peter Regan’s Pre-MBA Quant Dilemma: To Prepare or Not to Prepare … a useful article, even if the rate-limiting factor is something other than quant skills.
WHAT MBAS SAY THEY WISH THEY HAD DONE BEFORE GOING TO SCHOOL
And, because deciding whether you need to enroll in a pre-MBA program before you’ve had a chance to see how capable you are, relative to the performance benchmarks and competition you’ll encounter in business school, is like trying to sell a hangover cure to someone who hasn’t yet had a drink, I find it instructive to look at the open-ended comments in our survey.
Here is a sample of MBA students’ answers to the question, “If you could go back in time to just before the start of business school, what is the one thing you might do differently to prepare yourself for success as an MBA?”:
“Build better time-management habits”
“Job-shadow, conduct informational interviews”
“Take a quick course on Excel modelling for financial / accounting purposes”
“More understanding about MBA recruiting and difficulty / barriers for international students”
“Conduct informational interviews with professionals in potential target industries to get a jump on the recruiting process and focus my objectives a bit more”
“Be more effective at networking, settle myself in the city much earlier than the orientation started, and work on my presentations skills”
“Learn more business basics for accounting, finance, and marketing”
“Have a clearer definition of what success at b-school meant for me personally (across every dimension)”
… and, my all-time favorite, “get more pencils”
If you’re a newly-admitted MBA planning to enroll in business school this fall, don’t let the world of pre-MBA programs remain a secret. The range of options, and the pros and cons of each, are no longer a mystery, but an increasingly formal, synchronized aspect of the overall experience of being an MBA.
It’s time to create and execute your own MBA pre-matriculation strategy.
Ivan Kerbel is the CEO of Practice MBA, an educational services firm that conducts an annual pre-orientation program for newly-admitted MBAs, The Practice MBA® Summer Forum. Ivan served previously as Director of the Career Development Office at The Yale School of Management and as a Sr. Associate Director at Wharton’s MBA Career Management office. He is a Wharton MBA alumnus and a former management consultant at Katzenbach Partners, a New York City strategy consulting boutique. Ivan can be reached via LinkedIn.