You don’t really know what it’s like until you get there.
That’s certainly true of business school. Sure, you can meet with alumni and second years over coffee. And those encounters will give you a snapshot of MBA life. Like all snapshots, they only capture the sentiments of a passing moment.
Some chats will frame your first year as a sprint, where you pinball from clubs to projects to study groups to recruiter events, rarely stopping to breathe (let alone sleep). Others will muse over vague remembrances of kamikaze shots, karaoke, Xbox marathons, and jet-setting to Vail. And bet the house that a few will confess regret over burying themselves in their books or startups.
In reality, business school is all of the above – but these events aren’t the stuff that marks a transformative experience. Instead, the change is slow and subtle, filled with small epiphanies, false starts, and teachable moments. Over two years, you’ll imagine, experiment, discover, challenge, collaborate, connect, sweat, accept, regroup, hope, and ultimately triumph. You may arrive on campus as a fully-formed adult with clear values and a set path. By the time you leave, you will have achieved something more difficult: Stepping outside yourself to better harness the people and forces around you. You will learn to listen. More important, you will learn how to serve.
It isn’t easy to find your way during your first year. Beyond the rigorous course loads, you’ll choose from a wealth of opportunities. And what you pick – or exclude – on a day-to-day basis is what will ultimately define your experience.
And that’s what makes a recent exposé on the Stanford website – “A Week in the Life” – so fascinating. Here, Stanford profiles nine members from the class of 2015 by outlining their daily schedules. If you picture business school as an endless string of case studies and parties, here is your wake up call.
Take Elizabeth Shribman, for example. A Pittsburgh native and 2010 Dartmouth College grad, Shribman aspires to either manage a major international orchestra or launch a nonprofit “that facilitates cultural exchange through music.” Along with taking courses like Supply Chain Management, Base Managerial Economics, and Data and Decisions, Shribman also plays violin for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra (SSO), which requires five hours of rehearsal on Monday and Thursday evenings.
“Many of Stanford’s extracurricular activities beyond the GSB [Graduate School of Business] are also open to us if we seek them out,” says Shribman. “My across the street experience in the SSO has been a great way both to stay involved in classical music and to get outside the GSB bubble and meet other students who share my non-business school interests.”
Beyond music, Shribman meets regularly with a Personal Leadership Coach (PLC), a second-year student who guides her in areas like school-life balance and simply navigating the school. In return, Shribman serves as ambassador for the admissions office, where she provides guidance to prospective students. “[It’s] nice to be giving back in whatever small way I can,” she quips.
Alas, Shribman’s Stanford life isn’t all scholarship, service, and symphony. Each Friday, she joins in the school’s “Liquidity Preference Function” (LPF), where students mingle in the Town Square with classmates and enjoy free food, drinks, and entertainment. She also participates in another Stanford custom, the small group dinner, where a student hosts a dinner for a randomly-selected group of classmates at their home.