Class Of 2015: The Toughest Part Of The MBA Experience


You thought getting into business school was hard?

Just wait until you step onto campus.

Used to working 70 hour weeks? Start preparing for 90-100 hours. Graduate near the top of your class? So did most of the members of your cohort. In fact, you’ll probably be muttering, “So much, so fast” after your first week. The pace doesn’t relent, not certainly in the first grueling year. You simply adapt.


Purdue's Eric Barajas

Purdue’s Eric Barajas

According to Texas A&M’s Robyn Peters, a member of Poets&QuantsClass of 2015’s Best-and-Brightest MBAs, “The hardest part of business bchool is realizing that everything you thought you knew about prioritization, mental stamina and your relative level of intelligence is basically false.” It’s humbling, but all too true. At Purdue, Eric Barajas experienced this dynamic all too deeply. “Having been away from school for 6 years,” he writes, “it was interesting having to ‘relearn how to learn.’ All of my old study habits and practices, for instance I had to redevelop and adjust all while being bombarded in our first module.”

And this transition leaves many shellshocked and riddled with doubt, concedes Audrey Horn, a recent MBA grad from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “I had many moments during my first semester when I doubted whether I deserved to be here,” she tells Poets&Quants. However, Horn quickly learned that she was far from alone in her uncertainty. To overcome it, her team banded together to support each other. “My classmates (who at times intimidated me) were also my biggest cheerleaders; they helped me see and appreciate my own talents and skills.”


Heavy workloads and high expectations are just part of the pressure cooker for first years. The tempo can also be overwhelming–and it’s not just because of the academic load. “Little could have prepared me for the delicate academic, social, and professional balance that takes place at SOM,” admits Yale’s Benjamin Freedman. “The number of activities and events happening during any week is astounding.”

The University of Rochester's Kanika Chopra

The University of Rochester’s Kanika Chopra

Indeed, saying “yes” to most opportunities is a temptation that most MBAs succumb to – initially, at least. “Business school is a phenomenal time to take risks and pursue different interests,” says Scott Sowanick, who graduated this spring from the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business. But he admits it takes a toll. “Saying yes to everything though can eventually catch up and leave you stretched thin at times.” To get by, many MBAs make tradeoffs – ones that prepare them for difficult decisions they’ll soon make when they return to work. “I have had to prioritize every time between job search, school work, social life,” sighs Kanika Chopra from the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester. Even though this has been the hardest part, it has also been the biggest learning!”

Alas, two years fly by fast. As their confidence grows, MBAs gain their biggest lesson: To live in the moment and focus on the big picture. “I often had to remind myself that I may not remember what grade I got in a specific class, but I’ll always remember hiking through Belize with my classmates, getting into heated debates about whether Lebron James is a better basketball player than Michael Jordan, and countless other discussions over late-night, post-studying food runs,” writes Washington University’s Geoff Nykin. “There are so many awesome opportunities to grow, meet new people, [and] try new things, adds Wharton’s Stephanie Landry. “We only get to do this once, so you want to make sure you get the most out of it.”

Wondering what other obstacles you can expect – and how to overcome them? Here are some other growing pains faced by other top MBAs from the Class of 2015:

Asking for Help

Haas' Nikita Mitchell

Haas’ Nikita Mitchell

“Asking for help was the hardest part of business school for me. I was struggling academically my first semester, and I didn’t reach out to my peers—for fear that others would think I wasn’t smart enough to be here. Once I took on my leadership roles in the second semester, I slowly but surely started to sink. At that point, I was forced to reach out for help, and humbly accept the support that others offered. What I soon realized was that rather than making it harder to gain my classmates’ respect, asking for help fueled the bonds I was able to make. By allowing others to support me, I was able to build the trust that would allow others to lean on me in times of need.” – Nikita Mitchell / University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business

Saying No

“Business school is a fully immersive experience and the number of opportunities to get involved can be overwhelming. I definitely had a hard time figuring out what to say “no” to because everything was so enticing! It’s been a hands-on lesson in prioritizing and making sure I don’t spread myself too thin.” – Katie Benintende / University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business

  • AugustineThomas

    Yes, according to Boston Magazine, everything came from Harvard or MIT! (It’s just a wonder that so many other universities–like UCSB for instance–have more recent Nobel laureates.)

    It’s going to get increasingly good watching people from the East Coast react to their declining influence as everyone continues to move west and south to avoid those disgusting winters and failed cities. (I guess Harvard and Stanford couldn’t save the Welfare State from itself–or maybe the Welfare State was developed at Harvard?? 🙂

  • AugustineThomas

    How do you feel about the reversal of the Flynn Effect and the increasing mediocrity of even elite universities?

    It’s funny how worthless most people who graduate from Harvard or Stanford are. My father has a GED and he makes more than most Harvard MBA graduates (and he’s not a worthless, society-destroying parasite like 99% of them either)!

  • Karel Paragh

    Exactly! Karel Koes Hiranjgarbh Missier Paragh

  • TechInsane

    This is so true, the work load is off the charts especially anyone who has not studied any academic studies for at least a ten year gap. Time management is key, because the case studies that need to be written require plenty of reference articles, peer review and the lot.

  • Whaat?

    Still…Booth is way cooler

  • Herman

    and what is the size of your comfort zone now?

  • Herman

    obviously, now that you have done all these things, your comfort zone cannot be stretched anymore.

  • FOMO

    There was a Boston Magazine piece that looked into the history of “FOMO” and that it originated at HBS over a decade ago. It must have spread to other business schools from there. I don’t think Michael is disappointed.

  • Jeff Schmitt

    Thank you for the kind words. It made my day yesterday.

  • Not sure i get your comment – During my time at HBS, I was part of the leadership of 2 students clubs, I spent two weeks in Accra, Ghana to work for a local company as a consultant for a local toilet paper manufacturer as part of the FIELD program, I had to start my own company in Boston, I was exposed to senior leaders of top companies, etc – there’s much more to HBS than reading cases… you get me?

  • B*Please

    Yeah, especially at pushing you to learn other things through other means than reading cases….I get ya

  • Interesting article. The one thing HBS was really good at doing was continuously pushing me outside of my comfort zone. 2 years at HBS both increased the size of my comfort zone AND gave me the tools to do better outside of my comfort zone as well

  • R272017

    P&Q – Just wanted to say thank you for the work you do across the spectrum of MBA preparation, including articles such as this one post-decision. I have found this site to be increasingly valuable since I matriculated. I anticipated the opposite, as P&Q’s initial draw and general impression publicly is pre-decision / application focused. Thanks again and the work is much appreciated.

  • Whaat?

    “At HBS they have this term called “FOMO” – Fear of Missing Out”….hmmm sorry to dissapoint you buddy but this is pretty much used in every business school worldwide, not an HBS thing…