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.
EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW IS WRONG
According to Texas A&M’s Robyn Peters, a member of Poets&Quants’ Class 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.”
SAYING NO AND PRIORITIZING ARE KEY
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.”
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
“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
“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