Getting The Most Out of Your Business School Experience
It’s easy to get lost in business school. Between classes, clubs, and recruiters, you sometimes miss the big picture. Too often, first-years focus more on trying to do everything and crossing off to-do’s than really savoring the moment and absorbing the real lessons.
So what’s critical and what’s a luxury? This fall, Forbes’ contributor Kimberly Whitler and Business Insider reached out to top MBA students for advice on how to work smart, conserve energy, set priorities, and maximize their time at business school.
And the first lesson every MBA student learns is to be humble, says the Kelley School’s Charu Subramanian. She encourages future MBAs to measure themselves by the progress they make, not by how they measure up against their peers. “The beauty of an MBA program is that it draws in the best and brightest from all walks of life and therefore it is futile to measure your growth or achievements based on someone else,” she tells Forbes. In Business Insider, Alex Dea, a 2015 graduate of Kenan-Flagler, warned students not to confuse pride with self-reliance. “Business school can be incredibly humbling, but ask for help when you need it. You’ll probably be surprised at how willing people are to help you.”
In fact, David Newsome, who is earning his MBA at MIT Sloan, believes that being an MBA student makes it easier to ask questions without losing face. “Pursuing an MBA gives you an ability that is too often ignored – the ability to ask for something on the grounds that you “are an MBA student,” he tells Business Insider. ‘You can more easily get informational interviews, obtain data, attend conferences, and open more doors than when you are in the professional world with ulterior motives assumed based on your job title and company. Use this freedom to explore new opportunities, meet new leaders, and figure out what it really is you want to do.”
First-year MBAs also sink-or-swim based on their ability to prioritize. Jill Gramolini, a former Deloitte consultant who is studying at NYU Stern, learned to let go. She realized that there are limitations – and she couldn’t do or be everything she wanted. As a result, she came to terms with the reality that it was ‘impossible to give everything your best effort,’ she tells Forbes. ‘As much as I wanted to do it all, I learned I couldn’t.’
And this was a painful lesson that Austin Wiles, a Kellogg second-year, eventually took to heart when it came to academics. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in understanding each and every component of all the concept taught in business school,” he confesses to Forbes. “Remember that in most cases it’s not about becoming “the expert”…it’s about acquiring a top-level understanding of key tools and skills so that you may identify potential risks and opportunities, ask good questions and make informed recommendations.” To provide structure, Kenan-Flagler second-year Ben Thayer even constructed a weekly calendar built on his three-pillar approach that provides equal weight to academics, clubs and recruiters. “You have to build up each pillar to succeed,” he tells Forbes.
‘Don’t be afraid to experiment’ was another piece of advice given by second years. “Take classes that are outside of your comfort zone, attend meetings for clubs you never considered joining, and introduce yourself to students you don’t know,” explains Brandon Olszewski, a second year at Indiana’s Kelley School of Business. “Pushing your boundaries can serve several purposes both academically and socially. It will expose you to new ideas and ways of thinking that you might not have the opportunity to experience once you graduate. It will help build your network, which is critically important for your post-MBA career. Lastly, it will help keep you energized.
Even more, adds Darden’s Haddock, don’t assume the internship will be the only place where you can practice your skills or learn the complexities of particular industries or job functions. “Business school offers many other opportunities to learn about new roles and industries – and the chance to actually use and experiment with the skills required in a variety of roles,” he tells Forbes. “Classes, clubs and extracurricular experiences will let you engage in real consulting, marketing and entrepreneurial engagements, just to name a few….If you take advantage of the resources at your school, you can leave after two years already having lived the roles of marketer, banker, consultant and more. Then you can make the best decision about your career path and your future.”
Beyond cases and lectures, the biggest lessons in business school often come from the interpersonal dynamics with classmates. For the University of Michigan’s John Huang, that means adding value by bringing your best self. “You’re not helping anyone if you use your class participation as an attempt to impress your professor and classmates,” he tells Business Insider. “Confidently share your own opinions and defend your conclusions. You’ll be taking a bigger risk than giving a standard answer you think your professor would like to hear, but you’ll be giving your classmates an opportunity to learn from a different perspective.”
That also means exposing yourself to peers with different backgrounds who can widen your lense, argues Darden’s Kayla Cartwright. “Do yourself and your school community a favor and be intentional about inviting people different from you to socialize and work with you on group projects.”
Even more, shares Darden’s Travis Dezendorf, success is often amplified when students shift their locus from themselves to their classmates. “A great way to improve the value of your MBA is by having a positive impact on someone else’s experience,” he points out in Forbes. “Alumni choose to work with former classmates who they shared positive experiences with. You also gain critical management skills through pursuing this endeavor. It is small-minded to consider purely your own future compensation (relative to cost) when evaluating your MBA experience. Spend time during your brief two years in school developing a positive, collaborative community and see how far that skill carries you after graduation.”
Most important, never forget who you are. “The sooner you are yourself, the better your experience will be,” contends Wharton’s Emily McGrath. ‘You may quickly find yourself doing things that don’t actually interest you or support your goals. It’s important to try some new things while in business school, but always make sure you are still being authentic to yourself.’
To read additional advice, click on the Forbes and Business Insider links below.