You got in. This is a huge accomplishment. It sure wasn’t an easy journey.
I remember starting the MBA journey in 2017. I ended up delaying submitting my application to 2019 to build my quantitative profile. When I received phone calls and acceptance letters in March, I was overwhelmed with joy. I understand the hard work and sacrifice necessary for this achievement, so I am celebrating with you!
There were certainly disappointments along the way. I applied to seven MBA programs during the round two cycle. I was accepted into three, rejected by three, and waitlisted at one program. These are champagne problems, of course. I felt a whirlwind of emotions, knowing the next steps were daunting. To make my decision, I heavily considered the people, and community engagement, and global opportunities for my short and long term goals.
Whatever MBA institution that you choose – YOU CANNOT LOSE! Every program has unique offerings; you will meet incredible people and have unforgettable moments at every turn! To make the most of your MBA experience, it is critical how you spend the next few months before business school. I recently navigated this transition and here are five key insights that guided my journey.
1) Understand the MBA timeline and assess your state of mind. Start by connecting with current second-year students and alumni. This is a great approach to gauge the MBA program timeline and immediately reflect on your energy levels. Your application journey likely spanned at least a year, where you had to balance competing priorities. My advice is to take a break before school starts to unplug and reset.
Experiencing exhaustion, I took a 48 hour trip to Amsterdam right before US travel restrictions went into effect. I also returned to Waterloo, Iowa to visit family and Philadelphia to visit friends whom I hadn’t seen in months. Identify activities that help manage stress and prioritize them regularly to ensure you have a productive head-space to make good decisions. Most programs start in late July or early August, depending on whether you have a quant camp or optional early campus arrival. If traveling is not an option, consider massages, hiking, or other outdoor activities to enjoy the summer.
2) Evaluate your current employment scenarios. Be strategic as you navigate your next steps. For example, do any of your co-workers follow you on social media? Be aware, because this can be a slippery slope if you make your business school announce online; it could drive office rumors that might hinder a promotion or bonus. I recommend moving silently across all channels until you have a defined timeline and submit your notice to your employer. For sponsored employees, this will look different for you. I recommend communicating your transition early to continue managing positive relationships.
Given our COVID-induced virtual environment, I had several classmates who worked throughout the first semester. Some MBA students also manage part-time internships during the academic year and there is NO shame in this hustle. I recommend leveraging these internships to build professional skills to enable a smooth career transition, particularly if your target industry is extremely competitive. I have seen this within venture capital, hedge funds, and growth equity.
My partner is also in business school and maintains an internship. In full transparency, he declines many social events, is tactical about other time commitments, and procrastinates with certain classes to ensure he balances the competing priorities. However, he is also building direct skills to switch careers, creating relationship currency through networking, and putting his MBA to work via meaningful projects. Effectively, how you spend your time during business school should reflect your personal goals.
3) Finding your fit in a new city. Many students relocate for their MBA program. Start researching the housing options in the respective city and consider your desired living arrangement.
For example, have you considered finding a roommate if you want to share a space and save money? Also consider where MBA students frequent within the city to ensure you have social mobility. This is important if you don’t have a car. I debated having a roommate and I remember having FaceTime interviews with prospective roommates. However, after I found an affordable one-bedroom brownstone, I decided to live alone. I valued price and location over building amenities and live in a 450 square foot apartment. Start leveraging the admitted student portals, whats app, or GroupMe to connect with future classmates around shared interests, hometown, and undergrad institution to build your connections early if you choose to have housemates.
Largely speaking, MBA student housing arrangements will look different for everyone. I have friends living in 3-5 bedroom houses near campus to satisfy their living expectations. Some folks have the option to live on campus, others choose to live in buildings where other MBA classmates live. There is so much value in quickly accessing your classmates when you need support on an assignment or group project. For others, building amenities that include an open study space are valuable if you do not like to study in your house.
How much you intend to socialize also impacts your housing choice. Some students choose rentals with lots of space because they host events or small group dinners for others to enjoy. Keep in mind that the MBA community can be overwhelming if you are an introvert. I am extremely extroverted, so much so that my partner and I live separately – even though we attend the same MBA program! This is by design because I need alone-time to process my new reality and help manage the MBA stress accordingly. Before making a housing decision, decide whether you value amenities, location near the campus, or proximity to other classmates. From there, determine your social engagement level.
4) Financial empowerment. I want to quickly touch on a financial consideration: the valuable 401K. Have you considered rolling this over into a Roth IRA while you are in school?
I made this choice to capitalize on a lower tax income bracket since I plan to be making six-figures post MBA. I encourage students to remain vigilant regarding the 401K and explore their financial choices comprehensively during this transition. Most MBA programs have a financial literacy club that holds events or individual office hours with reputable wealth management companies that offer guidance. I highly recommend taking advantage of your finances early and review them often as you consider loans (federal or private), setting a budget, and prioritizing how you want to “spend” your resources over the next two years.
5) Summer recruiting opportunities. The goal of an MBA is to refine your professional acumen and realize new job opportunities. There are several career-development programs such as Management Leadership for Tomorrow – Professional Development Program, Jumpstart, and Forte. There are structured and unstructured recruiting cycles in business school and the programs cited above support mainly structured industries such as investment banking, financial services, consulting, and brand management.
I participated in Jumpstart and was able to virtually join two companies’ brand camps to build marketing case preparation skills and have early access to networking opportunities. Additionally, I was fortunate to receive two summer internship offers before starting business school through these programs. It would behoove you to leverage the summer to research your target employers and connect with alumni from your respective school to build your network early. This is a competitive advantage once you have to manage recruiting activities during your MBA classes on top of student activities.
When I transitioned to the Wharton School MBA program, these considerations guided my approach and set me up for success as I took on a new challenge. In the future, I will tackle topics like entrepreneurship and locating MBA specific resources, as well as timing extracurricular opportunities to maximize the leadership experience. Above all, remember to remain professionally open-minded,and live with soul, purpose, and a spirit of collaboration!
Azline is from Waterloo, IA and became a National Gates Millennium Scholar in 2009. She studied International studies and French at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA and graduated Cum Laude in 2013. During her undergraduate tenure, she studied abroad in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Geneva, Switzerland and also interned at Black Entertainment Network and Google, Inc. Azline worked for Delta Air Lines for seven years before starting a dual degree MBA/MA program at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute.