20 Biggest Surprises For First-Year MBAs

Adhi Murali, Yale School of Management

7) Rankings Don’t Matter: “Before starting school, I considered rankings to be the end all be all and a key determinant of internship and job prospects. Thanks to a very early start recruiting, I realized that your program’s reputation would only get you so far. What matters, in the end, is how hard you’re willing to work for what you want. The initiative you take to seek out resources, expand your network, and show up each and every time matters most when getting to where you want to be.”
Kendra Kelly, Washington University (Olin)

8) Grades Don’t Matter Either: “Coming from an engineering undergraduate degree, I was always focused on maintaining my GPA even if it meant taking easier classes to do so. But at business school, I learned to change my perspective about academics due to grade nondisclosure in two ways: 1) I took classes solely for the future application potential in my industry of choice and 2) I learned to view academics as just another aspect of business school along with club leadership, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, and conferences/case competitions. This allowed me to prioritize different aspects of the program when I needed to, and take away as much as I could from the entire experience.”
Adhi Murali, Yale SOM

9) Business School Will Change How You View Business: “This might be cheesy – but the best surprise has been how much I have learned these past two years. I came to Foster with a biology degree and no formal business training. Pythons were just snakes, ‘R’ was just a sound that a pirate makes, and I used to manipulate data in Google docs (cringeworthy, I know) because I had no idea how to use Excel nor that pivot tables existed. Business school has undoubtedly shaped the way I view and operate in the world, business, and people. I digest the news and media more critically and understand how to collect and analyze data to make informed decisions. I’ve met classmates from all walks of life and my conversations with them have broadened my perspective. The immersive and intense learning experience of these past two years has been the best surprise.”
Kelly Yu, University of Washington (Foster)

10) There Is No “Type”: “The number of my classmates who come from a “non-traditional background” was surprising to me. I think this term is antiquated because I have found that most of my classmates do not have a background in consulting, finance, or marketing but a lot of them are former educators, military veterans, and leaders in the non-profit space. Business school students are not a monolith and it has been my experience that my classmates who do not come from corporate backgrounds have been the most scrappy and innovative of my peers. I am glad I took the time to learn from my classmates who have all different kinds of professional backgrounds and have used those experiences to find success in business.”
Presney Blackman, University of Texas (McCombs)

Leena Jube, Georgetown University (McDonough)

11) The Team Trumps The Individual: “The thing that surprised me the most about my school was the group-based curriculum. In most of the classes, a significant portion of the grade is assigned to one or more group projects. For these projects, we either get to pick our groups or are assigned groups depending on the course and the professor. This was a good surprise because each option brings forth a learning opportunity. When we choose our own team, there is an advantage building on each other’s strengths from the start. When we are assigned teams, we get to work with classmates from different working styles and are required to navigate several challenges to deliver good work. This helped me improve my collaboration and leadership skills.”
Karthik Rai, Michigan State (Broad)

]12) It Isn’t Easy: “Whoever popularized the idea that an MBA is all about travel and networking definitely forgot to mention the rigorous curriculum. It had me sitting in a Hariri breakout room until midnight calculating the WACC for a Finance final or constructing a sensitivity analysis model for Analytical Problem Solving. After almost two years of classes, it no longer surprises me that Georgetown McDonough was ranked by recruiters as “best trained MBAs.” Our classes really push us to understand and apply the material so that when we get to our internships and full-time jobs, we will be able to drive value on day one.”
Leena Jube, Georgetown University (McDonough)

13) Classmates Are Pretty Open-Minded: “Coming into business school, I was concerned I wouldn’t fit in — coming from a non-traditional background, as an international student, and as someone who identifies as queer. When I started at Booth, I was surprised to meet such a diverse and welcoming group of people. I remember attending a Booth Voices event for Coming Out Day and being blown away by my peers’ willingness to share their own stories. The courage of my classmates to speak out caused me to consider taking my own risks. I ran for cohort elections, something I tend to shy away from, and actively sought out leadership opportunities with the Management Consulting Group. The welcoming atmosphere and the environment of my peers taking risks surely motivated me to seek out my own opportunities to try new things.”
Theodore Lim, University of Chicago (Booth)

14) The Classroom Is Just the Start of Learning: “I have been most surprised by the vast amount of opportunity there is to learn outside the classroom. I came to Tepper to focus on entrepreneurship and emerging technology. As a Swartz fellow, I had the opportunity to meet several alumni entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Meeting these alumni showed me the power you have as a student to ask to get involved and offer what you are learning to growing businesses. This entrepreneurial perspective is what allowed me to learn by conducting due diligence research for Illuminate Ventures, creating a new angel investing capstone with some of my classmates, and doing side projects for startups. The knowledge I learned in the classroom allowed me to be versatile and flexible to jump into these outside the classroom working learning opportunities. This has forever changed how I view approaching projects or initiatives I have never done before.”
Melissa Bizzari, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

Tess Belton, University of Chicago (Booth)

“I had about 7 years in between graduating from my undergrad program and starting my MBA. Therefore, transitioning to an academic setting was a bit of an adjustment. There is more work that takes place outside of the classroom including reading, meeting with various team members, and writing papers than I anticipated.”
Natalie Marinello, University of Wisconsin

15) Think of Business School as a Primer on Time Management: “It has surprised me how difficult it has been to prioritize my time. At Booth, there are almost too many things to become involved with. Almost daily, I have to make a list of all of the things I want to achieve – academically, professionally, socially, and with extracurriculars – and ruthlessly prioritize what should come first. It has been great practice for my career. As I grow more senior, I know I will have more on my plate than is feasible to accomplish alone every day.”
Tess Belton, University of Chicago (Booth)

16) 2nd-Years Want to Pay It Forward: “When I was going through the business school application process, I don’t think I was fully aware of the depth of support that second year students offer first year students. Over the course of my first year, I received a tremendous amount of support from my second year classmates through communication coaching, club programming, case interview practices, and general mentorship as well. I feel that my second year classmates gave me the tools and the conviction to reach for the stars and bring my best self to every aspect of the Tepper experience. I have especially enjoyed mentoring first year students throughout this past year as a member of the Consulting Club, Business and Technology Club, and as an ALC Communication Coach.”
Frank Avino, Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)  

17) It’s A Personal Journey: “I was most surprised by all the different reasons that people had decided to come to business school. During the MBA application process and in going to admissions events, you can often start to feel like you’re all on a similar pathway fighting for a small number of seats. Once you arrive at your MBA destination, paths start to diverge quite a bit. Tuck has the motto: #MyTimeMyTuck, which refers to the fact that individuals use their time at Tuck differently and you should customize your experience to suit the career paths and projects you wish most to explore.”
Madeleine Livingston, Dartmouth (Tuck)

18) Your Interests Evolve: “Being a math whiz in high school does not mean you’ll enjoy or be very good at your quant classes in business school! The SOM classes I’ve loved the most are the ones in which I get to think about organizational behavior or strategic problem solving, or classes focused more on policy issues. Maybe this shouldn’t have been shocking to me, coming to business school from the Senate, but I thought I’d go back to loving quantitative classes as much as I did in high school and college. That has not been the case, and this has helped me understand what it feels like to really love the work you’re doing. If you feel miserable every time you pick up a problem set, but you dive in early and deep on your final paper about a management issue, that’s telling—and it’s helping me figure out my next career moves.”
Julia Frederick, Yale SOM

Jeanne Roboh, Warwick Business School

19) This Isn’t Your Parents’ MBA: “What a great surprise to see how much business schools have changed since my undergrad! 12 years ago, subjects such as climate change, social responsibility, diversity and inclusion, integrated reporting, business and sustainability, and stakeholder theory were not part of the curriculum. Today, these matters are at the heart of our education, help us navigate a complex world and provide a rigorous and ethical foundation for the leaders of tomorrow.”
Jeanne Roboh, Warwick Business School

20) You Belong…You Really Do: “I was convinced that I would be completely out of my depth in classes, surrounded by peers with a plethora of business degrees. While those profiles do exist, many of my classmates are just like me: coming from diverse backgrounds and seeing many of the business courses for the first time. As it turned out, I had a number of skills and experience that were useful in class.”
Christina Gohl, IE Business School

“Knowing my classmates surprised me the most. I knew I would meet people from all over the world, all of whom are highly successful, intelligent, and ambitious with such intense profiles. I had this “out of my league” view at the back of my mind. I was then surprised and delighted to find out how much in common I have with them, despite not communicating with our native language. Like me, they too get stressed, forget things, have fun, and have a great sense of humor. It was great to see how these amazing, impactful people are so “real,” and very human.”
Broderic Dytoc, INSEAD






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