Congratulations! You did it — you got accepted to an MBA program and you start this fall. It’s an exciting time. Life-changing experiences await!
Many admits spend the weeks and months before the start of their MBA preparing for the journey. Some take a pre-MBA course or study on their own. Some — correctly expecting the next two years to be an intense period with little down time — travel or find other ways to enjoy a break from work. What’s the right path for you? A pair of graduates of elite MBA programs have published a book of advice that likely has the answers to your questions, drawn from their own experiences and the wisdom of hundreds of MBA grads from dozens of top schools.
Bob Manfreda, a 2019 Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA, and Adam Putterman, a 2019 graduate of the dual-degree MMM program at Northwestern University, are the authors of MBA Coffee Chats: Thoughtful Advice On How To Get the Most Out of Your MBA, a guide on everything the business school admit needs to know — and we mean everything. What are MBA classes actually like? What does the average week in B-school entail? When should you quit your pre-MBA job? How do you find a pre-MBA internship — and should you bother? It’s all here in black-and-white, available for download at the end of July.
COMPARING NOTES DURING THE LONG MBA JOURNEY
Starting its life as a blog of the same name, MBA Coffee Chats contains the insights of hundreds of successful MBAs interviewed by the authors on subjects of interest to admits, current students, and graduates alike; readers of Poets&Quants will find useful information in each of its 110 pages.
The core of the book is not others’ insights but those of its authors. Manfreda and Putterman, friends since meeting while working for Deloitte in 2013, kept in touch while pursuing MBAs at different ends of the country. From their first year, they compared notes and exchanged perspectives based on experiences both mutual and unique.
“We were challenging each other and what we were learning,” Manfreda recalls. “The team environment of Kellogg versus the touchy-feely of Stanford has overlaps, but also big differences. So that was a lot of fun. And then about a year into it, we got to the point where we were like, ‘We’d like to work together at some point. But like marriage, that’s hard. Is there a way for us to test it?'”
“We had started writing quarterly or yearly goals,” Putterman adds, “and we were using each other to hold ourselves accountable and just check in on how we were doing. And then at the end of school when we graduated, we each wrote a much, much longer document about all the things we had learned, and all the things we wish we had done differently. And then when we started looking into writing a book, that was the beginning of it.”
Upon graduation in 2019, both Manfreda and Putterman wrote long essays on everything they’d learned and everything they wish they’d known before embarking on their MBA. They realized they had the beginnings of a guide for the next generation of MBA students.
“Because the whole process is this constant process of everyone figuring it out on their own,” Putterman tells P&Q. “And when you get to school, everyone basically goes through the same thing of slowly over the first year talking to second-years and other people, and learning these things from themselves.
“And we felt like we had these tools or tricks or insights that could help people skip around there a little bit.”
SOURCES OF INPUT: A HUGE RANGE OF EXPERTS
Manfreda and Putterman started out not so much writing a book as posting on Reddit and talking with a lot of people who had reached out to ask about Stanford or Kellogg. “And what we found is, everybody asks the same questions,” Putterman says. “Everybody has these coffee chats and these interviews, and we were just giving the same answers over and over again. So we started posting them and then they started to get a lot of traction there.”
What kind of questions were being asked and answered? How about:
- How can I remember everything important?
- What’s the best thing you did in school?
- Should I get a club leadership role?
- How do I find a pre-MBA internship?
- How can I figure out what job I want?
- Should I start a business?
“The cool thing about how we did this is that we started with a core set of very particular things that the two of us had done, and that is by far the meat of the book,” Putterman says. “And then from there we just posted it everywhere and we got so many comments, feedback, ideas, from people all over.”
On specific issues, the authors reached out to people they knew — faculty, friends of friends, others they knew with experience. “We mostly asked open-ended questions, not so much ‘Fill out this survey about how you did this.’ More like, ‘What was the most non-intuitive thing you did that had the largest impact on your time at school?'”
Adds Manfreda: “We talked to people who were admits to see what questions they’d have. And that was one source of talking. Then when we were really bearing down on writing, it was a lot of our network and the people we knew, and that was friends of friends, to get broader school sets. And that really expanded the sphere of people we were able to get input from.”
A HELPFUL GUIDE FOR ADMITS TO LOWER-TIER MBA PROGRAMS, TOO
Bob Manfreda is a Stanford MBA and Adam Putterman is a Kellogg MBA, which begs the question: Is their book a guide for elites, or is it useful for admits to smaller programs? Will those about to enroll in programs classified as “lower-tier” still find it helpful?
“In my head, it’s most relevant for people going into full-time MBA programs, regardless of the tier,” Manfreda says. “I guess a fully thoughtful, self-aware answer would be, ‘I’d love to work with someone who’s going to one of those smaller schools to make sure it is, and get more time with them.’ We did our best to talk to a pretty wide variety of people who we could stay in touch with. But I think by nature of the jobs we were in, and the fortunate circles, it was mostly top-20, -25 schools.
“But I like to think we wrote for that specific time period and it’ll be relevant regardless of the school.”
Putterman says regardless of the sources of advice, the advice itself is mostly universal.
“I would say the book is probably relevant regardless, but there are some chapters that are less relevant,” he says. “There might be a chapter talking about a factor that’s much more specific to a very large school. At Kellogg, it’s called the Atrium Effect, where you have this huge atrium where all these people are talking, and if everyone’s talking about consulting, you end up applying to consulting jobs even if you don’t want to. And maybe at a smaller school, that peer pressure has less of an effect. But I think overall we tried to make it pretty universally applicable.”