Masters At Yale: Preparing For MBA ‘Surprises’

How can I prepare for the MBA during the summer before I start?

That’s the question that prospective and admitted students ask me the most. I remember asking people the same question back in 2020. Back then, I was frustrated by the prevailing advice to take time off, relax, and travel (which was off the table anyhow, due to COVID). It’s true that MBAs get very busy very quickly — between classes, group work assignments, club events, recruiting, and a whirlwind social calendar — so taking some time off to mentally prepare is a reasonable suggestion.

Most MBA candidates are ambitious, though, so they’re seeking more than just “Taking time off.” This is the first piece of advice I give now: Think critically about what you hope to experience, do, change, or be during your two years as a student. Those guiding conceptions (as my professor Jonathan Feinstein would say) are the tiebreakers that enable you to choose which opportunities you’ll say yes to.

Still, your approach probably won’t follow a rigid framework. For instance, this past fall, I took a course called “Innovation, Investments, and New Frontiers in Medicine,” taught by Stephen Knight. A graduate of SOM and the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Knight is a venture capitalist making investments in healthcare. At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up: I’m deeply interested in venture capital, but I hadn’t taken a science class in a decade. I rose to the challenge, with Dr. Knight’s help: He bought in incredible speakers each week, including one who led us in a robust conversation about the ethics of pricing treatments for rare disease. Our final project had us work in groups to estimate the cost of developing a new pharmaceutical, and propose a pricing strategy that was both ethically defensible and financially sensible.

You can set yourself up well for taking on these kinds of unexpected experiences — in effect, planning for surprises. When mapping out your MBA trajectory, strategize according to these three categories: personal, professional, and academic.

Claire Masters (’22), Yale School of Management


At SOM, student government elections start in the first week of September for first-year students. Other clubs open 1Y leadership applications later in the month. Each week, it seems there are new applications opening for programs, experiences, and club events. Having a clear roadmap for the extracurricular activities you are most excited about will help you navigate the flurry of applications, and to prioritize the opportunities you get selected for.

During 1Y, I identified racial equity as one of the causes closest to my heart. I decided that I would look for more opportunities on campus to provide education, resources, conversation, and action to advance racial equity. In the spring of my first year, a student wrote on Slack that a team of students at Emory was looking to partner with other business schools to host the John R. Lewis Racial Equity Case Competition. I knew that I had been looking for concrete ways to elevate conversations about racial justice to campus, so I was able to quickly jump when I read the ask. Within a week, I had met with the team at Emory, spoken with contacts in administration about the paperwork required to host a competition, secured my leadership team, and organized the case competition. I still consider this to be the highlight of my time as an MBA.

Scheduling is key even—or especially—if you want to be socially spontaneous. If you are a parent, have time-consuming hobbies, or are in a long-distance relationship, you’ll need to be especially thoughtful about how you’ll manage those time-intensive responsibilities. For example, I am an intense user of Outlook; my daily schedule includes time blocked out to make lunch for the next day, head out for my marathon training runs, or even to go grocery shopping.

Yale SOM Students


The MBA is about a lot of things, but the principal one is to get a job you want. Even so, you don’t have to find that dream job in your first year. Whether you’re set on one career path or open to new ideas, it’s my experience that it’s instrumental to sketch out a calendar for your first year to keep yourself on track.

Investment banking recruiting starts in September, with consulting following soon after. Both span the entire fall semester. For those who aren’t recruiting for either of those, the process will unfold slowly and likely stretch into the spring term. For an incoming student who wants to dip their toe into many different industries, it’s important to get an idea of the time of year when each industry recruits. Talk to current students or recent alums in your target industry or industries; ensure you know not only when jobs are posted and offers given, but when and how to network in the industry so that your application stands out.

I tend to procrastinate and then hit the ground running, which made recruiting stressful. My time at Yale SOM flew so quickly that I often couldn’t believe another quarter was about to begin. Fortunately, thanks to my Outlook dependency, I had set a recurring calendar reminder to check in with myself each week to make sure I kept recruiting top of mind.

Over the summer before 1Y, you’ll also likely receive emails from your school’s career office. At SOM, our Career Development Office (CDO) does résumé review as well as brainstorming sessions during the summer and early fall. Make sure you set aside time on a regular basis to work on your recruiting strategy.

For many of the non-traditional post-MBA jobs, recruiting can be a long and frustrating process. In my final two months as an MBA, I spent a lot of time on the Slack channel for my fellow students who were also still recruiting, at CDO events about structuring the remaining time, and phone calls with my network about new job openings. All of it helped me feel less alone.

It’s easy to be fooled by LinkedIn, where it looks like everybody had a clear journey from A to B. But real life is much messier — it certainly has been for me — and most people discover during their MBA that they wanted to do something other than the intention in their application. There were many times during my two years at Yale SOM that I considered taking another direction. In fact, I was still recruiting for full-time opportunities until graduation. Even my tendency toward procrastination served me well, since the job market is a feeding frenzy and there are so many firms still hiring. In the end, I’m doing exactly what I came in thinking I’d do: investment consulting for nonprofits. And I’m thrilled about it.

Finally, I’ve learned that you should think of “networking” as getting to know people. You should prepare for a meeting ahead of time, but think of it as a natural conversation, and don’t be afraid to show who you are. I like to tell people that recruiting is just like dating, with all the nervousness and excitement that implies. People don’t want to feel they’re being networked with. They’ll remember you for you, not for what’s on your résumé.

Yale SOM Exterior. Photo Credit: Harold Shapiro


I’ve heard more than one professor at SOM say that an MBA’s favorite answer to any question is “It depends.” It’s a good joke, but it’s still my response when incoming students ask me how they should prepare academically for the first semester. At SOM, the core curriculum moves very quickly; most courses are only six weeks long. Due to a quirk in the schedule, students take their first final in mid-September. That pace leaves little room to fall behind. Tutors are free and readily available at SOM; reach out proactively before an anxiety becomes a problem. By the time you realize you need help, you may not have enough time to catch up.

As with your social and professional schedule, it’s also helpful to build out your own “back office” to manage your daily academic tasks. Setting up an organizational system for readings, assignments, syllabi, and projects will help you stay on track once things get busy.

I built out a simple but effective file system for each of my classes, which helped me stay organized and save time as the readings and assignments piled up. I also leveraged a spreadsheet made by a classmate with every assignment and every due date for our core MBA classes to make sure I was always on track.

Some preparation is more concrete. Many incoming students have the quant background to handle the MBA core curriculum without a problem. Many others come from nontraditional backgrounds and have had limited exposure to finance and accounting. Nobody knows your background better than you. If your quant chops were your biggest insecurity while applying to schools, check out the many free online resources for accounting, statistics, or economics.

Your program can probably help fill in the gaps. SOM and many other schools offer pre-semester work for those with nontraditional backgrounds, which will offer valuable academic preparation and an important reminder: you are not the only non-quant in your class. About 20% of incoming students participate in pre-SOM “Math Camp,” which, as the Wall Street Journal described it, helps students “pick up the basics of topics such as calculus and statistics.” Not to mention, it offers a chance to make friends with other students before the semester even begins.

Despite a career background in finance, I struggled through some of the core curriculum as I had little prior exposure to accounting and financial statements. Consider where your weak points are, and whether the five or ten or more years since undergrad might leave you rusty on coursework you’ve already studied.

The MBA is a timely and expensive pursuit, and you are ultimately responsible for crafting the experience you get. With a little self-reflection, you can set yourself up to get the most out of your time (and your money). It’s that structure that will allow you to improvise. I just wrapped up my last-ever finals—a problem set in Corporate Finance, an exam in Behavioral Finance, a modeling assignment for Financial Statement Analysis, and a multimedia art project for Creativity and Innovation. Every avenue was worth exploring.

Finally, I constantly got the advice not to compare yourself to other people’s timelines, whether in club activities, personal pursuits, or recruiting. That’s advice I found hard to take at times, but I still think it’s true. Once you land that acceptance, you can be confident that you got in for a reason, and you belong here. Good luck!

Claire Masters is a second-year student at the Yale School of Management from Nyack, New York. Prior to SOM, she worked at Moody’s and the Council on Foreign Relations, and she interned with Hillhouse Capital. At SOM, she is involved in racial equity efforts, investment management, and admissions.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.