The Fully Loaded MBA: Getting the Most Out of Your First Year
Posted April 07, 2016 by Giselle Weybrecht
- Author, Advisor, and Speaker - Sustainability and Business
So you’ve written all of your application essays, aced the interview, received your acceptance, and maybe even moved to a new city. Now it’s time to get ready for the MBA itself.
Whether you’re planning to start a one- or two-year degree, things will be busy—very busy, so it’s important to think carefully about how you can take full advantage of everything that is offered. How can you not only survive your first year but really take full advantage of it?
- Think carefully about what you want to get out of the MBA before you start. This factor will have already come up in your applications, your essays, and your interviews, but take a moment to think about it again as an accepted student. Beyond what you said in your application, what do you want to learn and experience over the next one to two years? Take another look through your school’s website and materials and speak to current students and alumni to start selecting what kinds of experiences and opportunities you would like to take advantage of while on campus.
- Don’t just do what you are good at. It’s tempting to focus on what you already do well or even specialize in, especially when things get busy. But apart from further developing the areas you want to specialize in, remember to take this opportunity back at school to work on some of your weaknesses. The MBA is a safe environment to do so with lots of fellow students and faculty to help, so take advantage of that unique community.
- Soft skills are now hard skills. The courses in the MBA are usually divided into so-called hard skills (finance, marketing, accounting) and soft skills (leadership, change management, negotiation). Although the hard skills are important, most alumni will tell you that, post-MBA, not only are the soft skills the ones you will use more, but they will also get you further in your career, so don’t discount them.
- Spend time with the other students. One of the key reasons to do an MBA is the network. The friends and contacts you make during the next year or two will stay with you throughout your career. Many students find that they learn more from their fellow students, whether in the classroom, at the pub, or in the gym. Your fellow students are a great resource, too, if you need help with an assignment, are feeling overwhelmed, or are looking at different career options. Chances are, someone in your class is coming from where you want to go and can give you advice.
- It’s all about the experiences. Courses are important, but years after the MBA what’s likely to stick with you are the experiences you had. Take part in student clubs, field trips, social events, exchanges, case competitions, sports teams, consulting projects, and volunteer projects. Don’t just look at the opportunities offered by your school; many other schools have case competitions and events, for example, that any student from any school can participate in.
- Be open to exploring. Even with all the planning, an MBA can really change you and alter the direction you thought you wanted to go in. An exchange to another country can turn into a new career direction; participation in a business case competition can lead to a new job offering or internship; an experience with a student group can lead to a business idea that you end up developing during the program. Be open to these possibilities.
- Balance courses with your job search. As if the MBA itself weren’t enough, you have something else you need to be focusing your time on: your job search—either for an internship or, ultimately, your post-MBA job. Especially if you aren’t sure what direction you want to go in, the job search can end up consuming all of your time and energy. Take all the opportunities you can to explore career options because you never know where that job will come from. Speak to people at networking events, attend presentations, meet with alumni. A lot of recruiting happens sooner than you might expect during the program, so it is important to find a balance; take your time to find your job, but don’t let it overwhelm you.
- Stay organized. An MBA involves a lot of juggling—coursework, group work, meetings, emails, events, friends, family, and the job search will all be fighting for your time. Good organizational and time management skills will not only be key but will be another skill you’ll further develop during the program.
- Look outside of your degree, as well. Especially if you have moved to a new city or country, take a look not just at the opportunities and events happening on campus but also across the locale you are learning in. This is your extended campus. Go to events hosted by local businesses, look for networking opportunities around specific industries, or sit down for coffee with individuals working in the field you're interested in. And don’t forget to tap into your alumni network before and during your degree. They are a key resource for you and are likely to help in any way they can if you just ask.
- Have fun. The MBA will be an extremely busy time for you, but don’t forget to enjoy it. We don’t often get the chance to go back to school and learn new things, meet new people. If you are on a two-year program, you will have a bit of extra time to enjoy the experience in your second year. Once you start working you are likely to have even less time!
The MBA is a popular degree option for a reason. It provides excellent training, can lead to a range of career paths and higher salaries, and helps develop your network. It will be a busy time, but remember: the more you put into the MBA, the more you will get back—both during the program and throughout your career.
Giselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker in the areas of sustainability and business. Her bestselling book, The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability, brings together all the pieces of the business and sustainability puzzle in an easy-to-understand format. Weybrecht presented a TEDx Talk, "How to Make Anything More Sustainable." She is on Twitter @gweybrecht.