What are some tips for someone who is about to attend business school?
Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of your MBA program.
1. Make sure you get your money’s worth
MBA’s are expensive. Mine was about $1,000 per class day. Overall my cohort spent over $1 million on the program. Keep that in mind everyday when you sit down in class: Imagine forking over $1,000 in cash (or whatever your tuition breakdown is) when you arrive each day. Make sure you see the value in that class. If not, demand it.
2. Don’t let your professors be lazy
If your professor is essentially just reading the book to the class and flipping through the PowerPoint deck provided by the book publisher YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME AND MONEY. Push your professors to provide real world examples, and relate their own experience (if they have any – some have no business experience). The classroom should be a dialog, not a canned speech.
3. Do the reading and prep work
If the class lecture is your first exposure to a topic, you’re already failing. As much as I advocate for holding the faculty accountable, you have to own the other side of the equation. Professors often teach to the middle of the bell curve, so its up to you and your cohort to move that curve to the right. Having an overview of the material in advance will help you ask better questions and get more out of your class time. It allows more dialog, and less time reviewing the reading. Make sure to read any linked articles in your syllabus, and do some additional digging instead of just stopping at the required list.
4. Take collaborative notes with your classmates
Taking notes will help you retain information, but comparing notes with your classmates will help uncover things you missed. Using programs like Evernote, OneNote, or Google Docs will allow you to share and edit documents in real time annotated with images, sketches, or even video. Its easy to do a quick image search and add supply and demand curves, charts, finance equations, and other examples into your notes instead of trying to sketch them out.
5. Get to know your classmates
Each of your classmates will have specific strengths: some may have work experience in accounting, manufacturing, supply chain, etc. Leverage their knowledge in each class, and define who subject matter experts are. This will help when you’re stuck in statistics, economics, accounting, or finance. You are also suppose to learn from your classmates, this is why the quality of the cohort is so essential to the quality of the program. If you are the smartest person in the cohort, you went to the wrong school!
6. Assume each of your classmates could be your future boss
Communities and networks are small. The best way to leverage your MBA is to grow your professional network. If you’re on a group project, do more than everyone else. Be more prepared. Be the team hero – but be humble. After graduation, you will likely run into your classmates again. You may need them for a job referral. Years down the line, one of them might be your boss – or your bosses boss. Make sure they remember you well.
7. Be proactive
Sit in the front row, be engaged, ask questions. Don’t be afraid of asking the wrong question, everybody does sooner or later. If there is a guest speaker, really leverage their knowledge. Don’t wait until the lecture is over to ask a question in a side bar. Most of your professors will be professional academics with limited real world business experience. If are fortunate enough to have a former C-level executive as a professor or lecturer, get them to talk about actual challenges they’ve had.
8. Leverage audio books
Many of the non textbook business classics are available as audiobooks that you can listen to while driving to work, doing chores, or working out. Many also have book summaries online. You can also leverage secondary material in your semester breaks. I took advantage of the Teaching Companies lectures on Economics, 3rd Edition to prep for the Macro and Micro Econ courses and sailed through the classes.
9. Dig into the case studies
The real world application of knowledge is what an MBA is all about. The case studies are as close as you’re going to get. Learn as much as you can from them, do the prep work and do not get caught flat footed on the Q&A! Try to understand and not judge the different perspectives from your fellow students. Remember that the program is designed so you learn from each other. In case studies (as in the real business world) there may not be a clear right answer. Sometimes, you have to choose between two bad options, and not everyone will agree on the best way forward. Learn to make your case using data and without getting defensive.
10. Don’t be afraid to hold the school and program accountable, and switch schools if necessary
I left the first MBA program I enrolled in because of some of the issues cited above. I lost a semesters worth of work and tuition, and took other members of the cohort with me, but the bigger mistake would have been staying and throwing good money after bad. Surprisingly, the other MBA programs we had applied to were happy to add us to their existing cohorts without a fuss. Don’t assume you are stuck if you enrolled in a bad program – start exploring options immediately.