Advice/approaches/hacks for mba students
July 9, 2008 9:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm beginning an mba program this fall and I'd like to hear the things other mefiers wish they'd known when they started the mba experience. More details inside...

I'm a 30 year old male; the mba program is in Austin. I'm from Austin so housing and day-to-day aspects of life are already well-established; I'm more interested in learning what worked well and what didn't work well in your approach to grades and career development while in business school.

Specifically, I'm curious about:

-mba-relevant study tips
-advice on "working smarter" as opposed to "working harder"
-Some people describe business school as one big party/networking experience. In retrospect, do you wish you had studied more or networked more?
-As opposed to knowing exactly which job/industry I want to be in when the program ends, I feel like I could end up happy in a variety of roles/industries. I'm especially interested in hearing from those who weren't sure about a career path when school began or those who changed paths while in school. (If it helps, my background is in tech startups (client services/project management) and entertainment (writer). I'd be fine getting back in tech startups, but I'm also interested in renewable energy companies and open to new and unfamiliar industries right now.)
posted by acehigh to Education (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone graduates. They don't emphasize this because they want you to feel scared and overwhelmed, but realize that when you are working super long hours that everyone graduates. No one fails. So do your best, but don't get too tense about the whole thing.

Mostly what you are paying for is the network ties you are building with your fellow students and access to the alumni network. Don't fool yourself into thinking that because you are at a top 20 school the education you get is any better than a different school, and don't fool yourself into thinking that you or your classmates are a lot smarter than people at worse schools.

The first year of the program is intentionally structured to give you more work than you can actually do each day. There is no way to completely get everything done. This is part of the socialization process. Students entering very good MBA programs are pretty smart and often fairly successful. The schools intentionally try and beat a little bit of the arrogance out of the students by overloading them with work. Part of what you have to realize is that you have to make strategic choices each day about what work you will either a) not do, or b) not do well.

That's all that I can think of right now. BTW I did my PhD at UT-Austin and I think they have a great MBA program and that you should try to enjoy yourself.
posted by bove at 9:59 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

bove is right. It's pretty hard to fail a class in an MBA program. They want to keep you on track to graduate because a) they want your money and b) it looks good for them.

I had no idea what I wanted to do afterwards. I just kinda meandered along and took classes that seemed interesting.

Looking back, I wish I had socialized more. I went to an MBA program in a city I was already living in, at the same school I attended for undergrad...I already had my own thing going. I made some good friends but I wish I had made more of an effort to be part of the gang.

One of our required classes was Management Communications. It was pretty boring and I dreaded it...I realize now that it was one of the most important classes I took, because it really helped my presentation skills. I think I would have enjoyed it more had I known how useful it would be.
posted by radioamy at 10:30 AM on July 9, 2008

Don't fool yourself into thinking that because you are at a top 20 school the education you get is any better than a different school, and don't fool yourself into thinking that you or your classmates are a lot smarter than people at worse schools.

A lot of people say this, but I don't think it's true. Kids at Wharton and Columbia get to meet spend a few hours with Warren Buffett, and take Security Analysis from Simon Benninga or Michael Mouboussin. Kids at Chicago get to learn portfolio theory from Eugene Fama and take economics from Austan Goolsbee. Kids at HBS get to take strategy from Michael Porter (when he actually teaches, of course). For the life of me I can't understand how studying Michael Porter's Five Forces under, you know, Michael Porter, isn't usually appreciably better than studying them under someone else.

Regarding your classmates, the number of students who willingly forgo top programs (in order to save money, stay close to their family, etc) is pretty small. And we can quibble about what undergrad grades and GMAT scores really measure, but the ex-Bain Consultant with a 3.8 from CMU and a 730 GMAT (a fairly typical student at a top school) is usually a lot smarter than the regional supply-chain administrator who got a 2.8 from State U, notched a 580, and now attends a regional school. Plenty of regional school graduates go on to great success, but in proportion there aren't many.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, and whether these smarts are worth a damn in the business world is a different question altogether.

Nonetheless, my point is that if you're doing it right, this is one of the only chances you'll have to interact with other bright, motivated people who largely care a lot about the same things you care about. So my best advice is to chuck your television in the trash, and spend every waking moment either learning or networking. Because the days of being able to go out for drinks at 9 PM on a Sunday and getting to do something new and challenging every day will sooner than you think give way to 5 AM conference calls and work (no matter how highly-skilled) that quickly becomes rote and dull.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:45 PM on July 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Kwantsar, my guess is you went to a top 10 MBA program. I will agree that there is a difference in the quality of the students (and the faculty) at a top 10 school and a small regional MBA program. What I am talking about are the differences between the "elite" or even very good schools (like UT Austin) and the other schools that are in the top 50.

I have a significant amount of experience with friends who have gone to a wide range of schools, and I know faculty members at most of the elite schools. (I am a faculty member at a school that is definitely not one of the elite) In my experience, the difference in the quality of classes is not great. (This is just like any other business scenario, because the curriculum and content of MBA courses across schools has been widely copied) Also, the difference in students is also not great. I don't want to get into an argument with you, but this is just my perspective.

However, I also agree that good students are not turning these elite schools down. Like I said before the big benefit of a top school (and this is most true of the "elite" schools) is the network benefit. So, I also agree with you that acehigh should concentrate on maximizing that portion of the experience.
posted by bove at 2:20 PM on July 9, 2008

The most important skills for a successful MBA career are: time management and triage. You need to quickly assess what things are the most important and which ones you are going to skip.

I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do when I started my MBA; it was a great venue to figure out my career goals. I'd advise you to interview with any company that interests you. You'll learn a lot about companies and industries by talking to recruiters. As a bonus, you'll improve your interview skills.

If you can place out of any class, do it. Luckily, I had some undergraduate business coursework and was able to place out of many first year classes. That allowed me to take classes at the law school, div school and graduate school of engineering. Initially, I resisted skipping some of the first year courses because I thought I'd miss something important or that I wouldn't bond with my classmates. I bonded with them just fine and all I missed was the endless scut of basic accounting, etc.

Regarding networking - yes, it's important. However, you don't need to be BFF with every member of your class. You spend so much time working in groups that you'll get to know almost everyone. The biggest part of networking comes after you graduate. You need to make an effort to maintain your contacts.

BTW, I don't really agree with Kwantsar. I went to a top tier program, but I turned down two higher ranked programs that accepted me. I selected the program that offered me the best scholarship, the most appealing location and the happiest students. I intentionally picked the school that had students and professors that didn't seem like complete asshats. Sure, B-school is competitive, but I'm really happy that I chose a school that didn't pride itself creating hostility between students.
posted by 26.2 at 9:23 PM on July 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, all.

It is interesting to hear that it's difficult to fail. Along the same lines, how important are one's business school grades? I'm the answer is "it depends", but what exactly does it depend on?
posted by acehigh at 9:32 AM on July 10, 2008

Well I know that at UT Austin your grades do matter in terms of getting interviews. Not a lot of consulting or VC firms interview there, and the ones that do often filter by grades.
posted by bove at 11:45 AM on July 10, 2008

It depends a lot on your career plan - if you're planning to hit Big 4 consulting or finance immediately out of school then GPA is definitely a criteria for interviews. Also, some firms in other fields only select candidates from the top 10% of the class. I seem to remember P&G did that and perhaps 3M.

After your first job out of school, your grades will not matter at all. I've never had any employer ask for my grades. That includes a stint in Big4. I have done other graduate work after my MBA and I suppose my MBA grades were used to evaluate me for acceptance into those programs.
posted by 26.2 at 2:47 PM on July 10, 2008

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