So this post is going up a little later in the week than usual. Last week, I had two group projects and a paper due. And school had to come first. When I finally had time to write this post, it was after 2AM on Wednesday night. So I decided to just put it on hold for a few days.
But the story of me writing this post is actually perfectly in line with this post’s subject: my tips for first-year MBA students. Obviously, one of my biggest tips is that you have to put school first. Well, health first… school a close second. (As I write this battling a horrible cold – lesson learned!)
What I’m Wearing:
Dress: ASOS / Bag: Sole Society / Earrings: Tuckernuck / Shoes: Marc Fisher / Rings: BaubleBar
I, like many others, decided to pursue my MBA to expand my network to help facilitate a change in career. Though I enjoyed my time in software sales immensely, learned a ton, and made great friends at my old company, I knew I did not want to be in that industry for the length of my career.
I’ve spoken about being an MBA student a few times on the blog. I wrote a long post about how to choose the right MBA program for you, I gave all of my tips on how to dress for business school, and I even rounded up 11 of the most fashionable backpacks you could use during your MBA. But I never looked back on my first year and imparted advice based on my experiences. Which is what prompted this post.
I learned a lot during my first year of my MBA. And not all of it was pertaining to school. I honestly learned a lot about myself and what I want out of life over the past year. A lot about how I like to work, what ways I like to receive feedback, and how to keep a cool head while dealing with adversity. Looking back, I wish that one of the second-years had given me their tips for first-year MBA students – it would’ve helped so much with navigating the early days: the projects, the professors, and their expectations. Which brings me to the first item on the list of my tips for first-year MBA students.
My Tips for First-Year MBA Students
Ask the second-year students
The class above you can be a really useful resource. While the first few classes you take are likely all core required classes, after that, you can ask second-years for advice as to which classes or professors to take to fulfill a certain requirement. The second-year students were just in your shoes last year, so they may be able to help a bit… and even with more than class selection.
There will be certain professors who need to see your face during office hours, there might be a phrase that one professor always says and nobody knows what it means… there may be tricks to certain projects or even general time management advice that the second-years can impart.
Your schedule is your friend
Piggybacking off of that last point: time management. For most of us, it has been a few years since college. Since the days of sitting down to force yourself to work, even though you have 10,000 other things going on (and most of those being a lot more desirable activities than studying).
I use a combination of a written planner for keeping track of assignments and my digital planner for keeping track of my overall schedule. During weeks when I have a lot going on, I’ll use a spreadsheet to help me keep track of how many hours I’m spending on each subject. And alter my schedule accordingly.
But that’s just what works for me. Use the first few weeks of school to figure out what works for you. That way, by the time that the crazy weeks roll around, you’re already in the habit of being organized and managing your time effectively.
Your “job” is being an MBA student
This is one of my parents’ favorite tips for first-year MBA students. And they remind me of it frequently. Even though I am still working about 30 hours per week on the blog, currently, my full-time job is being a student.
As such, I must treat my MBA as my occupation. That means occasionally foregoing social events in order to get work done. Spending at least 2-3 hours per week applying to jobs/internships. Treating your fellow MBA students not as your friends like you did in undergrad, but as your colleagues as you would at a job. Your fellow students can be your colleagues and your friends, but I believe they need to be colleagues first.
My schedule right now is a bit wonky because I primarily have night classes, but, when my classes are during the day, I always plan to spend 9AM-5PM (+/- an hour on either side) on schoolwork. And then put it aside after the “workday” is done. With my night classes, I typically focus on my schoolwork from 2-3PM until class ends at 9:30PM… and then I often work after class while the information is still fresh.
Say “yes” to as many opportunities as you can. Your MBA is one of the only times in your life during which you can have this attitude. If you can afford to do so, go on the trips all over the world. If your MBA program has a board mentorship program, join it. Go to the networking events and join the clubs.
Obviously, you need to use your best judgement. If you have 4 midterms next week, maybe you don’t need to go on your class trip to Seattle this week. You have an interview tomorrow? Perhaps it’s best if you sit out for tonight’s late-night networking event and instead say home to prep. But, for every “no”, try to say “yes” twice.
Last year, I went to Cuba and Disney World through school, and then to Spain (Barcelona and Madrid) for a week with a friend. And then I ended the school year with a whirlwind trip to Seoul and Shanghai (my first time in Asia!). I never would have had any of those amazing experiences if I hadn’t agreed to get out of my comfort zone.
This year, I’m taking it one step further: I’m applying to jobs I probably wouldn’t have applied to last year, out of fear/anticipation of rejection. I’m going to more networking events and spending more time in smaller groups with my classmates. I’m taking advantage of the time I have remaining in my MBA – and I so wish somebody had told me to do that last year as one of their tips for first-year MBA students.