How to make the most of your business school experience

 For MBA students, Business School could be the best investment of their professional lives, or it could be the worst experience they never expected.

Strategy and execution make all the difference. Strategy starts before you start your application process, and execution is what you do after getting into the class.

Strategy
Think about why you want to hit the pause button on your career for a whole year. You may want to move to a different city or country, or you feel the need to pick up new skills, so you can accelerate your career. But be sure that you aren’t aiming for something that an academic degree cannot deliver.

Once you’ve nailed down the factors that are pushing you back into the classroom, try to figure out which Business School will get you there. Also try to find out which companies generally hire graduates from these Business Schools, and identify other parameters related to your goals.

Secondary research is a good starting point, but hardly sufficient. Websites and brochures can give you a feel for the objective data, but they don’t give you an insight into the culture that pervades the programme. If you prefer a collegial, supportive, collaborative environment, you won’t enjoy being surrounded by aggressive, hyper-competitive classmates, no matter how high the MBA programme is ranked.

What else can you do to know what you’re signing up for? Talk to the current students. Ask the right questions and you’ll get to know a lot about what matters to you.

Also make sure you’ve found a way to pay the fees and the cost of living. Many students look at the former and underestimate the latter. Ensure that you’ve not only factored in the basic costs, but also added some buffer to take care of emergencies. Scholarships are a great way to lower the financial risks involved in the decision. Explore Business Schools where your profile stands a better chance at getting some of that free money.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Wasn’t this about making the most from the business school experience? Why aren’t we talking about that yet?’ 

Having clarity on the strategy will go a long way in ensuring that your MBA experience is aligned with your expectations. If you get these wrong, your Business School experience will be less than satisfactory.

Execution
Business Schools give you a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. Here are some ways to make the most of the experience.

The management knowledge you pick up in class has very little practical value unless you know how and where to apply it. You have to start thinking about how companies use it. Even better, try to use them in your assignments, group projects, events, and social interactions to test and showcase your skills.

One of the reasons you’ve left your job is to get out of your comfort zone and explore new avenues, so don’t try and create comfortable coterie. Your class will have students from across the world, working in a range of industry and roles. That’s a treasure trove of knowledge and experience that books can’t capture. Take some time to get to know your classmates on a personal level. These are the precious relationships that you’ll take away.

Most Business Schools invite industry leaders to interact with MBA students. Don’t be passive listeners. Try to read up on the industry and the company they represent. Interact with them. Ask well-researched questions that pique their interest.

Grades are important. It’s important to stay on top of the workload so take your studies seriously, but don’t become obsessed with your grades. Instead, focus on the real learning. Take up a few challenging electives where you know you won’t get the highest grades, but the learning will be immense.

While you’re juggling all this, remember it’s ok to let your hair down once in a while. There’ll be tons of social events, meetups, and parties on campus, but use your discretion and maintain a healthy balance.  

Maintaining a balance applies not just to the social events, but everything else that Business School life has to offer.


Sameer Kamat is the founder of a leading admissions consulting company (MBA Crystal Ball) and the popular career guidance website (Careerizma.com). He is also the author of the best-selling book Beyond The MBA Hype.