Professionals planning their business school application should be ready for some serious MBA prep time. But even those who have already secured their spot in a top MBA program should plan for this new step in their life and career.
Although encountering some challenges along the road is completely normal, there are ways you can take control and get ready for the experience.
Going back to school after a break
Although you are surely looking forward to immersing yourself in the MBA experience, one of the main concerns for many MBA aspirants is how they will perform in graduate school. After all, business schools present participants with an intense study and extracurricular schedule. While the first university degree and hands-on experience give confidence, there will still be unfamiliar courses and topics of discussion in the program. In addition, graduate level academic studies can be particularly challenging when conducted in a foreign language. All of this, coupled with extracurricular activities such as networking and career planning, can make thinking about the entire experience somewhat nerve-racking.
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To successfully deal with this feeling, you first need to realize that you are not alone in your expectations. Ami Patel, who graduated from the Wharton MBA program in the US in 2016, also shared those concerns:
I come from a non-traditional background. I used to be a teacher – of tiny 6- to 9-year-olds. Coming in, I was nervous. Would I ‘fit in’? Most of all – though I was confident that there was much for me to learn – I worried, would I also be able to contribute?
Eventually, she found out that her different background not only fit into class, but was appreciated by her professors, one of whom even asked for feedback on his teaching practice. Still, to alleviate the nervousness, make sure you get a head start to your MBA prep.
Look over your curriculum carefully and if possible, find some information on the readings and tasks you will be doing for the different courses. This is especially useful for the subjects you have very little knowledge and experience of. Some MBA programs provide bootcamps or pre-MBA courses that help get students up to speed.
Setting realistic expectations is also key. Reaching out to alumni from the school will do wonders for your professional network but it can also give you an idea of what to expect in terms of coursework and study load. Ultimately, networking is an integral part of every MBA experience and it is a smart approach to help you prepare for your business school routine.
Juggling study, work, and personal life
Professionals who opt for a part-time, modular MBA, or Executive MBA while keeping their full-time jobs will need excellent time management and organization skills. Many participants combine business school studies, a full-time job, a family, and social obligations. Their success and endurance are proof that it can be done. In such cases, however, having a realistic schedule ahead of time is essential in learning to handle the different demands.
The process of the MBA application itself will gradually set you on the right track. Devoting time to study and practice for admission tests, such as the GMAT, GRE or language exams (TOEFL, IELTS) requires planning, discipline, and multitasking. Receiving professional references on time, working on your MBA application CV/resume, and crafting motivation essays will set the tone and rhythm for what comes next.
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Looking beyond admission, business school alumni – who are now able to reflect on their study experience – point out that the perfectionist side of their character had to stay out of the picture during their studies. Stepping out of your comfort zone is good, and even encouraged, but be mindful of your capabilities as a human being. For instance, avoid signing up for more courses than you can handle and focus on the ones that correspond to your goals. So, take some of these steps to prevent stress and exhaustion from managing too many projects all at once.
At every stage of your pre-MBA and MBA experience, do not be afraid to ask for help and support when you need it. Your employer, your colleagues, your classmates, and your family should all be supportive of your efforts as long as you are open with them and show them that you are working hard to achieve your goal. As executive coach and psychological business consultant Naomi Shragai says for the Financial Times:
Those who cope well in the program are not necessarily the ones that do best academically, but those who have resilience, are good communicators and able to ask for help.
Adjusting to a new environment
Starting business school often goes hand in hand with immersing yourself in a completely new setting. Professionals may decide to relocate to a foreign country, even to a different continent, while pursuing their degree and planning their next career steps. Even though you may be mindful of the challenges, you need to get ready for them.
Take measures early on for a smooth transition to your new home. For example, if your MBA takes place predominantly in one country, consider the local language and the role it is going to play in your future. Your program may be taught in English but if you intend relocating and exploring professional paths in the area, learning the official local language might be worth it. Think carefully through the pros and cons of opting for a language course in the months before starting business school. It will take time away from getting some rest before the MBA comes into your life but it is certainly a smart investment for those who want to fit in.
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Whether you decide to study the local language or not, there are other ways to get to know the culture of your new home and school. Many MBA programs have social media groups specifically for class participants, where they can mingle, organize get-togethers, and discuss school-related topics. You might even find fellow classmates from your area. There are also face-to-face immersion events and bootcamps that help break the ice. Take every opportunity to network and make new friends before arriving on campus and actually starting your studies.
Clearly, your MBA prep strategy should reach out beyond the application for admission. Consider what you need to do before you plunge into business school, to ensure that you will make the most of the MBA experience. Stay open-minded and turn challenges into learning opportunities. Ultimately, the MBA is about transformation and growth.