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What I Wish I Knew During Business School

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Business school is only two years. While that may sound like a long time, you really only have two 10-month spurts to make the most of your graduate school experience.

 

With numerous classes to choose from, clubs to join, trips to plan, and social events to attend, prioritizing how and where to spend your time can be a challenge. Add finding an internship and full-time job, and your time feels even more strapped. So, how can you decide what really matters during business school?  

Take it from those who have been there themselves. CommonBond’s own MBA alumni share their best advice for making the most of your short and sweet MBA experience.  

Try Something New

Business school is designed to create change. You should graduate with different skillsets, perspectives, and experiences than you had walking into class on day one. Lean into the change. Find opportunities to experiment with all that your program has to offer: new classes, clubs, trips, and career paths. Veena Ramaswamy, HBS alumna and CommonBond’s VP of Strategy says:

“Be bold. Your time in business school is a time to take risks in your career. Try out a new sector, work in a new field, get an unpaid internship in something you’ve never done, or work internationally. It becomes harder to make such bold choices later in your career.”  

Further, don’t take for granted your unique ability to connect with other students who are also looking to step outside their comfort zone. Ani Nagendra, CommonBond’s Senior Director of Finance and Wharton alum, adds:

“Really take the opportunity to engage in new experiences and broaden your horizons, whether it’s trying a new sport or taking a new class or visiting a new place; it’s one of the rare times in your life you’ll be able to do so with such a supportive environment of like-minded and intellectually curious people. Apply this open-minded approach to your career planning too - you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really explore what you’re truly excited and passionate about, and it might be something you didn’t even know existed. “

In short, don’t leave business school without trying something new.  

Make Meaningful Connections

It’s no secret that the network you gain from going to business school is a huge part of why the MBA degree is valuable. At a top business school, you will be sitting next to financiers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and developers with backgrounds and experiences you can learn from. After business school, these connections can not only support you professionally, but also personally. Take it from Alison Bloom-Kiefer, Wharton alumna and CommonBond’s Director of Product:

“What they tell you about the network you create in business school doesn’t feel real until later. The friendships and connections you make in business school will help you long after graduation. These are the people you can call upon to make connections for you. These people beta tested my product inside their own companies.”  

It is also important to keep in mind that you should make connections in a way that feels most natural to you. With such a packed schedule, don’t exhaust yourself with certain social events if that’s not how you prefer to meet new people. Tara Fung, CommonBond’s VP of Enterprise, shares her story from HBS:

“I was happy that I didn’t force myself to do certain social things in business school that I just didn’t enjoy. There were 400-person parties on Wednesday nights, which personally gave me social stress. I realized that these events didn’t add value to business school for me, so I chose to not attend them. Instead, I was an education representative for my section and that was a great way for me to get to know my peers and professors. This was a much more organic way for me to network and manage my energy.”  

In sum, prioritize making connections with your classmates and mentors in a way that you find sustainable.  

Diversify the Classes You Take

Most business schools have a wide variety of classes to choose from. When planning your schedule, ask fellow students to weigh in on their favorite classes or professors. In addition, seek classes that can be applied to a variety of industries, as Jessie Taylor, CommonBond’s Senior Marketing Manager and Kellogg alumni recommends:

“Take entrepreneurship and design-thinking classes if they’re offered. Even if you're not looking to start your own company, learning how to prototype ideas and design for scale is key if you want to work for a start-up or any other high-growth company.”

And while technical business skills are certainly important, ensure that you balance technical classes with equally valuable interpersonal courses. CommonBond’s Senior Director of Partnership Success and Stern alumna, Julia Joggerst, shares her best advice:

“Be sure to take the time to reflect and enjoy it – it's a unique break from the professional world where you have the opportunity to switch careers, learn about different industries and functions, and build your network.  It’s also important to know what you want to get out of business school to justify the time and expense of going, whether it’s getting into a new industry, building your network, or honing certain skills, but it’s also important to round out your skill-set with different types of classes.  I wish I had taken more ‘soft-skill’ classes like public speaking and organizational leadership.”  

In the end, make sure to be research your program’s class offerings and be intentional with which classes you choose to take.  

Research Creative Ways to Pay for School

Business school is an investment in your career that also requires a monetary investment. Do your research on how to best finance school. You may qualify for scholarships and grants that reduce the total cost you have to pay. Vinayak Gurjar, CommonBond’s CFO and a Kenan-Flagler alum, says, “I didn’t know that there were multiple ways to finance an MBA degree. Once I got into school, I was automatically granted a loan, which works out well for people, but there are other choices available.”  

Ensure that you fully understand the financial aid package your school grants you. Ask lots of questions and remember that a little bit of effort could pay off – literally.  

Take Care of Yourself

Last but not least, carve out time for yourself. While your days (and nights) will be extremely busy, you have more flexibility in your schedule than the average person working a full-time job. Robb Granado, COO of CommonBond and a Columbia Business School alum says, “I wish I had known that business school would be one of the last periods of sustained reflective time. It was an opportunity to build good habits around health, nutrition, and mindfulness.”  

Have more questions about making your time in b-school count? We can help. Get connected to one of CommonBond’s own MBA alumni. They can answer your questions and make sure you maximize your MBA experience.

And don't forget to join CommonBond's Pre-MBA group on LinkedIn, where you can ask questions, connect to other "pre-MBAs," and be first to see exclusive b-school content.

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