10 Tips To Get Through Your First Semester at Smith


The exterior courtyard of Van Munching Hall is photographed during a summer day, April 20, 2010.

The exterior courtyard of Van Munching Hall is photographed during a summer day, April 20, 2010.

While we absolutely love the newest phase of our lives, there are times we feel we could just take a step back and make sense of the world around us. We started the MBA program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business with a month-long orientation, which helped us get accustomed to coming back to school, but we were unaware of how overwhelming it was going to get.

I realized that b-school is an adventure, and by adventure I mean nightmare! Well, at least the first semester. So, how do we get through it? How do we find the right balance between academics and career? How do we learn the art of time management?

Let me try to answer these questions for you in the best possible manner. So I (with the help of our second-year MBA students) am going to take you through how we can get through each of our classes and what is the key to our career and academic success at Smith.

We will know what to do with our lives

  1. DMD

Yes, we are struggling with getting a grip (read staying awake) on this course and in the class. But as future leaders we need to know how mathematical insights can be used to derive insights out of real-world data.

So how do we start comprehending this course better? To start with revisit the pre-skills every time we see ourselves stuck with fundamental understanding of the concept. Get practice with what functions are and how they translate into graphs.

However, there’s no need to go overboard with the practice just do it to develop some intuition behind it. Just think of it as how a human language is important for expressing human thoughts, understanding basic math is important to understand the “application” of DMD’s material to business problems.

P.S. Make Coffee your best friend.

More Coffee


  1. Financial Management


Can we calculate the NPV of the effort we are going to put in over the next two years? Maybe? Well, we can start by making an Excel model for that. Once we do that I think nothing is going to be daunting. We should start by making excel model for all key formulas so we can refer to them quickly when we are stuck. The goal is to be able to break formulas down in a way that we can refresh them with new data points and use them in our open book final exam.

This is also a class for testing your friendship. Let me explain how. We are not all the same people, some of us are better with quant and some of us are better with soft skills. To learn better financial concepts some of us might have to sought help from our financially inclined friends and we should do that. This we not only help us learn better but also help them strengthen their finance skills.

beyond finance


  1. Financial Accounting

Getting confused with the debits and credits and not able to balance your life’s sheet is a common occurrence when doing Financial Accounting. But we have to always remember the adjusting entry that makes everything well balanced. So how do we arrive at the adjusting entry? To start with make friends with our super TA, visit him early in the semester (and often throughout) to avoid set backs before the finals. Other useful resources would be Khan Academy, Wharton accounting videos and most of all your peers and Professor Rebecca Hann. Our faculty wants us to do well so they are going to be more than willing to help us get better. Just remember it is more likely than not the last accounting class you will ever take so make the most of it.




  1. Managerial Economics and Public Policy

The demand for learning econ is high and so is the supply of the resources. What kind of a demand curve would you create for it? Go ahead, take a minute and think over it.

Still confused where to find equilibrium? So am I.

So how do we get better with Econ and make sure we don’t fall too behind on the curve?

We should start with being prepared for every class we go for. We need to make sure we read the class notes, text book and topic related content from the web. This will help us gauge the content better. To complement our learning, we can/ should watch Khan Academy videos.

However, the key to doing well is econ is visualization. By that what I mean is, we should create demand and supply curves even for the tiniest concept, this will help us learn more intuitively.

Not to forget “Terps help Terps,” so approach the second years for any help on the subject matter, they will have great insights waiting for us.



  1. Leadership and Teamwork

Don’t we just love the freshness this course brings in our life, especially the last class? It is the perfect distraction we have in our quant heavy Term A. Along with a breath of fresh air, leadership also gives us the opportunity to develop our soft skills and motivates us to become a better team players. Strong leadership skills is something valued by every company and this class is grooming us to become one.

So for this class, we should just make sure we are reading through the cases and simulations and having fun doing so. To excel in this class we just need to keep an open mind about the concepts taught in the class and through the readings and try to apply it as much as possible in the assignments and presentations.

Don’t forget to keep your ears open during every class, we learn the most by listening to people around us and the discussions we have in class.

Try front-loading on the leadership assignments so we have more time towards the end of the semester for other courses.

fun times


  1. Marketing

We have the marketing guru teaching us this year – Professor David Godes. Our second years had another professor for marketing so they couldn’t really help me out here but the general consensus is that the marketing class doesn’t only help us become a better product marketer but also teaches us the importance of marketing ourselves better. Professor Godes has a very varied and impressive background and so he will be a great resource for the marketing folks as we as the non-marketing folks in our class to understand brand value better.




  1. Strategy

By now we are all aware who Professor Paulo Prochno is, we met him during our first case competition at orientation. Our interactions with him have made us realize the breath of knowledge he brings to the table and how he takes an extra effort to understand each student’s background and tailors his communication for that student to learn the most.

To become a better strategist all we need to do is go well prepared to class, listen to Professor Prochno and participate as much as we can in the discussions in class.



  1. Time Management

Don’t we wish we could increase the number of hours of our day, everyday? Our days feel so short and we are always struggling to get things done at the eleventh hour.

To get better at the art of time management we should start by focusing on class while we are in class. It is very easy to get distracted so make an effort to really understand the material taught and ask as many questions as you can. This will help us complete our assignments quicker and open up more time for career search.

In addition, make Google Calendar your best friend. Use all the to-do list tools available. Make weekly or daily lists of the things you need to get done not only related to academics but also related to career.

Use the 15 breaks between classes to read up something about one of the companies you are applying to or to connect with some alumni on LinkedIn.

Also Google has a wide array of time management apps like Google Calendar and Google Keep, make optimal use of these apps to have a better understanding of our appointments. Try not to overflow the calendar with classes and assignments, mark the calendar with what you need to do to successfully complete the assignment. This will help us organize our life better and give us the necessary time to unwind and rejuvenate.


9. Career

With our very challenging course load, it becomes almost impossible to look beyond academics. How can we find a balance here? To start with, make sure you are setting aside at least one hour everyday for only career work.

Work with the career coaches, second years (they have gone through exactly the same thing only a few months back), classmates and get as much practice as you can on the elevator pitches and SAR stories. Try researching common behavioral interview questions and write your stories based on those. Make sure they follow the flow of: situation-action-result and make sure these stories are coherent, relevant, and answers the question so what? Through this we can make sure the stories advocate the main point we want to convey and how it affects the company.

For conferences apply for the job postings at the earliest, hopefully as soon as they are posted. Even without getting an interview, the conferences are very valuable. They give us a chance to get in front of the interviewers and recruiters and make a connection it them and make a long lasting impression in their minds.

Make sure to mention in your cover letter and during the interview what exactly makes YOU unique and how you are the best fit for THAT company without sounding generic.

Finally, go to alumni networking events and as many mock interviews as you possibly can. It can only better prepare you for the real thing, and who knows, you may meet an alum who can help you with your internship search. When attending info sessions/corporate presentations, stay after the presentation is over to get some one-on-one time with the speakers.

We should try to incorporate as much as possible of this in our life right now and be confident that we will at some point understand what works best for us and achieve the goals we are set to achieve.


  1. General Tips

We have a lot of opportunity everyday to eat unhealthy and junk food but we should try to eat as healthy as possible. A healthy stomach is the secret to a healthy mind. So eat home-cooked meals, this will not only help us maintain our current waistlines but also keep us healthier. Try to cook over the weekend to save cooking hours over the week. To make life easier use grocery delivery apps like Harris Teeter for quicker and easier delivery of groceries.

And most of all WORKOUT, even if it means going on a walk. Inclusion of workout in our life will keep us fit and stimulate more of our brain cells.

On the career front use tools such as Indeed.com, company websites and MBAexchange in addition to HireSmith. This will help us diversify our job search and provide us more options to fall back on.

So I hope this gives all my analytically and non-analytically inclined friends some more perspective and motivation for the course, career and life at Smith.



This article wouldn’t have seen the light of the day if it weren’t for all the Smith Terps who shared their valuable insights with me.

 Thank you so much for the sharing your experiences with us all- Divya Pratap Gulati, Laura Holt, Gabriel Kuey, Priyank Bhandari, Wendy Cohen, Prateek Gupta, Joe Okamoto, Kevin Hannigan, Margarita Douglas, Andrae Wiggins, Jerusalem Woldu, Takeru Miyachi, Alison Scharman and Jay Bhatt.

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