In many ways, the past 21 weeks have been the most excruciating, challenging, and frustrating days of my entire life. The core curriculum, depending on who you ask, can be rather uninspiring. The sheer number of deliverables due on a daily basis can be flat-out overwhelming. Worst of all, the ongoing coursework challenges, accompanied with an immediate and rigorous internship search, can be deflating in times of defeat and damage your ego if (when) you hit rock bottom.
Apologies for the melodramatics, but these feelings were real! Luckily there is a light at the end of the tunnel. More specifically, there was an essential personal evolution that I needed to go through in order to survive the first (and most difficult) MBA semester. The first MBA semester in many ways is like a boot camp; it whips you into shape, it does not accept mediocracy, and it pushes you far outside of your comfort zone, perhaps further than you once thought you were capable of going. But here we are 21 weeks later, with each and every one of us standing tall, proud, and (relatively) unscathed. How did we manage this?
While I’m sure every student will have their own individual answers, here are my Top 3 Tips on Surviving the 1st MBA Semester:
Study with your fellow Terps. This one took me awhile to realize (probably longer than it should have). Everyone who enters the Smith MBA program, or any MBA program for that matter, is smart. We all feel capable, or else why would we be making such a large investment in ourselves? In my case, I wanted to prove to myself that I could “get” everything on my own. I vowed to prepare and study more effectively than I had in my undergrad days, and with enough hard work I was bound to understand anything and everything. The problem is, the MBA core curriculum encompasses a variety of teachings that can be quantitative, qualitative, analytical, innovative, strategic, etc etc etc in nature. My point is, no one “gets” it all. About half-way through the semester, I realized that although many of my peers (particularly the international students) were more advanced in their quantitative and analytic skill set, I was able to assist them in their strategic and qualitative thinking. I also helped several classmates fine-tune the writing in their course papers, cover letters, and LinkedIn bios. In return, my peers took time out of their schedules to help me finally understand how to value a company’s stock, price a product accurately using marginal cost and revenues, and understand what the heck Professor LeLe was talking about in Data Modeling (mostly).
Here at Smith, we have a phrase called “Terps Helping Terps.” This motto is stressed during Orientation and rings true throughout our program. Best piece of advice I can give you is: when in doubt, drop the ego and seek some help from your fellow Terps.
- Ace the previous exams. Hallelujah. When your professor gives you the old mid-terms or final exams from previous years (which they all do), KNOW HOW TO ACE THOSE BAD BOYS INSIDE AND OUT! There will still be some curve balls in this year’s exams, trust me, but if you can ace the actual exams from the past 2-3 years, then you will pass this year’s exam. You might even get an A if you study your notes as well.
- Go to the T.A.s’ office hours and professors’ study sessions (consistently and from the get-go). This one might seem a little obvious, but its easier said than done. There will be times when you are mentally fried, when all you want to do is go home and get some sleep, and you still have a huge workload of deliverables to do too. However, when your T.A. is holding office hours and/or your professor is holding a study session, you must resist the temptations and make sure you’re there. Its simply not possible to learn any course’s curriculum in one week before the final. The key is to learn gradually. Time goes fast in the MBA world, and the material builds on itself each and every class. If you’re playing catch-up from Day One, you’re toast. Do yourself a favor and become friends with the T.A. (after all, they’re the ones grading your exams, wink wink). In many cases they will tell you what they’re looking for. Go to the professors’ study sessions too, and don’t be afraid to ask the dreaded “what is going to be on the exam?” question. The answer might be more revealing than you’d think.
That’s enough secrets for one blog post! I’ll end by saying this: although the first MBA semester is at times brutal and always challenging, the feeling of exuberance and accomplishment when you’re finished really makes it all worth it. In just a few months, I have redefined what I am capable of learning and achieving. The benefit of a Smith MBA is more than just a degree, it’s a personal transformation.