Navigating The First Semester At B-School

“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” –  Nelson Mandela.

For someone looking to pursue higher education or make a career switch, an MBA can be a major milestone, one that will significantly impact one’s career and future. Stepping into the role of a b-school student involves embarking on a vital phase of your career journey. And the first semester can prove crucial in shaping the next two years and the lessons you take beyond the classroom.

Here are a few tips to ensure you start your MBA with a strong foundation: :

1. Adjusting To The Academic Routine

Learning is collaborative: Find your study group

In the RC year, students are placed into cohorts of 35-70 people (on an average). These groups can become your extended (academic) family on campus as you share the same core classes, professors and social calendar. First years are assigned a core curriculum that mostly deals with subjects like Leadership, Finance, Strategic Analysis, Economics, Accounting, etc. Apart from the cohorts, you can also join or start your own study group. Collaborative learning and the opportunity to share viewpoints relating to case studies, industry research, etc. fosters knowledge building. Choose your study groups wisely by connecting with peers who share common interests or have skills that you can imbibe and build upon.

Classes will mostly be discussion based but doing prior research and preparation before your classes will help you ace your case discussions and assignments as well as maintain a good GPA. Be cognizant of your long-term career goals when selecting elective courses or targeting internships and plan your academic and extracurricular activities accordingly. Stay up to date with the applications and deadlines for the various academic programs that you would like to pursue in order to be ready for the stiff competition ahead.

2. Engage In Clubs, Associations And Other Extracurricular Activities

Most schools initially have a “club fair” for students where student organizations promote the benefits of joining the clubs. After a formal application and interview process, societies have a “kick-off” or induction meeting to ceremoniously introduce the freshmen to the society. Be rational, pick an intelligent mix of clubs. Focus on clubs that will augment your skills and network and add value towards your job search process. You should join clubs that are aligned to your career goals – for instance someone looking to pursue marketing could look at industry specific clubs like the collegiate chapters of American Marketing Association. You could also join clubs that cater to your interests or passions. Students interested to pursue theatre and the creative arts, for instance, could become members of clubs like ‘the Archuckle Fellows’, the improvisational theatre troupe at Stanford GSB.

Clubs and societies help to enhance your functional skills. They also influence your job-search process by strengthening your resume as you can leverage the competencies you developed as part of the various club activities. Your experiences and the challenges you overcome can prepare you for similar tasks and challenges at your workplace. This is one of the major criterions that potential employers evaluate in order to assess the suitability of a candidate for a particular role.

Ideally, in your first semester, you should start preparing for the various internship/externship opportunities and international programs that your program offers. You could explore international programs that help you understand how businesses operate in other countries and the challenges they have to contend with, like the DBi (Do Business in) program at NYU Stern. You could also take up field projects centred around solving customer challenges faced by global organizations like the FIELD Global Immersion program at Harvard Business School.

3. Start The Job Search Process

B-schools serve as great platforms to jumpstart your career planning process. You will get the opportunity to attend various industry information sessions, networking events and company presentations which will, in turn, give you an overview of what the recruiters want in terms of the skills and educational requirements and also help you shortlist the jobs that align with your capabilities. Get in touch with the CDC (career development center) to obtain specialised guidance on the entire process. They can provide valuable insights regarding job search strategies, resume and LinkedIn feedback, networking tips, interview prep etc. to help future proof your career plan. CDCs also organize a multitude of career prep workshops and speaker sessions for CV writing, elevator pitch and mock interviews. Garner as much information and help you can from your peers, seniors, teachers, coaches, and alumni to chalk out your career path and build an impactful resume.

 

This phase of your academic course can seem a bit daunting initially as you delve deep into the daily routine of academic and extracurricular exercises but it can also be a rich opportunity to exploit the various avenues offered to you. From forming collaborative study groups that prepare you for academic discipline to opting for an eclectic mix of student clubs that enhance your soft skills and build potent functional knowledge, this period can turn out to be extremely valuable in the long run! As Ralph Johnson, an HBS alumni, aptly comments about his MBA adventure– “HBS has shown me that anything is possible- as long as I understand what the expectations are and that I’m willing to make the necessary sacrifices to meet them.”

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