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Back into the Swing: Summertime Preparation for Your MBA

Things you can do this summer to prepare to go back to school

You got the call, and you’re in. You’ve been accepted to the MBA program of your dreams. So, what do you do now? How should you prepare to go back to school?

That’s easy, according to Javier Muñoz Parrondo, admissions director at Spain's IESE Business School.

“Enjoy your summer,” he says. “Academically, the only thing that you should do is to spend a good summer resting and sleeping a lot, because the MBA, especially at the beginning, is very intense.”

Rashmi Udaykumar, the head of admissions at SP Jain Center of Management in Singapore, agrees. “Our selection process is really quite stringent,” she says, “and students have already prepared quite heavily, in terms of getting ready for the GMAT, and working on their applications.”

Indeed, most admitted MBA students are prepared, at least in terms of academics, because they probably have been working in the real world for at least two years, and have gone through a rigorous selection process by the MBA program itself.

“We wouldn't admit somebody into the MBA program if we didn't think they could be successful stepping in,” says Collin Hanson, the graduate admissions advisor at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management in Ohio.

So a good first step in preparing for your MBA may be to not worry too much. Instead, according to Stig Lanesskog, dean of the Illinois MBA program at the University of Illinois, incoming MBA students should spend some time thinking about how to best make use of the next two years.

“When students first get here,” Lanesskog says, “I ask them: What's your story going to be? In other words, think about what you are going to tell a future employer, in terms of, here’s what I did before I got my MBA, here’s what I did while getting my MBA – this is my story.”

For students who do not come from a business background, Lanesskog recommends putting in a little work over the summer to pick up the essentials.

“If they're coming from a background where they don't have any business experience at all,” he says of incoming students, “if they were an English major for instance, then if they have an opportunity to be exposed to a basic business acumen, that can be helpful.”

Thomas McCue, director of evening graduate programs at Duquesne University’s Donahue Graduate School of Business, says that the biggest problem for this type of student is often “on the quantitative side – they haven't used what they learned in their undergraduate programs, or their math skills have weakened.”

McCue says that for this particular type of student, Donahue will provide a series of pre-MBA summer courses, which are mainly online, that can help them get up-to-speed. In these courses, he says, “We try to make sure they know what a balance sheet is, what an income statement is, and what a cash flow statement is.”

Collin Hanson says that Weatherhead offers similar summertime instruction. “We'll have modules, and we'll send out some pre-MBA assignments,” he says, “so that students can get a feel for getting back into the swing of it.”

Perhaps more universally, students may want to prepare themselves psychologically for the unique learning experience of a graduate program, which, according to Illinois’ Dean Lanesskog, can be entirely different from any undergraduate experience, business-oriented or not.

“What I try to tell students is that they have to prepare for the mindset of being in a team,” he says, “because they will probably be learning as much from their classmates as they are from the teachers themselves.”

To this end, many programs, including the Illinois MBA, have started social networking groups and other methods for students to meet each other and start group interactions over the summer.

Logistics and languages

For international students who are going overseas to do their MBA, certain logistics should be considered. For instance, according to IESE’s Parrondo, even though the Barcelona-based MBA program is offered entirely in English, students might want to spend some time over the summer working on their Spanish language skills.

“One of the objectives we have for students ,is to pick up Spanish while they’re here,” he says. “So the sooner students can start preparing for that, the better.”

Students for whom English is a second language and are enrolling in an English language MBA program will undoubtedly have other concerns. While most reputable programs require applicants to take a language aptitude test, like the TOEFL, students still may want to brush up on their English skills before starting school. Often, international MBA programs will offer summer business courses specifically for this purpose. For example, Canada’s York University offers an eight-week long program that focuses on language skills in a business context. Other schools that offer similar programs include Thunderbird, the University of Leeds, and Boston University.

IESE’s Javier Muñoz Parrondo says that he recommends that international students, if they can, spend a summer in an environment where English is spoken, because, “the more accustomed you are to different accents, the better.”

Collin Hanson recommends reading English-language books, something business-oriented but not too heavy: Freakonomics by Steven Levitt; or The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.

But overall, just “enjoy yourself,” he says, “because when you start, you’ll be in class all the time, you’ll be networking, and you’ll be putting in over 40 hours of work every week.”

Photo: David from Amsterdam, Netherlands / Creative Commons (cropped)

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