Making Connections: Building a Community During Your MBA

Creating relationships is an essential part of the MBA experience. Here’s how to do it.

Studying for an MBA can be a challenging and rewarding experience – there is a lot to learn and the process can, at times, seem overwhelming. Your course will include access to a lot of resources to help you learn but there is one additional resource that can play a significant role in helping you get the most out of your experience – and the best part is that it’s free.

Beyond providing a sense of well-being and belonging, building a community during your MBA program can give you life-long benefits: after all, these are your peers and future coworkers.

“Interacting with the same group of people over the course of 11 intense months naturally leads to relationship building especially since the participants constantly interact with each other through group work, international consulting projects and various exercises” says a spokesperson for IMD Business School in Switzerland.

Even so, when you’re studying alongside a group of highly ambitious students, the mood might, at times, seem more competitive than cooperative. To keep things positive, it’s important to maintain mutual support, and it can be much easier to do that when you feel like you’re part of a community.

Navigating this fine line between cooperation and competition can be tricky. Here are a few ways that you can build a positive community while forging lifelong relationships during your MBA program:

1. Introduce yourself to everyone. Do you know all your fellow MBA students? If not it’s never too late to start. Most groups require someone to be the initiator and the gel that brings everyone together. Remember you are studying for an MBA, which will quite likely steer you into a career of management and leadership. If you haven’t mastered the art of building relationships then it’s time to learn, and what better way than challenging yourself in this environment?

2. Form study groups. Working together can help everybody achieve their objectives. You will have parts of your course you won’t be strong in and possibly won’t even enjoy. Others will. Get them to help you and help them in return in the areas where your strengths lie.

3. Organize social outings. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy! Even though your MBA classes are important, social events are where true friendships and networks can be formed. We’re not talking wild frat parties but monthly drinks or other more inventive outings will build a team feeling and be appreciated by your fellow MBA students. For Amalia Bejinaru, a current student in the MBA program at HEC Paris “Some of my best MBA experiences so far relate to this kind of events: group dancing on Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ on HEC Paris annual talent show,” for example.

4. Help each other. Your MBA community can be a valuable asset when you are writing your papers or studying for exams. Particularly, the stresses of exam time can be calmed with a little help from your friends. Sara Irvani, a current student at Insead, sums it up best: “You learn a lot about your peers during exam time,” she says. “I was delighted to see how supportive my new friends were. Some students even volunteered to cook study snacks for all the other MBA students”

5. Enjoy diversity. Chances are you will be studying with students from a variety of countries and continents, all with a perspective on life that you don’t have. Take advantage of this! Organize cultural nights or cooking evenings where everyone brings a native dish. We are increasingly working in a global world where your future career will most likely involve working with people from foreign countries. The fact you picked up a few basic Chinese greetings from a classmate may be the clincher on a big deal one day – who knows!

6. Take the initiative. Every group needs a leader and driver. Make it you. Any career you pursue after your MBA will involve leadership – why not get a good grounding while you study? For Bejinaru, the extracurricular activities are a huge part of the learning experience “Having many student-run events, either credit bearing or just as a school tradition, creates a context for everybody,” Bejinaru says.

7. Make connections happen. Connecting people and making things happen is an important part of your future career. According to Bejinaru, “networking is essential to learning and therefore central to any MBA program. Our peers within the program should be the nucleus of this new network we develop during business school and therefore one should use all the available tools (and even create more!) to build a community that can make that nucleus a strong pillar to our future careers.”


Gretchen Shaw is an author, blogger and entrepreneur with a penchant for baking. She is passionate about communication, continued learning and connecting people. You can follow her on Twitter: @shawgret

Image: Open Data Institute / CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped, rotated)

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