Getting into an MBA program is tough, but the work should not stop once you receive your admission offer. A business school curriculum is rigorous, and candidates often find it hard to adjust after several years in the workforce.
Preparation during the summer months can make the transition back into academic life smoother. There are several things that students can do to prepare for their MBA before they start.
1. Take online courses
Some schools require that students take pre-courses before the MBA to prepare themselves academically. At Harvard Business School in Boston, about one-third of incoming MBAs who don’t have extensive business training take online courses called CORe: economics for managers, financial accounting, and business analytics.
“Faculty have reported that CORe does an exceptional job of getting students up to speed, helping them contribute meaningfully to case discussions in the classroom from day one,” says Patrick Mullane, executive director of HBX, Harvard’s digital learning initiative.
He adds that, since it focuses on group learning, CORe can help students entering any MBA course: “This sort of peer-help experience is one that is valuable for individuals who are planning on attending any MBA program.”
“It’s rare that programs today won’t require group projects.”
Other online course providers, such as Coursera and MITx, also offer a range of business courses, so you can get your head into some of the topics you’ll be exploring during your MBA.
2. Connect with your classmates
Forming bonds with classmates is critical to success in an MBA course. Some students go traveling in the summer before their MBA to do that. At Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK, treks are organized by students but supported by the Careers Office. Last year, incoming MBAs flew to San Francisco to meet alumni and visit companies including Facebook, Google and Accenture.
Likewise, incoming MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management can choose to embark on a week-long travel trip to various countries, where they network with their new classmates and provide community service.
And the networking often continues online: Cambridge students also join a LinkedIn group, and are generally proactive in forming other groups on channels such as Slack and WeChat, where they organize meet-ups prior to the MBA to form the bonds that are essential to peer learning.
3. Do an internship or attend a boot camp
The summer months are also a good time to begin thinking about your post-MBA career path.
Some business schools advise incoming students to attend summer networking sessions and even do an internship, before the MBA even starts. “Several companies are now offering opportunities for students to participate in pre-MBA internships as a way to learn about the organization in advance of starting their MBA,” says Julie Papp, senior associate director of MBA career education and advising at MIT Sloan School of Management.
She adds: “We typically suggest to students that spending some time during the summer prior to starting their MBA program is an ideal time for both reflection and research.”
Many business schools typically offer various ways for students to build their careers before even starting an MBA. For instance, incoming MBAs at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business can work in a Booth-led startup for six to seven weeks before starting the actual program.
Students starting the MBA at China’s CEIBS can attend a Pre-MBA Boot Camp, where they can learn about the program curriculum and spend time in Shanghai.
4. Brush up on your language skills
While most MBA students are already highly proficient in English (it’s generally an admissions requirement for English-language MBA programs), those who do not speak the local language fluently are advised to practice, ideally in the country they are studying in, or take a refresher course to re-orientate themselves.
Boston University of the US, for example, offers a pre-MBA course for incoming students that includes language and communication skills development via oral presentations and case studies. They also learn to explain their points in clear and accurate English, in speech and in writing.
Some schools offering English-language MBA programs in countries where English is not the main language also offer pre-MBA language courses, to help students feel more comfortable in the country where they’ll be studying. For example, Berlin’s ESMT offers students the opportunity to attend a three-month long German language course before the MBA starts.
5. Plan your schedule
Given that full-time MBA programs are highly intense, students should think ahead about how they will manage their time and course materials, says Gale Gold Nichols, director of student services for the full-time MBA in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
She says: “Finding a system for keeping track of everything is crucial.
“It’s helpful for the student to think about the different categories of activities that they will need or want to engage in and devise a plan to allocate time to each one during the week, as well as to keep track of assignments.”
“Feeling that they are on top of things and getting them done can be a big relief!”
Nichols adds that students should put a support structure in place as they begin the program to strengthen physical and mental health: “This might include regular calls or video chats with loved ones back home, setting time aside for exercise or yoga each week, or planning a weekly date night with your spouse/partner…[which] can make a big difference to the student’s success.”
6. Get some rest
Amid all the preparation, from online classes and language learning to networking sessions and career treks, business schools say students should not forget the importance of downtime to prepare for an intense academic program.
“Each student is an individual and will decide how much time they need to prepare for the year ahead,” says Margaret O’Neill, head of admissions and careers for the Cambridge MBA.
“A number do take some time off to relax and reflect before the programme starts, or come early to settle in their family, but equally many do not.
“Ideally, students would allow themselves enough time to get settled in their accommodation, get to know the city and sort out all the practicalities — including acquiring that essential mode of Cambridge transport — a bicycle!”