In this special five-part BlackEnterprise.com series, Daria Burke, founder of BlackMBAWomen, shares insider tips and insights on getting your MBA to upgrade your career. You’ll find out how to make the choice, leverage opportunities and maximize professional fulfillment in the job market.
So, you’ve conquered the GMAT. Check! Perfected your essays. Check! Submitted the applications and waited anxiously before receiving the incredible news that you’ve been admitted to your number one choice for business school. Congratulations!
Now that you’ve celebrated and the excitement has quieted down, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Now what?” As summer continues, use the time to devise a plan for how you’ll optimize those two years. The time will fly by and you’ll want to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Everyone will manage their priorities differently, but here are several key things to consider as you get ready for business school:
1. Assess your skill set. In your first year of business school you will take your core curriculum, which will include accounting, statistics, finance, operations, strategy, marketing and some level of economics (micro or global). Even if you have an undergraduate degree in business, you will encounter theories and a level of coursework that far exceeds what you did as a college student. And if you’re an incoming student with a non-business background, all of this will likely be altogether foreign to you. Perhaps you have never used Microsoft Excel or have no idea how to read an income statement. This is a great time to become familiar with the programs or concepts that are at the core of an MBA education. Consider taking a course or going through a few in-depth tutorials online.
2. Be ready to travel. There will be a number of opportunities for you to go abroad—whether in class or with a student organization. I spent nearly a month in Argentina as part of an NYU Stern course called “Doing Business In…” and I enjoyed an amazing 10 days in Morocco on a trek through the country during spring break my first year.
Some full-time MBA programs give you an opportunity to participate in a pre-term trip. (Kellogg offers 35 student-led international excursions as part of their KWEST program). Make sure you have a current passport and as much money saved as possible. Of course student loans help facilitate all the travel you’ll experience, but you can never have too much money in the bank.
3. Have a recruiting game plan. Remember what you wrote in your essays? That’s the foundation of your recruiting strategy. To some extent, you’ll be encouraged to explore the range of career options available to you post-MBA. Just don’t fall down the rabbit hole! I had a number of classmates who—unsure of what they really wanted to pursue, functionally and from an industry perspective— went to every corporate presentation on campus and interviewed with as many companies as they could. This is incredibly time-consuming and requires significant preparation. Management consulting is very different from brand marketing, and the interview process for each is thus extremely different. Use this opportunity to pursue your passion and resist drinking the investment banking Kool-Aid or whatever you see your classmates doing.
4. Build your network. Exposure is just as important in business school as it is in the office. While you may be tempted to focus solely on your studies and recruitment, you have to find time to get to know your classmates. (I’m sure you’re wondering how in the world you’ll have time. Trust me. You will.)
Your business school will do a great job of getting you started with preterm orientation and predetermined study groups. (For example, NYU requires that each study group has at least one international student and one woman.) Also, there will be a number of social events each semester. Ultimately, it is up to you to connect with as many of your classmates as you can through leadership activities. I served as co-president of the Luxury & Retail Club, executive vice president of our Association of Hispanic and Black Business Schools and as a graduate ambassador in the MBA admissions office, only because I had a solid plan for recruiting in my first year and didn’t have to job search in my second year.
You can also travel and study abroad, or do some good old-fashioned hanging out. At NYU, we had a weekly happy hour on campus where students and professors gathered on Thursday nights to celebrate the end of what was always a long week. For some, it seemed like just an excuse to drink, but it was there I got to know people with whom I didn’t spend time with in class or during recruiting.
I had an incredible two years at business school. As challenging as it was, it was one of the most magical, transformative experiences of my life to date. With the right amount of focus—and a little advanced planning—you can realistically pursue almost everything that piques your interest.
Check out the rest of the MBA series here:
Daria Burke is a marketing and brand strategist, public speaker, and founder of Black MBA Women. The former beauty executive also works as an independent strategic marketing consultant in New York City, helping luxury, beauty and consumer goods clients with a range of marketing initiatives. Burke earned her MBA in marketing and strategy from the New York University Stern School of Business and her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan.